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.

Alba Ristorante Part Three

I was recently lucky enough to go to dinner at the Alba Ristorante in London with some friends., not just once, but enjoyed it enough the first time to go for a second meal. Unlike a lot of Italian restaurants I have been too, the menu here was not full of pasta and pizza, on the contrary it was very different and as a result much more interesting and refreshing.

Misto di Verdure alla Griglia Condite al Balsamico

On my second visit for my starter I had the Misto di Verdure alla Griglia Condite al Balsamico or in English, Mixed grilled Italian vegetables balsamic & extra virgin olive oil.

This was very nice, a simple dish which worked very well. There were courgettes, pepper, tomato and aubergine.

Out of the two starters I had, I think I preferred the duck.

Poached Chicken

I do quite like poaching chicken, it allows me to cook chicken quickly and keep is tender and moist.

However the downside is that it can look a bit unappetising.

Here is what I did recently when poaching chicken, though it might be worthwhile talking about the poaching itself.

I take a pan of water, add some herbs, some onion, a carrot and if I had other veg I add that.

I bone the chicken and place in the pan and simmer for ten minutes.

Remove allow to dry for a while.

I then place the cooked chicken onto a roasting tray, and drizzle them with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

I then roast them in a hot oven for ten minutes to give them some colour.

As a result quickly cooked moist and tender chicken with colour.

I served it with a vegetable risotto.


Chicken Kebabs

Chicken Kebabs

In order to make these kebabs, take some organic chicken, I used skinless and boneless thighs. I prefer the thigh meat over the breast as I find it has more flavour.

Cut into cubes about the size of cherry tomatoes.

Cut some red pepper and onions to a similar size.

Now thread, the chicken, red pepper, onions, along with some cherry tomatoes.

Pour some olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the kebabs, add ground black pepper and marinade for at least an hour.

Place under a hot grill or at the top of a hot oven and cook for fifteen to twenty minutes.

Serve with a salad.

Barbecued Chicken

Having written previously about my liking for Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, I have been experimenting with my own recipe for a barbecue sauce.

I take some balsamic vinegar, oil, honey, cajun spices, tomato puree (or even ketchup – which I have to thank Jamie Oliver for).

Barbecued Chicken

This I coat the chicken in and the roast in the oven.

When it’s a little warmer I intend to then finish it off over the hot coals of a barbecue.


Today I ate the bolognaise sauce I made yesterday, always helps to leave it overnight, helps the flavour no end.

I have a simple recipe which works for me.

Take some minced beef and brown it off in the pan, vital to get some browning on the mince for flavour.

The next stage will ensure you have a delicious and not a greasy bolognaise  sauce, drain the mince in a sieve and then ensure there is minimal fat left in the pan.

Now add some chopped onion, red pepper and pancetta and cook until the onions are softened. Add back the drained mince and add a tin of finely chopped tomatoes.

I then add black pepper, balsamic vinegar and some tomato puree.

Cook for at least forty five minutes.

I served mine with spaghetti and grated parmesan.

Eat with a good Italian red wine.

Pasta in Tomato Sauce

This is a very quick and easy dish with a lovely piquant tomato sauce.

Pasta in Tomato Sauce

In a large frying pan, cook off some pancetta, then in the same pan soften a finely chopped onion and red pepper.

When the pancetta, onions and pepper are nearly cooked, add a good splash of balsamic vinegar, then as this boils add a blended tin of tomatoes (or you could use passata if you want to). Add some tomato puree and sliced mushrooms. Leave to simmer for at least twenty minutes and preferably a little longer. Towards the end add some chopped fresh parsley.

When you are nearly ready to eat, cook the pasta. With a tomato sauce I much prefer to use a dried pasta (and use fresh pasta with a cream based sauce). With this recipe I used De Cecco Fusilli.

When the pasta is cooked, drain and toss the pasta in the sauce.

Serve with freshly grated parmesan and ground black pepper.

If you like to you could add some black olives or anchovies to the sauce, I prefer not to due to the saltiness of these ingredients.

Tomato Sauce

This is a nice and simple yet tasty tomato sauce.

Take a small (or half a large onion) and dice finely.

Take half a red pepper and dice finely.

Soften the onion and pepper in a large frying pan with a splash of olive oil.

When the onion and pepper are nearly cooked you can add some chopped mushrooms (but this is optional, however they do add a really nice flavour).

Once the mushrooms are cooked add a good splash of balsamic vinegar and turn up the heat.

Now add a tin of chopped tomatoes or passata. I usually just use a tin of chopped (or whole) tomatoes and then whizz it in a blender. Add some tomato puree and cook for at least fifteen minutes.

It goes well with a lot of dishes, meat, fish or vegetarian.

I served mine with plain rice and thin pork loin steaks which I had covered in flour, then egg and then breadcrumbs and shallow fried.