Where’s my spinach?

As I was going through some photographs I realised that this meal I had last September wasn’t on the blog. I was up in Leeds  and staying at the Woodlands Hotel. This was a really nice hotel outside Leeds, so plenty of parking, and it was cheaper than a city centre Premier Inn.

I decided to go out to eat. I planned to go to Morley which had an interesting choice of restaurants, however the road there was closed due to an accident. So in the end I went to the Centre 27 Business Park and as I had a voucher, I went to Bella Italia.

I had a warm welcome and though the place was busy I was shown to a table and I looked over the menu. I ordered the Funghi Arrosto  mushroom starter, which was described in the menu as chestnut mushrooms oven-baked with wilted baby spinach leaves in a mascarpone and porcini sauce. Served with toasted ciabatta. It sounded rather nice. However when it arrived didn’t have any spinach.

Funghi Arrosto

When I complained initially I was told the spinach was mixed into the sauce. Knowing that wasn’t the case, the menu had said wilted baby spinach I had to go to the Bella Italia website and find the picture of the dish with the description.

Funghi Arrosto

I complained again, showed the picture and compared it to what I had received, and this time I was taken seriously. The dish was replaced.

This time it looked more like the menu picture, so much better, though I think the ciabatta could have been toasted more, but I was a little tired of complaining and I was hungry. I really shouldn’t have had to complain twice, I shouldn’t have even needed to complain once!

For my mains I had a mushroom pizza, can you tell I was in the mood for mushrooms. I ordered the Funghi Luganica – A ‘white pizza’ with a mascarpone and porcini base, topped with garlic & thyme chestnut mushrooms, pancetta, Luganica sausage and mozzarella.

I’ve had this pizza before at Bella Italia and I enjoyed it last time, and I enjoyed it this time as well, though it was a little overdone to my taste. The base is mushroomy (is that a word) and savoury, over the traditional tomato that you find on most pizza. The chunks of mushroom on the pizza were very nice and I really enjoyed them.

I decided not to have a desert.

I did later complain and got a £20 voucher to spend on a future visit to Bella Italia.

That branch of Bella Italia has now permanently closed.

Time for Lasagne

I was in Prezzo for lunch and I was thinking about pizza, but I felt  I had pizza quite a lot recently, so I started looking over the pasta on the menu. I did think about the carbonara, but in the end chose the lasagne.

It arrived in a very hot dish and looked good.

Lasagne

It tasted okay, if I was going to say anything about it, it was a little bland compared to what I thought it would taste like. I think the Bolognese lacked depth of flavour. However I did enjoy it. Will I have it again? Probably not.

Time for Reds

There was a time when I would travel for work, stay overnight and then go out and get something to eat.

Well I am not doing that now and don’t expect to be doing it for a while either. I have though still a few places to write about and review that I didn’t do so at the time. This is one such review.

Back in January when I could and did travel I was staying overnight in Leeds. I needed a place to eat. I rarely eat at the restaurants in the hotels, usually either they are very expensive and out of budget, or as was the case in Leeds, the hotel I was staying didn’t really have a proper restaurant, serving a few bar snack type meals only. The other thing I do find with hotel restaurants is that it can be a bit hit and miss when it comes to the quality of the food.

Around the corner from the hotel there was quite a choice of restaurants, this is so much easier these days with Google or Apple Maps which show the restaurant close to you.

I was checking the menus of a few nearby places, when I saw on their website, that Reds True Barbecue in Headingley had a 51% discount offer in January, if you pre-booked. So I decided I would go there to eat, the menu looked great as well. It was simple to book online and I walked down to the restaurant.

The outside looked very American to me, though I’ve never been to America and have thus never eaten at a proper American barbecue joint, and so have no frame of reference to what a real barbecue place is like. However if I was to say what I thought an American barbecue joint was like based on the films and TV programme I felt it looked like what I thought an American barbecue joint should look like.

Reds True Barbecue in Headingly in Leeds

Having walked through the door I was given a warm and friendly welcome. The place was crowded, considering it was a Tuesday night. Being in Headingley the clientele were quite young and I am guessing a fair few were students. Probably taking advantage of the 51% offer. I liked the look of the place, slightly industrial, wooden tables and American signs.

Though I had seen the menu online, I still took my time to have a good look over the menu choices. There were a range of starters, barbecue platters and to quote the menu, “things in bread” which had a range of burgers.

Having travelled up to Leeds during the day and missing lunch, I was quite hungry. I went with the barbecued three meats with two sides deal.

barbecued three meats with two sides

I chose the smoked brisket, the short rib and the sausage. For my sides I went with fries and onion rings. Though I was tempted by the chicken wings and the pork belly. To drink with the meal I ordered a bottle of Corona.

The food arrived pretty quickly and I was impressed with the look of the food and the portion size.

The sausages were really nice, meaty and spicy. The short rib was delicious and very tender. The brisket was nice, but I felt it was a little dry. I enjoyed both the sides, though I think on reflection I probably should have had some slaw alongside.

My meal should have cost £25, but with the 51% discount on food, in the end it was just £14.54 which was really good value.

Though I don’t expect to be going to Leeds anytime soon, I hope that I can because I think I would like to have a return visit to Reds for some more excellent barbecued food.

Frankie and Benny’s in Weston-super-Mare may close

Well after blogging about the closure of Pizza Express in Weston-super-Mare, it is now rumoured, but not confirmed, that the branch of Frankie and Benny’s in Weston-super-Mare will not be reopening after closed for lockdown. 

The fact that when taking a photograph for this blog post, all the main signage had been removed, says to me, it will not be opening again.

It should be said that the company behind Frankie and Benny’s was in trouble before the pandemic closed restaurants and was looking at closing branches across the country. I wasn’t too surprised, they changed their menu and branding to more of an American style, and though they were Italian-American, I think they started to lose some of their appeal by losing the Italian aspects of their brand.

I don’t recall my last visit there, I know we had a Christmas breakfast there in 2017 and I had a birthday meal there in 2015, but I don’t think I have been there more recently than that.

Initially we stopped going there as their gluten free offering was quite poor, but they did change that a few years ago I believe, so we went a few times in 2017. I think another reason was that too often we were disappointed with the food and service. Also with Prezzo and Pizza Express opening in Dolphin Square there was more choice about where to go out to eat. Though, what with Pizza Express closing and now the probable closure of Frankie and Benny’s means now we have less choice.

So now waiting for confirmation of closure.

Update 27th August 2020: Updated the article with a photograph and text relating to the removal of the external signage.

The food could have been better

It has been a long time since I have eaten at Zizzi, but the last time I was there I enjoyed my pizza. So meeting up after work in Bristol we headed towards Zizzi to get something to eat.

It was more late afternoon than early evening do when we arrived there was quite a bit of space, when we left the place was full and there was a queue outside.

I don’t think I could quibble with the service, which was warm and friendly, however our food at Zizzi could have been so much better.

Checking the menu, I decided to start with the calamari before then having a Rustica Pinoli Pizza.

The calamari was nice, but they had run out of aioli and though I asked for some mayonnaise they came back with tomato ketchup (seriously) and a separate pepper sauce (which was nice), however neither of these really complemented the calamari in the way that the aioli would have.

We also had some gluten free garlic bread, which was nice and garlicy, however was slightly overdone. I was all ready to complain and ask for a replacement, but I was out voted!

My Rustica Pinoli Pizza had goat’s cheese, mozzarella, caramelised balsamic onions, baby slow roast tomatoes, pine nuts & riserva cheese.

I’ve had this before, and though I think it needed more pine nuts, it was rather nice. There is a nice mix of flavours, from the cheese to the caramelised balsamic onions which add to the pizza.

What was interesting was that the other Rustica Pinoli we had on the table was overcooked compared mine. I did offer to swap but this was turned down.

We did the Eat Out scheme so we got 50% off, which wasn’t a bad deal. However the lack of consistency of quality in the food, means I don’t know when I will be going back to Zizzi again.

Eating out (again)

The last time we went out to eat was in March, a week before the lockdown resulted in every restaurant closing their doors.

It was me eldest’s birthday and as a surprise we took him to Prezzo in Bristol. Most of the restaurants in Weston-super-Mare are still closed and we had some surprise guests for him coming from London, so Bristol was a better choice for us.

We had visited this branch in the old Leadworks before back in November, well before all the Covid-19 stuff and had a really nice meal.

This time, we booked in advance, as it was a Thursday, we couldn’t do the Government Eat Out scheme, but that wasn’t really an issue for us. Though from what we heard the day before with the Government Eat Out scheme they were really busy.

The Covid-19 restrictions meant that they had a one way system in the restaurant and they had reduced quite dramatically the number of tables in the restaurant. I think this was slightly exacerbated by the fact we were a party of eight, so putting all the tables together meant that it looked a little more sparse and barren than “normal”.

We were slightly early, but we were given a warm welcome and shown to our table. You can use an online process for ordering food and drinks, but we were given the option of ordering from the waiting staff, which we chose. We did this partly, as I didn’t want to use the phone to order, but also to ensure that when we did order the gluten free dishes we knew we would need that this would be taken down and recorded accurately. It was also nice to interact with a real person. Ordering by phone reminds of the self service tills you find at supermarkets, they have their place, but sometimes you need to or want to interact with a person. I think there is a time and place for self-service or automation, then there is also a time and place for service by a real person. When I go out to eat, it’s not just the food I am going for, but the whole dining experience, which includes service and atmosphere as well as excellent food.

We ordered some drinks, well coffee for me as we waited for the rest of the table to arrive. As we waited I looked over the menu. Prezzo currently have a limited menu, about 50% I think of the old menu, but there was still quite a bit of choice of starters and mains.

I wanted to start off with the calamari, but they had run out, so I went with the hummus instead.

This was rather tasty and there was a nice portion of fresh flatbread to go with it. It was a nice start to the meal.

For my main course I wasn’t sure if I wanted a pizza or something else. In the end I went with a large Mushroom, Spinach and Olives Pizza that came topped with rocket leaves.

Mushroom, Spinach and Olives Pizza

This was a really tasty pizza and I enjoyed eating it. 

It was nice not to be rushed, and we spent quite a bit of time in the restaurant eating and talking. We finished off the meal with some more coffee.

That time I was in London for tacos

On one of my last visits to London before the lockdown I did pop to Wahaca at Oxford Circus. I have been there quite a few times and have enjoyed the atmosphere and the food.

As we were in the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, this was a couple of weeks before the full lockdown, the place was still open. I was a little cautious about going to a restaurant and sitting down with others to eat. With hindsight I probably wouldn’t have gone, but at the time the risk seemed quite low and there was sanitiser available, and I was washing my hands a lot.

Each branch of Wahaca has it’s own charm and style, there are similarities across the different restaurants, but each has an element of individuality.

I was given a warm welcome and there were plenty of seats available. I looked over the menu and decided to go with some old favourites as well as trying out a new dish.

For my first choice, I chose a dish that I have had a fair few times before, which was the crispy cauliflower bites.

crispy buttermilk-battered florets of cauliflower, with roast serrano allioli

These are crispy buttermilk-battered florets of cauliflower, with roast serrano allioli.

These were delicious and lovely and crispy. I enjoyed the allioli which complemented the crispy florets. They are very moreish and tasty,

My other favourite was steak tacos.

chargrilled steak served with grilled cheese, chipotle salsa & avocado

These are two tacos filled with chargrilled steak served with grilled cheese, chipotle salsa & avocado. I much preferred these when the grilled cheese was optional, I don’t think the grilled cheese adds much to the dish. The steak was full of flavour and very tender.

The dish I ordered that I hadn’t had before, was the grilled mushroom & cheese tacos

sweet ancho rubbed mushrooms with crispy grilled cheese

These are sweet ancho rubbed mushrooms with crispy grilled cheese. The mushrooms were delicious, again not a fan of the grilled cheese.

I really enjoyed the three dishes which were tasty and delicious. The service was warm, friendly and welcoming, the food arrived quickly and efficiently.

At the time I was planning to come back to London later in March, so didn’t think this was going to be my last lunch in London for a long time. At the time of writing I have no idea when or even if I will be going back to London for work. As we know restaurants are closed and looking unlikely to re-open in the short term. I am though looking forward to the time when I can go back out to eat, but hopefully I will be able to visit Wahaca in the future and have some great food.

Remembering the squid and langoustine

Leadenhall Market
Leadenhall Market, image by 139904 from Pixabay

Back in January and staying overnight in London, and having had a really nice fish supper at Loch Fyne in Cambridge, I decided that I would take advantage of their January 50% off mains offer and have dinner at their Leadenhall Market site.

Leadenhall Market is an interesting place to visit, reminds me very much of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter films. It has lots of painted and polished wood, beautiful windows and is covered with a glass roof. I think I remember reading once that this was the place that inspired J K Rowling when she was writing about Diagon Alley for the Harry Potter books.

I initially had a little trouble finding the branch of Loch Fyne, but after a little search I found it. It was a lot less crowded than the Cambridge branch and there was a lot of space to choose where to sit. I was given a warm welcome and shown to my table. Though the outside of the place has that quaint look of olden tymes that you get with Leadenhall Market the inside was quite fresh and modern.

Having looked at the menu online, I had decided that I would probably go with the turbot. I have seen it cooked on shows like Masterchef Professional and The Great British Menu, but have never bought it cooked it myself, neither have I eaten it at a restaurant either. So I was quite looking forward to it. You can imagine my disappointment when I was told that it was off the menu as they had run out!

In the end I decided I would got for a starter and ordered the sea salt and pepper squid.

Squid

The menu described this being served with sesame seeds and tomato & chilli jam. Of course once you have ordered the menu is removed so I couldn’t check until I got back to the hotel I was staying at to see that there was no jam, I had been served the dish with sliced chilli instead. It isn’t the same and would have ruined the dish if I had eaten that amount of chilli!

This dish was probably described as okay. The coating was crispy, but the squid was a little too chewy. Way too much chilli!

For my main course I chose the grilled scottish langoustines with romesco sauce – sun-dried tomatoes, roast peppers, garlic and almonds.

This was on the Leadenhall menu, but wasn’t on the menu when I was at the Cambridge branch. I’ve always liked langoustine, even though this was a special, I think if the turbot had been on the menu, I would have still chosen the turbot.

I was intrigued how this would be served and this is how it looked, it was a large pile of grilled langoustine.

GRILLED SCOTTISH LANGOUSTINES (N) 29.95 with romesco sauce – sun-dried tomatoes, roast peppers, garlic, almonds

I was quite surprised by the way if was presented. The langoustine had been halved, grilled and then the romesco sauce added on top.

The langoustine was not as tasty as I thought they would be, but I did enjoy the romesco sauce. If anything the langoustine were rather dry and they didn’t have a huge amount of flavour. Though quite a large dish, it wasn’t that filling, well once you eat the langoustine flesh there is still quite a bit of langoustine left. I think I should have ordered some sides, but at the time of ordering I wasn’t that hungry.

The service was excllent, warm and friendly. I enjoyed the meal and think with the 50% off offer it was value for money. I would like to go again, but in the current landscape that may be some time away.

Last supper, well for a while

Before lock down and all the restaurants we usually frequent were closed we went to Wagamama at Cribbs Causeway. We had thought that places might close or be restricted, so took a final opportunity to go out and eat.

It was quite quiet compared to usual, but not to be unexpected. We were given a lovely warm welcome and we made our way to the table.

Looking over the menu and feeling quite hungry I decided that as well as my main course I would order a side of hirata buns. I really like these and have in the past been tempted to order them from Wagamama, but not really had a chance or wasn’t hungry enough, or more likely I chose the chilli squid instead.

The menu describes them as Mixed Mushroom Hirata Buns – two fluffy asian buns stuffed with mixed mushrooms, panko aubergine, coriander and mayonnaise.

ixed Mushroom Hirata Buns - two fluffy asian buns stuffed with mixed mushrooms, panko aubergine, coriander and mayonnaise.

The buns were lovely and fresh, warm and soft. The mushrooms were really tasty as was the panko aubergine. I demolished them fairly quickly and was left wanting more. They were very tasty buns.

Usually when I am at Wagamama I seem to order the ramen, so deciding to be different I want with a curry instead.

I had the Nikko Curry with Sea Bream, which the menu describes as fragrant and citrusy. Coconut, lemongrass and turmeric soup, roasted butternut squash, tenderstem broccoli, mangetout, bok choi, beansprouts, chilli, coriander, ginger, fresh lime, and chilli oil. It came with a side of white rice with sesame seeds.

Nikko Curry with Sea Bream, which the menu describes as fragrant and citrusy. Coconut, lemongrass and turmeric soup, roasted butternut squash, tenderstem broccoli, mangetout, bok choi, beansprouts, chilli, coriander, ginger, fresh lime, and chilli oil. It came with a side of white rice with sesame seeds.

I felt the fish was slightly overcooked, but I really enjoyed the soup and the vegetables were lovely fresh, and cooked perfectly. The dish overall was really tasty and I was wanting more when I had finished.

I really enjoyed the meal and was a little sad as we left as I realised that we might not enjoy such a meal again for some time.

Time for some seafood

Staying overnight in Cambridge, well over in Madingley, which is just outside the city. I was wondering where I could get something to eat. In Madingley there is a really nice looking gastropub, but was out of my budget, so I looked into the heart of Cambridge. Yes the Midsummer House was a possibility, if I had loads of spare money and no budget, but I didn’t, so no that wasn’t a possibility…

I had downloaded a Zizzi voucher, quick and easy I thought. Checking where it was, I saw on the map the Loch Fyne. I have been curious about the place for a while now, there are branches in Bath and Bristol, but I have never been, mainly as it was usually quite pricey from memory. I thought I would look at the menu and see what I could be missing. Accessing the website I saw that they had a January offer, 50% off mains. Looking over the menu, I saw lots of things I liked the look of, so that was the place.

The restaurant is on Trumpington Street quite close to the impressive Fitzwilliam Museum. It’s an older building and inside there are lots of wooden beams and low ceilings.

I initially thought, well it’s January, cold and a Tuesday, it wouldn’t be very busy, boy was I wrong. The place was packed. I was left waiting for a while, and then asked to sit in the foyer style area, until a table was free. I waited some more. At this point I nearly left.

In the end I went with Loch Fyne Seafood Mixed Grill. The dish as described consists of Scottish salmon, Scottish king scallop, golden shell Hebridean mussels, squid, sea bass fillet, samphire, wilted spinach, lobster butter, and a side of sautéed new potatoes.

I knew the place was busy, so didn’t worry too much about the speed of service, but in the end it was quite quick. The plate looked delicious. There was a huge prawn in the dish, which was nice, as that wasn’t on the dish description.

As I tried the salmon, I realised that the king scallop was missing. Considering how busy it was, I didn’t think I would be able to get the attention of the waiting staff, but I was lucky. He was very apologetic and took the dish and returned shortly with the added scallop, well two scallops.

The dish was well cooked, I enjoyed the salmon and the bass as well as the scallops. The squid was nice, as were the mussels. I couldn’t really taste the lobster butter, but there was a richness there I enjoyed. It comes with a side of sautéed potatoes, which were smooth, buttery and rather tasty.

I was surprised by how busy the place was, but I did quite like the environment. The service wasn’t perfect, but I put that down to the number of people in the place.