In the Birdcage

In the Birdcage

Walking up Corn Street in Bristol over the festive break and wanting a coffee, we decided to pop into the Birdcage. There are quite a few cafés and restaurants in this area of Bristol, so you have quite a bit of choice.

It looks like the building use to be a bank or similar, however once inside, the interior decor is very quirky, retro and quite refreshing if you are use to the decor you find in the main coffee chains such as Costa or Starbucks.

In the Birdcage

The lighting for example comprised a series of non-matching lampshades hanging together form the ceiling.

Shades

The furniture was mis-matched wooden chairs and tables, combined with leather sofas. Across the walls and in the windows were signs, old bicycles, even mannequins wearing old fashion.

In the Birdcage

This is very much a coffee shop, and though there were cakes available, the main attraction is the coffee. The coffee was certainly made well and quite nice.

In the Birdcage

I liked how after asking for coffee at the counter, we could sit down and they bought the coffee over. That is a much more relaxed experience than the busy somewhat hectic experience you can find, and I have certainly found in the chain coffee shops.

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.

Portivo Lounge

A new cafe has opened in the Gloucester Docks and it’s rather nice.

Portivo Lounge

I really liked the design of the place. They have taken notice of the building they are in and its location in the docks. The interior, fixtures and fittings reflect that. It’s calming and relaxing. Having said all that I am not sure about the bright orange and lime green chairs outside…

Now I’ve only had coffee and a pastry, but both were very good. The double espresso was strong and smooth, the pain au chocolate was fresh and flaky. What I did like was, I was able to have a glass of iced water with my espresso.

I am not sure which coffee they are using, there were no signs for Illy or Lavazza that you sometimes see at places like this. I did enjoy it and the next time I go I might try an Americano as a taste comparison.

The service was also excellent, well with one minor exception. The welcome and service was friendly, calm and professional. The minor exception was the “keenness” of one member of staff to clear our table. We hadn’t finished our drinks or food, but she wanted to clear some of our cups and plates. Yes this is useful if you are ordering more food and drinks, but we were nearing the end of our drinks. What it felt like was that what she actually wanted was either for us to go… or they had run out of cups in the cafe! As a result we felt rushed and in the way. For me the reason I go to a cafe to drink coffee, is for the whole calm experience, a chance to drink, think, chat and reflect. It has to be said this was a really minor point and the rest of the service was excellent.

Dockyard Café Bar

Today I was in Bristol and after a walk on the Harbourside I went to the Dockyard Café Bar.

Dockyard Café Bar

From their website:

The Dockyard Café Bar is located alongside Brunel’s SS Great Britain and offers superb views on to the ship as well as across Bristol’s historic floating harbour.

Enjoy delicious light meals, snacks and drinks throughout the day; soak up the atmosphere on the waterfront terrace or inside literally watching the world sail by.

On offer daily are delicious soups, special dishes, Italian-style paninis and sandwiches freshly prepared on the premises.

Okay that’s the marketing spiel, what was the reality like?

The place is really quite nice and despite the fact it was a hot day, it was very cool inside. You could have chosen to sit outside  if you wanted to.

It’s nice and open inside with lots of space, so it never feels crowded.

That’s the good stuff, however overall it was a bit of a disappointment.

First service, we sat inside and went to the counter to order… Despite there been about six or seven staff at front of house, only two seemed to be working! They had two staff who were taking orders, money, making the drinks and getting the orders together. Moving around these two were other staff who seemed to be doing nothing more than getting in the way.

There was quite a queue and as a result quite a wait to get served. It would have made more sense to me to use some of the staff to speed up the service.

Secondly the quality of the food was quite poor.

I was going to get a coffee, however the cups seemed very small, and though I don’t mind small portions of coffee, these were very much on the small side – like large espresso cups!  So I went for a diet coke and it came in a glass bottle which is nice and I much prefer this over the post-mix you usually find in these kind of places.

I ordered sandwiches, a child’s meal and some chips.

The sandwiches were taken from the fridge, whilst we had to wait for the children’s meal.

These were not cheap at £3.50 each and were of a very poor standard. They tasted as though they were made with yesterday’s bread. Now that could be because they were made with yesterday’s bread, or had been left out for too long. Whatever the reason the bread did not taste fresh. Now if I make a sandwich from yesterday’s bread at home, that’s my choice, however when I go out to a cafe I expect my sandwich to be made with fresh bread.

The fillings were not generous, whilst the salad (if you can call five leaves and a slice of tomato a salad) looked as though it had seen better days.

It felt as though the manager doesn’t have children or understand that children don’t always like waiting, and like waiting even less if mum and dad have their food.

Though I felt overpriced, the children’s meal, at least the sandwich was fresh, though not quite sure what the balloon was doing in there!

So could they mess up the chips?

Yes they could.

They double-cooked them!

Basically the chips were cooked twice, so at some point the chips were cooked, left, and then when I placed my order, they were cooked again.

Overall I liked the ambience and the environment, however the food was plainly awful. I am glad I didn’t try the cooked meals.

This place has the potential to be so much better and I hope it can improve. Key steps are, use fresh ingredients and cook to order.

They should create and deliver a menu which reflects the legacy of Brunel and the SS Great Britain.

SS Great Britain