Wednesday evening constituted a dinner date with The Boy and, enticed by a two-for-one offer courtesy of VoucherCodes.co.uk*, we chose Strada – the upmarket option when it comes to the popular specialities of 'Cucina Italiana' chain restaurants...
Date and Time: Wednesday 22nd June 2011, 17:30
Name of Establishment: Strada (Cucina Italiana)*
Location: 34 Princess Victoria Street, Clifton, Bristol
Reason for Visit: Mid-week treat/tempting Voucher Codes offer
Gleaming in the heart of Bristol's exclusive Clifton Village, Strada is certainly appealing to the passer-by, which is fortunate as it is situated almost directly opposite rival Italian chain eatery; Zizzi Ristorante. With smart wooden interior throughout, potted plants bordering large-set windows and the deep red/brown colour scheme, the space is stylish and contemporary. An angular furniture arrangement allows for diners to be seated intimately, not to say that the space feels claustrophobic as you can choose a more 'open location', but The Boy and I opted to squeeze into the cosy window alcove at a table just big enough for two – perfect for a romantic date or simply for engaging in a spot of people-watching! Due to arriving early in the evening, there was a lack of buzz from other diners and yet, tinkling jazz provided a pleasant backdrop. Service is prompt and polite and chilled water is brought to the table with the menu which is a plus-point for me (thus avoiding sheepishly requesting tap water whilst handing back the wine list!)
The Boy and I asked to start with the Aglio Schiacciatella (£3.95); hand-stretched pizza bread topped with garlic and rosemary. Unfortunately, our server forgot to add this to our order so it arrived, apologetically and upon second-request, half-way through our main courses. This didn't prove hugely problematic though as it meant that we could suitably accompany our pasta dishes with fresh garlicky aromas and a lovely crisp bread with which to mop up excess pasta sauce. However, when it came to my main, there wasn't a lot of sauce to speak of. I had chosen the Strozzapreti Pugliese (£9.95) which combined the flavours of Luganica sausage, cured pancetta and broccoli. You will notice that the image below depicts the slightly anaemic nature of the veg - as a crop, this had certainly seen better days and yet, it had been well cooked, (slightly 'al dente' but for my palate, perfect). The dish had been finished with a fresh red chilli butter which seemed rather subtle whilst eating it but indubitably left a lip-tingling burn in its wake! That said, the amount of pasta appeared to far out-weigh the other ingredients which made for a slightly bland arrangement – hence the perceived lack of 'sauce'. I ordered this main due to enjoying it elsewhere (at the Bath branch of Strada) and was left a little disappointed - it seems that the notion of dish variation within a chain restaurant set-up can be quite apparent.
The Boy chose the Rigatoni Speck (£9.75) which was definitely the favourite of the evening. This was attractively presented with a generous helping of Northern Italian smoked mountain ham and crisp rocket crowning a plateful of decadently creamy pasta. The cream sauce, made up of traditionally Lombardian cheeses, gorgonzola and Grana Padano. was simply divine - I was only allowed to sample this dish and thus, had some pretty serious food envy!
We did not opt for desserts on this occasion but upon inspection of the menu, I decided that had I indulged, I would have gone for the Fondente Cacao (£5.25), a chocolate fondant with a warm melting centre, served with mascarpone and vanilla cream – naughty!
Strada's branch in Clifton Village provided a pleasant dining experience but when it came to the quality of the food, I would perhaps be inclined to lean towards a visit to it's Bath equivalent. This may have been a one-off but the standard of a dish that I had enjoyed so much previously was certainly not up-to-scratch. That aside, if you are looking for a well-known classy Italian in a location which will impress your dining companions, this venue is for you! But, with so many Italian restaurants in the vicinity, it may be worth looking around for something a little less mainstream before making up your mind!
And now for the second opinion...
The Boy gave Strada 8/10 and in three words, described his experience as 'choice chain chow-down'...these three words are getting more and more dubious!