Raking over the Coals

Cabot Circus

Out in Bristol and needing somewhere for lunch, we avoided the huge queue for Nando’s and went to the Coal Grill and Bar in Cabot Circus. I still can’t get over the popularity of Nando’s in Cabot Circus, everytime I pass it at lunchtime there is a queue of at least ten to twenty people wanting to eat there. It’s not as though there isn’t a choice as within literally spitting distance is Bella Italia, Giraffe, Frankie and Benny’s, La Tasca and Yo! Sushi. Within a few minutes are about another six to ten restaurants. However regardless of that choice and availability, people are still queuing for Nando’s. I think the other aspect that “confuses” me is that this isn’t some kind of area known for eating out, it’s a shopping centre, people are shopping and I would expect generally that most people want to stop for a reasonably quick lunch. Why would you then in addition spend anything up to half an hour queuing for lunch at Nando’s before you even sit down? Why? Okay I know it’s a place that serves chicken… but it’s chicken? It’s not even if the prices are that different then any of the other places around. Also it’s basically just chicken, whereas the other places have a little more choice on their menus. Ah well, one day I may understand… until then I will remain confused.

So we didn’t go to Nando’s, nor did we go to Yo! Sushi. In the main as the children were with us and though I know one of them loves sushi, the middle one would probably give it a go, the smallest of the three was adamant that she wanted pizza. I know for a fact that Yo! Sushi don’t do pizza, I am not even sure if they do any kind of kids menu. So we did consider Bella Italia, having had a fair few nice meals up in the Cribbs branch, but it was full. We did a quick look round at menus and decided to try out Coal.

We’ve never been before and though they have a few branches across the UK, they’re not that big a chain, so much so that all the branches they have, are listed complete with addresses on the back of a business card.

It was busy, but the polite and smiling manager found us a huge circular booth for the five of us. I forget sometimes that five is an odd number for eating out, it’s not two or four, which seems to be the norm for tables these days at restaurants. In the past it wasn’t too bad as the smallest member of the family would sit in a high chair next to us. She is now a little taller and “grown-up” so has a proper chair now.

We ordered drinks and perused the menu. I did feel that the kids menu lacked a little imagination, but my smallest was happy that they did pizza and the middle one was pleased to be able to choose Spaghetti Bolognese, one of his favourite dishes. Now in case you were thinking that my smallest is a little bit fussy, well she is in her own way, however having said that, she does enjoy linguine tossed with pesto and pancetta, and prefers mature cheddar cheese.

My eldest wasn’t quite sure what to have. He’s ten now and in many ways is too old for the kids menu and often prefers to have something from the main menu. After looking over the menu, he seemed to not know what to choose, so I suggested the Chimichanga (£9.95). This was a flour tortilla stuffed with spicy chicken, tomato salsa and cheese with a side of guacamole, sour cream and garlic rice. He does like this kind of thing and he had missed it when looking over the menu. He really liked it and finished the plate off. Personally I thought it lacked colour and looked a little drab, white tortilla on a bed of white rice with sour cream, with only a little guacamole and salad leaves for colour! Yes the inside of the tortilla had tomato, but that was offset by the white chicken!

Chimichanga flour tortilla stuffed with spicy chicken, tomato salsa and cheese with a side of guacamole, sour cream and garlic rice

My wife went with the Crayfish Salad (£9.65), crayfish tails and avocado mixed leaves, toasted croutons, sundried tomatoes. Though she enjoyed it she wasn’t too impressed with the sundried tomatoes as they lacked vitality and flavour. It did look very nice and certainly there were generous servings of both crayfish and avocado.

I was quite impressed with the range on the menu, but looking over it , and in the end, I decided on the Classic Burger (£9.45).

Classic burger tomato, lettuce, coal-slaw, spicy relish and chips

I really did fancy something from the grill, but likewise didn’t want to spend too much money. I liked how you could choose between having chicken or beef in your burger. I also think that a classic dish such as this gives you a really good idea on the quality of the ingredients and the effort that has gone into food preparation. Presentation was different, but looked impressive. The burger came in a good looking bun, a large slice of tomato and a single lettuce leaf. This was a very good burger, great texture, delicious and cooked to perfection. I also enjoyed the burger bun. The chips came in a miniature deep fat fryer, they were crispy, partly as they had been cooked twice, something I don’t always like, as they can be a little too greasy. Accompanying was some coleslaw and a spicy relish. I enjoyed the whole dish and it worked very well.

The service was excellent, just right, not too over the top that you find at some places, and likewise neither the unavailable kind you get at others. It was friendly and professional and family friendly.

Overall I was really pleased with the whole experience at Coal, it was a nice environment, comfortable atmosphere, great food, excellent service. All in all I enjoyed the meal, and would certainly visit again.

La Tasca, no hay amor más

Though my plan to celebrate my anniversary with dinner at the Second Floor Bristol, in Harvey Nichols was scuppered by my wife who decided no matter how nice the restaurant looked and how interesting the menu, she didn’t want to have a celebrationary dinner in an upmarket BHS or Primark! Anyway the Second Floor Bristol is a really stupid name for a restaurant. Okay so it’s on the second floor, I get that. It’s in Bristol, I get that. Why though is it named after where it is? Are they so confident about the food and the location, that they don’t think it needs a proper name? Well after my wife turned down this choice of mine, I needed to choose somewhere else.

So having to make a quick decision, I decided on La Tasca. My last few visits have been okay and I do like tapas. The end result wasn’t as good as I remember and certainly I don’t think we’ll go again. It wasn’t awful, it was just okay, nothing special and I do think that the restaurant could have done a lot better.

As it was a Sunday they had their Foolish Feast special, so we went with that. I chose that, partly to be cost effective, but in the main it was easy. I almost laughed at the photograph on the back of the menu, which appeared to be of an authentic Spanish tapas bar and thought, now that would be wonderful, however I knew that in reality the stuff we were going to get would be nice, but it wouldn’t be genuine in the way a proper Spanish tapas bar can be. I wonder why now, why we even went in there…

As we discussed the menu, we both realised that a Greek meze place would probably have been a much better choice, but it was late, we had sat down, we had ordered coffee. A bit too late to do anything then.

La Tasca

The special was £14.95 per person. You start off with the Tabla Especial – to share between two Serrano ham, bread and mixed olives, served with an extra-virgin olive oil & sherry vinegar dip.

Good ham, nice olives and measly amount of bread…. really you needed a bit more bread than you got.

The Paella Valenciana ‘La Tasca’ with chicken, Galician mussels, king prawns, squid, lemon wedges, char-grilled aubergine and peppers; could have been so good, but was let down because it was reheated. As a result the rice was stodgy, the squid was chewy, as were the mussels. I can appreciate that it can’t be easy to cook paella for these kinds of menus, however either do it properly or don’t do it all! Reheating paella is not how it is done in Spain. It kinds of puts me off going to La Tasca and ordering a “proper” paella in case that is a reheated dish. The flavour was okay, but the textures let this dish down.

We ordered one of everything and waited for it to arrive.

This is one dish which really you shouldn’t get wrong, it’s a really simple dish. Patatas Bravas is deep fried potato, with spicy tomato sauce. However they did a bit of a botch job. The potato wasn’t crispy enough and some of it was well undercooked too.

I did enjoy the Albóndigas, beef & pork meatballs, in a rich, slow-cooked tomato sauce. They had good texture, nice flavour and a good sauce. Well it was a good sauce until we worked out that it tasted like the tomato sauce in tinned spaghetti hoops!

I also enjoyed the Croquetas de Pollo. These were hand-crumbed with chicken breast and served with roasted garlic mayonnaise. They were crisp on the outside and lovely and soft on the inside. They melted in the mouth and had a really nice flavour.

The Spinach Tortilla, a spinach omelette served with a spicy red pepper tapenade and roasted garlic mayonnaise was okay, but I did feel it lacked flavour.

Apart from been a little too salty, the Pescado Blanco Frito which was deep-fried white fish, in a special-recipe San Miguel batter, served with homemade paprika & roasted garlic mayonnaise and lemon. The batter was crisp and crunchy, but I did feel that the fish needed more natural flavour. You really needed to dip it in the mayonnaise.

As you might expect you couldn’t really mess up the Baby Leaf Green Salad, served with balsamic vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil dressing on the side.

Overall there were some really nice dishes that we had at the table and alas there were some that really didn’t work out very well. I think it might be a while before I go to La Tasca again, I really do need to find a proper local Spanish tapas bar.

What is it with Nando’s?

Cabot Circus

Why is it so popular? Come on tell me why?

Now I will admit I have never actually been to a Nando’s so couldn’t tell you if it was any good or not.

I recently was in Bristol’s Cabot Circus twice within a week around lunchtime. Though there are a wide range of eating establishments in the area, each time I was there there was a huge queue for the Nando’s. Around 20-30 people queuing outside. At all the other places there were no queues. Doesn’t happen all the time, the Nando’s at Gloucester Quays never seems to have a queue!

So it’s very popular, but I am not sure why?

They do grilled chicken with a hot marinade with side orders.

Would you know if they use fresh raw chicken, or is it pre-cooked and just “flamed” on the grill?

If you are into that Nando’s what is it that makes people queue? Should I try it out? Or not touch it with a barge pole?