Well that was a really nice pizza

On a recent visit to Cabot Circus we looked at where to eat, slightly constrained as were using some Tesco vouchers. We were restricted to Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge or Strada.

Strada was out of the running as it was up in Clifton Village. After our last experience at Bella Italia in Cabot, we made the decision to go to Cafe Rouge. However a quick look over the menu, meant though fine for most of us, there wasn’t anything that appealed to the two youngest members of our party. They were dead set on having pizza and spaghetti bolognese. No new tastes for them today, so a little downhearted we went to Bella Italia.

On our last visit to this branch, writing about it I said

Overall it wasn’t a bad experience, but on reflection I don’t think we will go again to that branch, I do expect that we will probably go to the Cribbs branch though.

We did venture to the Cribbs branch after that meal and had a much better experience. I suspect that did influence how we felt about going to the Cabot Circus branch.

It was just after noon on a Saturday and the place was already buzzing. Nando’s next door was already full! As we ate our meal the place to busier and fuller, even the outside tables were full (despite it been quite cold and windy, even for May). I noticed as we left too how busy everywhere was.

What I have noticed more and more is how few places seem to be able to cope with five people. Plenty of tables for twos and fours, but very little for five. I think in the future we will probably need to be more planned and book tables in advance otherwise I think we could be disappointed, especially as how busy it eventually came.

Though the place was buzzing, it wasn’t that busy, but it took ages for the menus to appear, in the end I actually needed to ask for them. We took our time and when asked what drinks we wanted we were ready to order the food.

So what of the meal?

Well I was pleased to see that they had a special chalked on their blackboard and I went with that. This was Pizza Argosta that was topped with lobster, saffron, harrisa, red peppers, courgettes, parsley and rosemary. I also thought very reasonably priced at £8.95.

This was a thin crust pizza (as they usually are at Bella Italia) that was well cooked and very well presented.

Pizza Argosta that was topped with lobster, saffron, harrisa, red peppers, courgettes, parsley and rosemary.

There was a good potion of toppings and you didn’t feel anything was missing (well apart from the rosemary). The lobster tasted of lobster, the saffron was certainly apparent, both in taste and colour. I liked the thinly sliced courgette which was just cooked and was delicious. Overall a really nice different pizza and very tasty.

My wife went with the Formaggio di Capra. This was a salad made with melting goat’s cheese and red pepper tapenade on giant ciabatta croutons. Along with baby spinach, rocket, green beans, caramelised onions, roasted red peppers, olives and fresh basil in a rosemary balsamic dressing.

Formaggio di Capra

She initially thought it was a little on the large side, but she enjoyed it and polished it off. I thought it was really good value for £8.95.

My son at his last visit to Bella Italia had gone with the Gamberoni at £9.95, that is described on the menu as eight succulent king prawns sautéed with spaghetti, garlic and chilli in a spicy pomodoro sauce. He decided to go down the route again and ordered it.

Gamberoni

I did think it was better presented the last time he had it. My son really enjoyed the dish again though, and finished it all off.

As for the pizza for the youngest, well that was in my opinion on the small side, but was enjoyed. I think if your child is older then eight or nine they would find that pizza too small. My youngest is four so was just right for lunch.

Pizza

The spaghetti bolognese was also enjoyed by my middle one especially as he got a nice generous portion of parmesan on top.

I don’t usually eat puddings, but sometimes it’s nice to share and we went with the Godfather. According to the online menu, this contains nutty fudge brownies, vanilla and chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, fresh cream, chocolate popping candy, dark chocolate sprinkles and a wafer curl. According to the menu we actually read in the restaurant it said honeycomb ice cream. We did get vanilla, but no chocolate popping candy. At this point the staff were very busy and it was only a minor thing, so couldn’t be bothered to make a fuss. I am not even sure I like the popping candy, so probably a better dish for it.

The only challenge was to pay the bill, and I was left standing for ages before I could pay the bill. That was disappointing.

Overall the food was very good and enjoyed by all, really well presented and cooked. Service was adequate, yes they were busy and apart from some minor glitches, was okay. However nothing to write home about, we have had much better service at other places. Would we go again? Yes I think we would.

Bella Bella

Bella Italia

My last experience with Bella Italia was rather a disappointment, so with a little trepidation we went there for dinner, though this time it was a much better experience.

When we had arrived the place was quite empty, well it was after 4pm and you wouldn’t expect it to be that busy. What I didn’t realise when we left just before 6pm the place was buzzing and pretty much full. It certainly didn’t feel like that sitting down, I suspect the main reason is that this branch of Bella Italia is very much zoned into different areas, with clever use of walls and bannisters (or railings) though the place is quite big, you actually feel you are in a much smaller cosier venue. Compare this with the Bella Italia at Cabot Circus which is smaller, but feels much bigger and more open, and as a result less cosy.

There was a different menu to the time we last went and I would say that I was certainly less inspired. It felt a little more bland and corporate than previous visits, but that doesn’t mean it is, it just felt that way.

As a last minute choice I went with a starter and chose, despite my plan to be choosing different things, I went with the calamari at £5.95. Lightly breaded and deep fried tender squid, with lemon and caper mayonnaise. The squid was tender, but I have had much nicer squid at Bella Italia. It was apparent they had changed the recipe (well probably supplier). The last time I had the squid it included the tentacles as well as pieces of squid, and they were covered in a parmesan batter. This time they were rings and were breaded rather than battered. The only criticism I would make back then was that sometimes they overcooked the squid, this time though with the new recipe they didn’t.

So what about the main courses?

My son decided to go with the Gamberoni at £9.95, that is described on the menu as eight succulent king prawns sautéed with spaghetti, garlic and chilli in a spicy pomodoro sauce. As with a previous experience the waiting staff did ask if he wanted the chilli to which he replied yes. I find it amusing that they say eight prawns, obviously a combination of marketing the dish, and making sure that people don’t complain about the number of prawns! My son really enjoyed the dish and finished it all off.

After a lot of thought I went with the Formaggio Double Burger at £12.95, described in the menu as a double Americano with melted mozzarella, parmesan and gorgonzola cheese. It was served in a soft ciabatta bun with fries and smoked tomato and onion relish.

Firstly if they are chips, they are not fries! Fries are thin and skinny and the chips are chunky. These were chunky! The best way to describe them was as okay, they weren’t awful, but they were certainly not the best chips I had. Reflecting on this I think the problem was they were quite tasteless.

The burger though on the other hand was delicious. I was very impressed with the flavour and the texture. It was just how I like it. When I compare this one, the last time I had a burger at the Holiday Inn Express. When I ordered it, I was a little concerned that the three cheeses would overpower the dish, but that wasn’t the case, they complemented the burgers really well.

My wife went with the Portobello Mushroom Burger, which was a portobello mushroom, with goat’s cheese, roasted red pepper and onion, baby gem leaves, tomato and mayonnaise, served in a soft ciabatta bun. What I found funny was that she thought this was just the topping on a regular burger, she didn’t realise that the mushroom was the burger. Despite that “mistake” she really enjoyed it, she said it was delicious and the really liked the goat’s cheese.

My two younger children went with the pizza and spaghetti bolognese and both of them really enjoyed their food and ate a lot of it.

As for service, well I would say that the place got it just right. We had really good service throughout the meal.

Fishing for Good Service

Spaghetti Pomodoro at Strada

I’ve not been to Strada before and was looking forward to eating there. It’s interesting how many Italian style chains there are around, from the American inspired Frankie and Benny’s, Bella Italia, Prezzo. Strada is owned by the same company which owns Bella Italia and Cafe Rouge. We went to the Strada branch in York with is on Low Petergate in a lovely old building. When we entered we were greeted in a friendly manner and offered a table by the window, the place didn’t look too busy.

Inside there was a modern Italian feel to the decor and furniture and it certainly did not feel as intimidating or posh as Prezzo. However I did feel from a service perspective that Prezzo was more family friendly than Strada. This wasn’t what I would have expected by looking at the websites and online menus, my impression, having not been to either Strada or Prezzo before, was that Strada was for families and Prezzo was for couples. Our experience of the two York branches was the other way round. Though having said that, crayons and activity sheets did arrive at the table as we perused the menus.

We placed our order when our drinks arrived, which was pretty prompt, though after that the service went a little downhill.

The children’s starters arrived and they got the order wrong. Now that does happen now and again, but when you realise that the children’s menu only has two choices and we had only ordered two starters (one of each) I wasn’t impressed that they messed up that part of the order. It did make me worry whether they would get the rest of the order right!

We then waited ages for our food…

We waited…

No explanation from the staff who were notably absent. What was apparent later (when visiting the bathroom) was that there was a group in the back of the restaurant and this had a very negative impact on the service to other diners in the restaurant. It wasn’t a huge group, but it had a noticeable impact on service.

Could they have not got in some more staff if they knew they were having this group in? I also wonder if they like Prezzo did not realise that though it wasn’t school holidays in York, it was in other areas of the country and thought it would be quieter than normal? Who knows.

Eventually our food arrived.

I had decided to go for something very different to what I would normally order in a place like Strada and went for the Tegamaccio at £14.50. This is a “classic” seafood stew from Puglia. With king prawns, mussels, clams, squid and red mullet with fregola pasta in a tomato, white wine and herb sauce.

Tegamaccio

It did look very nice, and the sauce was tasty. I was disappointed with the amount of fish in the dish, yes there were plenty of prawns and a fair few mussels filled the dish, however there was only a single small piece of red mullet and just a few squid rings. The dish was served with some toasted bread and in the bottom of the dish was fregola pasta, which is similar to the large Israeli cous cous. Personally I think the dish needed more fish and more pasta. Normally I am not one of those people who demands huge portions, but in this instance the issue wasn’t one of quantity, but one of proportions.

My son decided that he would go with the simple, Spaghetti Pomodoro at £7.75. Spaghetti with fresh tomatoes, tomato sauce, drizzled with pesto and topped with fresh basil.

It looked great and he said it was delicious and finished the dish off.

My wife chose the Penne Bufala at £8.50, the description said roasted peppers, courgettes and aubergine in a tomato and basil sauce with black olives and buffalo mozzarella.

My wife was disappointed that the dish was missing the mozzarella, now at the time I thought that wasn’t a mistake and we has misunderstood the name of the dish. Now with writing this blog post, I checked the menus for descriptions and as you have read above the dish was suppose to come with mozzarella. Having said that I think the reason my wife didn’t complain at the time was that by the time our main courses had arrived the staff then disappeared. When they did appear to wait on other people’s tables they ignored us.

The marghertia pizzas didn’t go down well with the two little ones, they said they “didn’t like it” but I think the reason was that the pizza bases were paper thin. I do like thin and crispy pizza bases, but in this instance these were too thin, they felt even thinner than wraps! As a result the pizza felt as you ate it that you were eating cardboard covered in tomato paste. A real disappointment, if we had known, we would have ordered the spaghetti bolognese.

Having finished our food, it then took ages to get the attention of the waiting staff so that we could pay the bill. In the end the only way we could get their attention was to get our coats on and start walking towards the exit! That is not good service, and though the food was okay, what really let the place down was the poor service.

Prezzo Perfecto, well nearly

I’ve not been to Prezzo before, there isn’t one close by that I had seen, though I have since found one in Bristol, they occupy the old leadworks where the Firehouse Rotisserie was. However on a recent visit to York, we decided to have lunch there.

It did feel a little “posh” when we went in, and as a family I wasn’t sure we had made the right choice. The ambience, the decor and look of the place was very much a sophisticated place than a family run Italian restaurant. I shouldn’t have worried as the waiting staff immediately made us feel at ease, guided us to a table with a great view outside and provided colouring pencils and stuff to do for the children. Though my first impression was of a place not suitable for a family, they certainly provided a service that welcomed families.

Looking over the menu, the smallest in our family chose pizza, whilst the second youngest chose spaghetti bolognese.

My wife went with the Bianca Pizza for £9.95, I chose the Lobster and Crab Tortelli at £11.95. My eldest son was a little hesitant, at ten years old he often finds the children’s menu a little too young. I don’t think he’s forgiven us when we ordered a children’s meal for him recently and it came on a teddy bear plate! Having said that though, he still enjoy’s a kids lunchbox. In the end after lookng over the menu, he went with the Fusilli with Italian Sausage at £9.25. This is described as being made with red onion, garlic, fresh rocket and fresh chilli in a spicy tomato sauce.

The waiting staff were certainly taken aback when we placed our order and did say that the Fusilli pasta dish was quite spicy. However my son was happy with that and he does enjoy spicy food.

As we waited for our food and looked out the window we realised that this wasn’t an ideal location for a restaurant on the corner of a reasonably busy junction.

Prezzo in York

However what with fire engines and lots of buses passing by, the children loved it, and spent most of the waiting time looking out of the window. They didn’t have to wait long though, as the food arrived promptly and looked great.

I had ordered the Lobster and Crab Tortelli which came with baby spinach and red chilli in a creamy saffron sauce. I have decided that this year to make a noticeable effort to try out new things when eating out. This was certainly something very different, as I can’t recall ever ordering a filled pasta like this before.

Lobster and Crab Tortelli

This wasn’t an excessively large portion, but certainly wasn’t tiny either. For me it was about right. The pasta was cooked to perfection, not too soft with still some bite. I did feel that the filling lacked a little in flavour, however the sauce, which I felt might have been overpowering, was not in the least and complemented the pasta well. I did enjoy the addition of the baby spinach and thought the dish was delicious and very nice to eat. It was a great sized portion for lunch, but if you had a bigger appetite you might have wanted to add a salad, or had a starter.

My wife had gone for the Bianca Pizza which had on it goat’s cheese, grilled courgettes, baby sunblushed tomatoes, mozzarella, tomato. She had taken the light option (which increased the price) that takes half the dough of the Classic pizza and the pizza is then served with a mixed salad with a low calorie Italian dressing. It looked really nice and she said it was just right.

So what of the spicy Fusilli with Italian Sausage that my son had gone for? Well it was certainly hot and spicy, but it was scrummy and he finished the entire dish. I was expecting to see slices of sausage in the dish, but it was cooked with “lumps” of sausage, almost like a bolognese consistency. It looked great and I was allowed a quick taste. It certainly was spicy, but not too spicy to be unpleasant as can sometimes happen.

The children’s meals looked great, the pizza was enjoyed as was the spaghetti bolognese. The spaghetti bolognese was a proper bolognese and again I had a quick taste and it was really really nice. It was probably something I would order if I went to Prezzo again.

So why the “well nearly” in the blog post title?



Well alas the service let us down. It started off so well to begin with. They were welcoming and friendly and our food did arrive quite promptly. However after that it all went a little downhill. I am not sure why, but I think the main reason was that there wasn’t enough staff on. It was a Tuesday lunchtime and I think they anticipated that as it wasn’t a school holiday (schools in York broke up a week later than many parts of the country) they wouldn’t have too many customers. However though when we arrived there was only a few tables occupied, by the time we had finished eating our main courses the place was full and they were turning people away. As a result the two waiting staff appeared to be rushed off their feet. For us that meant it took a while to sort out the desert (just ice cream) and get the bill. The staff though did keep smiling.

So apart from the service issues towards the end of the meal, the food was delicious, it looked great and appeared to be made fresh to order. Really nicely done and now I have found where the Bristol branch is, we might go again.

I wish I had ordered that…

Sometimes when going out to eat I think about what I would like to eat, of course you then make a choice, but when the food eventually arrives, you think, I wish I had ordered that.

Of course it doesn’t always work that way, usually I am happy with what I have ordered, and sometimes I am really glad I ordered what I did, but now and again you wish you could have chosen differently.

I had a recent experience of that at Frankie and Benny’s where I had ordered the Philly Steak Bake.

My son had gone with the Spaghetti Oceana (£9.25). Spaghetti tossed in our Neapolitan tomato sauce with large prawns, clams and garlic. Served with a fresh rocket, tomato and red onion salad sprinkled with Grana Padano and half a char-grilled lemon on the side for added flavour.

Spaghetti Oceana

This looked fantastic and according to my son tasted great.

My wife went with the Californian Pizza (£9.75). Creamy goat’s cheese, slices of fresh tomato, mixed peppers, sautéed mushrooms and red onion, with melted mozzarella on our tomato and nut pesto base.

Californian Pizza

It looked really nice and she said it was delicious and she finished it off, and there was me hoping that I might get a slice at the end.

This was one of those meals where I wished I had what someone else ordered.

Pizza time in Swindon

Bottelino’s is an independent chain of Italian restaurants in the South West, they also have a branch in Swindon next to the shopping outlet. I do enjoy the pizza at Bottellino’s, so on a recent visit to the STEAM Museum we decided to take advantage of their lunchtime offer, of any pizza or pasta for £5.95.

We shared a Piccante, with spicy sausage, bacon, mushroom, chilli and mozzarella cheese. It was nice and fresh, but probably a little too spicy from what we actually wanted, but it was very tasty.

Alongside, as it was only £2.50 as part of the offer I went for the Calamari Fritti, squid coated in seasoned flour and deep-fried. This was a nice sized portion, interestingly portioned as sticks of calamari rather than actual sliced squid or the rings one usually finds. Slightly rubbery in texture they did taste nice and the accompanying salad was good too. Very different to the dish when I have had it previously.

My son went with the Spaghetti alla Vongole, spaghetti with clams and garlic, in a white wine, fresh basil and tomato sauce. I think initially he was disappointed with the look of a dish expecting fresh clams, however he really enjoyed the dish once he started to eat it.

My two younger children went with the children’s menu, one had a cheese and tomato pizza and the other Spaghetti alla Bolognese. Both enjoyed their meals. These were good sized portions on proper plates. I remember when I first visited Bottelino’s they didn’t have a children’s menu, they do now, which is quite good value for money, at £4.96, as alongside their pizza or pasta they get a drink and for desert a scoop of proper ice cream.

On previous visits to Swindon, we usually went for lunch at the National Trust Heelis Cafe, however back in April 2010 we had a very poor experience and as a result we’ve not gone back. I think on any future visit to Swindon, we are probably more likely to get to eat at Bottelino’s now.

Spaghetti Bolognaise

I am not a great fan of Spaghetti Bolognaise but other members of my family like it.

So when we were at Bottelino’s recently they ordered a dish of it.

They really enjoyed it and would order it again. I always think there is a little too much pasta sauce and not enough pasta.

Dodgy Italian

One of the problems I face when I stay away from home is where do I go to dinner. I am not a fan of hotel restaurants, generally I find they are overpriced and the quality can be poor.

I was recently in a hotel on the A45 Cromwell  Road and was not impressed with the menu, so decided to venture out and find somewhere to eat.

Well I wish I hadn’t…

I found Bellavista, what looked like a nice Italian restaurant, an interesting menu and was quite full (which I usually find is a good sign of quality) and went in.

Well I left very disappointed. It was an overpriced rubbish food experience.

I had a starter of calamari, which I initially thought was okay, but overall was disappointed as it was quite rubbery, it certainly wasn’t cooked from fresh, more likely deep fried from frozen.

My main course, spaghetti with clams was absolutely terrible. The sauce was obviously from a jar!

I couldn’t believe how bad the food was…

The couple on the table next to me ordered fish and chips, it looked worse than mine!

I had obviously entered a London tourist restaurant that caters for tourists.

I need to find some good places before I get to London in the future…

Bolognaise

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.