London Restaurants - Part Six

Places to eat (or avoid) in the Greater London area.

You're Having a Giraffe...?

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on February 27, 2013

Booked to go to the cinema at Westfield Stratford, my friend and I had yet to decide where to eat. We went to the food places near the cinema first, and contemplated our options. Wagamama and a few other places looked busy and had queues outside, but Giraffe looked busy but not rammed. I had eaten in this branch before (one Saturday lunchtime last autumn), and found it quite efficient, so we elected to go there.

Typically when we decided to go to Giraffe a small queue started to form, but they were just one party so we were seated in no time. Giraffe are an established chain of informal restaurants throughout the UK, concentrating on ‘world’ foods – burgers, Mexican dishes, and noodle dishes can all be found on their menu, which they claim are always freshly prepared. Being situated in a shopping centre there is no particular atmosphere at this branch, you can even sit ‘outside’ in the centre and look at the world go by (and I think half the world were in Stratford last Saturday). However, I often end up going to a Giraffe as they have a varied menu with plenty of veggie options. There is a bar area inside and either banquette seating with wooden tables, or dull silver metal round tables. There was nothing outstanding about it. Giraffe restaurants usually play world music but I couldn’t hear it in this branch. I didn’t visit the loo this time, they are at the back – but as all are on one level, they are suitable for disabled access. Décor generally is simple and unfussy.

Coming at other times you may want to have a breakfast or brunch here. They serve breakfast until 12 and have a good range of options including cooked breakfasts. Some classic brunch dishes are also available until 4pm. Our server was friendly and helpful, which was good as I was dithering. My first choice was which cocktail to have – a classic mojito or the mango and lime daiquiri. I am glad he recommended the daiquiri (they also have a strawberry one but I was concerned it could be too sweet) at £6.75. The cocktail was thick - a frozen daiquiri – and gave me brain freeze, but it was lovely. I would definitely have this again. My friend had a bottled beer.

I don’t think their individual starters options and hugely appealing and quite limited (although the halloumi skewers could possible have tempted me) but they have a good range of sharing platters. We didn’t want to be late for the film, so we passed on this and went straight to mains. I have never been particularly decisive when it comes to choosing what to eat, which is one advantage of being veggie – I often don’t get so much choice. However in a Giraffe they do have lots of veggie friendly items and narrowed by original short list of four down to two as I decided I fancied chips. My next decision was do I have the falafel burger or the veggie focaccia? Our server was definite that the falafel burger was the best so I followed his advice and just asked for it without peppers (£9.75). My friend went for the chicken ‘club’ at £9.45, although he opted to have sweet potato fries.

My friend’s burger came up first and I waited patiently for mine. We nibbled a few of his sweet potato fries and found them to be not that warm, and a bit soggy. My burger then came up, and them my chips followed. I was luckier with mine as they were piping hot, but I think they could have done with another minute in the fryer as they were a tad undercooked, noticeable only on the bigger chips. Fries are ‘skin-on’ but this only affects the ends, and I so like them this way. My ‘deluxe’ falafel burger was held together by a skewer, which stopped gravity having its way. The generous portion of falafels and rocket was balanced between a chunky burger bun with beetroot and dressing, with a big slab of halloumi on top. I ended up taking the ‘lid’ off and eating the rest of the burger with my knife and fork, as the bread was too much. It was served with a spicy harissa dip which I smothered on the halloumi, and it certainly had a kick to it. My friend enjoyed his club, saying it was tasty and well cooked.

We decided not to have a dessert as we decided to have a quick mooch around the centre before the film instead. We got the bill which came to about £30.

All in all, the restaurant was not as efficient as I have experienced in this branch before or in any other Giraffe. We came away a bit disappointed, but would no doubt return to this chain at some point.

304-305 The Loft The Gallery, Westfield Stratford
London, England, E20 1ET
020 3463 9808

At the Cabana (Not the Copa)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on February 19, 2013

As a vegetarian I didn’t think I would ever have occasion to eat at a Brazilian barbeque restaurant as they are famous for their meat. However when out in the Stratford Westfield shopping centre, my friend and I checked the menu, and whilst alternative options were limited, we were intrigued enough to give it a try. As we went in, we were acknowledged straight away and seated within two minutes. The restaurant is on two levels, and we were on the ground floor. There is an outside eating area if the weather ever gets warm enough again. We were taken to our table which was a simple wooden table on metal legs and the staff member pointed out where there were clips for your bags. A nice touch, but my chunky handled Radley couldn’t fit, so nestled between my feet. The tables were not so large that your bag would not have got in your way if you had managed to get it on. The restaurant was quite dark, but open with the metal pipes in the ceiling look that seems to be popular everywhere. There was music playing and it was busily noisy. The kitchens were open plan and could be viewed from the restaurant (I had my back to them) they appeared clean from what I can tell, and the staff members seemed to have good hygiene. I was relieved that I couldn’t pick up greasy, meaty smells; I think they must have had efficient extractor fans.

The menu we were presented with differed from the one on the website (at the time of writing) and was more extensive. At the top they had the starters which our server explained were like tapas and came up as soon as they were ready. Options included chunks of parmesan that could be dipped in honey (sadly unavailable as my friend really wanted to try this). These dishes started at £2.95. We decided to skip this and go straight to mains which were served more conventionally.

The menu we ordered from had a different list of items per type of meat: chicken, beef or pork. My friend went for pork tenderloin with French fries and a side of chilli mayo. When served, the single joint of pork came up on a skewer and was taken off onto her plate in front of her by a member of the kitchen team. The service was quite dramatic for one piece of pork, but for people ordering other dishes with more meat on them it was a bit more worthwhile. My friend loved her pork, and said it was very well cooked. The fries were classic skinny fries and served in a little metal bucket and were perfect. They certainly tasted nice (she kindly let me have one). We also shared a side of Brazilian coleslaw which was billed as carrot and mango with grated cashew. It was not dissimilar from regular coleslaw but was slightly sweeter and occasionally you got the cashew flavour. I found the onion in it quiet strong. When we sat down the table was ready laid with sauces/condiments and cutlery including, what I thought was, a steak knife. The knife is fairly blunt, but my friend said her meat was so tender it wasn’t a problem.

Of the non meat options there were two prawn dishes and three portobello mushroom dishes, so veggies need to like mushrooms. I went for Portobello Beirut (£7.45), served with cassava chips at £3.45 (the Brazilian French Fry apparently). Here the mushrooms were served with Syrian flatbread (I would have thought it should have been Lebanese bread if they called the dish ‘Beirut’ but maybe I am over-thinking this), served with spinach, tomato and chilli mayo as I recall. The mayo was inside the bread, so I also asked for some on the side for my chips. It looked like a pancake sandwich – it was round and flat - cut into quarters, served on paper on a wooden board. I found it tasty and a bit filling, being unable to finish it. The cassava chips were a bit like plantain; they didn’t taste dissimilar to potato, but were chunky yet fluffy chunks. They were served in a little plastic basket (presentation skills were forgotten with this dish). The portion was generous, and no doubt contributed to my inability to finish the meal. The chilli mayo was very mild and tasted more like a smooth ‘thousand island’ dressing to me.

Drinks wise, I don’t recall seeing any wine or beer on the menu, but I am sure they must do some. We stuck to cocktails, starting with El Draque (£6.25) billed as the Brazilian mojito. I think I prefer a conventional mojito, this was a tad sweeter, but still very drinkable. We then ordered a jug of Brazilian Pimms (£19.50) which wasn’t actually much like Pimms at all, but we drank it anyway – again it was a bit sweeter than we expected, and it didn’t seem to be that strong.

We weren’t going to have a dessert as we were quite full but found the desserts a bit unusual. After dithering over the banana and Nutella pastel, my friend went with a peanut butter frozen yoghurt with chocolate sauce (£3.95). Intrigued I went for the caramel version, also with chocolate sauce. Whilst only two flavours of frozen yoghurt were available, there were about eight toppings, and you could also have them as sundaes. Our ‘ordinary’ frozen yoghurts came in a small glass with a plastic spoon.

The lavatories were upstairs, but they did have disabled loos on the ground floor. To get to the Ladies’ you go through a metal chain curtain and the loos (pink flip flops for girls, blue for boys) are done out like a cabana/beach hut. The ladies’ were pink and wooden and each cubicle was a good size, with its own sink and soap dispenser. It also seemed to have a useless shelf that was too far back to use and no hand-drier (there was a speedy drier in the communal bit). My friend informed me that the hand-drier was above the useless shelf (which was where you stick your hands), although she did mention hers didn’t work.

Service in the restaurant was very friendly and there was always someone milling about, so if you needed something, you had no trouble catching their eye. Most staff members were not native English speakers (I like to think they were Brazilian or Portuguese), and I did struggle with their accent in the noisy environment sometimes. They all wear bright logo T-shirts and jeans, except managers who wear shirts with their jeans, so it is all very informal. One minor down side was at the end, as the card-reader was having connection problems you had to go up to the till with your card, and it got a bit cramped and hemmed in with staff members and customers milling about in a confined space.

Our bill for two courses and cocktails came to £67 excluding tip. We enjoyed our meal, and would both be happy to eat here again at some point. They also have a branch at Westfield White City and Covent Garden.

Westfield Stratford
5 Chestnut Plaza, Montfitchet Way
E20 1GL
T: 0208 536 2650
O:12.00pm - 11pm, Mon - Sat
12.00pm - 10pm, Sun

Cabana Brasilian Barbecue
Westfield Stratford, 5 Chustnut Plaza, Montfitchet Way
London, England, E20 1GL
0208 536 2650

Not Just Jamie's Italian

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on February 18, 2013

I don’t know why it had taken so long for me to visit Jamie’s Italian chain of restaurants. Maybe it was the fact you couldn’t book (I have tried ad hoc a few times) or maybe it was the fact that Jamie himself always seemed a bit smug that put me off trying too hard. The chain was founded by TV chef Jamie Oliver and his friend Gennaro Contaldo in 2008 and now has upwards of thirty branches throughout the UK. My friend recently discovered that you could now book in advance, so made a reservation for the two of us one Friday evening in Canary Wharf. The booking was for 8.15pm and we were slightly early and invited to wait at the bar or at one of the tables ‘outside’ (the restaurant was within some sort of shopping centre/office complex). We decided to order our wine at the bar and although we didn’t know which table we would be sitting at, the server took a credit card and gave us a key. Once seated, we gave the key to our waitress and she returned our credit card, and the wine was added to our bill (the card wasn’t charged).

To drink we chose a Sauvignon Blanc (around the £20 mark), which was very drinkable, and not too dry. It was (allegedly) "herby with melon flavours", but it tasted much like wine to me. They also do wines by the glass, beers, shorts and cocktails.

Veggies beware; there is no trusty ‘V’ sign on the menu to help you. I had checked the website beforehand and knew what I could eat, as the use of traditional Italian cheeses often also means the use of rennet (sheep stomach) in the ingredients. I am sure your server could help you if unsure. My friend deliberated over the Brixham Bay sardine bruschetta (£5.50) or the crispy squid with garlic mayo, chilli and lemon (£5.75). In the end he went for the latter as I had been teasing him for being a wimp and not eating spicy food. As it was he picked the chilli out, but otherwise he really enjoyed his starter. It was quite a small portion, it seemed, as he finished it in no time. I went for the Posh Garlic Mushrooms on toast (basically mushroom bruschetta) which was a long thin piece of garlic bread topped with lots of assorted chopped mushrooms in garlic, chilli and parsley. It was served on a massive plate and took some getting through. I didn’t finish it as I wanted to save room for my main course, and because the last pieces of chopped mushroom were so awash in oil they refused to be scooped up on my fork.

Starters were cleared promptly, and after a suitable period our main courses arrived. My friend went for Sicilian Tuna Fusilli at £11.95, (apparently this is Jool’s Oliver’s favourite for those that are interested in such things) and my friend certainly enjoyed it. I went for Honeycomb Cannelloni Three Ways (£10.95). Served in an earthenware dish on a wooden board, the three different flavoured cannelloni were cut up and served on their ends to look like a honeycomb pattern. I wish I had remembered to take a photo as I was quiet taken with the presentation. More importantly than that, I loved the flavours. One flavour was the veggie staple spinach and ricotta, as well as pumpkin and my favourite aubergine and sun-dried tomato. My only problem, as I said to my friend, was that it was so nice that if I came back I would be worried about ordering anything else in case it didn’t live up to this dish. Thus the cannelloni gets the thumbs up from me.

We were neither of us too keen on the idea of desserts, feeling fairly full and instead decided to get a second bottle of wine and stay and finish it, rather than moving on and finding somewhere else. The inside of the restaurant was quite dark, but my eyes soon adjusted. As you come in they have a display of cookbooks, foodie gifts and tableware if you are so inclined, and the bar is on the left. Most of the seating is for diners, so if you have to wait a while you may find yourself having to stand around the bar, which was quite cramped. They have hooks around the pillars for your coats. We were seated so I was on a banquette seat, whilst my friend on an individual chair opposite. Seating was comfortable and there were no wobbly tables. Toilets were upstairs (I would imagine as a new building there would be adequate disabled facilities, but I did not see them). They were clean and well stocked with all the necessary. Service was always friendly and obliging, and efficient. In spite of being such a large, open plan restaurant it did seem to have a good atmosphere.

According to the menu they cater for children (we did see a pushchair as we went in) and I wouldn’t doubt this is a family friendly chain, although I am not sure that Canary Wharf, being primarily a business district, naturally attracts a family clientele. For the adults as well as pasta, they do steaks, burgers and fish dishes.

Overall our bill came to just under £80 excluding tip, but that did include two bottles of wine. Whilst not the cheapest restaurant you will ever eat in, I did think the food and presentation was to a high standard and well worth the money.

Unit 17
2 Churchill Place
Canary Wharf
E14 5RB
020 3002 5252

Monday - Friday
11.30am - 11pm
12 noon - 11pm
12 noon - 10.30pm
Jamie's Italian
2 Churchill Place
London, England, 14 5
020 3002 5252

Get Your Fill with Bill

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on August 29, 2012

Heading to the cinema in Wimbledon one day, we decided to eat at a restaurant nearby. After buying our tickets, we came out with some time to spare to eat lunch, and my local friend spotted this place, noting that it was new. We decided to give it a try. I had not heard of Bill’s before but I note that it is a small chain with restaurants located in London and a few other cities such as Brighton, Exeter and Cambridge. The restaurant is Hartfield Road, just behind the Odeon cinema on Wimbledon Broadway.

It is a double fronted establishment with plenty of seating outside if the weather is on your side. As it was a Bank Holiday, the weather was obviously a bit iffy so we decided to eat inside. We were greeted by a cheerful chap almost straight away and he said we would have a few minutes wait, which was fine. He seated two people who had just arrived before us and indicated us to a couple of leather armchairs and handed us some menus. The menu is a large card divided into sections, with a boxed section pre-printed with Specials. This always baffles me a little bit as there is nothing special about them if they are already on the pre-printed menu.

Décor wise the restaurant was very rustic, with wooden tables, chairs and shelves, plus (what I think are fake) metal pipes across the ceiling. Your cutlery and paper napkins are in a little pot on your table with the world’s tiniest salt and pepper cellars.

After being seated the cheerful chap told us what was unavailable which included two of the specials (including the macaroni cheese by friend had been coveting) and a few other dishes such as the fish pie (my friend’s second choice). We discovered from another cheerful chap a bit later that it had been a very busy day for them. Also, that they had only opened in June. That is one thing I can say about the service, everyone is very cheerful and no one was grumpy, or disinterested and we were asked a number of times if everything was OK (maybe a few too many times).

We decided to forgo starters as we didn’t want to risk being late back to the cinema, but they had an interesting selection including tomato and basil bruschetta or crab spring rolls alongside retro classics such as soup or avocado and prawn cocktail. Starters tended to be about the £5-6.00 mark except the vegetarian sharing platter which was £9.95. Having been disappointed with his initial main choices being unavailable my friend went for the burger with cheese (£11.15) which he asked for well done. I chose the halloumi and hummus burger (£8.95). Both were served on a printed greaseproof paper on a wooden board and all nicely presented with the skinny fires being served in a little bucket. We were offered additional sauces if we so required.

My halloumi was cut into strips and balanced within a seeded bun on a bed of dressed lettuce with a sweet pepper perched on top. Logistically this wasn’t the sort of burger to eat with your hands as the contents would just slide out, so I removed the ‘lid’ and ate it with my knife and fork. The hummus was spread inside the bun, and wasn’t particularly strong or overpowering. Really it was a halloumi burger; the hummus wasn’t really a main ingredient. I loved the skinny fries, which were beautifully even and golden. My friend seemed a bit put out as he thought the portion was a bit small. He did love his burger – the meat was cooked perfectly and he said he could tell that good quality meat was used.

Other main dishes included seabream, pea and mint risotto, peri peri chicken and Thai prawn curry alongside burgers and homemade fishfinger sandwiches priced between £9-12, with a few pricier exceptions such as steaks.

They had a good range of drinks – an extensive wine list (starting at £14.95 for a bottle of the house wine), a few simple cocktails such as Buck’s Fizz, Bloody Mary and Pimms (from £3.95), spirits and bottled beers. They had an interesting selection of soft drinks, such as fruit juice mixes, chocolate brownie milkshakes, Fentiman’s ginger beer, as well as the usual suspects. My friend had the chocolate brownie milkshake at £3.65 (large) which was a generous chocolate milkshake topped with cream and a half of a Flake. Apparently the brownie bits were at the bottom but I wasn’t allowed to try them. The milkshake itself was very tasty however and he was very happy.

We didn’t have time for dessert but options included Eton mess, plum & blackberry crumble and raspberry & vanilla crème brulee. Prices were between £3.95 and £5.95.

All in all we were in and out within the hour, having had just one course at a busy time. Our bill, including 12.5% service, was just under £30. I didn’t visit the toilets at this time, so cannot comment on them. The restaurant is all on one level so should not offer too many problems for those with access difficulties, but it might be a tight squeeze through some of the tables. We would definitely consider eating here again, but preferably if my friend’s first two choices are available.
Bill's Restaurant
20 Hartfield Road
Wimbledon, London, SW19 3TA
020 8947 8285

Great Thai at Ban Yai

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Essexgirl09 on August 29, 2012

Ban Yai is a small Thai restaurant based in Merton Abbey Mills near Wimbledon, which is a small market type area with boutique shops and restaurants. There is free parking nearby or else it is walking distance from Colliers Wood Underground Station (Northern Line). Whilst visiting in the area one hot weekend (yes, we did get a few hot weekends this summer) we walked through the nearby park and along the river to Merton Abbey Mills and decided to stop here for a bite to eat as I am a big Thai food fan. Although there were plenty of places outside, there wasn’t any shade so we elected to eat inside which was more pleasant.

The inside is very small with just a few cloth covered tables and typical Thai restaurant décor in the pictures and carvings. They had a good value lunch menu which was £4.95 for one course and £6.95 for two. We were happy just to have the one course. There was also an excellent vegetarian selection and nut dishes were clearly marked.

As an idea on the lunch menu, starters included vegetarian Spring rolls, Chicken Satay, corncakes and hot and sour soup. The A la Carte menu also featured some prawn dishes, scallops and a mixed platter. Starters were priced from £3.65 up to £7.25 for the platter.

For my main I dithered for ages. As a veggie I had an excellent choice as most dishes could be served with chicken, beef, prawn or vegetables and I am not used to having so many options! I tried to steer away from the curries or a Pad Thai that I normally have, to take the opportunity to try something new. In the end I went for Pad Bai Kapaow because I liked the name. It was stir fried vegetables with Thai basil, fresh chillies and ‘oyster’ sauce and served with Thai Jasmine rice. It was served beautifully, with the rice in a neat mound and a good selection of finely chopped vegetables. I found the heat manageable, but my friend had a taste and thought it had more of a kick. My friend decided to go from the a la carte menu. Here there was a wider range of fish dishes, curries and stir fries. He went for Pad Kratiem Prik Thai with chicken (£5.95), which was also available with vegetables or beef, or prawns or scallops for an extra charge. A la carte dishes didn’t come with rice so he went for steamed jasmine rice for an extra £1.65. The rice came on one plate with a small salad and the chicken on a separate dish. The chicken was stir fried with garlic, white pepper and coriander and ‘oyster’ sauce and you can you could see the specks of pepper in the sauce. He struggled to finish it because of the intensity of the pepper, but really enjoyed it nonetheless.

To drink we had a Chang beer and a diet coke. Overall our bill came to £17 which is great value for two people for lunch.

I cannot fault the service, the restaurant was very busy with many people eating outside but the traditionally dressed staff worked hard and we were always spoken to politely. We also didn’t have a long wait for our food, which we had been expecting. There are no toilets in the restaurant as far as I am aware. The public toilets for the whole site are based in the next building. They are OK, but may be missing toilet paper.

We both really enjoyed our meal and would be happy to come back here again. The food was freshly cooked to a high standard, well presented, and good value.
Ban Yai Thai Restaurant
Unit 6, The Long Shop, 16 Watermills Way
South Wimbledon, London, SW19 2RD

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