All reader reviews by Shaz
Last week my girlfriend and I decided we should meet up after a hard day’s work and spend our evening dining in central London together. Our choice of restaurant? It had to be Pizza Express on High Holborn.
Neither of us had ever eaten at Pizza Express before. The decision to dine there however was an easy one. We were always impressed by its chic external décor at each and every branch we’ve passed by in Romford, Gants Hill and the City of London.
The branch at High Holborn is no exception. It looks exceptionally pretty and inviting on the outside. “Good we must try it” I thought. So we stepped inside and even though it wasn’t particularly late (9pm) there was no one at the door to ‘meet, greet and seat’ us. This was a bit of mystery as the restaurant looked distinctly, well…vacant. So its not like the all the staff were occupied. Anyway after a short period (which seemed like forever) of waiting around, franticly looking for a reception counter of some sorts, a member of staff came by and that small boob was quickly rectified.
We were shown to our lovely round table, complete with an equally lovely plastic flower sitting there in a quaint vase. While we waited for our menus I took in the atmosphere (cosy and quite romantic) as well as the internal décor which was very stylish. This is one of the poshest looking, ‘everyman’ Italian restaurants you could go to. The subtle art deco lighting, the zinc topped work surfaces, the polished wooden tables and the marble floor gave off a distinct air of what Germans would call “ker-vol-itee.”
Our waitress then appeared and gave us our menus, now this isn’t strictly relevant but boy was she pretty, as were the other three that I could see swooning about. She was an excellent waitress: attentive, polite, patient, helpful and knowledgeable.
She came back shortly with our starters- mixed olives in a herb sauce and our drinks. The service was sublime, she brought all our meals out quickly, efficiently and topped up our glassess when she could see they were empty. “Truly remarkable this place” I thought, not only does it have the best waitressing staff, but it has the best service of any everyman restaurant I’d ever been to.
Doubtless if you’re an Italian food fanatic, there are several small reasons why you’re probably thinking that you too should dine here if you haven’t already. But don’t. Because almost everything else about this place is rubbish.
We’ll start with the interior décor, the whole point of a posh “pizza-pasta” restaurant is that inherent Italianess. Yes the interior design is lovely, be in no doubt about that, but its more of a Mayfair yuppie affair than Milan. The actual size of the starters portion was woeful, even Scrooge himself would say its miserly. To add insult to injury it’s nearly one and half times the price of what Nandos would charge you for a larger portion which tastes exactly the same…and I haven’t finished mauling this place yet.
My main course consisted of a 14” stone baked margherita pizza with a prawn and avacado green leaf salad, drizzled with a sweet honey mustard dressing. The salad wasn’t so much as drizzled- as was drowned in the bloody thing, overpowering all the delicate flavours of its main ingredients with an artificial tasting, sickly sweet dressing.
But the worst thing was the pizza. Yes it’s light and fluffy, but my god when I ordered it I wanted it to be stone baked, not stone-bloody cold. It was dreadful. To cap off this night of culinary misery we were served the most unoriginal portion of cheesecake. Ever. My girlfriend stated openly that it’s like they ran out of the stuff and raided Wetherspoon’s freezer- which just so happens to be a couple of doors away. The dessert tasted like cheap pub grub.
Sure, they tried to hide its apparently humble origins by sprinkling strawberry sauce all over it as well as adding a token cherry and some savory dusting. But that’s like being wanted by the police and deciding you can evade capture by simply wearing a disguise consisting of nothing more than a clip on moustache. Its not going to fool anyone.
The only saving grace was the fact that the service was great and the bill presented great value for money, coming in under £20.00. Such a shame…it looked so good on the outside.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Food 3 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 8
British food is generally regarded as--wait for it--complete rubbish. Everyone says it-the French as well as the rest of the Continent, even the Yanks- stereotypical burger munchers find the stuff revolting-- and unhealthy. Its why our children are so obese and I can guarantee it’s why we’re pretty much terrible on the international scene at sports--people say its down to the training, breeding and education. Yeah right and diet.
Culinary wise then we’re not the greatest nation, its just as well then Indian food is Britain’s best loved dish. In Great Britain the Indian food industry is, quite frankly, huge. It employs more people than the entire British steel industry. With all this in mind I toddled off to my local Indian- Monihar Balti and Tandoori restaurant in Chadwell Heath, Romford in boy-racers-ville Essex.
At first glance when I gazed upon the premises, I was distinctly unimpressed. I know I’m hyper-critical forever searching for the imperfect amongst the perfect, but on this instance it wasn’t just me-even my girlfriend wasn’t at all impressed. Her facial expression said it all: “do we have to go in?” The shop’s sign is horribly garish, the front of the premises is almost entirely glass, allowing onlookers to see inside, or even casual passer by’s to notice you inside the restaurant- not something you really want when you’re bit of a messy eater or want a quite meal with your other half.
Although there is parking on the actual road the restaurant is situated upon and there’s a little car park opposite that allows for free parking during the restaurant’s opening hours, the location as whole, quite frankly is horrid. Next door to a bathroom spares store and other similar shoddy buildings- the restaurant looks as out of place as you would serving up dung as a meal at a family barbecue.
All in all things aren’t looking great then, after dawdling outside for 10 minutes you finally decide to go inside and your fears are compounded, its tiny in there. Its like eating in your living room. A traditional colour scheme and subtle art-deco lighting try to disguise the fact the eating area is the size of a mouse’s pants. But it just doesn’t succeed, eating capacity and I’m not joking is no more than I’d say 30 people, coupled with a carpet that could’ve come from any pub in Bradford, makes it so far appear that this place sounds like a recipe for total disaster.
To review, it’s tiny, not in a great location and everyone can stare at you- like you normally would at a creature at the zoo. All in all then the restaurant taken as a whole you’ve probably come to the conclusion that “this place seems about as appealing as contracting an STD”… from someone you later discover is a transvestite.
At this point you’re also probably thinking I’ve slated this restaurant into absolute oblivion and that you shouldn’t waste your time making a reservation.
But you’d be wrong… Because, deep breath, I liked it immensely. The food and the service was exquisite. There’s no other way to describe it. For people who just go out to enjoy good food, this is the place for them—no “ifs” no “buts” the food is fabulous. Starters was standard fare: a sheikh kebab, poppadoms, a portion of samosa’s and onion barji’s complimented perfectly by a selection of chutnies.
The main course however is where the real eating pleasure lies. Our little contingent ordered Pilau rice, Bombay potatoes, Chicken Jalfrezi and Saag Paneer along with a half-decent leafy salad and an array of japati’s and peshwari naans’. The chicken and the potatoes were fabulous. Rich, beautifully balanced and zingy, not as buttery or melt-in your mouth wonderful as in Bollywood Grill but it has more texture and kick, in a word it’s spicier. More how most people envisage a traditional Indian curry dish should be--and that’s a good thing.
Slightly less successful was the saag paneer, which was far better than the tripe I ate at Paakwaan and bland-to-the-point-of-banality stuff I tried at Passage to India, Ilford. It tasted quite nice; having endearing qualities such as being creamy and rich but I couldn’t help but notice it lacked effervescence or the depth of the sample I had at Bollywood Grill. As for the Pilau rice--it was just like every other rice I’ve ever tasted-- commendable but also forgettable. On balance then I’d have to say Passage to India, Docklands marginally pips it to the post in terms of overall quality.
Nevertheless for afters we had filter coffee’s, and convalesced about how vindicated we were we didn’t judge a book by its cover, by that I mean Monihar’s stodgy external decorations. The smallness of the premises in fact grew on me--it made my date feel cosy and more romantic. Then came the bill--at just over £25 including soft drinks, this has to be the best value restaurant ‘quality’ Indian restaurant I’ve been to. The quality of the food at twice the price would not altogether be unjustified. But at places where food at these higher prices are charged, Monihar makes them look ridiculous as a man who thought it would be appropriate to come to watch the races at Ascot dressed as a clown, wearing stilts... on ladies day.
Frankly when you consider all this, its no one wonder the staff (ahem) modestly display their “best eating out guide” plaque from the Guardian newspaper on their premises. Coupled with music that soothes, rather than blasts you whilst you eat make this my all-round favourite Indian restaurant- the one I’d recommend and go myself most often.
And yet, somehow I know lots of you won’t go, you’ll think of reasons not to go, you may hate its surroundings, or it’s location, or you might be put off by it’s fish-bowl exterior styling. But don’t be. If I’ve learnt anything during this dining experience--it is this-- don’t judge a book by its cover.
Verdict: Despite the external image problems, the Indian I’d go to most often and my all round favourite--shame no one cares.
Rating: 3 ¾/5
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Food 8 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 10
Much is made of “inflation” these recent months and weeks, the Monetary Policy Committee of the Bank of England is panicking to get the inflation down to 2%- the Government’s target. From what I remember from my A-level days studying economics is that inflation is--wait for it—is bad. Its not just bad for the ‘economy’ but for you and I.
You see the quickest way of curbing inflation is by monetary policy--increasing interest rates, meaning higher mortgage or loan repayments so that the consumer has less disposable income which means that they cannot spend as much. Which in turn means a reduction in supply and demand forces which means inflation (rising consumer prices) decreases--well that’s the theory anyway.
Your probably thinking at this stage, thanks for that interesting lesson, but what’s your point--I thought this was a restaurant critique--well stay with me. You see much is made about inflation, but in truth you’d struggle to notice it in everyday life. The food you buy from the supermarket costs no different then it did a month ago, nor does you gas bill-in fact British Gas has made a big deal about it reducing its prices. Electronic goods continually suffer from what people in the know call ‘deflation.’ At this stage you’re probably thinking ah-ha! What about petrol! Sorry the recent increase is not due to the price of crude oil rising—its due to Gordon “I’m the premier waiting in the wings” Brown taxing the pumps.
Another area I haven’t seen a rise in, is the prices at this week’s restaurant Passage to India in Docklands, East London. I’ve been to this restaurant a couple of times over the last few years and even though the costs incurred by restaurants must have increased be it for petrol, raw ingredients and staff wages, so far as I can remember the prices of this Indian have stayed exactly the same.
That’s good news for you and I--as consumers who have less spending power due to increasing interest rates. So what’s the restaurant like? Well its layout and presentation, the arrangement of the tables for instance break no new ground. But you know what? I found the atmosphere was quite romantic--for an Indian anyway. The tone and the lighting was ever so slightly darker than your boggo standard Indian and on that Friday it made for a deliciously rich atmosphere.
The food? Well it puts to shame its ‘branch’ in Ilford, its right up there. The food was fabulous and incredibly, reasonably priced. For a party of five each having a three course meal for a total of £60 including drinks and service charges. The service was very commendable; not too quick so as to interrupt our fascinating conversations (apparently) but not so slow as to give one cause for complaint. One minor black mark against the restaurant was my “fresh” fruit desert--which clearly came out of a tin. All in all though there is little to complain about, so sit back and enjoy the food--you’d never think you’d be blighted with “lower spending power.”
Verdict: One of the top five Indian restaurants you can go to in the South-East today
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Food 9 | Service 8 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 10
As a rule a restaurant outside of central London should have a name vaguely associated with the kind of food it serves, be easy to find and have a decent size car park or failing that one nearby. The subject of this week’s review is “Bollywood Grill” in Ilford, in East London and on the face of it meet’s none of those criteria.
The name “Bollywood Grill” for example, sure you can gather its an Indian (Bollywood is India’s version of Hollywood.) But is it easy to find? “No” comes my reply-- its on the 2nd floor of the “Bollywood Bowling” complex. Sure if you’re walking there its not a problem, but when you’re driving around in your car, the restaurant’s sign’s well out of your view, as a result if you don’t know the area you’re not going to find it without stopping for directions.
The second problem is the road it’s located on, the location itself is pretty good, there’s a cinema next door and the road is very wide, but there is absolutely no parking whatsoever. So by now you’re late for your booking, for a place you can’t find and now you can’t find anywhere to park. Happily there is a car park behind the complex. But you can’t just turn into that road and park.
Like most of East London these days it’s a maze of one-way systems and no-entry roads. You have to do an amazing detour which takes you right the way around Ilford town centre, if you don’t know you’re way around, it will take you an age to find it.
After all that you’re probably at your wits end and in such a foul mood you probably feel like turning back home and writing off the whole night. But don’t. The complex may be in the middle of a parade of shops but inside it’s bigger than you’d imagine. It’s like the TARDIS in there. I entered the restaurant, where the marketing bumf stated they could seat nearly 100 people and after having looked around I’m forced to agree.
As you enter the restaurant you’ll realise its beautifully decorated with shades of an ancient Arabian theme, tastefully done. Its not your traditional Indian with your shag-pile carpets and sombre booths--its better. The whole place feels light and airy. On your left as you reach the reception, there is a picture display of people who have spent time here. But it’s not Joan from number 37, there are some right heavyweights and even I, a person not at all versed in all things Bollywood can recognise them without a second glance. How does Raghav grab you? No? Chris Eubank? Try Sharukh Khan and if its good enough for him to happily have taken his picture here, its certainly good enough for a regular Joe like me.
Take the seats and the dining arrangements—the seats are probably the best I’ve perched my backside on and the positioning of the tables, cutlery and the quality of the fabrics on the table are exquisite. The staff are well dressed and well versed, a good thing considering the menu is the most varied and vast I’ve seen in all my dining experience. Myself and my partner had a 3 course meal starting off with parni puri- a very refreshing and tangy starters. But the real delight is the main course. Without a doubt the food is the best I have ever tasted. It’s a joy to savour every mouthful.
Forget your preconceptions of an oily student curry this is top-notch stuff. The word I’m tempted to say is ‘perfect.’ The chicken jalfrezi, paneer tika and bollywood (Bombay) potatoes were so fresh and creamy they melted on your mouth like a dream. The various naans ordered—peshwari (naan bread stuffed with coconut) and tandoori were delicious, as were the sauces which complimented the food perfectly, the salad—which in my view is outstanding because you can order it without onions! Something none of the restaurant’s rivals can say.
As a rule if I go to a restaurant and I am expected to fork out over three times what it would cost me to go to the supermarket to get the raw ingredients myself and cook it at home. I judge the meal a success and think the prices charged as justified when I think to myself-- “Never in a million years could I make a meal as wonderful as that.” That’s the case here, over and over as I swallowed every delicious morsel I kept thinking that to myself.
At £35 including service charge and drinks for myself and my partner was fully justifiable in my view of the service (which was excellent) and the quality of the food (to die for in my view). Whilst that is higher than what I usually pay for a meal for two at a restaurant it’s broadly in line with what I paid at rival Indian restaurants--Passage to India and at Pakwaan’s. But you know what, in terms of food at least, Bollywood is leagues (I’m tempted to say light-years) ahead of these two or any other Indian I’ve ever been to.
One minor gripe I have is with the entertainment. Don’t misunderstand me the atmosphere is genuinely warm and enthusiastic as well as lively. Perfect mood you’re thinking. On Friday & Saturday nights they have a singer in (a la Parkview restaurant in North London) who has a great voice. But when music is played to accompany my meal, which I do want, I want it to be a soothing companion. In Bollywood I was blasted, you don’t so much as hear the music you feel it pulsating through your bones. Its too loud, more fitting for a nightclub than a romantic meal on a Friday night with the wife and kids.
I could understand the music being this loud if it were a dinner and dance, like Pakwaan or Parkview is, but its not. In terms of atmosphere then it loses it by a shade to Ilford rival Passage to India--which is the most similar to it in tone and style, but Bollywood only loses marginally.
All things considered however it’s one of the best restaurants I’ve been to and you know what it’s the BEST Indian you can go to today by a long, long way.
Verdict: Pretty Much Perfect
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Food 10 | Service 9 | Atmosphere 7 | Value for money 9