Sunday, September 30, 2007

Kendell's Bistro

Sat 29 Sept 2007

Normally I don't take guests anywhere I haven't eaten myself, but with new restaurants opening a-pace, I broke that rule last night and headed off to Kendell's Bistro. The Cactus Lounge is no more, and while the tables and chairs remain the same, Kendell's Bistro achieves a completely different feel and provides an utterly different experience.

The restaurant serves typical French bistro food: the type that's very good when done well and pretty awful done badly. The website gives an indication of the type of dishes (and prices), but as the menus live on large blackboards don't pick your meal in advance!

Our Kendell's experience started during the week when I rang to make a reservation. Pre-dining experiences are something I rarely mention, and I'm not sure why, as sometimes they can be so pivotal to a first impression. And, in the case of Kendell's, I was bowled over by the efficient, polite and friendly manner in which my booking was handled. So often, you ring to make a reservation and the experience is unnecessarily difficult. At Kendell's there is clearly a policy of ensuring reservations are spread out (always a good sign), so while I couldn't book for 7:30 I was offered the clear alternatives of 7:15 or 8. A very big tick, before I've even entered the restaurant.

When we did arrive, our table was ready and we were given a wine list. I'm a little undecided about the wisdom of the menus on the blackboards, as we weren't able to see all the details while sitting down. But I liked the fact that the blackboards are evidence that there's no point in printing a menu. Restaurants where the food remains the same week in-week out are somewhat soul destroying.

Menu choices were (eventually) as follows: foie gras followed by steak with Béarnaise sauce, duck fat potatoes and bacon, trout mousse with sauce Nantua followed by porc normande, salad followed by duck à l'orange, and boudin noir followed by the duck à l'orange. I was very tempted by the duck confit and I was quite disappointed that no one else chose it (for me to try). Also, the choice of meals made for tricky wine selection. There don't seem to be any wines by the glass but the wine list is good and the mark ups don't appear extortionate (I am basing this on just one bottle so I'm happy to be corrected if I'm wrong!). We chose a Caves de Turckheim pinot blanc and a beaujolais villages (my first choice was actually a Côtes du Ventoux, which probably would have gone well with my steak but been less than stellar match with pork and duck).

Despite the menu looking frighteningly large, all of our food was fantastic. My foie gras was served with brioche toast - the sweetness of the brioche cutting through the richness of the liver. The trout mousse was beautifully presented, light and very tasty. The salad was huge, with a squidgy poached egg on top. And best of all was the black pudding. It was delicious and I managed to swipe a whole piece from someone's plate!

The main courses were just as pleasing: my steak was perfectly cooked, the pork with apples was moist, and the two (large) portions of duck were polished off. We added buttered spinach, green beans and some chips. It seemed to be the potatoes that came out of the vegetable exercise best: they're all cooked in duck fat, so they come out golden, crispy and very very good.

In the interests of completeness, I managed to force myself to order (and then eat) a crème brûlée. It ticked all the boxes although I could have done with being a little less full.

By the end of the meal, I could find only two things to complain about. One was the rather intrusive music. I really liked the fact that Kendell's has chosen to have live as well as recorded music, but I think the volume (for both) needs to be turned down a notch. And that's something that can be easily fixed. And the other was that the menu could do with some solid proofreading - there's a few errors to be spotted by the eagle eyed.

If you're feeling hungry and want some good, honest French food you'd best head down to Kendell's - and if you go soon you'll get in before everyone discovers it. Actually, by now, judging by last Saturday evening, bookings are probably recommended.

1. Kendell's Bistro, St Peters Square, Leeds, LS9 8AH, phone: 0113 243 6553

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Involtini agli Spinaci

Sunday 26 August 2007

Jumping around the calendar, let's head a long way back in time to this dish taken from The Silver Spoon. I received this Italian classic as a birthday present last year and have cooked surprisingly few recipes from it. I'm not sure why this is, because it's packed with useful information and recipes that range from the basic to the more extravagant.

Involtini agli spinaci are small beef parcels stuffed with spinach, served with a tasty tomato sauce. The trick is to use a cut of beef you can batter out so that it's very thin - this way you can cook the parcels very quickly without drying them out. Otherwise they can be a little dry and tough. Alternatively, you can always slice them before serving - this way they will take up more of the sauce and the thin slices will seem more tender than one large, lumpy parcel.

To make the filling, take some spinach and wilt it. Drain and squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop the spinach and then cook it in some melted butter (perhaps with a touch of chilli).

Pound your slices of beef until thin. Spread the spinach mix over the meat, top with some chopped carrot and grated parmesan (really, any cheese you fancy - the recipe specifies slices of Gruyère but we didn't have any). I also added a basil leaf. Roll up the beef into parcels and tie with string.

Heat olive oil and butter in a pan and add the parcels, browning them all over. Add a generous splash of dry white wine and cook until it evaporates. Next I added some chopped onion and a tin of tomatoes. Season and allow to cook down. Finally, add any remaining carrot, followed by any remaining spinach. You're then ready to serve! I served this with a very simple potato salad: some new potatoes, boiled, and then tossed with olive oil, garlic, parmesan and some sliced spring onions.
Obviously, this is a very versatile recipe - you could substitute pork, you can experiment with your fillings (perhaps some ricotta cheese added to the spinach), and you can play with the sauce (basil leaves and garlic being two obvious additions). It's not the quickest meal in the world to prepare, but beating the beef can also be very cathartic!

[Apologies for the blurry photographs - I must have forgotton to switch the camera to macro mode!]

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Sausage and Bean Casserole

Sun 23 Sept 2007

The Observer Food Monthly fell out of yesterday's paper and I told Andy to pick his dinner. Sausage and bean casserole it was. I have to confess, we didn't make our own sausages - an emergency dash to the supermarket procured the outstanding ingredients, and, with a quick detour via the North Bar, I was ready to hit the kitchen.

I don't think two sausage and bean casseroles ever come out the same, but this is last night's interpretation of the Observer's!

Take some chipolata sausages and brown in a heavy based pan. Remove and put aside. Chop an onion (the recipe called for a leek, but we have a lot of onions at home at the moment), a carrot, a stick of celery and a clove of garlic. Sweat this all done and, when starting to soften, add a teaspoon of paprika and 2 tablespoons of maple syrup (yes, you read that right!). Next, add a tin of tomatoes, a tin of cannellini beans (drained and rinsed) about 500 mL of water and return the sausages to the pan. Add a teaspoon of dried thyme (sprigs of fresh preferable, obviously) and bring the mix to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to low and leave for the sauce to thicken for about 45-50 minutes.

When ready to serve, toast some bread and put this in some shallow bowls. Top with the sausage and bean mix and eat!

Perhaps not the most glamorous looking meal ever, but tasty and (if we'd made our own sausages) nutritious!

Using the tinned beans turns this into a quick, store cupboard meal. I found that most time was expended waiting for the mix to come to the boil. After that, I was able to wander off (albeit only to the next room) and leave the pot to tick over until we were ready to eat.

If you plan it right, you should even end up with plenty of leftovers for lunches or emergency mid-week dinners!

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Baked Eggs

Sat 8 Sept 2007

See - I said I was behind with the posts! September's AGT has a large feature on brunch dishes, but we're rarely organised enough to sort out a proper meal before lunch time, so one of these recipes, baked eggs with creamed spinach and gruyère toasts, was co-opted as a quick weekend supper dish. I have always been a little suspicious about the idea of baked eggs: you seem to have very little control over them once they go in the oven.

My doubts were cast aside by the quick and easy nature of the recipe - and this is my interpretation of it.

Preheat the oven to 180C. Heat some olive oil and butter in a frying pan and add some sliced onion and chopped garlic. Cook until soft and then add plenty of spinach. Wilt the spinach and then tip the mixture into a colander or sieve and press to extract the liquid. Process in a food processor with plenty of pepper and salt (and nutmeg, if you have some) and add some crème fraîche. Divide the mix amongst your ramekins.

Crack an egg into each ramekin and top with a little extra crème fraîche and ground pepper. I baked the eggs for about 15 minutes and I thought they were over-done - but the recipe suggests baking for 20-25 minutes. Either my oven is very efficient or I like my eggs less cooked than the average person. The problem is, as I expected, that once the eggs go in the oven how do you tell how done they are?!

As we had no gruyère, we made cheddar and parmesan toasts. Combine grated cheese of your choice with crème fraîche and mustard, season and then spread over toasted bread before finishing under the grill.
The verdict? We liked the toasts (well, it's grilled cheese on toast, how could you not like it?), but we thought the eggs needed work (and less cooking). The original recipe topped the eggs not with crème fraîche but with a mixture of cream and tarragon vinegar which might have been preferable, as the eggs ended up looking a little unattractive. I thought that an even cleverer idea might have been to make a nest for the egg in the spinach and then top with cream (or some crème fraîche let down with vinegar). Unfortunately, the experience hasn't really inspired me to experiment on the baked egg front. There are so many good (and fool proof) ways to deal with eggs that baking them, like hard boiling them, seems a bit of a waste!

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Friday, September 21, 2007

La Tasca

Thurs 20 Sept 2007

Despite our recent visit to Rebato's in London, for some reason tapas does not feature often on the menu at Eating Leeds. Leeds does not seem overrun with tapas bars: I've wanted to go to Viva Cuba on Kirkstall Road for ages but despite the opening of a city centre venue I still haven't managed to do so. I do, relatively often, enjoy the tapas at Sandinista. Other than that, in the city centre you appear to be limited to two venues just off Park Row: La Tasca and La Viña. These restaurants are actually both owned by the La Tasca group ...

We headed off to La Tasca, tempted by the tapas for a tenner deal. There are various conditions attached to this deal, but, mid-week, it seems that if you are seated by 7pm, each diner can order as much tapas as desired for £10 a head. You are limited to ordering 3 dishes at a time but you can (and probably will) top that up subsequently. This was all explained in the friendly and efficient manner which seems to characterise the service at La Tasca.

San Miguels in hand, we sat down to inspect the menu. I was excited to spot pollo al ajillo (chicken and garlic) as it had been such a stand out dish at Rebato's. To go with this we ordered calamares Andaluza (battered squid, with garlic mayonnaise), albóndigas (meatballs), croquetas de paella y chorizo (paella croquettes with chorizo), patatas bravas (potatoes in a tomato sauce), and the tortilla. And some bread.

Andy rated the patatas bravas more highly than those at Rebato's, although not as highly as home made. The sauce on the meatballs we both enjoyed, although we found the texture of the meatballs themselves to be rather more paste like than meatball like. The squid was quite bland and a bit tough, the tortilla was nowhere near as tasty as that at Rebato's (or, indeed, a home made one). Andy was very enthusiastic about the croquetas whereas I wasn't sure. And the pollo al ajillo? A disappointment - the chicken was dry (but not crispy, like the fried chicken at Rebato's) and the thick sauce (rather than just garlic and oil) had an overwhelming taste of quite bitter tarragon.

We opted for three more dishes after this: the fritura mixta de pescado (mixed seafood), a selection of Spanish meats and paella Valenciana (with chicken and seafood). The cold meats were good but the other two dishes were disappointing. The paella was gluggy and held together in an almost tough manner and the mixed seafood was a sad collection of overly fried bits and pieces: a prawn, some tiny chunks of tuna, some whitebait, some more calamari.

Food and 3 beers was just under £30 - but when you consider that Rebato's was under £45 for four people (and the food was better) was it really such a cheap meal? I don't think so. At full price we would have spent a good £10+ more.

La Tasca didn't really excite us: tapas can get expensive quickly and the quality of the food at La Tasca wasn't really up to scratch. It makes me wonder what La Viña is like ... In the interim, for tapas we're going to stick to recommending Sandinista (me) and Viva Cuba (Andy).

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1. La Tasca, 4 Russell Street, Leeds, LS1 5PT, phone: 0113 244 2205
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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hotel Chocolat Competition

Thurs 20 Sept 2007

Earlier in the year, we reviewed some delicious Hotel Chocolat Easter eggs. Now, we're very excited to be able to team up with Hotel Chocolat to offer a reader a chance to win a decadent box of chocolates from their summer range AND a bottle of champagne, for a loved one.

Follow this link and tell Hotel Chocolat, in 100 words or less, why your loved one should be surprised with this luxury gift. As the most compelling entry will win you'll need to tug heartstrings and get out your violin! The competition closes on 5 October and entries will appear live on the Hotel Chocolat site (if you need some inspiration!).

Of course, if you don't happen to win, I'm sure you'll find something at Hotel Chocolat to treat yourself - as the evenings are getting cooler, I personally recommend the drinking chocolate!

Full terms and conditions are on the Hotel Chocolat site, and, if the link above is not working for some reason, visit:
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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

London Calling

The week 10-14 Sept 2007

A week down in London has left the site content a little neglected and, as usual, me well and truly behind with all the writing.

So this is a quick wrap up of my week in London. I was staying in the Marble Arch area: close to Oxford Street and very retail oriented. Once you go a block back from Oxford Street you do come across a few pubs and smaller restaurants but prices remain outlandish.

I only visisted one pub - The Three Tuns. The kitchen closes relatively early (I ordered just on 9pm and was told the kitchen was closed) and the beer, while good, is pricey: £2.92 for a pint of London Pride?! The pub itself was friendly, cosy, with newspapers and plenty of tables - although I'm not sure about the wisdom of placing a table right next to the entrance to the men's loos!

The next food stop was decidedly more upmarket: Brasserie Roux at the Sofitel St James. The 'weekly menu' offers you 3 courses (limited choice), plus 2 glasses of wine for just £24.50. For London, this is good value, but you do have to be careful you don't stray: our glasses of champagne, a gin and tonic and coffees all boosted the price. I started with the beef carpaccio with fennel, rocket and parmesan salad. The beef was wafer thin and the salad was fresh and it all worked well with the glass of champagne I was still drinking! For main course I opted for the salmon with choron sauce, served with broccoli and potatoes. While I do think the salmon was a trifle over cooked, it was still very good and the sauce (a béarnaise with tomato) was lovely. The potatoes were excellent.

Compelled to fit in pudding I chose the lemon tart with raspberry coulis. This was my favourite part of the meal: tart lemon curd, a caramelised top, and sweet coulis - delicious!

Aside from the tardy service on apéritifs and subsequently rapid fire delivery of our food, the experience was great. If you're disciplined enough to stick to the weekly menu only Brasserie Roux proves that you can eat well, and in style, in London at more than reasonable prices.

Next stop was the hotel restaurant: The Carvery at the Marble Arch Thistle. I loathe carvery/buffet style meals (people always seem compelled to make utter pigs of themselves), but The Carvery does also offer an à la carte menu, so I thought I should try it out. I ordered the steak with mushroom, chips and tomato which comes in at a whopping £18. The steak which was on offer at the Three Tuns (or would have been, had I been earlier) cost less than half that! The steak was properly cooked, although I suspect it could have rested for a little longer, as it was not an even temperature throughout. The mushroom was quite nice, but the tomato was a little anaemic. The chips were standard chunky-cut frozen numbers. Hmm, for £18 not worth the money. The staff were very friendly and the hotel restaurant also provided good people watching opportunities, but overall the price was just too high - especially considering the standard of service, food and overall environment at Brasserie Roux. And, as my single glass of wine was £6 at The Carvery, Brasserie Roux represents sensational value for money.

Quick visit to Wimbledon: drinks at Suburban, followed by a meal at a relatively new Thai restaurant, Suk Saran. This is a busy restaurant and, while we were seated quickly without a reservation, that was more to do with luck than planning! The menu contains lots of interesting dishes as well as the old standbys. Between three of us we had a green chicken curry, a mixed seafood dish (complete with whole crab claws) and (for me) a beef stir fry with loads of ginger, kaffir lime leaves and fresh green peppercorns. It was absolutely delicious. I couldn't be so enthusiastic about our starter - we shared some spring rolls as we were told the food might be a while. We received a plate of four tiny and almost tasteless spring rolls. Our main courses took so long to arrive we had finished our bottle of wine. And at the table next to us we were entertained (or worried!) by a very drunk man who randomly railed against British society, immigrants and rang his girlfriend (or perhaps ex girlfriend) to tell her how everything he did was for her. Needless to say, we didn't pay the optional 12.5% service charge! The meal came out at £20 a head, and the food was good enough to ensure that I, for one, would be prepared to give Suk Saran a second chance.

Friday night and, in a week of globe trotting eating, it was time to visit Spain. We headed to Rebato's in Vauxhall. Firstly, our meal was ludicrously cheap (around £45 for 4 people), the service was friendly, and there was as much bread as we needed. The tapas themselves were a little uneven - a fact we'd been warned about in advance. The chorizo was having an 'off' night (we were told the way to tell this is to determine whether its sauce is more yellow than red), but the pollo al ajillo (chicken and garlic) was fantastic! We also enjoyed boquerones (white anchovies - one of my favourite things), tortilla, albondigas and patatas bravas - but as far as we were all concerned, it was the pollo al ajillo which made the meal! Apparently this restaurant can get ferociously busy and you can't book for tapas - you just have to be lucky!

The final stop in London was (of course) a pub. Although we were loitering around King's Cross, it wasn't a trip to the Charles Lamb - we ventured outside our comfort zone in search of plenty of space and wi-fi. Pastures new found us at the Harrison. This pub is just off Gray's Inn Road and seems a world away from King's Cross itself. We didn't eat there but the food does get good write ups. Instead, we whiled away a few hours tucked up on a sofa, surfing the web and reading the papers - as well as drinking beers (Timothy Taylor's Landlord ... mmm). We were entertained by a scruffy pigeon who found his way in but couldn't (or wouldn't) find his way out. The pub wasn't hugely busy, which is a shame although it did get busier as the afternoon went on (perhaps not everyone goes to the pub at 1pm on a Sunday ...).

If you've reached the bottom of this rather long guide to a week in London - well done! And, at this point, I suggest you return later in the week as there may well be something of interest on the site ...

1. The Three Tuns, 1 Portman Mews South, London, W1H 6HR, phone: 020 7408 0330
2. Brasserie Roux, Sofitel St James London, 6 Waterloo Place, London, SW1Y 4AN, phone: 020 7747 2200
3. Thistle Marble Arch, Bryanston Street, Marble Arch, Central London, W1H 7EH, phone: 0870 333 9116
4. Suk Saran, 29 Wimbledon Hill Road, Wimbledon, SW19 7NE, phone: 020 8947 9199
5. Rebatos, 169 South Lambeth Road, London, SW8 1XW, phone: 0207 735 6388
6. The Harrison, 28 Harrison Street, Camden, WC1H 8JF, phone: 0207 278 3966

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Tues 4 Sept 2007

Midweek eating is a funny thing. The city centre is so much quieter, restaurants have fewer patrons and I'm always torn between going for a drink before or after my meal. I loathe eating in empty restaurants so any midweek venture is accompanied by a sneak peek to check we won't be rattling around the tables by ourselves!

Last night, we felt like Thai and, amongst the usual head-scratching which accompanies the very serious business of restaurant selection, we hit upon Maitai. This restaurant has a tiny frontage on Lower Briggate and it's easy to miss. We've been walking past and saying 'we must go there' for ages so it was definitely time to bite the bullet.

Apart from a fellow diner whose phone kept ringing, the restaurant was quiet, but with enough diners to not feel alone. We started (as always) with beers (Singha) and, as we had cheated and inspected the menu on-line, we were able to make some swift food related decisions. To start, I opted for the poh pia tod (spring rolls) and Andy had the kanom jeeb - steamed pork and prawn dumplings topped with a mixture of garlic and soy sauce which was delicious. The spring rolls were also good: a crisp skin (not dripping in oil), a well textured filling and plenty of sweet chilli dipping sauce (that said, I would have been quite happy to swap for a dipping sauce similar to that on the dumplings!).

Although the starters had arrived rather swiftly, we did have a pause before our main courses. Gaeng Paenang for me: a red curry, made with beef and plenty of lime leaves and sliced red chillis. While the curry sauce wasn't quite as thick as I was expecting (since the menu is careful to make the distinction), it was a good, fiery curry with lots of flavour. The only problem was the beef. I think that, in a curry, you need generous cubes of meat and a lot of long, slow cooking so that the meat falls apart. This beef was more along the lines of stir fry strips and so, despite the rich curry sauce, was a little tough and dry.

Andy's Pla Raad Khing (fried fish with a ginger sauce) was also tasty: the sauce was laden with julienned ginger and the combination worked well. We had ordered plain rice for two, and while the heat of my curry meant that I was unable to mop up all the gravy, Andy's fish provided him with plenty of (less spicy) sauce for the same purpose.

By the time we finished, we were full. Some rice remained uneaten, more than one or two sliced chillis wallowed in my remaining curry sauce and Andy's plate was clean. The bill came to just over £30. Leeds has a lot of Thai restaurants and, increasingly, it seems that the cheaper restaurants in less flashy locations, represent not only better value for money but overall better food. Maitai fits this bill perfectly.

1. Maitai, 159 Briggate, Leeds LS1 6LY, phone: 0113 2431989

Other Thai restaurants we've visited: Thai Cottage, Jinos and Café Thai. Chaophraya and Sala Thai are more fancy (and expensive) nights out.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

London in July

Sat and Sun, 14 and 15 July 2007

Back in July I started writing about a food filled weekend in London and only covered a couple of venues. In the interests of completeness, I'm finishing the task almost two months late! Thank goodness for notebooks!

This is going to be a concise recap and I'll start with a venue Eating Leeds has already visited and has established itself on the maps of London pubs. That's right - it's the Charles Lamb. This time, it was a sunny Saturday afternoon and the people of Islington were all outside the pub, celebrating Bastille Day and playing pétanque. It looked busy - would we find a seat in this tiny pub? The answer was (thank goodness!) yes, and we settled ourselves into a corner. Beers and wine in hand we inspected the Bastille Day menu and chose (to share, of course) goose rillettes, a trio of smoked fish, a slice of spinach, olive and pine nut tart (technically a bar snack) and the Brie de Meaux with rhubarb chutney. It was ludicrously good value - the goose rillettes was HUGE and cost just £6. The piece of brie was massive and came in at just £5. It was lucky the food was cheap because there was so much of it we just had to stay put and make sure we accompanied it with plenty of red wine.

The next day we booked ourselves a table at the very pretty Ladbroke Arms in Notting Hill. We must have enjoyed even more alcoholic beverages as our memories of this meal are not quite as crystal clear! Mum, dad and I were joined by two London based friends and we munched our way through a variety of interesting food - including an emmenthal and rocket tart which, although delicious, was incredibly hot and took a long time to cool to scoffing temperature, plaice and roast chicken, raspberry sorbets, poached pears, apricot tart and cheese. We were tucked away behind the bar in a table that started off quiet and isolated. We were able to watch people leave the pub as they discovered there was no roast beef on (really!) and we dawdled over our sorbets as the fire alarm went off ... in the heat, they weren't going to keep. I can also report that the pub didn't burn down.

We rounded off the afternoon by rolling out of the pub and wandering to the Tea Palace. It's purple! It was also lovely to sit at a massive round table, read through the tea menu and choose a different drink each. Each tea arrived with a small amount of the tea leaves in a tiny saucer so we could see and smell the (almost) raw product. It was a shame we were so full, and could only fit in a few biscuits (especially when other tables were having almost full cake trays returned to the kitchen!), but next time I'm in Notting Hill I'll be very tempted to return.

I haven't done any of these three venues justice, but I would recommend all of them. As with so many occasions, it's the company that makes an afternoon special, but good food, good wine and good tea don't do any harm!

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1. The Charles Lamb, 16 Elia Street, Islington, London N1 8DE , phone: 020 7837 5040
2. The Ladbroke Arms, 54 Ladbroke Road London W11 3NW, phone: 020 7727 6648
3. Tea Palace,
175 Westbourne Grove, London W11 2SB, phone: 020 7727 2600
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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Osteria dei Cavalieri

Fri 27 July 2007

The last stop, over a month late, from Italy. Our first meal was in Pisa, at Osteria dei Cavalieri. It was a Friday night, we were tired after a very early (and stressful!) start from Leeds and we had no reservation. We walked in about 10 minutes before the official opening time and every table had a reserved sign on it.

Now, I wish I could claim I pulled some food writing rank and scored us a table, but that's not the case at all. The maître d' looked at us and obviously decided that Andy and I would be able to keep my parents in check and offered us a cosy table in the corner.

As we'd already had a good look at the menu before choosing the restaurant, dish selection was relatively painless, but not without surprises. I started with taglietelline with rabbit and asparagus. I found this a bit disappointing: while the pasta was good (and very al dente - don't head to Italy expecting less than toothsome pasta), the pieces of rabbit were quite small and almost indistinguishable and the asparagus was decidedly sloopy. The dish was a bit too salty for me. Even more chewy was dad's foglie (little twists of pasta) with aubergine and salted ricotta, although the sauce had a good flavour. Mum was disappointed that her gnocchi with squash flowers and pistachio nuts, as the squash flowers were just chopped into the sauce. And the biggest surprise of all, was Andy's gnocchi with water-hen. After a lot of discussion we decided that water hen must be some kind of fowl - and it turned out we were completely wrong. The Italian name (which, in full, now escapes me) included 'del mare' which would have given the game away ... as the animal in question turned out to be gurnard. Fortunately, Andy likes fish and, while the dish wasn't quite what he was expecting he enjoyed it nonetheless.

However, our starters left us a little flat. None of the food had been quite as we expected, the sudden appearance of fish had confused us, we'd swapped plates around, been told off by our waiter, and only eaten some OK food. I was feeling quite guilty for suggesting the restaurant. Especially as we'd ordered a bottle of Gavi, on my suggestion, which none of us liked.

Fortunately, main course, and the bottle of red wine all picked up proceedings. I had chosen squid on rocket. The portion was generous, the squid was tender, and it was simply dressed with olive oil and served on a bed of spicy rocket. Simple, but delicious. This was the theme of the mains: tender rabbit with oregano and lamb chops were the other two choices. Everything was competently cooked, delicious, good value for money. It rather left us scratching our heads about the first courses.

As it was just the first night in Italy we were able to fit in dessert: a selection of three Tuscan cheese for the boys, and a semifreddo with praline for mum and me. The semifreddo was a stunning, bright yellow, deliciously creamy and the praline added crunch and an extra depth of sweetness.

Probably the most significant criticism is that the toilet arrangements are (I quote my mother) substandard. It is a shared toilet, and at the time of our visit, the door did not lock properly. There is just the one toilet for the restaurant and it's not everything it could be. Combine that with the rather incongruous music (Rod Stewart sings the old standards) and the restaurant may not be quite to everyone's expectations.

However, like so much of the food we were to eat in Italy, it was all ridiculously good value. The Osteria dei Cavalieri provides a typical range of dishes but not all of equally good execution - and you will find better elsewhere, particularly outside the cities. In addition, if you are visiting on a weekend, it might be wise to make a reservation.

1. Osteria dei Cavalieri, via San Frediano, 16, Pisa, Italy, phone: +33 (0)50 580858
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