February 2018 marks the 7th anniversary of my eating adventures and, as ever, I'm excited about what the coming months will bring for us foodies! In case this is your first visit (if not, welcome back), I'm a 30-something female with a very healthy appetite!...I promise to share with you my experience of each restaurant, café or bar in which I set foot...so, let's go out!

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Treble 7 - Fishponds, Bristol

It's fair to say that I consider it somewhat of a necessity to have an easily-accessible range of venues to frequent whereby to administer my vital intake of coffee and cake – a residential requirement which, for me, has been adequately fulfilled given that Fishponds High Street (and its growing number of reputable eateries) are within crawling distance of my humble abode. In fact, I would have settled for Porto Lounge (the obvious jewel in the crown of the area's increasingly apparent café-culture) but to do so would have ultimately overlooked another shiner in the mix....Introducing Treble 7; a café-come-bar with fresh, funky appeal as well as an extensive menu of affordable yet tasty cuisine...need I continue?! Ah go on then...

Date and Time: Wednesday 21st March 2012, 14:30
Name of Establishment: Treble 7*
Location: Straits Parade, Fishponds, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A casual kick-back with my lovely Auntie

Weaving through the metallic patio furniture which glinted beneath the springtime sunshine, Auntie S. and I made our way into Treble 7's light, airy and notably spacious interior. The lofty reaches of a prominent clock-face caught our attention as we did so however, its grand presence at the forefront of the building, hinting perhaps, at a little untold history! And, although on this occasion, the outside space was buzzing with those making the most of the weather, inside was the epitome of calm; the balanced ambiance and tidy arrangement of comfortable leather-effect furniture lending to the establishment an arguable edge over the shabby-chic half-light of its aforementioned competition! Here, polished table tops, vibrant wall-art and cheerful, pillar-box red accent colours facilitate a contemporary feel and yet, whilst the décor is unmistakably upbeat, Treble 7's downfall is undoubtedly the service which can be, at times (and depending on the hit-and-miss temperament of ‘server roulette'), a little brusque to say the least – disappointing...

The menu is varied; spanning each and every dining occasion from the good old English fry-up to the likes of a 'Mussel Marinara' main-course! An ample range of sandwiches, paninis and light-bites accompany this, as well as the opportunity to indulge in an alcoholic beverage to wash it all down, (if you are that way inclined of course and we all know that I am – especially with Coors Light at £2.50 a pint which is, if you ask me, an absolute must-have on a warm day!) On this occasion though, the motive was simply, coffee 'n cake and, in regards to the latter (and in a similar fashion to the savoury line-up), the options were endless; not to mention visually alluring given that they had been displayed side-by-side within the well-stocked chiller below the counter! To that end, Auntie S. opted for a rather sizeable slice of coffee cake which, she assured me, had perfectly achieved its bitter-sweet intention; the tangible aroma of a rich-roasted brew offsetting the sweet-noted stickiness of the fudge-flavoured topping without proving overly sickly nor heavily textured – 'just lovely' she enthused, 'and home-made too'! The 'Toblerone' Crunch Cake was also well-received; more-than meeting my sweet-toothed approval with its crumbly biscuit base and a chocolaty melt-down of those characteristic, alpine-inspired peaks! Furthermore, flecked with small pieces of honey and almond nougat, this was a confection not too dissimilar to the ‘Daim’ tart that is top of the bill in Ikea’s Café – hence, entirely appealing though requiring something, (a small measure of pouring cream for instance) to ease its overall density which began to stick to the palate as the mouthfuls intensified. Nevertheless, washed down with a well-made latte (which, served in tall mug and finished with a light swirl of frothed milk, was both delicious and reasonably-priced), it concluded a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon of commendable fare.

Consequently, this is a pleasant space; the free Wi-Fi and inexpensive edibles further promoting that stay-a-while vibe. Plus, with big bay windows (which, it has to be said, simply beg for a spot of people-watching), it's quite the sunshiney retreat; the chilled-out vibe of its continentally-styled outdoor area fully extending to the space within. It's true that those behind Treble 7 need to further invest in the notion of service with a smile and yet, I find myself, upon occasion, almost appreciative of the stand-offish nature of those 'manning the fort'; given that it means spending a good couple of hours without interruption, (great if, like yours truly, you have dedicated an afternoon to your laptop!) Yes, this is an establishment which has become something of a regular haunt; a reliable go-to for a decent java hit and a comfortable location for a routine rendezvous..ultimately proving that there is more to Fishponds' 'foodie' scene than the popular yet, dare I say it, over-rated Loungers presence!

And now for the second opinion...
Auntie S. gave Treble 7 an apt rating of 7/10 and in three words, described its fare as 'simple yet satisfying'.

* Treble 7 do not have a website, nor do they have any online contact information – sort it out guys!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Red Lion Wine House, Worrall Road, Clifton

Back in November of last year, four friends of varied expertise re-launched The Red Lion as a specialist wine-house amidst the residential tranquillity of Clifton's Worrall Road. Dating back to 1846 no less, this wonderfully atmospheric watering hole now offers an extensive range of fine wines alongside the best in locally-sourced (and in some cases award-winning) cheeses, charcuterie and artisan breads. Consequently, when the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) spotted an online offer* which entitled its purchaser to a combination of this venue’s wares at a ludicrously reasonable six-pounds-a-pop, she promptly made the necessary arrangements for us to visit…

Date and Time: Friday 16th March 2012, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Red Lion Wine House*
Location: 26a Worrall Road, Clifton, Bristol
Reason for Visit; An online offer which warranted a rather timely end-of-the-week treat...

Inviting and quaint, this is the kind of establishment that one usually stumbles upon; becoming at once enticed to further explore the space within its charming exterior. And, with black slated flooring, polished table tops and an assortment of neatly arranged furniture, (intended both for dining - at the front of the establishment - and lounging - at the rear); it’s fair to say that the Red Lion has been significantly modernised; though, effectively channelling the charismatic qualities of its former standing – a balance suitably removing it from the confines of the swanky centrally-based bar stereotype that, given the array of top-end tipples and prestigiously-sourced nibbles on offer, it could have so easily fallen victim of. Yet, with candlelit cosiness and the resounding buzz of an ever-present clientèle alongside the predominantly neutral décor which had been punctuated with an eye-catching collection of wine-related memorabilia, plus, from where we sat, the fragrance of lilies emanating from the arrangement on the bar, it was clear that the aesthetics had been perfected so to appeal to one's senses and consequently, ensure an engaging (and comfortable) drinking and/or dining experience.

The BFF and I were initially invited to peruse the wine list which has been knowledgeably composed and suitably supported with friendly, on-hand expertise. I have to say that it was lovely not to be rushed to a decision and the seemingly commonplace practice of offering tasters, which can, of course, facilitate a rather more ambitious approach to the picking process, was particularly well-received. For me, the crisply-noted Ardechois Chardonnay 2010 which, based on my criteria of fresh acidic zing, certainly hit the spot; its subtle undertones becoming increasingly apparent as the cheese from our board was devoured...but more of that later...! The BFF chose 'Les Terrasses Grenache 2010'; a light, palate-pleasing Sauvignon Blanc which, in fact, was so drinkable, that we purchased a bottle to share between us to take us further into the evening at hand. Meanwhile, the third member of our Friday-night foray had arrived, arming himself with a sizeable glass of Andeluna Malbec 2010 which he reported was both full-bodied and fruity; so rich in terms of its composition in fact, that he managed to dye his mouth an attractive shade of purple! Besides the reds, whites and rosés on offer, there is also an ample selection of ports, sherries, sparklers and dessert wines to choose from as well as a couple of locally brewed beers and ciders; the latter meant perhaps to satisfy the customary 'non-wino' of the group, (come one, there's always one!)

Now for the cuisine and from the back-lit deli-style counter; which is incidentally, the unmistakable focal point of the establishment, one can make three selections (from a plentiful display of cured meats and cheeses) for £11.50 or six for £20. Both options are supplemented with a board of mixed-cut, freshly-baked 'Mark's'* bread as well as good-quality olive oil and a flavoursome home-made chutney. For us, the generously portioned 'house' selection which, as per our voucher, featured the likes of a thinly-sliced yet decidedly spicy chorizo and the mature bite of Keen's Cheddar. The distinctive 'blue' aroma of Stichelton and a gooey brie (that proved melt-in-the-mouth delicious) completed the bill of cheeses and a tasty salami and, even Vincent Castellano's* famous coppa, rounded up the meats. The latter was just as fantastic as I had remembered (in light of a previous encounter) given its rich flavour and well-seasoned finish – yum! My only gripe was that there wasn't quite enough bread to make the most of the oil which, with its authentically Greek appeal, was a real shame – our fault entirely though as, on this occasion, the BFF and I were just too 'British' to ask for a top-up!

In conclusion, an effective and rather novel concept that showcases the best in fine wines and provides 'finger food' of an exceptional quality. And, evident by the near-to-full occupancy, this notion, along with the presence of a laid-back ambiance and efficient service, obviously makes for an attractive night-out – proving too that you don't have to break the bank in order to secure exemplary edibles. For, despite the fact that vinos are branded with the dreaded 'Clifton price tag', the cheese and charcuterie boards are incredibly reasonable given the calibre of their components. Consequently, a new favourite for an understated evening of simple pleasures and undeniably, the best of its kind and a definite go-to for both the discerning drinker and the recreational reveller; highly recommended!

And now for the second opinion...
The BFF gave the Red Lion Wine House a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described it as ‘Clifton yet accessible’. 

To note: Opening hours are 5:00pm – 11:00pm Tuesday – Thursday, 12:00 noon – 12:00am Friday and Saturday, 12:00 noon – 9:00pm Sunday and closed Monday.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Hi! Street presents…The Clifton Cake Crawl

Date and Time: Sunday 11th March 2012 from 13:00
Names of Establishment (in order of appearance): Lahloo Pantry, Arch House Deli, The Primrose Café, Zazu's Kitchen, Cordial and Grace
Location: Clifton Village
Reason for Visit: An introduction to the Hi! Street ‘app’ via a bespoke BS8-based Cake Crawl; utter genius…!

Inviting me to join a team of cupcake enthusiasts for a sweet soiree amidst the café-laden metropolis of Clifton Village was rather like asking a desert-dweller whether they'd like an iced beverage...Initiated by Bonnie Colville-Hyde in light of the imminent launch of her extra-curricular venture, 'Hi! Street' (an 'app' which provides localised deals in regards to the independent retailers in one’s immediate area), the concept of a cake crawl was unsurprisingly met with unanimous approval. That said, I will hasten to add that whilst gorging on baked-goods, quaffing flutes of Prosecco and nattering with the girls involved a great deal of fun, it was also all in the name of research! And, to that end, our itinerary/findings unfolded as follows:

13:00 – Empty Stomachs and Introductions
First things first, I feel that I should 'out' the team and so, without further ado, we are:
Bonny Colville-Hyde (@hi_street) – The captain of our cake-based crusade and part of the Hi! Street production team (http://www.histreet.co.uk/)
Helen Pullen (@Boutique_33) – Involved in the promotion of http://www.boutique33.co.uk/, an up-and-coming boutique in the heart of Clifton Village
Emily Knight (@BristolBites) – The owner of http://www.bristolbites.co.uk/, the definitive guide to Bristol's foodie scene
Hayley Constantine (@Hayles) – The owner of fashion/lifestyle blog, http://www.ceriselle.org/
Sarah (@PrincessPurling) – A fellow foodie and Sunday Roast mastermind!
Rachael Simmons (@doeeyedcabbage) – The Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and (rather humble) kitchen whiz...
Sam Evans (Me - @samfraggle) – The notoriously sweet-toothed owner of http://www.canapesandcupcakes.blogspot.com/

13:00 Continued – Arrival at Lahloo Pantry (http://www.lahloopantry.co.uk/)
As an unpretentiously modern tea-room with a huge range of home-baked indulgences to choose from, Lahloo Pantry was a great place to kick-start our 'crawl' and, due to the extensive line-up of teas on offer, most accompanied their cake with a brew...the Wild Rose, White Peony and classic Earl Grey all proving especially popular. Most also opted to indulge in a home-made lemon and buttermilk scone which, albeit a rather sizeable starting point given the fact that we had four additional venues to visit, was just divine - the delicate balance of flavours further enhanced with the addition of a wonderfully tart lemon curd and passion flower preserve, yum! Others chose the Victoria Sponge (complete with genuine strawberry over-spill) and vanilla macaroons; both of which were reportedly delicious.

Verdict: The tea-lovers choice and my personal favourite in terms of good quality edibles...

13:45 – Arrival at Arch House Deli (http://www.archhousedeli.com/)
Here, we decided to share the desired edibles between us and, each donning a cake fork, well and truly tucked in! Our selections (and consequently, our findings) were:
Chocolate and Star Anise Sponge – an unusual combination whereby rich chocolate gave way to the aniseed aroma of star anise; an acquired taste…
Cherry and Coconut Polenta Cake – a light, well proportioned bake packed full of juicy cherries – a winner for me!
Honey Cream and Banana Loaf – An oddly flavoured sponge which, to be honest, I wasn’t overly fond of. Based on my rather established cake-related wisdom, I thought that the banana content required considerable oomph so to lend to the arrangement a little more in the way of texture and taste.
Jasmine Tea and Lemon Sponge – The overall favourite given its perfectly executed consistency and subtly sweet fragrance – pure joy!

Verdict: An extensive and imaginative line-up of bakes for those who believe that variety is the spice of life! Once again the 'Deli of the Year 2011' delivers...
Cherry and Coconut Polenta Cake
Four between Seven!

14:15 – Arrival at The Primrose Café (http://www.primrosecafe.co.uk/)
It's fair to say that at this point, we were all starting to feel a little 'caked-out' but soldiering on as we had originally intended, opted again for the 'sharing is caring' concept. Thus, the BFF and I split a slice of the Victoria Sponge between us which, packed with fresh raspberry compote, fared rather well but, in my view, less spectacularly so than the cakes sampled elsewhere. Also, although on this occasion we were rather grateful for distinctively 'modest' portion sizes, I'm not sure that we would have left as satisfied had we not been, suffering quite frankly, from our adventures thus far!

Verdict: A moderate 'cake-over' may have fabricated an accurate review of this particular venue and yet, considered something of a Bristol institution, I’m pretty sure that it won’t hinder the likelihood of a return-visit!

15:00 – Arrival at Zazu's Kitchen (http://www.zazuskitchen.co.uk/)
Starting to slip into a sugar-induced slump, it's fair to say that the well-made latte (on my part) and individually-sized Portuguese custard tarts all but saved the day; their almost savoury appeal mutually appreciated and immensely enjoyed. That said, the presence of a crème brûlée style burnt-sugar stickiness provided the angle required to define this input as a valid part of the crawl – not to mention the fact that it made for simply delicious eating! Furthermore, the buzz of a much-loved establishment made for a lovely, if not a little humid, atmosphere: recommended!

Verdict: The turning point: A much-needed diversion to prevent sponge-elicited sickness!

15:30 – Arrival at Cordial and Grace (http://www.cordial-and-grace.co.uk/)
With brightly-coloured, candy-striped décor, Cordial and Grace certainly looked the part...and upon being presented with a tasting plate of all the cake-affiliated luxuries on offer that day, it tasted the part too! We sampled the likes of Cinnamon and Nutella Sponge, Blueberry and Lemon Loaf and, my personal favourite, Chocolate and Peanut Butter Brownies, (so good I had purchase the rest of the supply to take home!) We also ordered savoury (pesto) scones in order to balance the palate somewhat, which were presented over three dainty bone-china tiers and accompanied with cream cheese and tangy home-made chutney. And, to complete the 'crawl', we toasted crisp Prosecco to the success of our afternoon, full stomachs and new-found acquaintances as the sun set over Clifton Village – idyllic indeed!

Verdict: My favourite venue in terms of overall ambiance and, with a quaint sewing parlour downstairs, the appeal of what is fundamentally, a rather girly space and a reasonably-priced range of afternoon tea options to boot, I absolutely can't wait for an excuse to re-visit...
"Let Them Eat Cake!"
VIP Guests!

In conclusion, a fantastic afternoon with engaging company and an opportunity to both experience new venues and secure old favourites. This was also a great introduction to the upcoming Hi! Street iPhone 'app' which will ultimately support independent businesses (such as those detailed above); offering localised deals and money-saving incentives to those who register...a commendable notion which, one might suggest, makes exploring one's neighbourhood, 'a piece of cake'!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Harveys Cellars, Denmark Street – Bristol

Recently re-launched following the closure of its Michelin-starred restaurant back in 2003, the home of Harveys Bristol Cream now constitutes a cocktail lounge, tapas restaurant and mini museum – the latter paying homage to the tipple which has become increasingly synonymous with our City given that it has been imported from Spain and bottled in Bristol since 1796. Consequently and in light of the supposed 'sherry-drinking comeback', there has been a predominantly positive response to this venue be it the first of its kind in outside of the capital's multi-tasking metropolis; a factor which further encouraged the Best Foodie Friend (BFF) and I to explore it for ourselves...

Date and Time: Thursday 1st March 2012, 19:00
Name of Establishment: Harveys Cellars
Location: 12 Denmark Street, Bristol
Reason for Visit: A lesson in Bristol's rather boozy history!

After navigating the dark, cobbled back-streets of the city-centre, the BFF and I found ourselves behind a pair of heavy glass doors at the top of a thickly carpeted staircase. And, gazing down into the fresh, rather official-looking foyer, it became clear that this was not quite what we had envisaged; the minimalistic, rather 'vanilla' feel to the décor proving a little disappointing. Unfortunately, this was heightened further upon being allocated an intimately placed table-for-two whereby the magnolia paint-job dominated our eye-line and the bright, industrial-style lighting overhead seemed to encourage the notion that, we really could have been anywhere...Given the vibrant neon blue of the website, (meant, I'm sure, to reflect the role of Bristol Blue Glass within this venue, whereby empty bottles are utilised for table water, not to mention built into an illuminated display upon one of the walls – aiding, in my view, the indubitably Bristolian identity of this space), I guess I was expecting a little more by way of an atmosphere - the epic status of the 13th Century building this venue occupies coupled with the mysterious, almost cavernous attributes that one would normally associate with a cellar, further fuelling our preconceptions. That said, the well-stocked 'island' bar proved a stylish focal point and beyond it, the relaxed 'music-room', defined by a baby grand piano, was certainly more in keeping with the desired ambiance given its hazy lighting and candlelit nooks and crannies which, both quirky and comfortable, had been decked out with squishy sofas and authentic wooden sherry barrels that masqueraded as table-tops...and, all the while with an upbeat salsa-style soundtrack overhead; lovely! Furthermore, completed with a cordoned-off VIP area and small shrine to the Harveys brand as well as the aforementioned 'bottled wall' and the 'View Gallery' (which, reportedly interchangeable, showcases locally-sourced art work), this area absolutely encapsulated the productivity of our talented community whilst capturing the attention of its clientèle.

Moving on and at this point, I must mention the staffing; those waiting our table delivering an attentive and chatty service whilst proving knowledgeable; both in terms of the menu’s content as well as in relation to specific dishes and tipples. For, if ever there was an establishment where a little guidance was required, this was well and truly it; the volumes (yes there is more than one instalment) of available beverages proving somewhat overwhelming to say the least! Here, an extensive line-up specialising in wines, cocktails and spirits amounted to a mutual bout of umm-ing and ahh-ing that amazingly, led both the BFF and I to succumb to the unique appeal of the ‘Fino Fizz’ (£6.50)- a complex blend of Fino sherry, Manzana Verde and St. Germain (Elderflower Liquor), crisply finished with a sizeable slurp of good-quality champagne. Plus, served in a delicate flute and adorned with a mouth-watering slither of green apple, this was a fantastically original composition; the varying flavours coming through in bursts and leaving a sweet, full-bodied glow upon the palate – just divine. I think in the event of a return visit, I’d also be inclined to sample 'Daisy's Dream' (£6.50) which muddles Harveys Bristol Cream with Martin Millers gin, lemon juice, egg white, rhubarb bitters and Fraise de Bois – a unique combination I'm sure you'll agree and, utilising that signature spirit to perfection! 
Fino Fizz
Onto the fare and supporting the unmistakable Spanish undercurrent, the menu consists entirely of Tapas which has been reasonably priced between two and five pounds a plate. The BFF and I made six (rather carb-heavy) selections between us which were served in stages so to compliment each other and the drinks that we had ordered. Proving uncomplicated yet fresh and tasty, not to mention thoughtfully presented, adequately portioned and prepared using ingredients carefully sourced in order to provide a top-notch dining experience, it's fair to say that we were suitably impressed. Starting with a shallow bowl of plump, juicy olives which had been marinated in oil, the BFF and I began our descent into a comfort-food coma - the two full dishes of patatas bravas that came next; slathered in a sun-ripened tomato sauce, aiding this process with their satisfying warmth. The ham croquettes had been paired with a punchy aioli dip – the contrast of tastes and textures here alone proving an absolute delight. Meanwhile, the Artisan bread board made an entrance and although this was supplemented with a fusion of rich olive oil and balsamic vinegar, it was also just in time to mop up the flavoursome oil emanating from the Iberico chorizo which had been braised in red wine, herbs and garlic – hence, serious yum-factor*, (*a Greg Wallace term!) To follow, a range of bite-sized desserts and amongst them, a house sherry and fresh fruit trifle (£3.50) which, I'm told, is served in a martini glass; inspired! However, on this occasion, the BFF and I managed to resist, opting instead for our bill and the creamy twang of the Liqueur chocolates that accompanied it...
Carb Indulgence - No. 1!
Carb Indulgence - No. 2!

In conclusion, this is an establishment offering a touch of pizazz to Bristol’s drinking culture and there is undoubtedly the potential for Harveys Cellars to refine its identity so to secure its status as one of the City’s unequalled hotspots. I love the Mediterranean tradition of accompanying a tipple or two with a selection of tapas-style munchibles – a concept which has been optimised here given the ample array of affordable dishes which are of an exceptionable standard. However, whilst the fare was appropriately balanced in terms of quality versus quantity, there was rather a lot going on in regards to the drinks menu and thus, perhaps the focus should have remained on Harveys Bristol Cream (and its sherry-related counterparts) – utilising the expertise of the bar staff with a proviso whereby favourites can be accommodated, but only upon request. This would eradicate the danger of bombarding its clientèle with the option of drink after drink…which may in turn inadvertently encourage those who wouldn't typically venture into the unknown, to try something a little off the beaten track, (sherry converts even!) Furthermore, you might say that I was a little disheartened by the rather insipid nature of the restaurant and yet, the music-room, with its capacity for live entertainment and close-knit cosiness, made up for this and then some! In fact, upon my return visit (of which I am sure), I will be nestled between the localised art work and the melange of memorabilia with a well-earned sherry-based cocktail in-hand; basking in the glory of my home-town amidst what is essentially a tribute to a fundamental part of its unequivocally animated history.
Chocolates of the Harveys Bristol Cream variety...What else?!
And now for the second opinion…
The BFF gave Harveys Cellars a rating of 8/10 and in three words, described the venue's overall ambiance' as 'Spain meets Bristol'.


Friday, 2 March 2012

Aqua Italia, Welsh Back – Bristol

For a twelve-part army of formally united University Administrators, a night-out on the town typically requires a base with a little substance and flair – this is, of course, in addition to a broad menu so to satisfy the diverse range of culinary preferences amongst us as well as an overhead soundtrack at a reasonable pitch in order to facilitate the inevitable round-robin of scandalous office gossip! On this occasion, we had booked to dine at the Welsh Back branch of Aqua Italia – it's intention to bring 'the best of Italian cuisine...to Bristol and Bath' proving rather appealing as, in my view, if all else fails, you really can't go wrong with a darn good pizza!
Date and Time: Monday 27th February 2012, 19:30
Name of Establishment: Aqua Italia*
Location: Welsh Back, Bristol
Reason for Visit: An out-of-office rendezvous with colleagues, past and present

The logistics of the often taboo scenario that is the office-night-out never fails to cause me a degree of anxiety for, as organisational equals, my fellow diners look to me (the self-appointed social secretary and resident ‘foodie’ of the group), to deliver an evening of top-notch tucker and easy conversation. Hence, I toy between venues sporting the ‘safe-bet’ badge and those offering the wow-factor; though seemingly at a greater cost and with a complicated menu that simply doesn’t appeal to that aforementioned obstacle of varying palate. To that end, Aqua Italia seemed like an ample choice and although the evening would ultimately focus upon the company of colleagues past and present, the crisp, sophisticated décor of this river-side establishment was unanimously appreciated. In fact, even before putting a foot inside, the enchanting blue fairy lights that have been strung through the branches of the trees that juxtapose the waters-edge, twinkle blue against the night's sky and, coupled with the ever-present swans that glide silently past, this casts an air of serenity; intended, I'm sure, to be reflected in the ambiance created within. And, with high ceilings, angular arrangements of marble-topped furniture (dressed with pristine, white linen and minimalistic-looking vases of foliage)...not to mention the grand presence of the bar adorned with a rather sizeable vase of decorative lemons, this is, on the large part, achieved. Though not to imply that this is a space devoid of any character – quite the contrary – this was simply an airy, comfortable eatery which suitably accommodated our party amidst the rather respectable buzz of a perfectly proportioned clientèle...and on a Monday evening no less...!
On to the cuisine and as we had pre-ordered our preferences from the menu almost a Month prior to the evening in question, we were not anticipating the elongated wait between courses that occurred. Nevertheless, it did give us time to familiarise ourselves with the dishes we had ordered (via the spreadsheet I had especially prepared...that's right, they don't call me the social secretary for nothing) and, just as a critical case of stomach-rumbling syndrome started to take hold, the starters made their timely entrance. Proving generally well-received with attention to detail to warrant a visual feast prior to one's first mouthful and portion sizes that leaned towards too much rather than not-enough, dishes such as the Sardines su Pane Tostado and Antipasto di Verdure (both £6.95) ate very well. The latter, in particular, with its medley of grilled aubergine, balsamic shallots, courgette, roasted red pepper and torn buffalo mozzarella proving both wholesome and tasty. Plus, although not to the taste of its recipient, the dish was finished with a wonderfully flavoursome garlic coleslaw; an aspect of the ensemble that I just had to rescue and reuse as a punchy garnish to my eagerly awaited pizza...
As a two-course kind of girl and, unsurprisingly, opting for pudding as opposed to a starter, I was seriously wilting by the time that main courses were served. An eventuality that made the limp-looking pizza that had been set before me all the more disappointing. This was the Toscano del Pollo Formaggi (£9.95) which the menu described as a; 'classic Tuscan pizza topped with chicken, red pepper, three cheeses and picked herbs’. In reality however, I received a thin, almost soggy pizza base liberally spread with a tasty tomato sauce but only tentatively scattered with chunks of chicken and finished with a few glistening slithers of caramelised onion – not a red pepper in sight...(as captured below.) Hypothetically speaking and quite literally too, this was a flop. That said, other diners commended the dishes they had received; most of which, although appearing a little minimalistic upon first look, proving rich and filling – the side orders requested to bulk them up becoming somewhat redundant as the evening progressed and appetites began to dissipate. Specifically, the Pollo Farcito (£13.25); an Italian crumbed chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella and pesto was described as delicious – plus, meeting an approving round of oohs and ahhs, this created a serious bout of food envy...particularly on my part! Praise too for the Aqua Burger (£10.95); a decidedly hand-made patty of good quality beef, though ever so slightly unbalanced in terms of its bap to burger ratio, the Risotto alla Zucca (£10.95); with the earthy sweetness of butternut squash comprising a delightfully sunny plate and the Anatra Balsamico con Lamponi (£13.25); the pan-fried duck breast proving perfectly executed and well matched to the crisp bite of its balsamic vinegar and cherry glaze. Our party were rather unimaginative when it came to drinks to accompany our dinner (be it a school night and all) but had we been game, we could have opted for a cocktail from Aqua Italia's extensive line-up...in this instance, I would have chosen the Riverside Bellini (£7.25); a light, fizzy combination of Chambord, raspberry purée and Prosecco. What's more, on a buy-one-get-one-free basis from noon until 7:30pm, this would be a welcome aperitif in the event of a return-visit...
A little lack lustre...and where are the peppers?!
And now for dessert and I'm pleased to report that this time, it was well worth the wait – the Torta Inglese Caramellata (£5.75) or, sticky toffee pudding for us Brits, undoubtedly proved the pick of the puddings with its rich, burnt-sugar stickiness, moist consistency and warm, gooey finish - oh yes, this was pudding porn in all its glory and finally, I was in heaven! A finishing dollop of good-quality vanilla-pod ice cream provided the perfect contrast to the hot toffee drizzle with its cool, creamy appeal – just divine and, in my view, compensating entirely for the course that had preceded it. Others chose the Cheesecake cotto Sicilliano (£3.95); home-made by Emelia Schiavetta (the owner's other half), Raspberry Crème Brulee (£5.95) and the Baked Figs (£5.95); all of which were described as delightfully decadent and as a result, thoroughly enjoyed.
Beautiful Baked Figs
Torta Inglese Caramellata - yum!

All in all, a satisfactory experience – positives included the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere, a commendable level of customer service, (proving friendly and efficient yet unobtrusive) and the wide menu which ultimately accommodates even the fussiest of diners. Negatives constituted the rather pricey nature of the fare which, I’m afraid to say, was not always justified given its tendency to be a little hit and miss in regards to its quality. Also, portion sizes varied enormously; with starters of a larger-than-life composition and main courses rather sparsely plated in places. Lastly, addressing the overall timings that in turn orchestrate the gap between courses may be advisable as having diners keel over with hunger due to waiting forty-five minutes at a time is surely not a favourable outcome! Consequently, I will be keeping an eye out for money-saving offers as when Aqua Italia is good, it is very good, but when it is bad (and you've paid full whack for the privilege), it's rather insulting – the girls and I had a fantastic evening and it's fair to say that the initial criteria in terms of a chitchat ad catch-up was well and truly met. Hence, on this occasion, a dining experience of this kind was just the ticket, however, given the option and in light of the multitude of Italian restaurants gracing our fair city, this certainly wouldn't be my first choice for that aforementioned (and now, quite frankly coveted), darn good pizza!

And now for the second opinion...
The lovely 'PB' gave Aqua Italia 9/10 and in three words, described her experience as ‘fab food’ and ‘fun’…I don’t quite mirror this praise but each to their own!