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Category: QypeReview (page 2 of 4)

Reviews written for the Qype website (www.qype.co.uk)

Qype: Jamie’s Italian in Bristol

BristolEating & DrinkingRestaurantsItalian & Pizza

Poor Jamie must be run ragged getting around and personally supervising all the pasta houses that are springing up (about 20, so far) adorned with his cheeky moniker. We thought we’d give the recently opened one in Bristol a go. First tip is to avoid peak meal times – the website cheerfully announces “No need to book!”, meaning that it’s not possible to book (if you’re a group less than 8), and will more than likely find yourself among the queue out the door being looked upon spitefully by the punters at Pizza Express over the road. On a Sunday afternoon however the wait was only about 10 or 15 minutes, which was plenty of time to get into a delicious crisp glass of prosecco.

An absolute must-try are the crispy polenta chips with parmesan, salt & rosemary: square nuggets of crunchy joy. The “Italian Nachos” were also a tasty way to get started – the downstairs area’s decorated with loads of hanging produce and watching the planks of antipasti being prepared and ferried past us got the mouth watering good & proper.

We had a couple of little hitches with the order, but we put this down to the place only having been open a week, and our waiter calmly and capably sorted things out. If this guy was typical of their hiring strategy then they’re pointing in the right direction, as he epitomised customer service. It’s the little touches like introducing you to your new waitress when it’s time for shift to finish. Excellent stuff.

For mains I had Rabbit Ragu Papardelle – a delicious flavoursome savoury creamy rabbit sauce on pasta which had shape and texture that had me thinking of octopus tentacles. My learned colleague had Pumpkin Panzerotti, sort of moon-shaped ravioli-like parcels of pumpkinny goodness. And to accompany we knocked down a bottle of the *very* easy-drinking Fiano, which is the closest thing to peach juice that’s ever come out of a wine bottle – STUNNING!

Caught up in the excitement I think I also smashed a tiramisu in my facehole, but it had been so overshadowed by the excellent meal it will have to go down in history as “probably quite good?”.

The whole lot came to about £70, which represented exceptional value for money without being in danger of being cheap. For food of such high quality in a vibrant and fun atmosphere, it distinguished itself as one of the standout lunchtimes I’ve had in recent memory.

About the only question I’d have would be how much parmesan does this place go through in a day – it seemed to be shredded and added to everything! Does anyone know if Mr Oliver has purchased a parmesan farm recently? If not, he’s missing a trick…

Check out my review of Jamie’s Italian – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Restaurant La Villa d’Este in Nice

NiceEating & DrinkingRestaurantsItalian & Pizza

Whilst stuck in Nice recently due to a transport foulup, my partner and I asked our hotel concierge where a good place to go for dinner might be, and with no hesitation at all she pointed us at Villa d’Este. And in doing so provided one of the highlights of our entire trip.

Though thoroughly busy and full of diners, the adept team of waiters led us past the huge bowls of mouthwatering looking fresh pizza toppings, quickly located us a table and had us seated within minutes of arriving. The place was buzzing with activity and energy, with birthdays, gatherings of friends, romantic couples dining and casual groups all mingled happily together.

About the only point of agony was making a selection from the exciting looking menu – my cannelloni were made of pure happiness, and the margherita pizza was an elegant example of flavoursome perfection. We chose a stunning bottle of Barbera to accompany, however making one single selection from the wine list was another agony of pleasure.

As a nice older French gentleman explained to us on the flight over, Nice used to be part of Italy, but was handed over to France in the 1860s in thanks to Napoleon for his support during the Italian war of independence against Austria. As such, he said that Nice is famous for its pizza – it seems a potential card to exploit to squeeze money out of tourists, somehow. I can’t help but think that when that kindly-faced French gent described “famous pizza” to us, he might have somehow been thinking of La Villa d’Este.

We solemnly vowed to come back the following week when we were back in Nice, and we damn well would have if we hadn’t stumbled across the amazing wine bar… but that’s another story.

Check out my review of Restaurant La Villa d’Este – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Chang’s Noodles in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantsChinese

There are so many little non-chainy food places around the British Museum/Bloomsbury area that occasionally curiosity gets the better of you and you think, “Well, surely this place wouldn’t still be here if it were *that* bad?”. So, feeling like a spot of Chinese food and keen to avoid the vegetarian-buffet-which-isn’t-comfortable-enough-being-vegetarian-to-refrain-from-mock-meat-dishes cliché, I spied the lunchtime offer at Chang’s Noodles on the small sandwich board out front: “soup + dish + rice = £4.90”.

Being seated wasn’t a problem, as I was the only one in there. The atmosphere felt very much like eating in the front room of your granddad’s house. A perfunctory soup arrived, but I wasn’t expecting Ottolenghi for a fiver. For “dish” I had selected the crispy chilli beef, and what arrived seemed more like deep-fried styrofoam twiglets drenched in a sauce made from sour regret.

I chalked it up in the Loss column and decided to leave & say no more about it. So I walked up to the register desk and handed over my fiver. The guy handed me my bill, with £5.40 written on the bottom in red.

“I thought the lunchtime deal was £4.90?”

“Well, 50p tip, isn’t it.”

So, new formula for the board out front: “bland food + disinterested service + misleading promotion = one-star review from mrfrisky”. It makes sense why the Pret next door was so popular.

Check out my review of Chang’s Noodles – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Lupita in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantsMexican

Finding myself in need of a bite and in the Villiers Street area I figured I might as well go check out Lupita: any opportunity to check out a potential new source of burritos has got to be a good thing, right?

In summary, “Okay”.

What these guys served up under the description “burrito” was not anything approaching my understanding of what a burrito is. A toasted wrap, perhaps. Seemingly a small example, but with London being a hotbed of burrito availibility right now, this is a crucial thing to get right. I asked for no tomato, and the waiter to his credit tried to make it all better by offering me a 15% discount after he forgot to tell the cooks not to add tomato. In hindsight there was so little tomato on the thing anyway it made little or no difference. And come to it, the wrap was reasonably tasty. But a burrito it were not.

The corn chips to start were very nice, and not Doritos out-of-the-bag like I thought they might be. And again, to their credit, to make amends for screwing up my order the waiter gave me a free raspberry sambuca shot. Which was weird. As was the music, which seemed to be less about trying to create any sense of enjoyable ambience for the customer, and more about listening to stuff that the kitchen staff wanted to listen to as they worked.

It seems wrong to mark Lupita down so much when the waiter was obviously so penitent about slightly mismanaging my order, however to distinguish yourself in the centre of London you’ve got to be Good. And this wasn’t Good. Not Bad, but definitely not Good.

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

Qype: Carnevale in London

LondonEating & DrinkingRestaurantsVegetarian

As a lifetime steak enthusiast it has taken me many years to reconcile with the idea of going to a vegetarian restaurant, and on the various occasions I have done it’s usually worked out pretty well, although with the thought, “Perhaps there’s still time to grab a burger on the way home” making its presence felt.

Carnevale on Whitecross Street is a different kettle of mung beans entirely.

Everything on the menu sounds tantalising, but without the normal sense of “ah, that’s a dish that normally has meat in it”. The starters we had of Goats Cheese Parcels served with Orange and Almond Salad, and Pumpkin Gnocchi with Spinach in Roasted Garlic Cream were nothing short of spectacular, and the portions were just enough that you didn’t feel underserved or overstuffed.

The decor’s not going to win any awards, but the place displays no pretensions of any sort – it seems that the business of Carnevale is purely serving up amazing food. When we asked the host how long the restaurant had been open, he said “About 15 years”, so clearly it’s an approach that works.

Sipping our very tasty Chianti & chatting away in the homey low-key environment, I was delighted when my main course of Chickpea, lentil & spinach curry arrived, which comes served with halloumi & fig kebabs topped with a yogurt & mint dressing. WOW. I love halloumi, and I’ve had some really nice bits of it in the past. I’ve no idea what these people did to this halloumi, but it was the best I’ve ever had. In fact the whole dish was so spectacular that I had the same thing the next time we went back there.

It was so good it almost seemed a pity to dismiss the sumptuous aftertaste with the first mouthful of creme brulee. Almost…

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

Qype: Notes Music & Coffee in Westminster

WestminsterEating & DrinkingCafes & Coffee ShopsCafes

The chaps in the flat hats do it again!

Not content with providing the good people of Victoria with awesome coffee at The Flat Cap Coffee Company, Fabio & Robert have embarked on a bolder venture at the bottom of St Martin’s Lane – Notes Music & Coffee.

I popped in for lunch today, and in addition to a superbly made cortado (a short coffee, roughly half way between an espresso and a latté) I tried what looked to be a slightly pricey but INCREDIBLY flavoursome smoked ham & gruyere baguette.

It’s early doors yet for Notes, but building on where they’ve started can only mean an excellent coffee destination.

In addition to the delicious espresso-based coffees dispensed from the shiny behemoth on the counter there’s also the filter coffee bar, offering some of the more exotic & esoteric coffee flavourings that the people of London are starting to awaken to – today it was Kilimanjaro fully washed, pulped, or natural, from El Salvador, using Hario TCA-2 Syphon, V60 process, or Woodneck cloth process. Whatever that means. What it means to me is that this is going to be a coffee destination for enthusiasts of all levels, and it provides a nice relaxing environment in which to relax & enjoy your brew.

For the most part the baristas are using beans from Square Mile Coffee, and also Has Bean, and retail bags will be available at the counter.

In addition to the coffee & food, the shop’s former life as an opera CD store (being next door to The Coliseum lends this an air of relevance) is carried on by a CD and DVD shop operating at the rear of the store, specialising in classical, opera, blues and jazz.

Capturing an opportunity in London’s nighttime scene, Notes will remain open until 10pm on weeknights and Saturdays, for those times when you want to go out for a drink but don’t feel like fighting your way through a pub or shouting over the top of a bar.

This is gonna be awesome.

Check out my review of Notes Music & Coffee – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Mexicali in London

LondonShoppingFood & Drink

If there is a Burrito kingdom in London, then this place is its equivalent of Slough.

My learned burrito-eating work colleague and I keenly ventured through Soho in search of this place, and he was initially optimistic about it, saying that it had an authentic taqueria feel about it. I mused over whether this was due to the colour scheme, or just because half the lights weren’t working, but my ponderings were cut short by the up-front payment process.

From the instant I’d paid it was downhill – there was no chance to peruse the meats available and select. The assembly line workers spooned out a bland looking slap of anaemic chicken purée on top of a 1-grain thick spreading of spicy rice. They dragged it down the line and added shredded iceberg and grated cheddar. I interjected to ask them not to put diced tomato on it, and was challenged as to whether the burrito he was building was mine. Even at the busiest times in Benito’s or Chipotlé, there’s eye-contact and awareness of whose is whose.

Taking my meal down to the crowded back table area my fears were confirmed – this was the bleakest burrito ever, with no flavour coming from the chicken whatsoever. We borrowed a bottle of garlic-chili sauce from a neighbouring table, and about the only intriguing factor of the meal thereafter was whether one bottle between the two of us would provide enough flavour to get through this meal.

My colleague couldn’t bring himself to finish his, and that’s a dire indictment indeed. As he drizzled chili-garlic sauce over the few lightly salted Doritos that accompanied the meal I wondered whether I should give Mexicali an extra mark for authenticity of atmosphere, but thought it would be a shame to direct people in here to see the amazing fire alarm button suspended in midair only by its wiring, when the burrito experience was so lacklustre.

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

Qype: Daddy Donkey in London

LondonEating & DrinkingFastfood & TakeawayEating & DrinkingRestaurantsMexican

After months of hearing epic tales of Daddy Donkey from my closest network of burrito fanciers, my visit there today was completely by accident after walking to another nearby burrito vendor and finding it closed.  My colleague’s eyes lit up, and he said in an excited low whisper, “We could always go to Daddy Donkey…”.

Approaching the van – I was surprised to see that it was a self-contained van, rather than the more “cart” arrangement at Freebird – the popularity of the place became apparent, by way of the blue Tensabarriers erected for crowd control, and also the apologetic notice that due to Friday popularity they could only now accept orders of up to 5 burritos per customer.  They were getting through the orders fairly swiftly though, and so it wasn’t long before I’d negotiated the gauntlet of smiley burrito assembly line workers and was hooking with gusto into my first ever Picadillo burrito – a sort of spicy ground beef arrangement.

Maybe the problem was the constant hyperbole, however my burrito verdict on this occasion was “Good”. Even if you factored in the atmospheric component of sitting at the scattered handful of rickety furniture (which my colleague assured me was “very mexican”), there was no denying that what I had was a very tasty yet poorly constructed burrito… almost as if they’d rolled it sideways, such that with each bite you got a mouthful of a successive ingredient. And nobody wants a mid-lunchtime mouthful of cold sour cream. My burrito companion looked at me with deflated shoulders and confessed that he’d just chomped into a complete mouthful of rice, and that by comparison to usual it was all a bit bland.

To its credit, my final bite appeared to contain most of the salsa sauce, and as I wandered up and down Leather Lane waiting for my colleague to finish I noted that the flavour persisted and was incredibly tasty. But that doesn’t catapult a burrito vendor into the coveted 5-star category. There was absolutely no question as to the quality of the ingredients – however you’ve got to know how to assemble them right too, and on this occasion the donkey daddy made an ass of itself.

Check out my review of Daddy Donkey – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Bear Inn in Bisley

BisleyEating & DrinkingPubs & BarsPubs

Anyone looking for the English Country Pub experience would do extremely well to strap on their satnav, head towards Stroud, take the correct turnoff of Bisley – or, as we did, navigate a series of steep and extremely narrow lanes – and head to the little pocket of joy nestling on the edge of the Cotswolds known as The Bear Inn.

Reasons why I liked this place:
1) It had a cheery pub feel to it – the sort of room which you walk into and immediately feel happy about being in. They had the fireplace going, prompting me to upgrade my summary to that most pleasant of rosy-cheeked clichés, “cosy”.
2) The Sunday roast is superb: at least the pork and the lamb were moist, flavoursome, and accompanied by some lovely roasties. Seemed foolish to order a beef as well given there were only 2 of us.
3) They do a magnificent pint of St Austell’s Tribute.

It’s probably a very historically interesting building, and certainly not a recently thrown up replica or anything like that. We didn’t look for any of that stuff however, because it seemed too nice a place to do anything than have an excellent Sunday afternoon in.

Oh, and they’ve got a lovely front door. Big, heavy wooden job with iron rivets. Probably massively over-specified, but just the way doors should be I reckon. In fact, I think I’m going to go back one day just to have another look at that door.

Ah, might as well have a roast and a pint while I’m there…

Check out my review of Bear Inn – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

Qype: Buffalo Grill in Paris

ParisEating & DrinkingRestaurants

My experience so far of Parisian cuisine is that anywhere which has been designed to look like somewhere a tourist would feel comfortable is a place worth avoiding like the plague, and Buffalo Grill was absolutely no exception.

In hindsight it was a little optimistic to think that Parisians would have any inclination to make this a positively memorable experience, and being an American-themed place directly opposite the Moulin Rouge suggests that their prime focus is going to be mopping up slightly sozzled merrymakers visiting from other parts of the world.

That probably explains why the burgers were flaccid, wet, anaemic apologies-on-sugary-supermarket-buns, which conjured up some of the more terrifying parts of Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation”. The fries were a limp, sweaty, tasteless affair, and about the only redeeming feature of our meal was glancing down and noticing that a previous diner had tried to scratch a warning into the table: “Get out now, it’s s***”.

If only we’d spotted that before it was too late. Perhaps if they rendered it in the large neon lettering favoured by other businesses in the area then we’d have stood a chance.

Check out my review of Buffalo Grill – I am mrfrisky – on Qype

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