Sunday, 17 May 2009

Old Orleans

Old Orleans attempts to bring to England a taste of 'The South'. Thus it's not surprising that there are very few vegetarian offerings and none of real interest. Unfortunately the menu only offers the bare minimum of vegetarian choices. The dull 'Spicy Bean Burger' makes another appearance, there is also a rather strange concoction of 'mushroom and Quorn fajitas', which makes little sense as fajitas are usually a mixture of red and green peppers, onions and chilli, all of which are vegetarian.

The other options include a rather uninspiring penne in a cream spinach sauce and the option which I had, 'Cajun Chicken Pasta', sans chicken. The menu offers this as an option so you think it wouldn't be too difficult but the dish was presented with chicken. The server quickly removed it after I brought their attention to it, and it was returned to me five minutes later, cold and with a bit of chicken still in it. I ate around the bit of chicken, but it was blatantly obvious that they had just returned it to the kitchen where someone attempted to pick the chicken out, missing a piece. Obviously this is fairly disturbing. Now I did not specifically tell my server that I was a vegetarian, but when ordering a meatless dish I really don't feel you should have to. Apart from the fact it was cold and I was nervous the entire time, the pasta was mediocre. Not spicy, as advertised and also not generous in quantity. It's something I imagine you could buy as a jar of sauce in the grocery store and throw over some cooked pasta, which is probably their recipe.

The ambiance was fairly mute and the service erratic. In the short time we were there we had three different servers wait on us, making it unclear who was actually our server. There's really not much more to say about Old Orleans, other than I genuinely wouldn't recommend it for nice meal as vegetarians were clearly an after thought for the producers of their menu.

Food: 3
Service: 4
Atmosphere: 4
Price: ££

Saturday, 16 May 2009


Tootsies vegetarian offerings are the stereotypically unimaginative dishes thought up by an obvious meat-eater - I suppose what you'd expect from a restaurant trying to be known for its burgers. Veggie options include the bog standard 'Puy lentil and vegetable' burger, cliche 'Goats cheese, roasted red pepper and aubergine' sandwich, and predictable 'Butternut squash risotto'. Since I don't like to deprive my partner of his cravings, and Tootsies actually does produce a decent burger, I have been to Tootsies on more than one occasion. I have had the 'Puy lentil and vegetable' burger a couple times and found it fairly dry and boring. It seems too similar to the frozen bean burgers you can buy from any supermarket. The majority of vegetarian food falls into the category of things that I could make at home, such as the 'Nachos' with guacamole, sour cream, cheese and salsa and the 'Italian penne', essentially pasta in tomato sauce.

Having said that, the
ambiance in the restaurant is generally good, full of young professionals and families having a relaxing meal in between their shopping. The service has been slow at times, and having sat at an outside table we watched a server approach the couple who had arrived after us sitting next to us, initially ignoring us. Personally, when it comes to service, I find nothing more frustrating than not being able to get your servers attention.

My final gripe deals with the 12.5% 'optional' service charge automatically added to your bill. Now I have no problem leaving tips, but find it inappropriate to have a tip added on for me. Now, in all fairness you can tell your server when they leave the check that you do not feel that they were worth 12.5% of your total bill and ask them to either reduce or remove it. But honestly how many of us are going to do that? I also think that by almost ensuring the servers receive this automatically added tip that they are less inclined to provide good service and it removes our right to evaluate the service we received and reward our servers as we see fit.

As you may have guessed I would not really recommend Tootsies for a nice vegetarian meal. The food is mediocre and predictable and the service can be frustrating. However, with low expectations I will probably again sacrifice myself for a meat-eating loved one.

Food: 5
Service: 6
Atmosphere: 8
Price: ££

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Pizza Express

Generally I am not a fan of Italian restaurants, because as before, I feel that most of the food is something that I could probably make myself. However, a really good pizza is something that falls into the category of something that I cannot be bothered to make myself. Pizza varies quite a lot from the thick, doughy bases of the typical takeout offering, to the 'classic Italian' thin crust and Pizza Express pizzas are generally the latter.

The crowd consists of mainly family and friends get togethers, which makes for a relaxed atmosphere. However, the service has been slow on most occasions, which can be frustrating if you're not the type of person who likes to hang around once all food and drink has been consumed.

There are quite a few vegetarian options to chose from. I usually go for the Giardiniera pizza which is topped with a yummy pesto-tomato sauce and lots of veggies including asparagus, artichokes, mushrooms and peppers. There's also the Veneziana, a more mediterranean option with capers, sultanas and pine kernels and various pasta and salads. But this time I had the special by Theo Randall, Theo's Favorita, invoking the vegetarian substitute of artichokes for prosciutto di Parma.

The oval base was a cross between the typical Italian thin crust and the doughy 'Chicago crust'. There was little artichoke to speak of but there was a generous helping of fior di latte mozzarella and rocket leaves scattered on top. The mozzarella, however, was fairly bland and I expect some strong parmesan would have provided better flavour. The peppery rocket and olives definitely added the most flavour to an otherwise fairly bland pizza. Although I was provided with a pizza cutter, because of the awkward shape of the pizza I found myself using the butter knife and fork, and nearing completion my pointer fingers ached from the effort (which is a reoccuring problem having tried other pizzas).

For dessert, my partner and I split the cheesecake, which was actually very good, but rather oddly came with a raspberry coulis, garnished with strawberries. Despite this we found ourselves fighting over the last few mouthfuls, and him wishing he had ordered his own.

Overall, Pizza Express offers fresh, reasonably priced Italian food in a comfortable environment but could benefit from better service.

Food: 7
Service: 6
Atmosphere: 7
Price: ££

Saturday, 25 April 2009


My visit to Giraffe was on a Friday afternoon, and was quite busy inside the restaurant with mainly young professionals and students. I ended up sitting in the less loud/atmospheric area outside, which suited me fine as I was only there for a quick lunch.

The restaurant aims to offer a welcoming, global experience, both in the food and music. Thus the menu offers a wide variation of cuisines, from Mexican, to Asian to American - and if you fancy a world food tour you could start your meal with ‘Wok Fried Edamame’ and follow them with a ‘Roasted Mushroom, Spinach and Goats Cheese Tostada’ with a side of Fries.

There are a higher than normal number of interesting vegetarian options, such as the, ‘Super Healthy Veggie and Oregano Salad’ and the ‘Sunshine Powerfood Salad’, both packed with nutritious beans and veggies. For those looking for something a bit more substantial they also offer an Asian style noodle stir-fry, winter vegetable burrito and falafel burger. I opted for the lunch special (which changes monthly), ‘Huevos Rancheros’, vegetarian style (with mushrooms instead of chorizo). It was clearly not the traditional huevos rancheros (which consists of fried eggs smothered in enchilada or chilli sauce served with soft tortillas on the side used for dipping and mopping), but was instead one flour tortilla topped with black beans, chilli, avocado, cheese, egg and mushrooms.

As a light lunch the dish was fine. The ingredients were fresh and tasty, but I couldn’t help but feel that I could have easily put this together myself, which is generally not what I expect from a dining out experience (I prefer to spend my money on things that I either cannot make myself or cannot be bothered to make myself.)

Overall, the menu was exceptionally vegetarian friendly and the atmosphere would have been great for a casual meet up with friends, but the food was closer to homemade than restaurant quality (however, this may not apply to the regular dishes as I did have one of the specials). That being said, if I happen to be near a Giraffe in the future I definitely would try it out again.

Food: 7
Service: 7
Atmosphere: 8
Price: ££

Friday, 24 April 2009


Having visited Wagamama a couple of times before I knew more or less what to expect in terms of the ‘cozy’ picnic table style seating arrangements and the potential differences in food delivery times. Thus with these prior experiences in mind, we decided to visit on a quiet early Sunday evening to increase the chances of not sitting within elbow jostling distance of a stranger and being able to eat at the same time.

As with most ‘EngAsian’ restaurants there tends to be a greater and more interesting, selection of vegetarian dishes. On this visit I was craving something spicy so went for the 'Yasai Chilli Men', a stir fry of wholewheat noodles, tofu, chillies, ginger, and veg. Happily both our meals arrived at pretty much the same time. For my particularly tolerable palette the dish was not spicy, but it did have a delicious flavour. Sadly, as with some of the other vegetarian dishes I have tried, I found the accompanying vegetables and tofu lacking in quantity. The fried tofu was delicious, but there were only a few chunks and I would have liked a few more vegetables to break up the large mass of noodles.

We also ordered a side of edamame beans sprinkled with chilli and garlic salt. By sucking the beans out of the pod you could taste the chilli garlic seasoning, but found beans were rather bland and unexciting by themselves. More of a healthy snack then anything else, but perfect for a boost of protein and fibre!

Other dishes I have tried before include the tasty, but somewhat messy 'Saien Soba', a vegetable soup which comes in a large bowl with a flat wooden spoon and chopsticks and requires some trial and error to eat both the noodle and veg chunks while slurping the yummy broth. My favourite dish is probably the 'Yasai Yaki Soba', which is a combination of wholewheat noodles and veggies, including the intense bright pink pickled ginger which balances the salty soy sauce.

The appeal of a restaurant like Wagamama has to be the offer of something different in that everytime I’ve been there I’ve had a very different experience. Some great – courtesy of a shared bottle of wine, some tortuous – courtesy of moody table neighbours. But whatever my social experience I have always enjoyed the food. It can be a bit salty at times, due to the heavy handed use of soy sauce, but the depth of flavour is there and the quantity is generally not disappointing.

Food: 9
Service: 8
Atmosphere: 8
Price: ££