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.

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.

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.

Well that wasn’t too bad…

The original plan was to go somewhere else for lunch, but in the end we somehow found ourselves at Frankie and Benny’s. So despite many reservations about the place (and some pretty poor experiences) I was once more sitting down and looking at the menu in Frankie and Benny’s.

As it was a Saturday, there were no special menus or “cheap” lunch choices, so I had the whole menu to look over.

Fancying a starter to share, I chose the Bruschetta, a home made mix of fresh tomato, red onion, basil, olive oil and cracked black pepper served over toasted garlic ciabatta bread, finished with a balsamic glaze.

Bruschetta

We also got some Warm Dough Sticks with Garlic Butter. I didn’t get a look in with the dough sticks, but they looked a little overdone to my eyes, but without eating it I couldn’t be totally sure.

I had had the Bruschetta before and back then I said

“I was not that impressed with this, I found the red onion very harsh and astringent.”

This dish was much better than when I had it back then. The tomato and onion was much sweeter and contrasted well with the balsamic glaze. The bread was nice, not over toasted, and overall the dish was rather nice.

Though I like to think I try new things, too often when eating out I will go with what I like and am familiar with. I have decided this year to make a noticeable effort to try out new things when eating out. So looking over the menu I decided to go with a lighter option, I went with the Marinara Pizza, which had large prawns, anchovies and clams on a tomato base topped with fresh rocket.

Marinara Pizza

There was minimal cheese on the pizza (which is kind of what you expect with a lighter option), but there were generous toppings of prawns and clams, and for me just the right amount of anchovies. The scattering of rocket added some nice greenery and more spice.

I really did enjoy the pizza, there was a lot of flavour. Overall I was quite pleased with the meal, it was certainly one of the better meals I have had at Frankie and Benny’s and how it should be all the time. The service was excellent, not in your face, or so minimal that you are constantly looking around for waiting staff.

Bella’ish

Cabot Circus

I do find it interesting how different branches of the same chain can, despite similar decor and identical menus, be such different dining experiences.

Bella Italia is one such beast, where I’ve had such diverse experiences at different branches. We usually go to Bella Italia at Cribbs Causeway and have had many lovely meals there. A recent experience at the branch at Cabot Circus was not as good. I should be clear that it wasn’t a horrible experience, just not as good I expected based on my experiences at the Cribbs branch.

So what was so different?



Well the first thing was the quality of the service, it was just okay, but I we didn’t feel the warmth of the welcome we’ve had elsewhere. I think part of the issue was that the place was really busy and the staff were pretty much rushed off their feet. That was another aspect that I felt was markedly different, was the atmosphere, the place was pretty much full and as a result felt very rushed and busy. However it doesn’t always have to be that way, eating at the Coal Grill and Bar the other day, which was in many ways just as busy, it didn’t feel busy and we didn’t feel rushed. The staff appeared to be calm and smiling, making us feel welcome, all of which added to a much better dining experience.

After observing an argument in the open kitchen between the head chef and I assume the branch manager in full view of the eating customers, I did wonder whether there was a staffing issue that wasn’t been resolved?

As you might expect with a full restaurant it took a little while for the food to appear, but I was disappointed that my son’s meal was delayed so he had to wait. True it was only about five minutes, but still… The reason it was delayed, and as I could see the kitchen and the service counter, was that his plate of food was served up with ours, but one of the waiting staff took it away and delivered it to another table. As a result the chef had to cook a fresh dish.

What about the food?



Well the Quattro Stagoni Pizza we shared was very nice, good quality pizza base, nice sauce, not too much cheese and generous toppings, well not too little and not too much, just right.

My two eldest children enjoyed their pasta dishes, though my youngest was disappointed with her pizza. She had ordered from the child’s menu, so we knew it wouldn’t be a huge pizza. However when it arrived it was really quite small, 7” probably in diameter. Having had the same menu item at Cribbs, this was very different, they had much larger children’s pizza. Ah well, different branch, maybe a new menu, cutting costs and all that.

We were asked if everything was okay, and at that time it was, so we said yes. What changed was the family at the table next to us some time later, received their children’s pizzas and they were at least 11” in diameter! We checked with the family, and yes they had ordered children’s pizza.

When we did get the bill, we did query this, and I have to give Bella Italia their credit that they did agree with us that this wasn’t right, as a result they reduced the bill and gave us a 1/3 off voucher for a future visit. I still though question the kitchen management and portion control that resulted in us receiving a pizza which was too small (and as it happens with the other family receiving pizzas which were too big).

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.