We waited a day…

With the easing of lockdown restrictions, restaurants from the 12th April were allowed to open for outside eating only. To be honest I wasn’t that excited about this, however with my birthday on the 13th we made the decision to go out to eat to celebrate. Last year on my birthday we were in the full lockdown and there was very little we could go and do, so had a lovely celebration at home and we had a fish supper with stir fry. So this year we were thinking could we do something different and could we go out to eat. 

We booked a table at Zizzi at Cabot Circus in Bristol. This is “outside” but is in many ways under some kind of cover as well. So if it did rain, it shouldn’t have too much of a negative impact on the experience. We did wrap up warm though.

We had a warm if slightly confused welcome from the manager and we were shown to our table.

The paper disposable menus provided a wide choice, but I did quite fancy pizza so I went with the Rustica Primavera which has goat’s cheese, artichokes, spinach, fire-roasted peppers, olives, mozzarella, sunblush tomatoes & super green pesto.

It looked great when it arrived.

Rustica Primavera

I really liked the freshness of the spinach, rocket and fresh pesto on the pizza. Though I like goat’s cheese, I actually think that I might prefer this pizza without it. The dough base was nice, and as it was stretched some areas were thin and cripsy, whilst other parts of the pizza were thick and doughy. I liked the olives and artichokes along with the tomatoes and peppers.

I have had this pizza before, and enjoyed it back then too.

Overall a very tasty pizza.

Woodland style pizza

Now as we start to leave the third lockdown I have been reflecting on some meals I had out over the last few years which never made it to the blog. Sometimes I just run out of time to write up a review and sometimes I forget to write up the meal. 

Back in May 2019 we went out for pizza at Bella Italia at Cribbs Causeway. I had the Funghi Luganica, a ‘white pizza’ with a mascarpone and porcini base, topped with garlic & thyme chestnut mushrooms, pancetta, Luganica sausage and mozzarella.

Funghi Luganica, a ‘white pizza’ with a mascarpone and porcini base, topped with garlic & thyme chestnut mushrooms, pancetta, Luganica sausage and mozzarella

I did enjoy this pizza and it was very woodland like in appearance and taste. It had a woodland or forest feel to it. I really enjoyed the mushrooms, which had very much a roasted flavour, rather than the insipid soggy texture and flavour you can usually find on some pizzas. The crumbled sausage added texture, saltiness as well as a meaty flavour to the pizza. I liked the fact that this was a ‘white pizza’ so no tomato. I do quite enjoy these kinds of pizza, however one day I will try and make my own ‘white pizza’.

I think this was the first time I had this pizza and enjoyed it so much that on return visits to Bella Italia I ordered it again in July at Cribbs Causeway and also ordered it when I was at a branch at Bella Italia in Leeds, which wasn’t as good as the versions I had earlier.

On my most most recent visit to Bella Italia which was way back in February 2020, just before lockdown, I actually went with a Calzone pizza. I don’t recall if the Funghi Luganica was on the menu or not, having checked the current menu it’s no longer there.

Nice Pizza

To celebrate a birthday we decided to end up at Zizzi in Cabot Circus. The place was busy, and we had to wait about ten minutes for a table. Well to say the place was busy, was a bit of a poor description. There were plenty of free tables, but I think they were short-staffed, so couldn’t serve all the tables, or cook the food. Regardless of the reason, there were empty tables, and we were shown to our (small) table.

The welcome was warm and friendly and it was easy to order our food. Our dietary requirements were taken care of and we pursued the menu.

I went with the Rustica Primavera, which is their stretched pizza with goat’s cheese, artichokes, spinach, fire-roasted peppers, olives, mozzarella, sunblush tomatoes, super green pesto & rocket.

Rustica Primavera, which is their stretched pizza with goat’s cheese, artichokes, spinach, fire-roasted peppers, olives, mozzarella, sunblush tomatoes, super green pesto & rocket

The pizza was cooked well and there was an abundance of toppings, even so I would have liked a but more artichoke. The pesto was nice, and I quite like fresh rocket on my pizza, I feel I am eating something healthier than it actually is.

I really enjoyed my pizza, there is something consistent about the quality of the food and the service at Zizzi, which means I go there a lot, more than other chains. Having said that, looking over the blog, I realise not only am I going to Zizzi a lot, I am also basically eating the same pizza each time I go.

Time for a tasty pizza (again)

It was a nice pizza

Rusty Pizza

I think it’s time for a change, not just from Zizzi, but also from pizza.

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.

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.

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.

Chicken with Turmeric and Rosemary

I have recently been eating a lot more salad and the other day I was looking for something to have with my salad.

At my local Aldi in the specials section of the chilled products was a pack of chicken fillets that was “coated” in a turmeric and rosemary marinade. This sounded quite interesting and looked nice.

To cook them I put them on wooden skewers and grilled them under a hot grill.

Chicken with Turmeric and Rosemary

They looked nice, but lacked the intensity of flavour I had been expecting.

I served the chicken with a salad dressed with sliced radish, torn mozzarella, a seed mix, diced cucumber and avocado. I trickled the salad with extra virgin olive oil.

…but you don’t like it!

Kingston upon Thames

Down in London for a family visit, it was time for lunch. Kingston has a lot of wonderful places to eat, however with young children we chose Zizzi, partly as one wanted pizza and the other is gluten-free (and Zizzi do a nice gluten free pizza).

It was a Saturday lunchtime and the place looked packed standing outside, I didn’t hold out much hope that we would be able to get a table, especially as we hadn’t booked. However the branch of Zizzi in Kingston has an upstairs, which was a lot less crowded and we able to easily find a table for the seven of us. I quite liked the nautical theme of the decoration and furniture.

Zizzi in Kingston

I do like the rustica style pizza at Zizzi and have had their Carnosa before which I enjoyed. Going over the menu I was tempted to have the Carnosa again, but saw the new Rustica Pizza Pulled Pork Roma. This was described as slow-cooked pulled pork and crispy crackling on a white base of Fior di Latte and smoked mozzarella with pepperoni, sunblush tomatoes, thyme & smoked chilli jelly.

Rustica Pizza Pulled Pork Roma

I almost always avoid menu items with pulled pork in them, as I don’t like it. They usually contain a sticky sweet barbecue sauce, from the menu description it was apparent that this pizza didn’t. I should point out I wasn’t certainly expecting any kind of authentic Italian experience here either.

I like how they use the term, Fior di Latte mozzarella to make it sound exotic and authentic, what it actually means this is cheap mozzarella made from cow’s milk and not the buffalo milk that “proper” mozzarella is made from. However when it comes to topping a pizza, I don’t believe it makes too much difference when it comes to flavour. I do though think it’s amusing they are using the Italian terminology to make the pizza appear more “authentic”.

The rustica style pizza is a stretched pizza base, which is more authentic than most pizza you can buy, it’s also similar to the Romana style pizze you can get Pizza Express. I like the crisp and texture of this pizza. I liked the crunchiness of the crackling and tasty pork. The other toppings all added to the overall experience.

I did enjoy this pizza and found it a delicious combination of tastes and textures.

The service was friendly and fast, however though I ordered a starter, it never arrived, the waiter had forgotten to put it through to the kitchen!

The other starter arrived just as we started to eat it, all the main courses arrived, it was bread, so less of an issue, but even so…

So, nice environment, great pizza and okay service. Even if it is busy, you should still as a restaurant be able to manage, I was expecting Saturday lunchtime to be busy, so should Zizzi.

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.