Time for a Coffee: Top Ten Blog Posts 2018

This year I have written 36 blog posts.

Tenth post was over ten years old, Chorizo Frito al Vino which was my thoughts on cooking Chorizo sausage in wine.

Chorizo

Ninth place was also about Chorizo, this was about Sainsbury’s Cooking Chorizo. Having used cooking chorizo from Tesco, Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury, I much prefer using the chorizo from Tesco or Marks and Spencers.

The eighth most popular post on the blog was about the Pret A Manger Italian Chicken Salad I had in 2013. I have had it quite few times since.

The number seven post was Beef and Mushroom Stew with Dumplings. The post had a lot of thoughts about mushrooms.

The sixth most popular post was not about just any pork medallions, but Marks and Spencers Pork Medallions.

My fifth post was about retro chocolate. How many of these can you remember? Which were your favourites?

Retro Chocolate

Reminiscing about Newquay Steam Beer was the fourth most read post on the blog.

Climbing two places, the third most popular post was Basil & pine nut margherite, a simple pasta recipe.

Second most popular blog, having been top for two years was Sirloin for Beef Wellington? This was a response to the high ranking of another post about using sirloin steak in a Beef Wellington rather than fillet steak due to the way people were (at the time) searching Google.

In at number one Chilli Squid from Wagamama, maintaining it’s top position as the most popular post on the blog.. This post was one of the many on the blog about squid, however it is now quite old being from 2011.

So popularity appears to be dependent on older posts being found via Google searches.

One of these is not like the other

On my most recent visit to Prezzo, I decided to have something different, however they had a run on the Calabria Burger so I had to choose something else. I had enjoyed the Fiorentina Pizza on a previous visit. So needing to make a quick decision, I decided to go again with the Fiorentina Pizza that I had last time.

The Fiorentina Pizza is a classic pizza with spinach, olives, mozzarella and an egg. The last time I thought this was a very tasty pizza, I really liked the toppings and the base was cooked well.

So as you can imagine my expectations were quite high, however though my pizza was nice, the egg, which last time had a nice soft yolk, was fully cooked this time. The flavour was still there, but I had a slight twinge of disappointment that it didn’t look like this.

Fiorentina Pizza, a classic pizza with spinach, olives, mozzarella and an egg.

I did contemplate complaining, but wasn’t sure if I had grounds for a valid complaint, especially as I wasn’t sure how the egg was supposed to be cooked on the pizza, maybe the last time I had it, it wasn’t supposed to have a soft yolk.

Another visit to Prezzo

It took five years from my first visit to Prezzo to visit it again. This time is was less than month since my previous visit to go there again.

Having had an enjoyable meal at their branch in Euston, this visit was a family celebration at the branch in Weston-super-Mare. This is quite a new branch, less than a year old. We arrived early evening on a Saturday, or you could have even described it as late afternoon. It’s a nice smart clean restaurant with a variety of seating options available. We were quite a large party so we just had some tables pushed together. We were given a warm welcome and we sat down perused the menu. Unlike a lot of places these days, their set menu is available all the time, seven days a week and it is quite a good set menu at that.

I started with the Caprese Salad, tomato and burrata cheese with basil pesto and balsamic glaze.

Caprese Salad

The tomato was ripe and the burrata cheese was fresh and tasty. A really nice starter.

I had the Fiorentina Pizza, a classic pizza with spinach, olives, mozzarella and an egg.

Fiorentina Pizza, a classic pizza with spinach, olives, mozzarella and an egg.

This was a very tasty pizza, I really liked the toppings and the base was cooked well.

I wasn’t going to go with a desert, but I did fancy a coffee, looking over the dessert menu, I went with the Affogato. Two scoops of vanilla ice cream served with a double shot of espresso and a lemon cannoli. Wasn’t too enamoured with the cannoli, but did enjoy the espresso over ice cream.

Overall a tasty meal. The service did leave a little bit to be desired, initially it started off well and our food arrived in a timely manner. However we did get asked three times if we wanted dessert, seemed they were desperate to provide us with dessert. They also provided us with the wrong bill. Ah well, it was a tasty meal.

Yes, it was okay

Staying up in Ealing for a couple of nights on our second night we went to Pizza Express, in the main as they do a very nice gluten-free pizza and the other places we liked the sound of, didn’t have a strong or varied gluten-free menu. Well to be honest the little one who is on a gluten-free diet wanted pizza, so pizza it was.

Though it was Friday evening and we hadn’t booked the place did have space for us and we were given a warm welcome. Compared to other Pizza Express establishments, this was rather crowded and cramped, but we weren’t elbowing each other, so was okay.

I did consider going with the pasta, but from the menu it sounded like everything was cooked in the pizza oven, al forno, anyhow, so I went with the pizza.

I ordered the Quattro Carni Pizza. Finocchiona, Coppa, Milano salami, pancetta, tomato and buffalo mozzarella, finished with rocket and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

Quattro Carni Pizza. Finocchiona, Coppa, Milano salami, pancetta, tomato and buffalo mozzarella, finished with rocket and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

The food arrived quite promptly and I loved the fresh rocket and Gran Milano cheese on top of my pizza. I did think the pizza was a little over-cooked for my liking which meant it was difficult to discern the four different meats on the pizza, but there were some good flavours in there. The rocket and cheese on top added some nice freshness and bite to what otherwise could have been a somewhat salty pizza.

The service was excellent, and made what was otherwise an okay pizza experience, into a good pizza experience.

Time for a Coffee: Top Ten Blog Posts 2017

This year I have written 41 blog posts. In 2016 I wrote 28 posts.

In the Birdcage

The tenth most popular post on the blog was about the Pret A Manger Italian Chicken Salad I had in 2013. I have had it quite few times since.

Ninth place, was a reminder from 2013, that if I ever go to Frankie and Benny’s again, don’t order the pasta! I have never had pasta again at F&Bs.

The post as number eight was about Sainsbury’s Cooking Chorizo, Having used cooking chorizo from Tesco, Marks and Spencers and Sainsbury, I much prefer using the chorizo from Tesco or Marks and Spencers.

The number seven post was from ten years ago, Pasta in Tomato Sauce. A recipe for a very quick and easy dish with a lovely piquant tomato sauce.

Pasta in Tomato Sauce

Sixth post was about the Wagamama Pork Ribs I had in 2011.

Post number five for last twelve months was Basil & pine nut margherite, a simple pasta recip.

Reminiscing about Newquay Steam Beer was the fourth most read post on the blog.

The third most popular post was not about just any pork medallions, but Marks and Spencers’ Pork Medallions.

Second most popular blog, having been top for two years was Sirloin for Beef Wellington? This was a response to the high ranking of another post about using sirloin steak in a Beef Wellington rather than fillet steak due to the way people were (at the time) searching Google.

In at number one is Chilli Squid from Wagamama, climbing one place. This popular post was one of the many on the blog about squid, however it is now quite old being from 2011 and the visit was the same one that I had the ribs.

So popularity appears to be dependent on older posts being found via Google searches. Hopefully 2018 will see more posts and more people seeing those posts.

Porcetta from the Piaggio

The Piaggio Ape is a three wheeled motorcycle based truck, which is seen all over the place in places like Italy. Here in the UK they are quite rare.

They are quite popular in the UK with some street food vendors, one which I remember was outside The Brewery in London serving really nice coffee from the back.

The St Nick’s market on Friday had a yellow Piaggio Ape serving Italian pork or beef sausages in a roll.

Piaggio Ape is a three wheeled motorcycle based truck

I have seen them before, but didn’t really fancy what had been on the menu. However as I passed I noticed they were cooking something different, though the blackboard talked of Italian pork sausage or beef sausage, on their griddle was some porcetta. They had some to taste

The porcetta was served with salad, mushrooms in a toasted ciabatta bun. There was quite a choice of toppings, with the first one free.

Porcetta from the Piaggio

I was really impressed with the service and the speed of cooking. The guy behind the grill, spoke a lot of Italian as he cooked, and he expertly took the cooked porcetta and heated it on the griddle along with (what I think was cheese, or could have been garlic butter). This was served in the bun with some (alas bland) iceberg lettuce, tomatoes and some tasty mushrooms.

The porcetta was delicious and I really enjoyed it, and it was something I would get again.

Time for a Coffee: Top Ten Blog Posts 2015

Illy Coffee

So what food, drink and coffee blog posts were people reading this year? Interestingly none about coffee?

At number ten is an article entitled, Alba Ristorante Part Two. Back in 2008 when attending Handheld Learning, one evening we went to a local Italian next to the Barbican in London. I do remember the meal, it was delicious. This was a really nice upmarket Italian restaurant but with quite reasonable prices, especially for London.

The ninth most popular post was a Classic Heineken Advert from 1976.

Classic Heineken Advert from 1976

The eighth post was about cooking Chorizo, Cooking Chorizo. as was the seventh post Chorizo Frito al Vino.

The post at number six was about Basil & pine nut marguerite and a simple pasta recipe was at number five, Pasta in Tomato Sauce.

The fourth most popoular post was not about just any pork medallions, but Marks and Spencers Pork Medallions.

Reminiscing about Newquay Steam Beer was the third most read post on the blog.

The second most popular post was one of the many on the blog about squid, this one was about the Chilli Squid from Wagamama.

The most popular post this year was Sirloin for Beef Wellington? This was a response to the high ranking of another post about using sirloin steak in a Beef Wellington rather than fillet steak due to the way people were (at the time) searching Google.

Well here’s raising a cup of coffee and wishing you all the best for 2016.


Piada’ing to nostalgia

One memory of my trips to Italy in the 1990s was of the different kinds of sandwiches that were sold in bars and cafes. These weren’t the pianinis (or wraps)_ that you find all over the place here, but usually some kind of flat bread filled with mozzarella, salami or prosciutto and fresh salad leaves. What triggered this trip down memory lane was finding these Italian flatbreads in my local supermarket, so in a fit of nostalgia, I bought some.

Piada

These are thicker than the sandwich wraps that you find, the ones made by Mission for example. They are certainly not as thick as naan or pitta breads.

I followed the instructions and heated mine up in a dry frying pan, before adding some Milano salami, mixed lettuce leaves, sliced tomato and cucumber. The entire bread is then folded in half and served.

The bread is nice with a nice taste of olive oil, soft and warm and a nice contrast to the crunch and freshness of the salad.

I do think that they were slightly expensive at £1.75 for four, so might consider making my own.

You need more staff…

I like great service, actually I almost expect great service. Generally most people do not go out to a restaurant to eat, they go for the whole experience. The welcome, the opening drink, the perusal of the menu, the choosing, the ordering, the anticipation, the actual eating, the reflection and leaving the table, knowing you don’t need to do the washing up. It’s the atmosphere, the furniture, the music, or no music, the ambience. A good restaurant will try and ensure that the whole experience is just right, and good customer service, is critical for a positive dining experience.

Down in London for a short break, we went to Pizza Express in Kingston, in the Rotunda. Though they said the air-conditioning was broken, it wasn’t that hot, so it didn’t appear that was going to be an issue.

Looking over the menu I decided upon the Toscana Romana Pizza, which is described as having a bigger, thinner, crispier pizza, topped with crumbled chilli & fennel sausage, mozzarella and tomato finished with baby mozzarella, Gran Moravia cheese, fresh basil and extra virgin olive oil.

Toscana Pizza

Though on my pizza I got slices of sausage rather than crumbled sausage and I think the pizza works better for it. The Toscana Pizza was delicious and I really enjoyed it.

My wife went with the Leggera Superfood Salad, this is made with baby spinach and seasonal mixed leaves, roasted butternut squash, beetroot, light baby mozzarella, avocado, pine kernels, cucumber, lentils and fresh basil, finished with balsamic syrup.

Superfoods Salad

She really enjoyed it, she though was disappointed that it had no seafood in it! Always read the menu carefully.

Unfortunately, a lack of staff meant for me that the dining experience, specifically the service, was not as good as the pizza. We had to wait long amounts of time between getting the menu, placing our food order, ordering additional drinks and getting the bill. One of the results of the lengthy service delays was in the end we decided not to have pudding.

I don’t mind slow service sometimes, it’s nice to take your time and not be rushed, however, I do find there is a difference between slow and indifferent, which appeared to be the issue here. Too often we were ignored even though we had indicated or even said we wanted some attention. I got the feeling that this was down to a lack of staff, who were probably too rushed and forgot about the key elements of good customer service.

The food was great, just a pity about the service.

A lunchtime Calzone

Taking lunch at Bella Italia in South Kensington the other week, I decided that I would go down the Calzone route.

Calzone and salad

Bella Italia in South Kensington is a short walk from the Science Museum, which we had just visited. The lunch menus inside the museum cafés looked interesting, but my children’s choices were quite limited. Can be quite a challenge for eating out, when your youngest is adamant she is going to eat nothing unless it was pizza!

If you have visited a Bella Italia in most parts of the country, you probably have gone in quite a large spacious restaurant, the one in South Kensington is very small in comparison over two floors, probably only a third of the covers you would find another Bella Italia. This one did though look much more inviting and cosy than others I have been in.

We were seated upstairs and decided to partake the lunch menu, at £7.95 for one course, this was two pounds more than the same menu, for example in Bristol. This London weighting probably pays for the higher rental costs and high staff costs, though less value for money was a result.

Looking over the menu, I decided upon the Calzone Diavola. This is described in the menu as “The perfect portion for lunchtime with N’duja sausage and pepperoni, chicken breast, cherry bell peppers, green chillies, red onion and mozzarella on a spicy arrabbiata base, served with mixed salad and arrabbiata dip.”

I was quite surprised when it arrived the find the edges were crimped like a pasty.

The pizza “base” was well cooked, crisp on the outside and soft inside. The filling was spicy and tasty, but I did feel it wasn’t that generous. Now I am not sure if that was because this was the “lunch menu” version or if this was the size it was. The salad was nice, but I don’t think I did get the arrabbiata dip!

So what about the service, well they were obviously under staffed, the waiters were trying their best, but the whole service from start to finish took a really long time, this wasn’t going to be a quick meal. They also slightly messed up our order, though that was quickly rectified.

Overall I enjoyed the Calzone, and even at £7.95, thought it was good value for money, alas it was a pity that the place was so under staffed and as a result the service suffered.