Piazza Italia 22/23 Trinity Street
Cardiff, CF10 1BH
Date of Last Visit: Saturday, November 28th
The Victims: Craig, Leanne, Brook, Christian, Mark, Natalie
The Damage: About £20 with drinks
The Background: We walked into Piazza Italia in Cardiff, sat down, looked at the menu, and laughed. Now…I’m not saying I don’t like fusion. But this place is called Piazza Italia. Explain please then these items…
Pisetto Di Salmone (I can’t really read the photo–it looks like Pisetto, but I can’t find that word anywhere.) Breaded marinated filet of salmon with teriyaki sauce on a bed of noodles.
Risotto Paella Pan-friend basmati rice with saffron, garlic, wine, diced chicken and tiger shrimps.
Involtini Vegetarian Deep fried vegetable spring rolls served with our signature (slightly nutty) cocktail sauce.
The Verdict: I had the crabmeat ravioli in cream sauce. Was tempted to ask for some soy sauce.
The Background: I had high hopes for Bocca di Lupo. And there you go, I've spoiled the whole review already. Because in that one sentence, you can hear the "…but…" can't you? I'm sorry.
It starts out with my dad's observations of life in London, as we exit the #19 bus: "Well, I'll tell you what I've observed about London this trip. People take the bus a lot. And they smoke. And everyone is rolling a suitcase behind them."
Observant, isn't he?
And as we enter Archer Street, the former New York City cop in him tenses up. "This street. Why don't I like this street? I don't like this street."
I have to admit. There were a lot of random people just standing around. Waiting for nothing. It was odd.
But then we entered Bocca di Lupo and everything was fine again.
The Entrance: I really want a seat at the restaurant's "chef's counter." But I'm denied. To the back of the restaurant we go. And you know? It's sort of like being in a hotel restaurant. The decor is nothing special. Also, Bocca di Lupo is smaller than I expected. Maybe 12 tables in the back of the restaurant? Plus the bar seating.
And our table was wobbly. That was annoying, but our very nice server promptly saw to it once I pointed it out and the wobble, for the most part, went away.
The Menu: I like the menu. The menu clearly states where each dish is from, and you can order pretty much any dish in a small or large portion. I like this. Because you know, with my dad in town, I've been eating out for six days straight and I need a little break. Small portions it is.
The Food: Mussels to start. My father is a very predictable man. When I was a kid, we went to Maine for two weeks one summer, where my father took us from one all-you-can-eat mussels house to another. Buckets of mussels. Really, buckets. At Bocca di Lupo, we get a bowl. A very generous bowl.
Now we had just had mussels in Paris the day before at one of those Paris chain restaurants. (Again, my father is a very predictable man.) Those mussels were good, but the Bocca di Lupo mussels are huge in comparison. They're meaty. They're good. They are mussels with celery, tomato and thyme. It's a clean-feeling dish. It's fine.
For me, it's the tortelloni with with spinach and morels. I keep trying to like mushrooms, really I do. But eh. I still don't. The tortelloni are cooked well and the filling is moist but I sorta feel like it's all a little too clean and bland-tasting for me. I need salt. Or something.
For my father, it's a seafood risotto. He says it's nice. Actually, at the time, he says it's just "okay." But then the next day, he keeps saying, "You know that meal last night? Now that was really good." So you never know, I suppose.
For Dessert: We split one–just one–chocolate and marzipan ball–and order some dessert wine from the very well organized wine list. It's a nice ending.
The Loos: Pretty decent.
The Service: Pretty excellent. Really a nice guy.
The Verdict: Eh. I'm on the fence for this review. I liked how interesting the restaurant's menu is. I liked the idea of sitting at the chef's counter. I just wasn't wowed by my food, but given how everyone is salivating over this place, maybe I should give it another chance. Or maybe everyone's just on some hype train that hasn't stopped at my station.
The Background: My hot water has been acting up for AGES. It's very inconsistent. Some days, I have hot water. Some days, I don't. At all. And some days, I have something in between.
Luckily for me, I have two things going in my favo(u)r: 1. I used to go camping a lot as a child. Particularly here. Where my parents convinced me I had my own horse. We visited my horse every summer. This ruse worked well, until the summer all the horses disappeared. Yes, insurance reasons. (Brownie, wherever you are, I still love you.) 2. My fair share of time on U.S. Navy Bases. Military showers.
So this is my usual long way of saying I was stuck at home, waiting for the electrician to come fix my boiler.
Now see, I know that an electrician is not going to fix my boiler. He (or she) will fix my timer, some fuses, some electrical things.
But this no hot water thing? I don't think Pete the Electrician can fix it.
And I'm right. He can't. So I've spent the morning at home for nothing.
The Entrance: Lena is empty when I enter. Very empty. Except for some workman, still putting the finishing touches on the light and white dining area. They offer me my choice of seats, and in comes Charles, with his VERY fabulous hat. It's like he's Russian. But he's not. (But maybe he is. I didn't ask.)
The Food: Chickpea soup for me. Smoked mozzerella for him. My chickpea soup is…a bunch of chickpeas, in some broth. I honestly feel like someone just opened a can. It's a bit lame.
Then, I got some sort of ragu for my main. That's it in the photo. Maybe it was oxtail. A very creamy oxtail ragu. I don't know. It's all lost.All lost In the memory of the next 24 hours. Because you see, something that day made me ill. Very ill. Me, the stomach of steel. I won't go into details. But suffice it to say, I sat home on Wednesday morning thinking, "Crap, what do I do? I just worked from home yesterday morning so I could wait for the electirican, and now I have to wait for the boilerman this afternoon, but I'm going to call in sick??? Even I wouldn't believe me."
I debated calling the restaurant and talking to them. But having experienced my own fair share of U.K. customer "service," I could imagine their reaction. There was nothing to guarantee the exact cause of my illness. It could be my weak stomach (but really, it is of steel), my breakfast, my dinner (I didn't eat any, just for the record), my something. And besides, I was too ill to call anyone. Plus, I'm a wimp.
So I didn't call anyone. But I did Google what I had for ages and ages. And I learned all sorts of things that you really don't want to know. Really. And then I went to Superdrug.
But I will tell you, although the service at Lena was a little uninformed, it was sweet and responsive.
The Background: We've been to see the new James Bond. It was good. But just good. This was no Casino Royale. The teachers on sabbatical/lottery line was about the best one. For afterwards, I've made a booking at The Regent, the Islington pizza pub, based on the recomendations of many an Islingtonite.
The Entrance: We are early. And our table is ready! The Regent is nicely packed but not overly so. We are right in front of the jukebox and Matt takes over. We write down our orders on the back of our "Reserved" sign. That works well.
The Salads: The tomato and mozzerella salad is HUGE. And there actually is a lot of salad. I mean the green stuff. My mixed greens is fine, but I don't like the dressing at all. Hmmm.
The Pizzas: Spinach and egg for me. It looks GORGEOUS when it arrives, but I fear the egg has made it overly soggy. Either that, or it just really needed some more time in the wood-burning (nice) oven. It just wasn't very crispy. It was all so very wet. And maybe it was all the popcorn I ate at the cinema (cinema! hah!), but the pizza just wasn't salty enough for me. I am disappointed, so I order another beer.
The Verdict: Out for me. But so many people like the place that I'd give it another shot.
The Background: I was on a roll after my cooking class at Marylebone's L'Atelier des Chefs. Where else could I take a class? (Yes, I have always liked going to school.) A bit of Google-ing turned up La Cucina Caldesi, another London "cookery" school. (I put "cookery" in quotes because in American, we just don't say "cookery.") I would save learning to cook at La Cucina Caldesi for another day, but there was nothing preventing me from eating in one of their two restaurants on a Saturday evening.
The Entrance: I'm a litte on the early side and opt for a glass of Proseco in the downstairs bar area. Jeff arrives shortly afterwards and asks for a glass of something red and "chewy." I admire the antipasto misto platters as we're waiting for Geoff and Christine. Even through I just had a big three-course meal (minus the dessert, more or less), I am starving.
The Starters: We all share an antipasto misto and the calamari. Both are good. The antipasto misto is huge. I'm not sure how they could say this is just for one person.
The Mains: I opt for the special, which is spaghetti with mussels and a little bit of a kick to it. The waiter warns me that it's spicy. It's not! Just mildly so. You English…such virgin tastebuds!
The Conversation: I come clean on my life-long regret: I should never have dropped out of Irish step-dancing lessons.
The Verdict: I like it here. The waiters were charming, Italian-ly so. My food was nice, if not particularly spectacular. It strikes me as a nice neighborhood place. For those of you lucky enough to live in Marylebone.
Story Deli 91 Brick Lane (entrance on Dray Walk) E1 6QL Tel: 020 7247 3137
Date of Last Visit: Sunday, July 13
The Victim: Molly
The Damage: £13 each or thereabouts
The Background: Back when I was in college, my friend DeeDee and I (among others) spent a year at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, drinking beer and eating Schnitzel and pretzels.
DeeDee’s friend Molly has just moved to London, so Deed asked me if I could show her around town a bit. We did the usual loop around Spitalfields and then wandered through Brick Lane, stopping at Story Deli for some pizza.
£11 pizza. This seems like a lot.
Interestingly, at 2 p.m. on a Sunday, Story Deli has a bouncer. A big one. But we liked him because he kicked some beer-drinking thugs away from the outdoor tables and got us two seats.
The Food: The pizza at Story Deli is served on something that’s a bit more doughy that Sardinian Carta di Musica, but a lot less doughy that bread. It’s very crispy. This was odd at first, but I got used to it. My pizza was chorizo and rocket…that’s it there in the picture. When I was done with it, I felt like I had eaten a lot of snacks–like breadsticks and some chorizo slices and some buffala mozzerella, but I was still hungry.
The Verdict: I thought this was just okay. I’m not dying to go back. Plus, I felt like my purse would get stolen and at least one homeless person bothered us and someone else asked us to give money to charity. Not while I’m eating, please.
Cantina del Ponte Butlers Wharf 36c Shad Thames SE1 2YE Tel 020 7403 5403
Date of Last Visit: Thursday, July 10
The Victims: Melia, Kathrin
The Damage: £63 for three
The Background: Life is funny. For 18 months when I frst moved to London, I lived right around the corner from Cantina del Ponte. But I never went. It’s like now…I can think of one restaurant in the particular that is about 50 meters from my current flat, but I’ve yet to visit. (Nor do I really want to, but that’s another story.)
And you forget sometimes what it’s like to see London through the eyes of someone who is still new to the city. And how great that is. And how much walking is involved.
Melia is working from London for the next two months, so Kathrin and I set out to show her a bit of town. We wandered through Smithfield Market, and then over Millennium Bridge and then along the Thames. It was lovely. (But I did feel bad about the walking. I’m just used to it, I guess.)
The Entrance: Once we got over to Tower Bridge, I figured we might have a problem with dinner as we didn’t really have a booking. We tried The Chophouse, but no dice. And I still hold a grudge against Le Pont de la Tour. So I walked into Cantina del Ponte and wasn’t too optimistic that we could snag a table.
But we did! And outside too. And the bridge went up while we were sitting there, and these two naval vessels sailed through. So all in all, a good show!
The Service: Our initial excitement about snagging a table on the river faded quickly. Because they forgot about us. No menus, nothing. All eyes were on the large table of 10 behind us. There was no multi-tasking.
But then someone spotted us staring longingly at the bread, the wine, all the food going by. He was young, enthusiastic, friendly. And we had his attention for the rest of the evening.
The Food: We kept it simple. Very simple. We all ordered the same thing. Parparadelle with lamb ragout. And it was nice. I would make this at home if I could cook. It wasn’t anything exceptionally interesting. But sometimes, you don’t really need that.
The Loos: I think they can do better.
The Verdict: I think this is a decent sort of place, despite the mixed reviews we read online. Good for a business dinner. And our server is a keeper.
The Background: Sometimes, I forget I'm a foreigner. I had to run home during lunch the other day to grab my passport so I could prove my identity. I was a little weirded out about going home at lunch because the last time I went home at lunch, two guys from the Council were at my building and told me about the rats. Yikes.
But there were no Council guys or rats so I was in and out in a jiffy so I dropped into de Santis for lunch on my way back into the office.
The Entrance: It's just 12, and de Santis is empty. I order pasta with green beans, potatoes, and pesto. The staff walk around for a while as if they're looking for something. I honestly think they were looking for the chef. Never a good sign.
The Food: I brought the pasta back to the office and enjoyed it. For £5, it was pretty high quality. I liked it enough that I actually dropped back in on my way home from work, lured by the promise of freeaperitivos. See, de Santis is a Milanese chain, and the Milanese, they love their aperitivos. If you've never had aperitivios before, well, it just means that you get some nice free snacks with your drink. So I figured I'd have some aperitivios while I waited for my food.
But there was a problem. No one wanted to take my order. The staff spent a lot of time going up and down the stairs. And when they did finally take my order, they couldn't understand a word I was saying. Now I know I don't speak the Queen's English, but I speak some pretty decent English. I was reduced to sign language, something that has never happened to me before in this country. Personally, I think they were trying to feign ignorance because they didn't want to give me any aperitivos. Weird.
The Verdict: The food, particularly take-away at lunch, is decently priced. And it doesn't taste bad. But something is wrong with the service.
The Background: I love London. I love my blog. I love the people who read my blog in and out of London. I love when I have no plans and all of a sudden, a plan presents itself at the perfect time and the perfect place.
Scott in Tasmania read my Fernandez & Wells post on Friday and left a comment…"Have you gone to see Tony at Lina Stores, down the road in Brewer Street?" Why no, I haven’t! But it sure sounds like I should! So I did.
The Entrance: Lina’s is packed with pasta and vegetables and more pasta and cheese and meats and olive oils and vinegars. It is happy chaos and I fall in love. There’s home made raviolis on the counter so I order some artichoke and some spinach. (If you know the difference between ravioli and tortellioni, let me know.)
The young man serving me talks me into the pesto and the parmasean to go along with it and he is very wise. I don’t know anything about sports, but Italy seemed to be playing while I was there so you can imagine three generations of Italians yelling at the TV while they are packing up my ravioli.
The Verdict: I buy four portions of ravioli and eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the next few days. I’m serious. I’ll be back many times.
The Background: I’ve become a compulsive shopper as of late. I really can’t help myself.
I think it’s because I normally go back to the U.S. with two empty suitcases around this time of year and stock up on all sorts of new duds. I don’t, unfortunately, have time for that this summer. So Oxford Street is getting to know me better than ever before. It knew me pretty well, that’s for sure, but I was more a looker than a buyer. Now the AMEX is primed and ready and I own four too many purses than ever before.
It’s buzzy when I enter…it’s not big place, maybe just eight stools? Five are full and I pick mine overlooking the cash register. (Photo taken from my stool.) The staff are fun and jovial and pleased to see me, a total stranger. I order a chorizo sandwich and because I got my ass kicked that morning by my personal trainer and it’s just coming up on 3 p.m. (when I think drinkng during the day becomes acceptable), I do treat myself to a sneaky glass of rioja.
The Food: The sandwich arrives in all its crispness and it is fantastic. I want it to go on and on and on. I watch them plate up ham and cheese for other guests, and I wish I was hungrier and/or already thinner so I could join in the fun. In short, I have a lovely sandwich and a lovely time and me and my AMEX are refueled and ready to hit the streets again. Which we do.
The Verdict: Love, love, love Fernandez & Wells. Simple is perfect and perfect is simple. Why haven’t I been here before? I will be back.
Today's guest blog comes from Bombay Beauty. Remember to come back on Tuesday, May 6th to vote for your favorite guest blogger!
Date of last visit: 17 April 2008
The Damage: £18, including a glass of wine.
The Victim: Me, myself, and my lonesome.
The Background: My Italian friend, Marco, had been going on (and on) about how Giusto served really good Italian food, and you know how Italians get when they talk about their food: (they think) they know it all. But my friend Marco is a good type, so I thought I would give it a try.
The Entrance: I've walked by, and past, this place often because it looks deserted or closed. But the trick is that the restaurant is downstairs while upstairs is just a small bar area that is used at lunch for coffee and takeaway but is empty at night. Downstairs I find a largish dining room with people in it – things are looking up. While it's neither cozy nor sleek, there are people here and a wood-fired oven, and that's all right.
The Oven: True Italian pizza is baked in a wood-fired oven. Don't be fooled by substitutes. I've even been to places where they pile logs everywhere to make it look authentic, but when you ask you discover they have an electric oven. This is the real deal – wood!
The Main: I am really in the mood for pizza so I set pretense aside and dive into it. I ask for the Basilico, which is made with plum tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella (again, accept no substitutes, outside Southern Italy, unless they say it's buffalo mozzarella assume it's not), fresh basil, and a bit of tomato sauce. It looks something like this:
It takes exactly 10 minutes for my pizza to arrive. I time them, naturally. In a pizzeria quick service is good. It means that the pizza's crust is thin and that the oven is hot. My first bite is good – a crisp crust and a good tomato sauce. My second bite is also good, but puzzling: the cheese is delicious, true buffalo mozzarella, but it's cold. I examine the pie more carefully and notice that all the toppings have been placed on the pizza after most of the baking was done – the cheese isn't melted, the plum tomatoes (which are delicious by the way) are still fresh rather than oven roasted, and the basil (fragrant, mmm….) is fresh as the day it was born.
I'm puzzling this through when I notice that my pizza has disappeared – I've eaten it all. Despite what my mind tells me, my palette says it's good.
The bottom line is mixed. Putting the ingredients on after baking just isn't right (and why? did I seem too lonely to wait an extra 2 minutes?), but at the same time the crust and ingredients are great.
The Service: Friendly and efficient.
The Loos: No problems here.
The Verdict: While it may not be grandma's pizza (if your grandmother is Neapolitan), it is all said and done a very fine pizza. I'll be back for more. Also noteworthy – they offer mini-pizzas and panini for lunch. Hot from the oven at £4 each, this seems like a good lunch or shopping-break option if you're in Marylebone.
Thanks to Bombay Beauty for submitting a guest post while I'm taking some time off. Remember to come back on Tuesday, May 6th to vote for your favorite guest blogger!
The Story: So for all you stalkers out there, I live really close to Fifteen. But although I've lived really close for quite some time, I've never been. Until last Sunday.
And now Jamie Oliver's got me forever.
You see, nearly everything was perfect during our meal, and I can only hope to capture all the particulars correctly.
The Entrance: I arrive precisely on time. My internal clock continues to astound me. I want to know more about the genes that control one's understanding of time. Mine can be frightening. (And equally, really annoying. I do not suffer lateness gladly. But does anyone?) They take us to our table…we're eating in the more formal downstairs, as opposed to the informal trattoria on the ground floor.
The Service: They wisk away our coats, gladly. They bring us tap water–a big jug of tap water–and continue to fill up our glasses consistently throughout the meal. I love them. Our server says something like, "Take a look at the Drinks menu and if you don't see something you want on there, let me know. I'm sure we can find something for you." I order a Buck's Fizz (Mimosa, in American) and am very happy…the orange juice is super-freshly squeezed.
The Starters: Mine is Devonshire crab on polenta with chillis. It's delicious. It's really one of the nicest things I've had as of late. It's beautifully presented, and well, I'm a sucker for polenta. (Corn just sounds so much better when it's made into polenta, doesn't it?) No, I haven't finished that book about corn in America yet.
The Ladies: Has a Dyson Airblade! It's the first one I've seen in a restaurant. I've seen one in the Islington Design Center, but nowhere else. It's fantastic. I want to wash my hands 12 times, just to use it. There's also a nice smelly candle in there. It's a nice loo.
More About The Service: We are with Anne-Helene, who is French. We tell our server we'd like something white and crisp and more mineral-y than anything else. She thinks about it and gives us a recommendation. We says sure, sign us up. She leaves. She comes back minutes later and says something like, "You know, I was thinking about your request in the kitchen and I realized we hadn't discussed the Sancerre. I think you'll really like that." She goes on to tell us more about the Sancerre and why it's right for us. We're hooked, again. I appreciated the fact that she had walked away from the table but continued to think about us. Anne-Helene approves, too. She would, of course.
The Mains: I go for something simple…just a pasta bolognese. Maybe I should have tried something more exciting. I, of all people, know that this is a high margin dish. But this dish delivers, twenty times over. It's not super-sophisticated or anything like that. It's just perfect on a Sunday afternoon when you haven't had breakfast. The pasta is perfectly al-dente, the sauce is amazingly flavorful. I am very happy.
The beauty queen of the table, however, is Ben's seafood stew (pictured). Now that was a gorgeous-looking dish. (Although I think that it was perhaps lacking in substance…i.e., it wasn't a very filling dish, gorgeous though it was.)
The Verdict: Yes. Very much so. Am already planning on bringing Aunt Ursula and Uncle George here when they come visit me in April of 2008!