Prezzo, Piccadilly Circus, London

Set Menu:
· Location: 36-38 Glasshouse Street, Soho, London, W1B 5DL (nearest tube station is Piccadilly Circus)
· Date of Visit: Wednesday 8th November 2017
· Time of Table: 6.00pm
· Deal Bought From: Buy A Gift
· Deal Price: £30 for two
· Dinner Companion: Best friend Vick
Getting More for your Money?
This dinner deal includes:
· Starter each from a set menu
· Main course each from a set menu
· Dessert each from a set menu
· Glass of house wine each
What I ate…
· Starter: Giant Meatballs
· Main: Penne Alla Norma
· Dessert: Tiramisu
What I drank…
· Glass of house white wine
· Glass of Prosecco (not included)
· Hot chocolate (not included)
What did we think?
Meeting up with friends can be difficult when it’s the run up to Christmas, and you are both trying to maintain a bit of a shoe-string budget in order to bulk buy all of the necessary festive presents. The offer I managed to nab from Buy A Gift however seemed too much of a bargain to pass up, offering a three course meal for two people and a glass of house wine, all for £30 or £15 each. This suited our moth-ridden purses just fine, so we promptly bought the deal, printed off our evoucher and booked ourselves a table online.
Naturally there are an abundance of Prezzo chain restaurants dotted around London, however we chose the one situated on Glasshouse Street. I work in Soho while my friend Vick works near Bond Street, so heading to Piccadilly Circus provided a nice middle ground for us both to get to easily.
We both arrived early and were promptly seated. The décor was very simple and unmemorable to be honest, with clean white walls and wooden floors, plenty of non-descript tables wedged in where space would allow. We were seated by a wall of windows on high stool sized seats that were thickly cushioned like wide individual booths, upholstered in mustard yellow. The table was small and certainly cosy, but did the job.
On arrival, we chose our respective glasses of wine, me opting for the white and Vick for the red. We were then presented with both the set menu that corresponded to our evoucher, as well as the restaurant’s main menu. Apparently due to technical trouble in the kitchen, a lot of the dishes could not be cooked, therefore our choices had more than halved in the blink of an eye. Since the set menu was quite restricted anyway, we were given the main menu as well to afford us more choice so we could actually construct our three courses, as with the grill out of action our set menu was far too sparse, especially as each course only had about three or four options to start with anyway. Our waitress reeled off the shortened list of starters we could pick, and then said for the main course, we could only pick from the pizza and pasta sections really. Definitely a confusing start to the meal as this wasn’t explained too clearly to us, but we got there in the end and were able to make our selections.
For starters, I chose the giant meatballs, as let’s face it, you really can’t go wrong with meatballs. The meatballs consisted of minced veal, beef, pork and pancetta, squished with fennel and parsley for good measure and served with a ladle-full of tomato-based pomodoro sauce on top. When the dish arrived, it featured four of the meatballs, served on a white rectangular plate, the chunky sauce pooling on top of the meat. To be honest, I’ve seen larger meatballs and these ones to me just seemed a normal size, so a bit of fake advertising there. After accepting some extra parmesan to be grated over my meal, I tucked in. The meatballs had a great flavour and the herbs were not overpowering in the slightest, providing just the merest of background notes. The meat was certainly the front and foremost flavour, accented by the very light and juicy tomato pomodoro sauce. The texture of the meatballs was quite fine and a little on the dry side, but that again was soon remedied by the sauce. Overall, a nice little starter to get the meal going.
I had no idea what I fancied for my main course, especially as our options had dwindled so rapidly. In the end, I went for a vegetarian pasta dish, the penne alla norma. This included grilled aubergine, garlic and basil in a creamy pomodoro sauce, so quite a simple ingredients list too. The pasta was served in a large, deep white bowl and was also actually a decent portion; I find sometimes that pasta dishes can come up a little small so I’m glad this portion filled me up! Again, I got the extra parmesan grated on top of my meal for added cheesiness. Considering I don’t eat pasta out too often, I actually really enjoyed this. I liked the combination of the char grilled aubergine paired with the garlic; I think the warmth of the garlic just really brings out the flavour of the aubergine, and where the aubergine is a softer, more rustic and Mediterranean veg, it just really works alongside pasta. I couldn’t taste the basil, which is a good thing as I really rather dislike it! The pasta was cooked until it was soft rather than al dente, which I prefer even if it isn’t traditional, and the sauce was enough to lightly coat each tube of pasta. This gave the dish a tomato undertone that wasn’t overpowering but acted as a nice refresher and a conduit for the garlic. There wasn’t bucket loads of sauce, but there was enough to bring the dish together and that’s the main thing I guess.
I decided to go traditional Italian with my dessert by picking the tiramisu. When it arrived at the table, I was so disappointed it was unreal. Part of the reason I love tiramisu is the fact it is indulgently creamy yet light, and that the coffee-drenched sponge fingers cut through the mascarpone to create a wonderful concoction of mild cream and strong coffee. What I received at Prezzo was more like a structure than a dessert, with three sponge fingers, merely speckled with soaked coffee rather than properly absorbing it all, arranged to form a small pyramid shape. The luscious creaminess I was expecting was instead a rather thin layer in the centre of the pyramid, a little more spread on top to dust cocoa powder over. For me, this was a massive disappointment. I know tiramisu can vary greatly between restaurants, however I have always enjoyed it and it has always been creamy and coffee-fuelled. This version however certainly did not tick my boxes, and I was lusting after Vick’s sticky toffee pudding with complete abandon. My sweet tooth was left unsatisfied.
In addition to what our evoucher entitled us too, we ordered an extra glass of Prosecco each to help wash down our meal, and we also had a concluding hot chocolate each rather than a coffee. The hot chocolate was really lovely actually, and was just the right texture between being too thin or too thick; it was the perfect amount of opulence. It was only these extra drinks that we had to pay for, and since the rest of our meal equated to £15 each, it was a very affordable evening out.
The service was fair, however not all of the waitresses knew we had a voucher, so we kept getting different menus and when we asked what we were able to choose from, it sometimes got a little muddled as they would have to check with each other. However on the whole the food was tasty and the service was good; the staff were polite and friendly. The main problem of the night was of course the fact that half the kitchen was not operational, as this really reduced what we could pick for our dinner. Naturally it’s just one of those unfortunately, but it was a shame. I also wished I’d chosen a different dessert, as the tiramisu did not live up to my Italian expectations and for me, it wasn’t all that great. The voucher was a good price though and if I was looking to save pennies again, I’d certainly be tempted to investigate Prezzo once more.
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Homeward Bound: Osteria Due Fratelli, Hornchurch, Essex

I’d been meaning to visit Osteria Due Fratelli for quite a while before I finally got around to booking a table. It always looked so welcoming, the family-run restaurant painted an alluringly inviting shade of post box red. As an independent Italian restaurant amidst the sea of nearby chain eateries such as Ask, Wildwood and Prezzo, I was also interested to see what Osteria Due Fratelli could possibly bring to the plate that could successfully hold up against these big, pizza-swinging rivals.

Inside, Osteria Due Fratelli continues the family-run vibe, with the décor reminding me of a country style kitchen. The bold splashes of iconic red were still present and correct, paired with a bright white, and finished with photographs in both black and white as well as colour, the frames eclectic and in different shapes and sizes.  The chairs had a worn and rustic look with a muted whitewash, paired against a hodgepodge of different sized tables in a variety of shapes and wood shades. My friends from my badminton club and I visited on a Saturday evening, so the atmosphere was bustling with the majority of the tables taken, however there wasn’t a rushed feel at all. It had the ambience of enjoyment, of friends relaxing together and revelling in each other’s company, of stretching a meal out because conversation is flowing.

We sat down at a rectangular table for four and ordered a bottle of house red to share. Despite just being the house beverage, it was a lovely red wine with a smooth consistency and a medium body that was fruity and not too heavy to drink. While we were musing the menu, a basket of rustic ciabatta style bread was brought to the table, the loaf cut into medium thick slices. With olive oil and balsamic vinegar already sitting on our table with the other condiments, I saw it as very necessary to pool first the oil and then the vinegar on top on my bread plate, before dunking my slice decadently in the slick on my side plate. This is one of my favourite things to do so having the bread brought to the table without prompting or asking was a nice added extra. The bread itself was very Italian, with a dark, chewy crust and a spongey, hole-filled centre – perfect for absorbing all the lovely oil.

Having loaded up on bread, I decided to skip starter, and focus my attention instead on main courses. Feeling in a pasta mood, I opted for the rigatoni amatriciana, which featured wide, cylindrical white pasta in a tomato, Napoli based sauce, finished off with pancetta, onions, red wine, basil, parmesan and pecorino cheeses.

Firstly I was pleased by the portion size; sometimes pasta plates come up minutely small for a main meal and it can be very frustrating to fish around for your pieces of pasta while your companions are spearing a gutsy steak. So tick there for portion size. Next up, I liked the fact that the pancetta was cut into chunky cube-like strips. Pancetta can be served in niggly little cubes that aren’t worth the chasing in pasta sauces, however the pancetta in this meal was really something you could get your teeth stuck in to and enjoy. It was also nice and lean with a real gammon flavour, so that’s a thumbs up for me. The tomato sauce was pretty standard to be honest with you, and I wouldn’t say it had anything majorly different to traditional tomato sauces from other Italian restaurants. Combined, it was a really lovely pasta dish and I it certainly hit my pasta craving nicely.

Dessert couldn’t be anything else other than tiramisu to be honest with you. As we ordered more red wine, I got stuck in to my large, rectangular portion. Tiramisu is one of those desserts that will be completely different in every, single restaurant that you eat it in, and Osteria Due Fratelli’s version was very cakey, with the creamy mascarpone being quite dense. Sprinkled with cocoa powder and drizzled with a sticky, dark chocolate sauce, this coffee dessert is always a nice conclusion to a meal, especially when you get a generous portion like this one.

Now, since I was out for a birthday meal with friends from my badminton club, we may have been a bit looser with the alcohol than normal. We completely indulged, ordering expresso martinis that arrived in unusually shaped cocktail glasses, the hard-hitting coffee flavoured cocktail delivering on expectations there. Furthermore, we also ordered liquor coffees, the rich black coffee underneath steeped in our alcohol of choice before being topped with a silky, flat layer of cold cream. I continued my coffee theme and opted for Tia Maria in mine. After another round of wine, the restaurant brought us over limoncello shots, this feisty, firepowered lemon flavoured liquor succeeding once more to blow my socks off!

As we continued the evening drinking in the restaurant rather than moving on to a bar, our bill was obviously more expensive as a result. We ended up paying around £45 per person, which I don’t think was too bad in the grand scheme of things bearing in mind how much we had to drink overall! The food itself was very reasonably priced; one member of our group had a ribeye steak main course which was £16. After arriving at 7pm, we were the last to leave the restaurant at nearly midnight, almost being kicked out by staff as they finished stacking seats and taking off aprons. For a relaxed and uncomplicated evening out, give Osteria Due Fratelli a go. The food wasn’t mind-blowing and the service was patchy due to the restaurant being busy, however the food was nice and the atmosphere is really relaxed.

Il Castelletto, Holborn, London

Set Menu:

  • Location: Il Castelletto, 17 Bury Place, London, WC1A 2JB (nearest tube station is Holborn)
  • Date of Visit: Thursday 23rd February 2017
  • Time of Table:30pm
  • Deal Bought From: Living Social
  • Deal Price: £19 for Two
  • Dinner Companion: Twin sister, Jess

Getting More for your Money?

This dinner deal includes:

  • Two Starters
  • Two Main Courses
  • Two Desserts
  • For Two People

What we ate…

Katie:

  • Starter: Insalata Caprese
  • Main: Risotto Vegetariano
  • Dessert: Tiramisu

Jess:

  • Starter: Minestrone Soup
  • Main: Tagliatelle Mare E Monti
  • Dessert: Tiramisu

What we drank…

  • Bottle of Costal upo Illuminati (not included)

What did we think?

With a love of all things Italian, when I spied this fantastic Living Social deal, just a mere 10 minute walk from the front door of my office, I couldn’t resist snapping it up and inviting my fellow foodie and twin sister to share the experience with me. Located down a peaceful side street off the main concourse of Tottenham Court Road, Il Castelletto has a real ‘hidden gem’ style vibe. Its exterior was all prim and neatness with a lick of deep forest green paint and tidy awning ballooning over the front door. Traditional checkered tablecloths adorned outdoor tables; however it was the inviting, large arch style windows showcasing a beckoning interior that had us licking our lips in anticipation.

Upon entering, you are enveloped by a sense of warmth, family and comfort, the atmosphere a pure invitation to simply unwind after a hard day, glass of wine in hand. With flickering candlelight gently illuminating the very small, yet strangely not poky, restaurant, we were placed at an intimate table for two. As I sat down, I admired the yellow brick decorated walls, checking out the impressively golden gilded mirror opposite my seat. Spinning around in the wooden dining chair, I cast my eye over the traditional and well-stocked bar opposite the main entrance. Above the bar, neatly decorated blackboards detailed the wine list, while further blackboards on the walls explained the daily specials, including some very well priced lunch deals. To me, Il Castelletto felt as if you were visiting an old friend that you hadn’t seen in a while, merely slotting in where you left off and instantly relaxing into something comfortable and well-loved.

Our deal was a complete bargain at £19 for two people, so I was expecting a set menu. The restrictiveness of the menu however took me aback briefly, with many of the items being incredibly similar, so although the menu looked extensive from afar, the choice itself was much more limited. Getting over my initial disappointment, I began to look at what I was actually going to order. With a love of mozzarella, the insalata caprese seemed like a good start, due to doorstep slices of the pale, creamy white cheese, colourfully layered against equally thick rounds of bright red tomato. Further decorated with little piles of rocket, for me it was the balsamic dressing that really made the dish. I love balsamic at the best of times, but it works exceptionally well with the soft mozzarella, the zing of the vinegar a pure juxtaposition to the dense creaminess of the cheese. Nice and light, this simple yet winning starter whet the appetite very nicely.

I did struggle to pick a main course, as nothing immediately grabbed my fancy. I decided to have risotto, as it’s something I don’t usually have at home because my husband isn’t a huge fan of this gooey rice-based dish. If I’m going to have a risotto, it may as well be done by the experts. I chose the vegetarian one, and boy was this good. Firstly, the portion size was lovely. I am normally fearful of selecting a risotto when at chain Italian restaurants, as often two tablespoons later you’ve finished your dinner before everyone else; however this was not the case at Il Castelletto, and I was able to enjoy a really brilliant and full bowl. My risotto featured a great mix of vegetables, such as peppers, broccoli, mushrooms and carrots, all steeped in a fantastic tomato sauce that inundated both the vegetables and rice. The sauce had a real garlic heat to it, which massively enhanced the flavour. The rice was perfectly cooked and soft, the vegetables also cooked to tender and therefore to my liking; I’m not really an al dente kinda girl. Ensuring to get lashings of grated Parmesan on top, I really enjoyed this risotto, even if it wasn’t something I would ordinarily pick. Stealing a bite of my sister’s pasta however has me gagging to return just to order a pasta dish, as her tagliatelle was melt in the mouth in true Italian fashion.

For dessert, when in an Italian restaurant, there is simply only one option – the famed coffee-soaked and cream laden speciality tiramisu. Now I have eaten a lot of tiramisu in my time (please don’t judge), and no two restaurants ever serve it the same; it’s one of those things! To me, that makes the dessert even more special and unexpected. Il Castelletto’s version of this dessert was much more cake like, served in a rectangular slab, again with a generous portion. The mascarpone was thick set and unctuous, the chocolate drizzle sauce a nice added touch, and the coffee flavour spot on. All in all, a lovely take on tiramisu.

To accompany our meal, we went for a mid-price bottle of white wine. Usefully, the wine menu features flavour descriptions, so we were able to better select something that we would like. The wine was light, fruity and very drinkable. At under £20 for the bottle, it was also very affordable.

Although our food came quickly, I wouldn’t say the service was spot on. Some of the other tables seemed to be having difficulty in getting their food. The servers tended to clear your plates and give you the next course at the same time, which is unusual, but it didn’t really matter as we were still getting our food. Our meal was delivered pretty promptly so I have no complaints there. Staff were polite but not over warm or chatty.

I have to confess, I fell in love with Il Castelletto. I adored its relaxed atmosphere, the really delicious food, and the whole package really. Copping a glance at the full price menu, it still seems like a very affordable venue, although on this occasion we just paid a tenner each to cover the wine, as our £19 vouchers covered the price for our three course meal each. I can’t wait to go back and try a few more menu items…any volunteers?

Homeward Bound: Ciao Bella, Romford, Essex

Inside Ciao Bella

Inside Ciao Bella

Nothing perks up a working week like a treat lunch out, so when my Grandma invited me for a spot of midday munchies on Tuesday, I jumped at the chance to stretch my legs and escape the office for an hour. It also seemed the ideal opportunity to check out family run Italian venture Ciao Bella, situated on South Street in Romford; a restaurant I had wondered past many times but never actually had the chance to visit. Meeting at 1.30pm, the venue was surprisingly empty, so we had our pick of the dark wooden, rectangular tables.

Penne Paradiso

Penne Paradiso

Approaching Ciao Bella, it has a simplistic yet appealing nature, with a sleek black sign, swished with sweeping and swirling letters in the Italian’s flag trademark colours of red, white and green.  Cheap metallic silver tables glinted under the awning in the afternoon sunshine, the door set open to attract passing custom. When we entered, the venue was surprisingly roomy, stretching out quite far backwards, with plenty of space. Considering it was lunch time, it was very quiet, so we were seated at a table for four people, the table dressed with white paper napkins, cutlery and wine glasses. The décor was muted and calming, the walls painted over in mint green and white, giving a really refreshing impression yet still in keeping with the Italian theme. Circular wall art decorated one wall, whilst stylised, glossy cinematic images added some va va voom to the plain white sections of wall.

Fun decor

Fun decor

Once we were seated, and sipping the deliciously fruity and soft house white wine, we began to take a look at the extensive menu. Being a classic Italian, they offered limited sections, consisting of mainly pizza, pasta, salads and some meat dishes as well as starters and desserts. Despite restricted menu sections, they offered a ton of dishes in each category with an absolute array of choice that mixed traditional Italian flavours of tomatoes, cream and olives in many of the options. It was brilliant to have so much to pick from, even if it did make the decision more difficult! They also had a tall rectangular special’s board that was packed with small chalk writing, listing reels of extras for each course, providing yet even more choice for us to enjoy. There definitely wasn’t a lack of options.

Special's Board

Special’s Board

I fancied a pasta dish, so I opted for the Penne Paradiso, which featured chunks of juicy chicken, cubes of courgettes and carrots, with wilted leaves of spinach elegantly swamping the top tubes of penne. The entire dish was swathed in a fantastic garlic and cream sauce – it had a thin yet silky consistency so it wasn’t too heavy or rich yet coated the pasta perfectly. The cream aspect of the sauce was really rather buttery giving a lovely smoothness, whilst the garlic added a wonderful warmth that inundated the liquid with a gentle pungent heat that I adored. Every aspect of the dish combined beautifully to make a really tasty, light and filling meal, with lots of yummy components. The portion size was also good as it had plenty to fill me up, without being too bloating, which can be a danger with pasta.

Italian favourite

Italian favourite

With just enough time to sneak in dessert, I couldn’t resist the temptation of the Italian trademark dish tiramisu. It didn’t have an overly handmade appearance, however it was simplistically tasty, with thin yet strong coffee flavoured sponge fingers, encased in thick layers of creamy mascarpone. It tasted more of light and fluffy cream than mascarpone, with the coco powder adding an extra boost of chocolate flavour to the creamy consistency. The dessert was finished with friendly squirts of cream down one side. It didn’t really have any wow factor and the tastes didn’t blow me away at all, but it was yummy and hit the sweet spot nicely.

Outside Ciao Bella

Outside Ciao Bella

For our two main courses, two desserts and two glasses of house white wine, we paid £38, so it would have worked out about £20 per person for a two course meal with wine, making it really reasonable. I would love to go again, as I believe Ciao Bella is somewhere that would have something for everyone, covering the basics of foods that most people will enjoy and devour happily. The quality of the food was also lovely, although the presentation of the desserts could have been jazzed up some more for some added class. A really decent yet overlooked restaurant that I will be dragging friends and family to soon I hope – I still need to sample the starters!

My Grandma's creme brulee dessert

My Grandma’s creme brulee dessert