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Qype: Travelodge Hotel – York Central Micklegate in York

YorkHotels & HolidaysHotels

If you’re tired of over-elaborate hotel rooms and service offerings then you’ll absolutely adore the York Central Micklegate Travelodge.  It’s also ideal if you’re keen on visiting the Reflex 80’s bar, which is conveniently located right across the road.

You certainly wouldn’t stay here under any other circumstances.  Although, in its defence, the shower worked.

There’s not a great deal to say – the room was a basic rectangular affair, with 2 utilitarian coat hanging nubs protruding from the wall.  The end of the room featured a floor length curtain, suggesting perhaps a full-length window or maybe a small stage?  Bewilderingly, about 1/6th of the curtained off section contained a window, and the rest would be useful for snowboard storage, or, like, errm, something.

All curtain, no window

The breakfast was the famously bleak Travelodge breakfast experience – the perfect start to help you appreciate the rest of your day more.

Without intending to sound like complaining – the bed was possibly modelled on early York monastic fashions, when monks used to sleep 2 to a bed and it was imperative for one to stay awake at all times: whenever one bed occupant moves it’s impossible for the other to remain asleep.  Equally, the hotel have gone for authentic period pillows – small cotton pucks resembling perhaps a Juicy Fruit, which you need 3 of in order to avoid permanent neck damage.  Sadly, you’re only issued two, so it’s vital to procure extras from the front desk before they run out.  Helpfully, the desk clerk offered us extra towels to roll up and sleep on in lieu.

Still – 2 stars, because it was better than the place we stayed last time.
Check out my review of Travelodge Hotel – York Central Micklegate – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Padron in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantSpanish

So, from what we can gather, this place is located on the site of a former burrito joint – and its new incarnation is… a Spanish place, which does burritos!

(I’m reviewing this place purely on the strength of its burritos, by the way – couldn’t comment on the rest of what’s available, although the chicken looked nice from what we could see)

Fans of convenience and thrift will probably enjoy Padron if they work in the neighbouring area, but it’s not somewhere that I’d seek out, as its burritos didn’t make a lasting impression.  A great sign was that rather than the usual 3 or 4 filling options, Padron offers about 8 different possibilities: the chicken & chorizo option was a breath of flavoursome fresh air.  The rice they used was nicely cooked, without being crunchy or sloppy.  Our table service was speedy enough, without being friendly or memorable – but definitely not bad at all.  And quite keenly priced, it has to be said.

Things you might not like if you’re a burrito enthusiast: it was a very sloppy burrito. Whether that’s a property of the sour cream they use or some aspect of the sauce, I’m not sure.  They use orange cheese which is a little on the flavourless side.  And the biggie – you only pick the filling and the hotness of salsa you want.  Maybe it’s a stupid expectation, but established burrito protocol is that you’re given a choice of options, rather than saddled with chopped iceberg, diced tomato, and lashings of sour cream.

Like I said – nowhere near the worst burrito in the world (Mexicali in Soho still holds that lofty title), but certainly makes it worth the walk down to Tortilla in Leadenhall Market.

Probably the most upsetting thing though is that the window writing enticing people in is in Comic Sans MS typeface.  There’s just no call for that sort of thing.

Check out my review of Padron – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Ciao Bella Restaurant in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantItalian & Pizza

The plan was to meet at the pub next door, then pop over to Ciao Bella for a low-key bite.  And what an experience!  There’s seldom a vibe that can be matched by a bustling cheery Italian restaurant – this place was absolutely heaving, filled with happy, chatting people and fuelled by the boisterous waiters rushing about despatching plates to tables with a certain brash informality.

The piano player was over on one side of the room, standing behind his upright piano (no room for anything else in here!), and making his way between lounge standards and old songs that everyone knows – though you could scarcely hear him over the din.

I wouldn’t give this place any awards for the food, that’s for sure.  But you get the feeling it’s more designed as the Cheap & Cheerful student haunt or casual meal spot – and who complains about a starter being a plate of microscopic previously frozen prawns in sauce when it’s only cost you £6.50, and you’ve got access to bottles of house red wine for £13.50.  In Bloomsbury!

Spaghetti Carbonara is a bit like the Sweet & Sour Pork equivalent of Chinese food – it’s probably not particularly authentic or subtle, but you can get it almost everywhere, and I really like it: so that’s my Italian yardstick.  And on this occasion it was… different.  Not bad at all, but certainly not what I was expecting.  But again – for £8, and accompanied by wine, good vibe, and excellent conversation, I’d go back in & have it tomorrow!

The piano player belts out a chorus of Old MacDonald’s Farm from the piano, totally unnoticed by anyone.  We applaud at the end: he looks up with surprise that anyone’s paid any attention and smiles at us, where many others in the room stop talking to see what the fuss was about, and several suddenly realise there’s a piano there.  The restaurant was full when we arrived, and people are still arriving as we leave.

How have I not heard of this place before?
Check out my review of Ciao Bella Restaurant – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: McDonald’s Restaurant in Bristol

BristolEating & DrinkingFastfood & Takeaway

It’s hard to really know what the best part of a McDonald’s visit is – we got back from the Bedminster branch about an hour ago, and I can say with honesty that I certainly don’t feel like eating anything else for quite some time.

It’s been so long since I’ve been to one – I’d forgotten the level of artistry that the place embodies.  The photographs of the food on the menus match the presented product only under the most exact lighting conditions and camera angles, and one can only wonder what the minimum concentration of actual potato particles are legally required in order to sell fries.

The beauty of a trip to McDonald’s is no only with the food-based entertainment though – it’s their unique take on what constitutes customer service.  Having been delivered a Chicken Legend with bacon & salsa with no bacon in it I returned it to the counter and informed them of the mistake.  The youth in charge snatched the sandwich away from the server and opened it up in front of me, flipping through the layers with his fingers like a rolodex, and then having established that I wasn’t causing trouble, sent the sandwich out the back and ensured me that I’d get one with bacon.  It wasn’t abundantly clear to me whether I’d been issued with a new sandwich, or had bacon inserted in the one the chap had fingered his way through.  Optimistically, I convinced myself it was the former as the limp squares of iceberg looked as if they were arranged differently to the one I’d previously inspected.  The customer is always wrong, I imagine.  To their credit, the server did apologise to me, and assured me that the crew there had been working very hard all day – serving not only the neverending queue of people at the till, but also the ceaseless stream of people demanding to have food delivered through their car windows outside.  No wonder the manager was so grumpy, poor thing.  It was probably getting on toward time for his nap.

I also enjoyed the spectacle of two barely-literate people trying to communicate in different thick regional accents (and failing), and resorting to a series of grunting and pointing at the pictures above the counter – so not just a promotional concern, but also a vital tool for understanding.

One couldn’t complain about the view from the front window – it’s a great place to watch the world go by.  I couldn’t quite get a handle on what music was playing to the dine-in customers, as a near constant array of beeps and sirens emanated from the kitchen: at one point leading us to wonder whether the restaurant was being attacked buy spacecraft and had had its defensive forceshields knocked out.

An absolutely unforgettable meal.
Check out my review of McDonald’s Restaurant – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Tapasia in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantJapanese & Sushi

For someone with “tapas baggage”*, the idea of a “tapas style” place can be fraught with angst and a sense of impending disaster.  Although as Tapasia describes itself as “Japanese Tapas” the agony’s a little lessened…  after all, sushi and sashimi are easily shareable small-portion format food.

Initially I was a little hesitant about the place, I’ll admit – walking past a well-stocked cocktail bar, we wondered if this was going to be a bar which did a sideline in Japanese food, rather than a place with the high quality food we were hoping for.

When our first round arrived – tuna and salmon sashimi, and salmon skin maki – any fears we had were immediately dismissed.  The food was tremendous!  The texture and flavour of the sashimi put Tapasia clear ahead of many other Japanese places we’ve visited.  And the salmon skin maki were an absolute culinary revelation.  However, the best was yet to come…

We followed up the first round with a selection of hot tapas – the BBQ pork, Baby Gem in Truffle Butter, Ying Yang Kushi Yaki, and Seabass Ponzu.  The pork was tasty and the sauce a little feistier than you’d expect but as soon as you wondered whether you might suffer heat effects it subsided again.  We very much liked the baby gems – an interesting and innovative way to serve them, ,with the truffle earthiness just delicate enough to remain enjoyable.  The Seabass Ponzu was flavoursome & interesting and came with a brace of mushrooms that made me think of Cthulhu.  Far and away though our favourite was the beef skewers – 2 sticks of succulent cubed beef, served with a hint of herbed bearnaise-style sauce.  They were so good, we ordered 2 more!

If it were possible to give half marks this would be 4.5 – the service was competent enough without being amazing, and the decor was understated to the point of seeming forgotten.  And probably the overriding impression we had was that it would’ve seemed overpriced had we not had a 50% off deal through the website we made our booking with.

Splendid meal though.  Perhaps the restaurant section upstairs may have given a different vibe and “formalised” the place a bit.  If we can get the same deal again though we’ll definitely be back!

* tapas baggage = dislike of the format owing to repeated occurrences of going out for a group tapas meal, selecting a couple of dishes, and then being forced into eating the horrible stuff other people have ordered whilst they enjoy the wonderful things I’ve selected – usually including them cooing about how amazing tapas is and how they’d never have tried the thing they’re currently eating if not for the small & multiple portion format.
Check out my review of Tapasia – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Kimchee in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantOther AsianKorean

Having worked in the area for a while, Kimchee is typically referred to as a landmark with the description, “That Korean place that always has the queues out the front”.  If you have the good fortune of spending any time inside, the reason for the queues becomes abundantly clear.

It’s really, really good.

I’ll readily confess that I didn’t really notice the names of all the dishes and drinks that were flying around the table, but that’s possibly no bad thing and you could have quite an interesting evening from just randomly pointing and ordering from the selection available in this consciously Korean place.  I know we had the eponymous fermented cabbage speciality, Kimchee, which was simultaneously weird and compelling, and made for an excellent component to more familiar menu options such as fried chicken bits, and a sort of pancake/omelette thing with seafood mixed through it.  My personal star tip is for the steak tartare, which was nothing short of stunning and not at all what I expected.

We were lucky enough to pair each group of plates with a Korean drink – such as a fermented rice milk drink and a plum-based spirit.  Quite a departure from what the Western palate’s familiar with, and though I’d hesitate to order any of them alone they too provided a fascinating contrast & counterpoint to the cuisine.

Based on the fact Kimchee doesn’t take reservations (although the queue turnover is quite rapid) it’d probably be a handy and different option for small groups with a good sharing mentality.  The bench-style seating (think Wagamama) probably rules it out for an intimate dinner for 2, but it’s keenly priced options make it handily informal.  The owners have gone to incredible attention to detail with the decor, plates and glassware, and this all adds to give the place a busy informality without falling into “cheap, cheerful & chaotic”.

As well as being my first run at Korean food, this was also my first VIQ event – two serves of massive luck in one!

Based purely on personal preference I found the cocktails and alcoholic drinks to be a lot sweeter than I’d customarily drink, but am very eager to head back and explore some of the main dishes: from what we got to taste, it’s easily worth a 20 minute queue.
Check out my review of Kimchee – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Damson Cafe in London

LondonEating & DrinkingCafes & Coffee Shops

Damson Café replaces a fairly forgettable Italian bistro, and though some might claim that this area’s already got loads of choice where coffee is concerned I think the addition of Damson is no bad thing!

Even on a murky day it’s a bright, airy space which would be pleasant to sit in – sadly I was in a rush and had to take my cortado and muffin away.
The range of food on offer all looked lovely and appealing, and the banana & cinnamon muffin I settled on was an interesting twist on the usual parade of muffin options.
The main thing a coffee shop is judged on though is its coffee, and Damson’s cortado held its own amid the more established places in the area – perfect balance of coffee and milk, and great texture.  I spied Square Mile and Hasbean beans during my visit, so they’ve got that bit right, anyway.  Also on offer were specialty teas.
I can see this place becoming a breakfast must-do.

Check out my review of Damson Cafe – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: El Mexicana in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantsMexican

Atmosphere-free refit of an atmosphere-free refit of a former Pret: El Mexicana seems to churn out a solid burrito, although doesn’t come near some of its neighbours.

Nevertheless, the Barbecoa meat was flavoursome and mid-way between dry & moist. The wrap was performed a little naively and felt a bit too wide to be considered ideal. Chipotle salsa imbued a wonderful smokiness, which mainly covered up that the Mexican Rice tasted like it’d either been made from a supermarket packet, or in bulk in a school lunchroom.

Not somewhere I’d take burrito-lovin’ friends to impress them, but at £5.79 for most of the burritos on offer (and they have taco baskets & other stuff too) it nudges in as an easy & decent lunch candidate if you’re in the neighbourhood.
Check out my review of El Mexicana – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Sky Lounge @ Nido in London

LondonEating & DrinkingPubs & BarsBars

Maybe I had the wrong expectation of this place – I thought that pop-up bars were meant to be about making quirky, innovative and memorable use of space that was only available for a short time, whereas the modus operandi of this place appeared to be “sell overpriced drinks to pillocks in a penthouse that nobody’s bought because it’s on top of a massive student housing block”.

We went along on one of those daily deal voucher things, not expecting to be treated like royalty, but not to be completely ignored. Quite why it was required that we make a booking for a particular time was a bit of a mystery, because nobody seemed to know we were going to be there, and the table we were pointed to was nicely situated so you could barely see any of the view that was the primary feature of this 32nd floor bar. It probably wouldn’t have been as bad if the staff had gone around periodically and wiped the nose-grease from the windows.

Check out my review of Sky Lounge @ Nido – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Lazy Boy Saloon in New York

New York – Eating & DrinkingPubs & BarsPubsMicrobreweries

Not strictly a microbrewery (in that they don’t actually make their own beer… guess that’s a bit of a biggie, really), Lazy Boy is a bar which – as the story goes – was started by a couple of tradesmen who took possession of the building as payment for a bankrupt client.

Boasting a selection of over 400 different beers, the bustling atmosphere and people queueing for tables amid a fairly wide selection for restaurants in this popular area of White Plains is a neat indicator of Good Things To Come.

The beer selection is nothing short of amazing, and the draught beer list fills an A4 page with an option for every taste. What sealed it for me, however, was the ribs. These were, unquestionably, the finest ribs I have ever had. Ever. You could feed these ribs to a pensioner whose teeth had fallen out 10 years hence. So tender & moist. And flavoursome.

Just stunning.

Check out my review of Lazy Boy Saloon – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

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