Eating Around: Santi, Stratford, London

Based in Stratford’s up and coming East Village, Santi officially opened its doors in July 2016, offering lucky nearby residents an array of traditional Italian fodder, including thin-based pizza, seafood-drenched pasta, and more mozzarella than you can shake a stick at. When looking for a convenient and cosy restaurant to base a birthday meal with friends, Santi quickly cropped up as the ideal choice; in part because it is round the corner from my sister’s flat, partly because it’s on my way home back to Romford, and thirdly, because the food is absolutely delicious.

Santi is decorated very simply, letting its flamboyant food do all the talking. Stark white and dark wood form the majority of the colour theme, with the occasional flash of red to correspond with the restaurants logo dotted here and there. We were sat on a medium sized round table, ideal for nattering as a group, the table dressed with wine glasses and white linen napkins.

We ordered a couple of bottles of white wine to get the evening started, with my sister Jess taking the lead on the choice there. Our waiter presented us with a standard main menu each as well as a spring special menu, which boasted of being a whole three courses for a mere £20. We took a pick and mix approach, with some people sticking solely to the special menu – which did have a very impressive array of options for that style of menu – and some of us having two courses from the special menu and then one of the other courses from the main menu. Either way, this led to the food being very affordable all round, while still providing a pretty much entire menu to pick from. Win win if you ask me.

As we were reading the menu, a bread basket arrived at the table, alongside a dish of green and black olives, speared with cocktail sticks. Always a nice extra treat when table snacks arrive before you’ve even ordered, and so I tucked into the soft, thickly sliced bread with gusto, playing catch with the salty and small olives too.

While sipping the fresh and fruity wine, I ordered the scamorza impanata from the main menu for my starter. It sounded ideal for me, with breadcrumbed smoked mozzarella served with sautéed aubergines. This was probably one of my favourite starters that I have ever eaten to be honest with you. The mozzarella was stringy and soft, oozy out of the golden breadcrumbs when I cut the large discs on my plate. The cheese had a lovely creamy flavour that was accentuated by its sheer meltiness, the softness of the cheese working wonderfully with the crunchy breadcrumbs. The aubergines were cooked in a tomato style sauce to add a bit more variety to the texture of the dish, the squishy, earthy veg adding a hint of depth to the lighter cheese. The main components of the dish were sat on top of some decoratively scattered rocket, the edge of the plate drizzled in a balsamic glaze that I would have licked clean off the plate if manners would have permitted me to. I really loved this dish; everything worked together so well and you simply cannot go wrong with some form of melting cheese. The portion size was also more than generous with three large circles of cheese. This certainly whet the appetite healthily for what was to come.

For main course, I couldn’t resist my usual temptation treat food of Italian pizza, which I chose from the spring special menu. I went for the vesuvio, an interesting combo of salami, mozzarella and a fried egg on top. The pizza was a standard size with a generous scattering of salami spread across the circumference. The cheese on top looked a little sparing; however the wobbling fried egg on top was a thing of beauty. When I popped it’s golden yolk centre, it melted deliciously across my pizza, giving me extra to dunk my crispy yet doughy, wide crusts in. You really can’t go wrong with an Italian pizza in my view and this one was bellissimo.

I chose my dessert from the spring menu as well, opting for the cannoli siciliana to be brave and try something new. I’ve never had cannoli before, but I’ve heard the term tossed around plenty, so I was intrigued as to what it actually was and what it tasted like. I have to confess I was severely disappointed here, spending the duration of dessert jealously eyeing up Jess’s tiramisu. My cannoli featured a rolled up, thin biscuit, which had a similar taste to a brandy snap, yet it’s texture was very crisp and crunchy with real bite. It was meant to be filled with ricotta cheese, sugar and chocolate flakes, yet to me it tasted like sugar-sweet, liquid white icing sugar had just been poured inside, adding nothing to the flavour. The chocolate flakes could not be tasted in any way, shape or form. Although another decent portion size, I was really gutted by how bland and uninviting this dessert was. Next time, I’ll definitely go with my trusted dessert option.

Value for money is very apparent at Santi. There were five of us all together; we shared a couple of bottles of wine, and four of us had three courses, one person had two. Bearing in mind all that, we paid a puny £27 each. I couldn’t believe how cheap it was, considering both my starter and my main course were so tasty that I devoured them at warp speed. Our waiter was lovely as well, very polite yet chatty, efficiently serving our meal. We went on a Wednesday, so the restaurant as a whole was a bit quieter than I’m sure it would be on a weekend, however it had a very relaxed atmosphere and the food was lovely. I’d recommend a visit if you are passing by and need to put your feet up after hitting Westfields. Aperol spritz anyone?

Spaccanapoli, Soho, London

img_1338Set Menu:

  • Location: Spaccanapoli, Unit 8, Central St. Giles, London, WC2H 8AG (nearest tube station is Tottenham Court Road)
  • Date of Visit: Wednesday 1st February 2017
  • Time of Table:30pm
  • Deal Bought From: Groupon
  • Deal Price: £19.95 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Two Starters
  • Two Main Courses
  • Dessert
  • For Two People

img_1340What we ate…

Katie:

  • Starter: Roasted vegetables with balsamic dressing
  • Main: Salami pizza
  • Dessert: Chocolate filled mini croissants (sharing dessert)

Jess:

  • Starter: Salami and Parma Ham
  • Main: Roasted vegetable pizza
  • Dessert: Chocolate filled mini croissants (sharing dessert)

 What we drank…

  • Two glasses of house white wine
  • A bottle of house white wine (not included)

What did we think?

img_1341Spaccanapoli is like a little glass Italian island, hidden between shiny sky scrapers and the flashy lights of bigger, bolder restaurants. Its neon red, handwritten style signage stands out against the completely glass walls that form this cubic shaped restaurant, plonked in the centre of a smuggled-away side street off London’s Tottenham Court Road, and potential diners can peer curiously through the transparent walls to catch a glimpse of what they might be missing out on.

I’m not going to beat around the bush here, it’s a small place and the square, white tables are crammed in. A horseshoe shaped, high backed sofa, covered in black material forms one side of the seating arrangements, tables placed closely together following the curve, and then dining chairs opposite. The deli and coffee bar situated across the back of the restaurant indicates the café-style day job and catering for the time-rushed lunch crowd, however of an evening, the lights are dimmed and Spaccanapoli takes on a much more relaxed vibe.

img_1342Attending with my sister Jess for a girly catch up, we were both flabbergasted by the cheapness of this Groupon deal, where we would get three courses each for under £20. It certainly sounded too good to be true so I was interested to see how the food stacked up. We were given a special Groupon set menu to pick from, which although didn’t have masses of choice, still had key Italian favourites to pick from. For starters, I decided to go for the antipasti style vegetables, which included aubergine, courgette and tomatoes to name a few. Stacked in three neat towers, my vegetables were served in a traditional antipasti way, with a very soft, yielding texture and a slightly chargrilled flavour. With a dash of balsamic dressing hesitatingly splashed on top, this helped to intensify the flavour and give the dish some added zing. I found it light to eat, tasty and a nice way to whet the appetite.

img_1344I have more than just a fondness for Italian pizza, so when I saw that pizzas had their own mini section on the set menu, my eye line was irresistibly drawn to this option. In the end, I went for a salami topped pizza. I love having Italian meats on pizza as I find the extra fat oozes out when it’s being cooked and generally adds a fantastic flavour to the pizza. Although the pepperoni used was spread rather sparingly across my lovely large pizza, I still thoroughly enjoyed it. The pizza was a generous size; the cheese bubbly, hot and stringy to pull apart; the crust not overcooked at all, instead puffing up delightfully and pretty much hitting the nail on the head when it comes to pizza bases. This my friends, was a proper Italian pizza, and it was a joy to eat. And I made sure to eat every last slice!

So far, so good. However, with dessert as the last hurdle, here is where Spaccanapoli came completely unstuck and let the side down massively. As you all know, I absolutely love dessert, with an unnatural, often custard-induced passion. For me, it is an important aspect of my dinner and the dessert conclusion can make or break an evening. With this in mind, I was sorely disappointed to not even get to pick my own dessert. There was no dessert menu and instead, our waiter brought over one small plate that had two mini flaky pastry parcels on it. These croissant shaped delicacies looked like leftover snacks from the coffee bar rather than a proper dessert, and I felt completely hard done by, especially when I saw a portion of tiramisu sail past. One pastry was filled with white chocolate, and the second was filled with milk chocolate, and while they were tasty, they were most definitely treats to have was a steaming cappuccino, and not a dessert finish to a three course meal. After such a lovely starter and a mouth-watering main course, this dessert was such a disappointment that we simply had to order more wine.img_1339

The waiting staff were all very friendly and attentive and to have a two and a quarter course meal for £10 per person is certainly not to be sneered at in London’s heaving and expensive streets. My favourite dish was by far the pizza, as it really excelled. I would go again mainly out of curiosity to see if a dessert menu does exist and also what the normal prices and menu looked like. We were given no option to upgrade anything and the waiting staff didn’t promote any upsells, so our only expense was our drinks which was completely fine. The house white by the way was refreshing and absolutely lovely, so nothing wrong in that quarter. Spaccanapoli is only a stone’s throw from my office, so I will still bear in it mind but if you are going for this particular deal, I warn you now, dessert is a let down.

Eating Around: Azzurro, London Bridge, London

Outside Azzurro

Outside Azzurro

When planning an 80th birthday treat for my Grandma this month, my sister and I thought we had really hit the nail on the head with a swanky afternoon checking out the views from the imposing glass Shard, spearing into the sky majestically. No decadent day out would be complete without some sort of food, so after getting snap happy on the 72nd floor whilst sipping our champagne, Jess and I led the way to nearby Italian restaurant Azzurro in London Bridge, where we had booked a table for 1.30pm for a tasty lunch.

Easily found on Tooley Street, opposite the London Dungeons and a stone’s throw from London Bridge tube station, Azzurro has a prime location for catching passing tourists; its attractive blood red awning decorated with jagged white lettering creating a distinct al-fresco feel as it protects a small patio area clustered with tables and chairs for outdoor diners. Working our way inside, I was hit by the casual glamour of the place, comfortably yet classy, impressive without being try too hard. The seating was arranged on a variety of staggered levels, adding interest to the eye line, the deep red and wooden colour theme continuing, old fashioned colourful poster art providing exuberant splashes of character against the stylish backdrop of mustard shaded walls. Red leather studded sofas formed some of the seating, opposite hard backed dining chairs, however our rectangular table for four used cream leather bucket seats – probably one of the most comfortable restaurant chairs I have ever sat in.

My impressive pizza

My impressive pizza

The table was simply dressed with side plates, red napkins and cutlery, chilli oil hallmarking the Italian cuisine, the orchid style flower adding a nice decorative touch. The restaurant was quite empty when we arrived since we were dining at lunch time, the atmosphere relaxed and comfortable, allowing us to sink into our seats as we perused the menu. We kicked the meal off by selecting a zesty South African chenin blanc wine, which was light to drink yet full bodied with a refreshing lemony aroma. White wine is always fabulous with Italian food so this was a good start. Deciding to skip starters to make more room for dessert, we eagerly scanned the numerous sections of the menu, which included salads, pasta, risotto, pizzas and meat dishes, so there was plenty of variety. The menu wasn’t too extensive but I thought it was incredibly well thought out and put together, offering a nice balance of tomato based dishes to those more luxuriously creamy, also providing a good combination of meat, fish or vegetables across both the pasta and pizza dishes, prepared to suit any taste buds that may cross its path. Although I was sorely tempted by the tagliatelle salsiccia, a pasta dish including spicy Italian sausage, onion, garlic, chilli and a tomato based sauce, my penchant for pizza reared up in full force and I knew that I had to have the vesuvio – a pizza that sounded like it was created for me. Featuring both pepperoni and spicy Italian sausage, the pizza was also topped with spinach and olives, enhanced with the additional heat of chilli and garlic. I ordered my main course excitedly, with all of us actually opting for pizzas since the range of toppings sounded so delicious.

Chocolate cheesecake

Chocolate cheesecake

I can easily say that this pizza was one of the best, if not the best, Italian pizza I have ever had the pleasure of devouring and savouring. Filling a large circular white plate, the pizza itself was an ideal size, the super thin base meaning that it wasn’t too heavy to tuck in to although it may have looked large at first. The base of the pizza was thin and soft, richly smothered in tomato sauce laced with the gentle heat of the pungent chilli paired with the musky garlic, adding a delicious depth. There was more cheese than you would expect on an Italian pizza, and this suited me just fine, as usually I find the cheese is the one area that is scrimped on. The golden and bubbly cheese was melted to perfection and it stringed attractively as you pulled your cut pieces apart. Adding a squidgy chew, the cheese was a juxtaposition to the peppy tomato base. Toppings wise, I was more than impressed. The olives looked like Kalamata olives to me, their distinctive oval shape and purple hue giving them away. The spinach was splattered sparingly but there was still enough to go round, with slices of both the pepperoni and the Italian sausage covering the pizza nicely, ensuring that every slice I cut had plenty for me to get my mouth round. The crust was again thin in keeping with Italian style and was super tasty. I can honestly say that I loved every mouthful of this pizza and could probably have eaten a second one if given the chance!

Cappuccino

Cappuccino

My fiancé Dan has chosen the carne gusto version which was a meat feast combination of Italian ham, chicken, salami and pepperoni. Our Grandma, Jean, kept things back to basics with the classic margherita, whilst Jess branched out with the capricciosa, a pizza that was topped with ham, pepperoni, mushrooms, artichokes and olives. We were all incredibly satisfied with our choices, reclined comfortably after our meals, feeling satisfied without being stuffed or sickly.

Our refreshing white wine

Our refreshing white wine

Since I have inherited my sweet tooth from my Grandma, it is only fair that we tucked into the dessert menu with gusto. There were so many options that caught my eye, however in the end I went for the chocolate cheesecake, something I wouldn’t usually have when out and about. The chocolate biscuit base held a chocolate truffle filling that was darkly rich like a torte, yet kind of mousse like in texture. The chocolate filling was topped with a cream layer of Italian classic mascarpone to lighten the flavour, before a generous crust style finish of amoretti biscuits to provide a contrasting crunch. The slice came up a decent slice, sitting on decorative zig zags of chocolate sauce, a speck of strawberry hiding next to the cheesecake timidly. It looked fantastic and it also tasted brilliantly – a simple idea and dish, yet it really hit my chocolate cravings yet felt wonderfully luxurious and decadent as well, which is always a plus for dessert in my book. Jess and Dan went for the same hazelnut ice cream bomb style dessert, which housed a gooey chocolate centre, whilst Grandma went fruity with a pavalova option that actually came out more like an eton mess, so I don’t know why they didn’t just call it that. The presentation for the desserts was top notch so no complaints there.

Inside Azzurro

Inside Azzurro

Not quite ready to head home, us girls decided to indulge in coffees, ordering our favoured cappuccinos. It took the waitress a while to get them over to us which was odd, but they were huge compared to the standard after dinner cappuccino so that seemed to make up for it, the large mugs dwarfing a small almond flavoured biscuit that had been smuggled on to the saucer. The biscuit was a great accompaniment for the frothy chocolate sprinkled top, although underneath that I soon discovered the cappuccino was in fact masquerading as a latte, the coffee one of the palest I have ever seen and weak in flavour. It wasn’t a bad coffee at all, just not what was expected as it was much closer to the milky latte than the medium cappuccino, so it settled heavier in the stomach and wasn’t such a refreshing conclusion to the meal.

Our table

Our table

The staff were polite and helpful, so no qualms there really. Where the restaurant was quiet, we received our food quite quickly and we weren’t rushed at all which was nice. Price wise, the venue is also very reasonably, especially considering the quality of the food and how much we all enjoyed our two courses and drinks. It came to approximately £26 per person for a main course and dessert each, with us three girls splitting the bottle of white wine and Dan having a pint of Beck’s to wet his whistle. Azzurro’s pizza will linger lovingly in my mind for a while and their tantalising dessert menu deserves a second visit for sure. Since this is a blossoming chain, they do have a few scattered branches around, with one in Waterloo, Woking and Portsmouth as well as the London Bridge venue that we visited. I would highly recommend Azzurro as they have a delicious and delectable menu, decent prices and a great atmosphere. A downstairs bar with laid back leather sofa seating showed Azzurro could party with the best of the them; however the elegant upstairs restaurant gave a nod to the more refined Italian tastes and passion for food. I’m looking forward to returning!

Pavalova

Pavalova

The hazelnut ice cream bomb

The hazelnut ice cream bomb