Temps pour un steak baguette s’il vous plaît

In the past I have had some poor eating experiences at Café Rouge so have generally avoided their branches when looking for somewhere for lunch. Either the food wasn’t as good as I was expecting, or more usually poor and late service. However I still like the concept of a French bistro and the menu often is quite enticing.

I had arrived early in Cheltenham for a meeting and wanted somewhere I could get some lunch I hadn’t even considered Café Rouge. I had a look round, and not wanting something too heavy or too expensive I wasn’t sure what to have. I then saw Café Rouge and recalled seeing a special offer with my Three Wuntu app.If you have a mobile phone contract with Three then you often can get special deals and offers. The Wuntu offer was for a baguette, burger or croque for just five pounds. Well that fitted the bill, so in I went, though I was a little cautious. There was a warm and friendly welcome and I was able to choose where to sit from a few options offered to me, which was nice. Alas for some reason I was unable to get a decent 4G signal at my table so was unable to do the work I had intended to do over lunch. Not sure why, probably the construction of the building. Glad I managed to sort out the special offer on my phone before I went in. This branch of Café Rouge looked similar to their other branches, they have tried to give the place a French feel and look. It works for me.

I perused the menu and in the end decided to go with the Steak Baguette. I didn’t really fancy a burger or croque so I went with the steak baguette. The steak baguette was filled with sliced Black Angus rump steak with red onion chutney, watercress and Dijon mayonnaise and served with my choice of fries or salad. I went with the fries.

sliced Black Angus rump steak with red onion chutney, watercress and Dijon mayonnaise and served with fries

It arrived on a narrow wooden platter with a bowl of fries. I wasn’t too sure about how I was going to eat this, as it felt like it might be a bit messy to eat. I should have asked for a plate!

The steak was cooked as requested and was quite flavoursome and tasty. I think it could have been sliced more thinly in order to make it easier to eat. The watercress and Dijon mayonnaise worked well with the steak, but I did feel the red onion chutney was a bit of a miss and I think it could have been left off entirely. The baguette was fresh, with a crispy crumb and fluffy inside. The fries were crispy and hot and were a nice accompaniment.

The only complaint I had wasn’t about the restaurant, but was about the deal, the steak baguette incurred a £2 supplement, which wasn’t clear in the offer terms and conditions. Also the steak baguette was cheaper than the burgers, so still not sure why it had the supplement. So it was £7 not a fiver, but that was still quite a good deal. It was nice to sit down and eat, rather than grab a sandwich on the go.

You never know I might go again!

Time for a cheaper pizza

In the past we’ve had some good experiences at the Bella Italia at Cribbs Causeway and we’ve had some pretty poor ones too. We have been there a number of times, and they have revamped the places a few times over the years. Now it has a more of an American diner feel to it, rather than the Italian restaurant style it had before.

One of the key reasons we decided to return to eat was that we had a special offer. We used an offer code, so we only paid five pounds for each dish, which made the whole meal very good value for money.

Though we had to wait for a while, we were once our table was ready we were given a warm and friendly welcome and and it was quick and easy to place our order.

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.

unghi 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. 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.

My son had the Queen Margherita pizza. Tomato and mozzarella base, oven-baked then topped with torn bufala mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, rocket and green pesto.

Queen Margherita pizza. Tomato and mozzarella base, oven-baked then topped with torn bufala mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, rocket and green pesto.

This looked great and he said it was fresh and tasty. It was finished off, which doesn’t always happen.

My wife had the fresh egg tagliatelle in a tasty carbonara sauce with crispy pancetta and leeks.

fresh egg tagliatelle in a tasty carbonara sauce with crispy pancetta and leeks.

However this didn’t look anything like the picture on the menu on the website when we got home, where are the leeks? Having said that she did say the pasta was very tasty.

Service was mixed, our main waiter was warm and friendly, but other staff looked rushed and flustered.

Overall though we had an enjoyable dining experience.

Time to enjoy the meal please…

Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol

I haven’t been to Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway for a while now, I think it was for my birthday last year following a game of bowling.

Okay having checked my blog, yes it was last year…

Time for a pizza and some antipasto

With just the three of us, and having just visited the cinema we ventured in, having booked a table earlier that evening. That made sense as the place was quite busy and we were given a nice booth.

One of the features of Pizza Express is that they individualise their restaurants depending on location. The Weston-super-Mare branch for example has beach huts. Pizza Express at Cribbs Causeway has a number of Banksy inspired graffiti executed in his distinctive stencilling technique. I don’t think they are painted by him though.

Taking the time to peruse the menu I was tempted to have a salad, but in the end decided to go with the pizza option.

I was tempted by the Calabrese, which I have had before, but decided to try the new Funghi di Bosco. This pizza comes with portobello mushroom, tomato, mozzarella, rosemary and garlic oil, finished with fresh parsley and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

I was warned that despite no mention of this on the menu description, the tomato sauce that they use on this pizza was quite spicy, nice of them to warn me, but I decided to go down that road.

Before the pizza arrived we shared a portion of Calamari, described as lightly-crumbed, crispy calamari rings served with Çaesar dressing, a wedge of lemon and fresh parsley.

The squid was quite tender, even if the crumb wasn’t that crunchy. I thought it was okay, but I was a little disappointed. Regular readers of the blog will know that I find the way in which a restaurant serves squid or calamari, is a good way to compare or benchmark across various restaurants.

The pizza arrived and it was large, the Romana base, is stretched out and as a result is thin and crispy. I do quite like this kind of base.

Funghi di Bosco. This pizza comes with portobello mushroom, tomato, mozzarella, rosemary and garlic oil, finished with fresh parsley and shaved Gran Milano cheese on a Romana base.

I found the pizza delicious and tasty. There was plenty of mushrooms and they had a nice mushroom flavour, it was the reason I chose this pizza more than any other reason.

Our table also saw the Leggera Superfood Salad, a mix of black rice, edamame beans, red quinoa, mung beans, chickpeas, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and kale in a vinaigrette, on a bed of mixed leaves, rocket, cucumber, roasted peppers, red onion and fresh parsley with our light house dressing.

Leggera Superfood Salad, a mix of black rice, edamame beans, red quinoa, mung beans, chickpeas, cranberries, pumpkin seeds and kale in a vinaigrette, on a bed of mixed leaves, rocket, cucumber, roasted peppers, red onion and fresh parsley with our light house dressing.

This was delicious and fresh.

Another member of our party had the Fiorentina pizza on a classic base. This has spinach, free-range egg, mozzarella, tomato, garlic oil and black olives, finished with Gran Milano cheese. Apart from the olives, it was eaten with gusto and pronounced scrummy.

iorentina pizza on a classic base. This has spinach, free-range egg, mozzarella, tomato, garlic oil and black olives, finished with Gran Milano cheese.

Overall we were well pleased with the food, which was fresh, hot and tasty.

As for the service… well that’s a slightly different matter. To start off booking the table and the welcome we received was excellent. It was warm and friendly and we were made to feel right at home.

Alas our drinks order was incorrect and we had to send it back, even though I think it was a genuine mistake down to a noisy busy restaurant.

We had one big concern, the jug of tap water we were given without asking, was a nice touch. What did concern us was the huge crack in the glass jug which was leaking water. We were worried that the jug would break apart… We got a replacement, and an apology. That jug also had a crack, not as big, but still….

Our starter of calamari arrived promptly and we enjoyed eating it, but we hadn’t even finished our final mouthful when our pizzas arrived. I do like a bit of a gap between the starter and the main, and prefer not to have them on top of each other. We have gone out to eat and when going out it’s not just about the food, it’s the whole experience.

We hadn’t even finished our mains when we got asked a couple of times if we had finished. Rushing people isn’t needed (there were a fair few empty tables) and it can ruin what is actually a quite nice experience otherwise.

Overall not as good service as it could have been, the staff were certainly friendly, helpful and polite, but the service felt somewhat rushed and disorganised. When you get asked a few times if you want desert, you know that something is amiss.

Having said that we did really enjoy the food and overall the whole experience was good. Would we go again? Yes we would.

Time for some delicious pasta

Paesan restaurant close to the Exmouth Market

I seem to be spending more time in London these days, and generally I am only up there for the day. Last month I was there for most of the week so stayed overnight. I was staying in a hotel that I actually wasn’t expecting to stay in, so I hadn’t had the time to do much research about places to eat nearby and I really didn’t want to end up at the hotel restaurant, as they can be terrible food and over-priced.

I really liked the look of Paesan close to the Exmouth Market as I walked past on my way to the hotel, and decided that this was certainly a possibility. I also liked the look of the menu at Paesan, simple yet sounding really tasty, as well as authentically Italian.

Inside the plain brick walls, wooden floors and simple furniture gave the place a rustic warm atmosphere. You can see into the kitchen and see what the chefs are doing.

The staff were friendly and welcoming and I was shown to my table and I looked over the menu.

I was tempted by lots of the small plates, particularly the carpaccio or the calamari alla griglia. To be honest I think I could have quite easily ordered all of them, however I wasn’t hugely hungry and I was on a budget.

There was a wide range of pasta on the menu, in the end I ordered the a large portion of the orechiette pasta with nduja, pancetta & cime di rapa.

orechiette pasta with nduja, pancetta & cime di rapa

I could see into the kitchen and it was interesting to watch the chef cook my food.

Paesan restaurant close to the Exmouth Market

The food arrived in good time and looked great. I did expect it to be slightly larger than it was, but glad I didn’t go for the smaller “primi” size (which would be ideal for smaller appetites or lunch).

To be honest this was the best pasta I have had from any restaurant. The fresh pasta was cooked to perfection, al dente, the sauce was just about right.

I finished my meal off with a very Italian espresso, more like a ristretto.

Ristretto coffee

The menu changes quite frequently so I am tempted to go back and try something new.

Some good, some not as good as it could be

The last time I went to Wahaca at their Soho branch was in January this year and I enjoyed the dishes I had.

Though I was less impressed with the steak tacos I had, especially as I had really good steak tacos the week before at Charlotte Street.

Though I had completely forgotten about that when I visited the Soho branch for some lunch last month.

The Soho branch I suspect must get busy at lunchtime with tourists, but as I was eating just after the lunchtime rush, the place was quite empty and quiet. I find that each of the Wahaca branches has their own particular style which makes each of them a unique interesting place to eat.

I ordered three dishes, one of which was tacos with chargrilled steak served with grilled cheese & fresh guacamole

Tacos with chargrilled steak served with grilled cheese & fresh guacamole from

There use to be some really nice grilled steak tacos, I had these quite a few times. There were three soft corn tortillas which came with flash-grilled skirt steak with chipotle & tomatillo salsas with optional grilled cheese (I always avoided the cheese).

The new recipe called The Rib Eye, consists of two larger corn tortillas with chargrilled steak and is served with grilled cheese & fresh guacamole.

You do get more steak and it is very tender compared to the skirt steak they use to do, but it is also more expensive, about three pounds more than the old steak tacos price (60% more expensive).

It’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the tacos, I did, but I felt that the original recipe was really good and this wasn’t much of an improvement and certainly not a 60% improvement. I probably wouldn’t order them again.

My second small plate order was something I had ordered before which was buttermilk chicken flour tacos served crispy fried with pink pickled onions & spiced mayo.

Buttermilk chicken flour tacos served crispy fried with pink pickled onions & spiced mayo

This was again two larger flour tortillas with buttermilk friend chicken. I did think the chicken was slightly over-cooked, but it was crispy and the mayo and onions added flavour and texture.

My final small plate order was new on the menu, crab tostada dressed in chipotle mayo, served with pink pickled onions.

Crab Tostada dressed in chipotle mayo, served with pink pickled onions

You got two crispy tortilla with crab. I really enjoyed these, you could certainly taste the crab and it was a fresh tasty dish.

The only thing that let the meal down was the service, it took some time for my order to be taken and I had ordered some tap water with my meal and that was forgotten about, so I had to ask again. The fact that I had been seated around the corner meant that there wasn’t always an opportunity to get the attention of a member of the waiting staff to either place my order or ask for the water.

Overall the food was great and very tasty.

Time for some crown prince squash

Back in March staying over in London close to Oxford Circus I had plenty of choice for somewhere to eat but decided to go with Wahaca as I did quite fancy some tacos.

I find that each of the Wahaca branches has their own particular style which makes each of them a unique interesting place to eat. The Oxford Street branch is no exception and had a certain vibe. The place was quite busy but the friendly waiting staff managed to find me a table.

I usually order three dishes from the small plate street food menu and on this visit I did exactly that.

I really enjoyed the chargrilled crown prince squash.

Chargrilled Crown Prince squash grown by Riverford Organic, served with kale & cashew nut mole

The squash was grown for Wahaca by Riverford Organic and served with kale & cashew nut mole. I really enjoyed this dish, was full of flavour and very tasty. I think it could have been improved if the squash had been peeled, but the flesh of the squash did come away from the skin despite this. I really liked the chargrilled aspect of the dish and you could taste that in the squash. This dish is advertised as vegan, and I suspect people might avoid it, but if it comes back onto the menu, go for it, it was delicious.

I also went with the chargrilled steak Baja Tacos with avocado & chipotle salsas.

Chargrilled steak Baja Tacos with avocado & chipotle salsas

The steak was perfectly cooked and the tacos were very tasty.

I also ordered the chicken and avocado tacos with ancho rub, guacamole & green tomatillo salsa. Another tasty dish full of interesting flavours and textures.

The service was excellent and I really enjoyed my meal.

A different kind of pizza

Bristol has many places to eat and as well as high street chains there are many independent places. Having been invited to dinner the family headed off to one such independent place, the Florence Lounge in Totterdown in Bristol.

It certainly is a popular place with most tables reserved, even though we went to eat in the early evening. It was a hot and sunny day, so they had put most of their tables outside. They don’t have air-conditioning, so on a hot day you will want to sit outside.

I went with the Gamberi pizza. It came with a base covered in homemade tomato sauce, baby spinach, mozzarella, king prawns, silver skin anchovies, roasted asparagus, black olives, lime and rocket.

Gamberi Pizza

I loved how there was a varied selection of toppings on the pizza and the handful of fresh rocket was a nice addition. The prawns were very tasty and I enjoyed the silver skin anchovies. If these had been traditional salted anchovies then I may not have ordered the pizza. The base was cooked well and wasn’t soggy. I have had better bases recently and I felt that it let down the pizza slightly.

Unlike many other restaurants, you order and then pay at the till. The food is then bought to your table.

For those who are gluten free, unlike many pizza places these days, the only gluten free option is gluten free pasta and there is no gluten free pizza available.

Be aware that it is cash only, but there is a free ATM next door in the Tesco. Also it doesn’t have a licence, but you can bring your own alcohol if you want to (again useful having the Tesco next door.

So what did you have for breakfast?

Since our London office moved to Fetter Lane and I have been working in London significantly more, I have been intrigued by the breakfasts on offer at the local eateries around the office.

One thing that I see a lot of is poached egg pots, this kind of breakfast dish is starting to take off in Bristol too. These pots usually consist of a poached egg and then some stuff.

I have to say that by the time I get to London I am not usually looking for breakfast and generally just go with a coffee.

The other day though I was somewhat peckish. I was tempted to visit Yolk, but there was a bit of a queue, so decided to try the poached egg pots from Coco di Mama. I went with the mushrooms and power beans.

Breakfast pot

The pot contains a big portion of mixed beans in a smokey tomato sauce topped with spinach, cooked mushrooms, lightly roasted cherry tomatoes, a poached egg and some greens which could be micro herbs.

It was certainly an interesting experience, the beans were tasty and had a kick to them, so much nicer than regular baked beans. The egg was nicely cooked. I did think the mushrooms were overcooked and be careful as the tomatoes were very hot (and I nearly burnt my mouth on them).

For a hot breakfast dish, I thought it was really nice, I thought the portion size was ideal, though the proportions were slightly out for me, too many beans. I think next time I might add an extra egg for a pound.

Time for something different

Hastings East Hill Lift

So we were on holiday in Sussex and wanting somewhere to eat that a) accepted Tesco vouchers and b) had a decent gluten-free menu, we ended up in Eastbourne, with the choice of Pizza Express, Prezzo and Zizzi. Out of the three I personally prefer Zizzi, we had recently eaten at Prezzo we headed towards the Zizzi branch in Eastbourne. We had spent the day in Hastings so it was a thirty minute drive and the Apple navigation app took us as far as a roundabout close to the restaurant, but there was plenty of post 6pm free parking available.

I would say the outside of the restaurant was very uninviting, for a second or so I actually thought it might have closed down. We had a little trouble finding the door, but once we were in, it was a totally different experience. The inside was bright, fresh and welcoming and then the welcome from the member of staff (think he might have been the manager) was just as fresh and welcoming.

We were sat down and perused the menu. Lots of choices, the last time I went to Zizzi I had pizza, so really wanted something different. For a start I did consider the calamari, as It is a personal favourite, but as my son was going to have this, I decided to go with something different.

For my starter in the end I went with the Bruschetta. Speciality tomatoes, red onion and roasted garlic, in extra virgin olive oil, on toasted bread. With super green pesto, fresh basil & riserva cheese. I added some creamy bufala mozzarella as well.

Bruschetta. Speciality tomatoes, red onion and roasted garlic, in extra virgin olive oil, on toasted bread. With super green pesto, fresh basil & riserva cheese.

Apart from not getting the fresh basil, I really enjoyed this dish. It wasn’t quite what I expected, but that is something I quite like now and again.

For my main I had a new dish on the menu, the Pork Belly Arrosto. Oven-roasted pork belly with creamy riserva cheese mash, crispy crackling shards, garlic kale & broccoli & a Chianti & rosemary sauce.

Pork Belly Arrosto. Oven-roasted pork belly with creamy riserva cheese mash, crispy crackling shards, garlic kale & broccoli & a Chianti & rosemary sauce.

The pork was slow cooked and then finished off in their pizza oven. The mash was smooth and creamy, but not as cheesy as I was expecting. The shards could have been lighter and crispier, they were a little chewy. The kale and broccoli were really nice too. The sauce was tasty, I could have done with more though. Overall a really tasty dish and something very different to the pizza (or pasta) I usual have at Zizzi.

Using Tesco Vouchers meant that this was also a cheap meal and great value for money. If we were ever in Eastbourne again, I think we would visit again.

Carluccio’s has closed

Carluccio's

Walking around Bristol the other day I noticed that Carluccio’s in Quakers Friar had closed.

Doing a Google search I found out that according to one news article, it was said The Quakers Friars branch will close on Sunday, January 6.

I have walked around there before, but hadn’t noticed.

Though I have eaten at Carluccio’s before, it wasn’t a place I frequented. As I said in a recent blog post after a visit to a branch in London earlier this year.

It has been nearly ten years since I visited a branch of Carluccio’s. I do like Italian food, but I’ve not really had the inclination to visit Carluccio’s in that time. Their menu always looks interesting, but for quick lunches it was always on the pricey side.

You can probably guess that I had never been to the Quakers Friar branch in Bristol. I wonder how long it will remain empty for?