Well, that was nice, a sweet memory!

I don’t know about you, but I quite like those quirky independent cafes and coffee places.

In Newcastle for a meeting, we went for lunch in one of these, it did have a slightly bizarre name, Sweet Memories at Study Café. Various tables and chairs with bright coloured walls, interesting artwork across the walls provides the quirky environment which you don’t find in the high street chains (even when they try to do that like Coffee#1).

30980597590_58eccb3380_o

It also has a slightly bizarre attitude to the menu, with a load of lovely vegetarian and vegan options, along with a range of breakfast dishes that include bacon and sausages! You can see the vegan scones and cakes in the window, I do wonder if they might annoy vegans and vegetarians who might not want to eat at a place that serves bacon. Likewise those who are not vegetarian might not consider the place, because they may think it serves just vegan food from the window displays. Having said all that, it was quite busy!

Looking over the menu, I was quite tempted by the eggs Florentine, but it did feel a little bit too close to breakfast and I had had eggs for breakfast. So I went with the mushrooms and halloumi in pitta bread served with salad.

31226200781_947092cc7f_o

I really enjoyed the mushrooms which were cooked well and full of flavour. Likewise the halloumi was nicely cooked and just how I like it. Alas the pitta bread was cold and stale, it could have been so much better if it had been warmed or even toasted. The salad was tasty and refreshing drizzled with a balsamic glaze.

If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad!

I have been to a few of these new “gastro” burger places and have enjoyed most of them. In Newcastle overnight for a meeting the next day, myself and a colleague from work were looking for a place for a bite to eat. We chose Byron.

We were given a warm welcome from the staff and given a really nice table by the window. It’s quite a large place and for a Tuesday night I thought it was quite busy. It’s a relatively smart décor combined with a warm atmosphere made it quite a pleasant place to be on a cold wintery evening.

Looking over the menu, I decided that I didn’t really fancy beef or chicken, so went with one of the vegetarian options.

This was a grilled Portobello mushroom, with goat’s cheese, roasted red pepper, baby spinach, tomato, red onion and aioli. Served in a squishy bun.

I had it alongside some fries and the house salad.

The burger was nice and full of flavour. The combination of ingredients worked well and it was very tasty.

The fries were crisp, hot and fresh, maybe a little too much salt, I prefer my fries without salt.

The salad was a nice simple salad, alas it was overdressed, I would have preferred it with the dressing on the side.

Overall a really nice meal, great service and nice environment. It was quite a limited menu, it’s just burgers, but if you are looking for a burger then why not have a look.

Time for a salad

St Nicholas Market

If you are in Bristol looking for somewhere to lunch, there are lots of chains of restaurants and coffee shops across the city centre; however those looking for something different, tasty, individual and good value, need to look no further than St Nicholas Market. Within the narrow passages you can find all manner of foods and tasty treats. The range of smells, flavours and colours as you walk between the crowded stalls both stimulates and inspires, as well as making your mouth water. The choice is almost overwhelming, you can choose Portuguese, Chinese, Caribbean, Moorish, Italian, Vegetarian, Vegan, Modern, American BBQ, so much choice you often have no idea where to start. The place is usually packed and there are long queues for virtually all the stands, so I am sure they move quite quickly otherwise people wouldn’t join them.

Down in the St Nicholas market there is the Kofta Bar, well I think it’s the Kofta Bar, the aprons of the staff say the Olive Company. Well whatever they are called, if you do know please let me know in the comments, they do offer some lovely food, including freshly made wraps.

The salad boxes are my favourite. You get to make four choices from a wide variety of salads and what they call tapas choices.

They include cous-cous, mixed pulses, butterbeans in harissa dressing, Greek style salad, dolmas, sun dried tomatoes, pesto pasta salad, pecorino salad, falafel and a wide choice of olives.

On top of this you can choose between hummus, focaccia or flat bread as an extra.

There is also a choice of dressings, including pesto, yoghurt and harrisa. What this means is that it makes very easy never to have the same salad twice.

You can have extras added to the salad, a choice of lamb kofta, grilled chicken or halloumi.

The cost of a salad box is £4.50 and with the addition of 50p you can choose from a choice of cans of San Pellegrino or a bottle of water. Lamb and chicken salad boxes are a reasonable £5.50.

Though I’ve not tried them, the wraps look equally tasty.

So if you are looking for a nice salad for lunch then I would recommend the salad bar in St Nick’s market.

Grilled Halloumi

halloumi

One staple of many of the salads I have been making over the recent weeks has been grilled halloumi. I don’t recall the first time I had this Greek cheese, but I have over the years found it a tasty addition to salads. Halloumi is a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk.

I usually slice mine into 5mm slices and then fry (so not grilling) in a hot frying pan with a little olive oil. They only take a few minutes to cook on each side. The end result is a crispy outer and a soft salty inside, that complements the greenness and freshness of a salad.

Some people like to add a little rock salt to their halloumi, but I find it salty enough.

One thing I have not tried yet is cooking it on the barbeque.

A little piece of France in Bristol

La Buvette in Bristol

Down on Baldwin Street in the heart of Bristol is a little piece of France. La Buvette is a characterful little wine bar which also serves some really nice food.

La Buvette is owned and run by the Riverstation’s Peter Taylor. Peter runs a hotel in rural France called Auberge de Chassignolles and when it closed for the winter months, Peter came back to Bristol in December and he opened Bar Buvette a pop-up Parisian-style natural wine bar. It seems to have been a success and has become more of a permanent feature.

I found out about La Buvette from an article in the Evening Post weekend supplement. So the following Tuesday thinking that this would be a nice place for a quick lunch I popped down to find it closed. Alas they only open for lunch on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so I had to find somewhere else…

Last week I was in Bristol on a Friday, so I thought, hmm, this could be a good time to try out La Buvette. I arrived at quarter past twelve, it was open and only one other table was taken, well it was quite early for lunch. The staff were welcoming and friendly and as they were still writing the menu out on the blackboard.

La Buvette in Bristol

Listening carefully I decided to go with the boudin with duck egg. When it arrived I was a little surprised to find that it was black pudding, or boudin noir! Maybe I should have listened a little more carefully. The waiting staff did say that this was a small dish, so I ordered a beetroot salad alongside the boudin noir.

The environment was really atmospheric, it felt very French, the wooden furniture, the bottles on the wall and the pictures on the wall.

La Buvette in Bristol

The boudin noir was cooked to perfection, it was soft and full of lovely flavours, and the richness of the duck egg complemented it well.

Boudin noir and duck egg

The beetroot salad was made from different dressed roasted beetroot complemented with goat’s cheese curds. This was sharp and tasty.

Beetroot Salad

Upon reflection I think I might have ordered just one dish along with some bread. This would have been better value for lunch, but I did really enjoy both dishes. The total cost was £12.50 as I basically had two dishes, with bread the cost would have been around £7.50 which is better, but still quite expensive for lunch. However the food was great, the staff friendly and excellent service, it will be a place I would like to visit again.

Grilled Halloumi

Grilled Halloumi Salad #photo365 #fb

This is a quick and easy addition to any salad or as a starter.

Halloumi s a Cypriot semi-hard, unripened brined cheese made from a mixture of goat’s and sheep’s milk. I slice the cheese into 5mm slices and these are then placed under a hot grill, cooked on both sides until browned.

For speed though I have been taking a large frying pan, using some a little olive oil and then frying the slices until browned on each side. You need to take care, as it can be easy to overcook the slices.

Fancy a salad

There are many places to grab lunch in Oxford, I have walked past the Art Café quite a few times as it is quite close to where I work.

The Art Café in Boon Square in Oxford, as well as being a café also does a takeaway service. I’ve not yet eaten upstairs, but have had the odd sandwich from them too. They have a nice selection, with a range of breads, interesting fillings and they are quite tasty too.

This time I chose the Chicken Pesto Salad, which includes chicken breast, mixed salad leaves, green pesto, mozzarella and pinenuts.

Chicken, mozzarella and pesto salad

It did look very nice. It comprised a bed of a variety of crisp lettuce leaves, quartered tomatoes, slices of cucumber, some slices of chicken and mozzarella. On top was, what I thought was a small amount of pesto, enough for the chicken, but not really enough for the salad, and a scattering of pinenuts.

Probably the best way to describe the salad was okay. It wasn’t disappointing, neither though was it good. It was a good sized portion for the price, however I think the main issues was that the salad, as in the lettuce and tomatoes looked good, but lacked flavour. If there was more of a dressing, this might have made up for the blandness of the salad.

Overall I much prefer the sandwiches and baguettes they sell at the Art Café and I am not sure if I will get a salad again.

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.

Not such a long queue today

Oxford covered market | 2


Within the Oxford Covered Market are many places to grab lunch, either to eat there, or to take back to the office.

The Alpha Bar is one of the most popular establishments, so much so, that the long queues usually put me off from buying lunch from there. Another problem with their popularity is that they often run out of their popular dishes. As a result I don’t go there as often as I probably would like to.

Today the queue was short, so I managed to grab a nice salad. There is plenty of choice, and you can choose small or large. Take a main, such as chicken, feta, tofu or as I chose, grilled halloumi. You then choose a couple of sides, I went with the orzo and pesto, with the cous cous. There are a range of toppings, including pesto, hummus or as I chose, some olives. The halloumi was freshly grilled, which was good, the rest of the salad was tasty and fresh and I thought good value at £3.95.

In addition there are a range of hot choices, such as Tuscan Beef served with potatoes or rice.

As well as food, there are a range of drinks available, and surprising for me I’ve not tried the coffee.

The Alpha Bar does have a few tables outside, but this is generally a place to buy lunch to take away. It does some great food and it is really good value for money. The only real downside for me, is that it is that good, that there are often long queues, so I am often forced to miss them out.

Image via Howard Stanbury on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Coffee at Caffé Veneto

Having had some good coffee at the Portivo Lounge in Gloucester I have for a while been meaning to try out the Pinto Lounge in Banbury. Having some time for lunch, I took a walk down to the centre of Banbury to have a look at the Pinto Lounge and see if it was a good place to have something to eat. Having had a look over the menu, I wasn’t that inspired, not that there was an issue with the menu, just that there didn’t seem to be anything that really took me. Maybe another time…

Having a quick wander around the area, I found the Caffé Veneto, this is an independent coffee shop with an continental feel to it, that only opened in April 2014.

Caffé Veneto

Entering the place you immediately feel that this is a comfortable environment for drinking coffee. There is the bar, but unless you are taking away, then sit at a table and your order will be taken and presented at your table. This is quite an Italian thing, whenever I was in Italy I would often order coffee whilst sitting in a café and was waited upon. The concept of ordering from a barista and then waiting for your coffee, is much more an American way of ordering coffee. The decor is not very traditional Italian, but has wooden floors, round tables and chairs and a range of coffee sacks attached to the walls. It’s a calming environment, and sitting down you feel relaxed and comfortable. Service was friendly and efficient and you were made to feel very welcome.

Sat at the table I looked over the menu, there isn’t a huge amount of choice, a range of sandwiches, panini, lasagne and salad.

I quite liked the idea of a salad, so I went with the chicken caesar salad, along with an espresso.

Espresso

I enjoyed the espresso, but I am not really a fan of drinking out of, what is basically, a shot glass. Glass conducts heat really well, so it’s not easy to lift and drink a hot coffee. Despite that it was a really good coffee, and the little biscotti was a nice touch.

The salad was good, nice plate of cos lettuce, chicken and olives. The dressing was tasty, just the right amount, not too much and not too little either.

Chicken Caesar Salad

Overall I was pleased with the food, the service and the ambience. I think they should reflect on their menu and possibly add more options for lunch, but I may be missing the point, it is first and foremost a place for coffee, rather than a place for lunch.