The Great Gatsby

August 11, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 2 Comments
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The Great Gatsby may not be the first place that springs to mind when you have a street food craving, but this is exactly the kind of food the Gatsby serve at their ‘Shy Boy cantina.’

If you haven’t visited the Great Gatsby in a while, you may have missed their recent makeover. This Division Street venue is now all shiny copper surfaces and contrasting blue walls. It’s a quirky look, and one that suits the Gatsby down to a T.

Great Gatsby

When it comes to food, the Great Gatsby keep things simple with a concise menu that’s split into four sections: burritos, tacos, large plates, and small plates, which are perfect for a snack or as a side to have alongside your main. And, if you have room for dessert the Great Gatsby also serve several flavours of Yee Kwan ice cream.

The Great Gatsby’s menu is on the smaller side (particularly compared to the mammoth menu on offer at fellow Sheffield cantina Revolucion De Cuba), but all the Mexican street food classics are present and accounted for, and there’s a good variety of vegetarian food too.

Case in point, my veggie chilli burrito (£7.50).

Great Gatsby veg burrito

This massive burrito is stuffed with so much good stuff, that it’s actually a challenge to try and eat it without the sauce and veggie filling dripping onto your plate. After a few awkward bites I had to resort to cutting my burrito into more manageable chunks, just to make it less messy to eat.

This is a mammoth portion of food that’s well worth the £7.50 price tag.

Great Gatsby stuff all their burritos with red rice, black beans, cheese, guacamole and sour cream, plus your choice of veggies or chicken, beef or pork. My veggie filling consisted of tomatoes, onions and peppers, which added a refreshing edge to the stodgy, comfort food flavours of the cheese, rice and thick sour cream.

My only niggle is that the Great Gatsby’s burritos aren’t particularly spicy. My veg burrito did come with a green chilli dip that had a hum of heat to it (not to mention a really unique sour note) but even after dunking my burrito into this sauce I still didn’t get that fiery kick I’d been craving.

Thankfully, if you’re like me and prefer your spicy food to verge on the side of painful, then Gatsby do provide a good selection of additional condiments that you can use to give your burrito that extra kick.

Despite the spice being on the milder side, the Gatsby’s veg burrito is a jumbo portion of pure comfort food that left me completely stuffed and very, very happy.  

Also arriving at our table was something a little bit different; courgette and quinoa fritters (£5) from the ‘Small plates’ section of Great Gatsby’s menu.

Great Gatsby courgette and quinoa fritters

These fritters reminded me of the black bean bombers that cropped up on a previous incarnation of the Gatsby’s menu, and they’re every bit as good.

Beneath their crispy coating, these fritters have a light and crumbly texture that’s clearly quinoa-based. Their unusual texture makes these tasty, savoury bites well worth trying – particularly if you have a soft spot for quinoa.

The final meal arriving at our table was a plate of wild mushroom quesadillas (£7.50).

Great Gatsby wild mushroom quesadillas

These quesadillas looked incredible to start with, but when my friend cut into them they somehow managed to look even better.

Great Gatsby close up quesadillas

The tortillas themselves were light and fluffy, and the filling was a delicious mix of wilted spinach and perfectly seasoned mushrooms, with just enough melted cheese to give this light filling a feel of creaminess and indulgence.

If you’re not feeling hungry enough for one of Gatsby’s super-sized burritos, then these quesadillas deliver all those quintessential Mexican street food flavours without making you feel like you need to have a lie down after you’ve finished eating.

I loved everything about our Mexican street food lunch, and if you have a soft spot for this sort of cuisine then the Great Gatsby should be high on your list of places to check out.

Even though the venue may not scream Mexican street food, don’t let that fool you – the Great Gatsby really do make a mean burrito!

3 and a half

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Las Iguanas

May 24, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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With Sheffield enjoying a three-day heat wave recently, it was too nice to sit indoors – in other words, it was beer garden o’clock! However, after the beer garden high, comes the inevitable post-beer munchies. After an afternoon of sitting in the sun, me and my beer garden partner in crime were in the mood for cuisine from a warmer climate, so the Latin-themed Las Iguanas seemed ideal.

Las Iguanas is situated in the swanky West One Plaza, which is basically a courtyard dedicated to my two favourite pursuits: eating and drinking. On this sunny Saturday afternoon, West One Plaza was packed with people swigging cold beverages, eating good food, queueing outside LOL Bubble Tea, and generally enjoying being outside without shivering/getting rained on. It almost seemed a shame to be heading indoors, even if it was to enjoy some tasty grub.

This was my first ever visit to Las Iguanas, and initial impressions were good. It’s a light, airy venue, with a carnival feel thanks to all the bright colours – from the mosaic tables and funky, patterned furnishings; to the shiny red bar trimmed with LED lights; to the wall covered in a hodgepodge of multi-coloured picture frames. Las Iguanas also pull a clever trick with a mirrored wall, which makes the place feel much bigger than it actually is.

Las Iguanas

We were greeted by a very friendly member of staff, who offered us the lunchtime and the evening menu – oh, and would we like to see the vegan and vegetarian menu, too? In most restaurants, veggies are lucky if they get three meals to choose from, and vegans usually get even less. Las Iguanas may not immediately spring to mind when you think about veggie and vegan-friendly venues, but it actually has one of the most impressive vegan/vegetarian menus I’ve encountered in a “mainstream” restaurant. Many of the dishes are gluten free, too.

Obviously, there’s some overlap between menus. The lunch menu is pretty much just a pared-down version of the dinner menu, and the vegan and vegetarian menu is the dinner menu, with the meat and seafood removed. But, even with all this duplication, you’ll still be completely spoilt for choice.

The trio of menus covers all those tried-and-tested favourites – quesadillas, fajitas, enchiladas, burritos, patatas bravas, and chilli con carne, to just name a few. Or, if you fancy trying something new, there’s dishes that make use of more unusual ingredients, such as plantain, truffle salsa, palm hearts, and a very intriguing-sounding peanut and crayfish sauce.

In the interests of trying as much of this massive menu as possible, we decided to share some starters. After much deliberation, we narrowed our selection down to the Tip Top Chipotle Whitebait (£4.50), and Calamares (£5.70).

Our food order was taken by one of the friendliest waitresses I’ve ever met, who wasted no time drawing our attention to the 2-for-1 offer on cocktails, something we hadn’t previously noticed. In light of this revelation, it only seemed fitting to order some cocktails. When it comes to booze, Las Iguanas doesn’t disappoint: they provide choice, and lots of it.

The cocktail menu includes all the usual suspects you tend to find in restaurants, but it also features some more exotic concoctions, such as a Columbian Cafe, Bronx Bebida, and a Jam Slam. In the end, we settled on a pair of Long Island Iced Teas (£6.75 per glass, or 2-for-1 Wednesday-Sunday, before 7.30 p.m).

Long Island Iced Tea

Our matching pair of Long Island Iced Teas tasted every bit as good as they looked. They had a refreshing lemon sting, and packed a boozy punch – exactly what you want from a Long Island Iced Tea.

Our starters arrived shortly after, which was a good job, because these Long Island Iced Teas were strong. The Calamares is a portion of whole baby squid, tentacles and all, coated in crispy batter. Don’t let the long, curly tentacles put you off; they actually pack a satisfying crunch and give you the chance to really appreciate that salt-and-pepper batter. The meatier, non-tentacle parts of the baby squid were juicy, and not in the least bit rubbery.

The Calamares came with a creamy dip, which had a subtle, spicy afterburn. The squid was delicious on its own, but this dip really sealed the deal. I suddenly regretted agreeing to share the starters!

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The Tip Top Chipotle Whitebait was covered in a very light, almost flaky batter, and the whitebait themselves were nicely cooked. However, the accompanying dips missed the mark: the sour cream was too thin, and the salsa lacked any kind of kick. We had to resort to the bottle of Cholula on the table; a few splashes of this bottled hot sauce delivered more flavour than the salsa and sour cream combined.

Whitebait

Onto the mains, and despite the hot weather, I hadn’t been able to resist the curry on Las Iguanas’ menu. The ‘Bahia Moqueca’ promised a creamy coconut curry, served with plantain, spicy aji and toasted coconut farofa sprinkles, plus spring onion and garlic rice. Las Iguanas can make your Bahia Moqueca with fish and peeled prawns (£12.95) or squash, palm hearts and spinach (£10.95). Despite my love of seafood, I’d never had palm hearts before, so I went with the veggie option.

As soon as I caught sight of my food, I knew I was in for a treat. Las Iguanas’ Bahia Moqueca is a meal of two halves; the first is a plateful of chunky aji, toasted coconut sprinkles, sweet and sticky plantain, and garlic and spring onion rice.

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The second part of the meal, is the curry itself.

Bahia Moqueca

Based on the menu’s description, I was expecting the Bahia Moqueca to be similar to a korma or maybe even a Thai green curry, but it was so much better than either of those. The sauce tasted strongly of coconut, but it also had a sour edge to it. This lingering, sharp aftertaste was an unexpected, but very welcome surprise. As much as I enjoy pigging out on creamy curries, the richness of the coconut can become overpowering after a while. The Bahia Moqueca’s tartness helped to keep things fresh and interesting. If you love coconut, or have a soft spot for sour flavours, then this is the meal for you!

The palm hearts that convinced me to order the vegetarian Bahia Moqueca in the first place, turned out to be almost completely tasteless. However, they did have a really different, woody texture, and the rings of palm heart looked fantastic floating on top of the curry, so I can understand why Las Iguanas included them in the Bahia Moqueca.

When it came to the extra bits and bobs that arrived with my Bahia Moqueca, my favourite was the aji, which reminded me of a chunky, homemade salsa, only it was vinegary, rather than spicy. The plantains were sticky and gooey, and brought a burst of sweetness to the Bahia Moqueca. However, the garlic and spring onion rice just tasted like coconut. I enjoyed the creamy rice, but I found it strange that I couldn’t taste any garlic or spring onion at all.

The Bahia Moqueca is easily one of the best meals I’ve had recently. It was so good that, despite Las Iguanas’ massive menu, it’ll be tough to resist ordering this again on my next visit!

The other main meal winging its way to our table, was everyone’s favourite Mexican street food; the Burrito. At Las Iguanas, burrito lovers have a choice of fillings: garlic mushrooms and vegetarian chilli (£9.95); smoked chipotle chicken (£10.95); or barbeque and jalapeno shredded steak (£10.95). My dining companion opted for the shredded steak.

Steak burrito

The burrito was a good size, especially considering the steak filling, and it came with a few of Las Iguanas’ added extras. On the upside, this meant more of that tongue-tingling aji and rich rice, but unfortunately it also saw the return of the bland sour cream and chipotle sauce combo.

The burrito itself was jam-packed with steak, which fell apart in a way not dissimilar to pulled pork. Despite enthusing about the tenderness of the steak, my dining companion didn’t get any hint of cheese or jalapeno, both of which appeared on the menu. They were also surprised that the burrito contained nothing but shredded steak and refried beans – no tomatoes, rice, onions, peppers, or any of that other good stuff you usually find in burritos (or maybe the Great Gatsby has spoiled us, when it comes to burritos?)

Las Iguanas deserve top marks for the venue, the friendly and helpful staff, and the sheer scope of their cocktail and food menus. Any venue where you’re handed three different food menus on your way in, is off to a good start. Las Iguanas also strike a good balance between unusual dishes, and crowd-pleasing classics. Although we weren’t completely sold on the steak burrito, the calamari and curry were both fantastic, and there’s plenty of other dishes on the menu that I can’t wait to try. We’ll definitely be back!

four-stars

The Great Gatsby

March 29, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 2 Comments
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Last year, the Great Gatsby announced the launch of Shy Boy Catina; their new, distinctly Mexican-inspired menu. I’ve been meaning to give Shy Boy Catina at the Great Gatsby a go for a while now. Actually, I’ve been meaning to give it a go ever since I first heard that the Division Street pub had gone all Mexican on us, but despite being on my ‘To Do’ list for a while now, I wound up at the Gatsby last week completely by accident. I’d wandered into town hell-bent on trying a new sushi restaurant I’d heard good things about, only to discover that the place is closed on a Monday – and guess which day of the week I was stood outside, in the drizzle, trying the door handle and wondering why all the lights were off?

With no sushi in sight, the only sensible course of action was to head to the nearest pub and drink until our sushi-deprived party agreed on a Plan B. We eventually decided  that a burrito was a good substitute for sushi (obviously…), and so off to the Great Gatsby we went.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the Great Gatsby, it’s a welcoming snug of place, that’s not too dissimilar to the Wick at Both Ends. It’s the kind of cosy spot where you can imagine whiling away an afternoon, sipping mulled wine (even in March) and watching the world go by. The Great Gatsby has a fantastic vibe too; it’s funky without being in the least bit stuffy or pretentious.

When it comes to food, the Shy Boy Catina is a festival of Mexican grub, covering burritos, quesadillas, tacos, and spicy sandwiches. There’s also some intriguing side dishes (avocado fries, anyone?) and a very authentic-sounding dessert of chocolate churros. If you’re partial to Mexican food, then prepare to be spoilt for choice.

After much deliberating, we both opted for a burrito; one Slow Braised Beef Rib burrito, and one Veggie Chilli burrito (£7 each). Our meat, and non-meat burritos were presented in exactly the same fashion, and came with an identical side order of tortilla chips and dips. First impressions were good, as the bundled-up burritos were big, fat torpedos, and when I picked mine up to unwrap it, I could feel the weight of all that rice and veg chilli.

Great Gatsby veggie burrito

Both burritos were accompanied by a handful of crunchy tortilla chips, which had clearly been cooked on the premises, as oppose to being pre-packaged. This little pile of tortilla chips was finished off with a dollop of sour cream, and a sprinkling of finely-chopped tomatoes, red onion, and coriander. It’s always nice to see somewhere going the extra mile, rather than just grabbing a handful of crisps from a packet, plonking them on your plate, and calling that a side dish. The cooling mix of fresh veggies and sour cream also provided a much-needed break from those delicious, but heavy-going, burritos.

Of course, no tortilla chips are complete without dips, and our chips came with a duo of dips. The first, was a guacamole that was freshly-made, if the chunks of un-mashed avocado were anything to go by. I usually hate the texture of guacamole but I still couldn’t resist the Great Gatsby’s take on this dip. The second dip was a bit of a mystery, although there was definitely some coriander mixed in there. The dip had a sour note and a slow, spicy afterburn that I wasn’t overly keen on, so I stuck with the homemade guacamole, which was far tastier.

Speaking of burritos, it was time to peel back the wrapping and unleash the beast! There’s nothing delicate about the Great Gatsby’s veggie burrito; so even if you forgo the meat, prepare to be stuffed silly! My veggie burrito was chock-full of spicy rice, beans, and a smattering of veggies including courgette, roasted peppers, and tangy red onion. This stomach-swelling filling was perfectly cooked, with not a mushy grain of rice or burnt bean in sight.

Just to make absolutely sure you’re not going to be hungry anytime soon, the Great Gatsby lace their burrito filling with a strong, smoky cheese. I’m not sure what type of cheese they use, but I know that my life would be vastly improved if I had a block of the stuff in my fridge!

My veggie burrito had a satisfying heat to it, but if you like your food on the spicy side, then the Great Gatsby provide a barrel full of fiery condiments. If you’re a chilli freak (like yours truly) I recommend splashing some chipotle sauce onto that burrito. You won’t regret it.

Thanks to the sushi fiasco and the mid-day drinking, I was starving by the time I sat down for lunch, but even in that state I couldn’t clear my plate. If you’ve got a raging hunger, then treat yourself to a big, fat, juicy Gatsby burrito. It’s guaranteed to fill you up!

The braised beef burrito was an equally belly-filling affair.

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My dining companion had been a bit unsure what to expect from a “beef rib” burrito, but was relieved to see there wasn’t a bone in sight. The beef had been slow-cooked (for 8 hours apparently) in chipotle and coriander marinade, until it melted off the bone – and was then stuffed into a burrito. The chipotle marinade gave the tender meat a deep, rich heat, although it was difficult to make out the coriander.

In addition to juicy meat, the Great Gatsby managed to squeeze in some rice, cheese, diced tomatoes and raw red onion. The veggies were a very welcome addition, as without these bursts of freshness, the burrito might have been too heavy going to be properly enjoyable. Instead, the beef burrito felt like the perfect lunchtime blow-out.

Here, I have to make a confession. In a moment of madness (I blame those pre-lunch drinks), I’d ordered a side dish to go alongside my two tonne burrito: a portion of Corn & Black Bean Bombers (£3.50). These “bombers” are scotch egg-sized balls of sweetcorn and chunky bean mix, held together by an unexpectedly chewy batter, and served with a spicy mayo dip.

Great Gatsby black bean bombers

The chewy exterior was a bit of a surprise, but once I’d gotten over the unusual texture, the bombers are a mourish side dish that tastes even better dunked into the accompanying dip. My only regret is that I was too stuffed from my super-sized burrito, and had to enlist some help polishing off my bombers.

 Great Gatsby black bean bomber

In addition to stomach-stretching grub, the Great Gatsby do some funky cocktails. If you’re like me (i.e a sucker for a drink in a weird container), then get yourself down to the Gatsby and choose from a cocktail that’s served in a tin can, a jam jar, a paint tin, and even a treasure chest! Mexican food and treasure chests filled with booze? You’ve got to admire the Great Gatsby’s randomness.

Even before I sampled some of what Shy Boy Catina has to offer, I loved the Great Gatsby. After sampling the food, I love it even more! This Devonshire Street pub may not be the first thing that pops into your head when you get a hankering for Mexican street food, but they serve up big slabs of spiced stodge that’s the perfect hangover food, the perfect post-drinking food, and the perfect Plan B when the sushi restaurant around the corner is closed.

My advice? Go hungry. Go very, very hungry. And if you’re tempted by a side dish, be prepared to share – because you will be stuffed by the time you finish your main meal.

5-stars

Cosmo

March 23, 2014 at 11:46 am | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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A few people had mentioned Cosmo to me since it opened in St. Paul’s Place a couple of weeks ago. If you’re not familiar with Cosmo, it’s a new “all you can eat” place where you get to cram your face with cuisine from around the world: Japan, China, India, Italy, Mexico, Korea, and more.

My experience of “all you can eat” buffets has previously been restricted to Chinese fodder, so I was intrigued by the variety that Cosmo offers. “All you can eat” may not be fine dining, but everyone enjoys being greedy once in a while, so I decided to give Cosmo’s “World Banquet Dining” a whirl.

How much you’ll pay for the pleasure of filling your face at Cosmo, depends on whether you visit on a weekend or a weekday, and whether you partake of their lunch, or their evening buffet. Lunchtimes and weekdays are cheaper, while evenings and weekends are more expensive. You can expect to pay anything from £7.99, to the top price of £14.99 (the Cosmo website has more information on pricing). I visited on a weekday evening, so paid £13.99.

The first thing you notice about Cosmo, is the sheer size of the place. Cosmo is easily one of the biggest restaurants I’ve ever visited. Somewhere that promotes itself as “World Banquet Dining” obviously needs a large buffet area, but Cosmo takes this a step further with separate buffet areas for each type of cuisine they serve – the buffet alone is the size of a regular restaurant! The dining area itself is equally super-sized, to the point where it’s more like a Meadowhall-style food court than a restaurant.

Before I could take a seat and commence feasting, our party was told that we needed to give a name to the front of house staff, and then wait to be shown to our table. Despite there being rows upon rows of empty tables just a few feet away, we had to wait almost 10 minutes before it was our turn to be shown to a table, and during that time more people kept arriving behind us. I can imagine Cosmo’s waiting area becoming unpleasantly crowded, and the wait become longer and longer during peak times. My advice? Get there as soon as the lunchtime or evening service starts.

Finally seated, it was time to set off on our culinary trip around the world. First stop; the Japanese and seafood section. I wasn’t expecting much from Cosmo’s fishy selection (good seafood tends to be pricey, after all), but I was pleasantly surprised. Cosmo had a decent selection of sushi, platters of mussels and king prawns on ice, a cucumber and smoked salmon salad that didn’t skimp on the salmon, and some other fishy bits and bobs.

Cosmo seafood

When you can eat as much as you want, there’s going to be compromises when it comes to the quality of the food. All you can eat sushi can’t compare to a sushi restaurant, where you may end up paying more for a single plate of sashimi, than you do for the entire Cosmo experience. Cosmo’s take on everyone’s favourite seafood-and-rice delicacy, involves going heavy on the rice, light on the fish and seafood, and opting for cheaper fillings such as cucumber sticks and processed meats.

The king prawns and mussels were plentiful, but on the chewy side, and the edamame beans weren’t seasoned, so they tasted like boring, boiled green beans. So far, Cosmo was exactly what I’d been expecting; decent enough grub to heap onto your plate, but nothing I’d be happy to be served in a restaurant.

Cosmo seafood

However, Cosmo does have a trick up its sleeve for seafood lovers, in the form of a live cooking station, where you can get delicious morsels of seafood cooked to order. If you’re willing to wait a few minutes, you can choose from squid, king prawns, scallops, or salmon, freshly sizzled on a “Teppanyaki” hotplate. You can only order two items at a time, and the portion sizes are small, but that doesn’t matter when you’re being served slivers of perfectly-cooked, perfectly-seasoned seafood. It’s touches like the Teppanyaki bar, that sets Cosmo apart from the “all you can eat” crowd.

Cosmo seafood

A mix of buffet seafood, with some freshly-cooked squid from the Teppanyaki bar.

Even if the idea of buffet sushi fills you with horror, one thing that’s worth grabbing from the Japanese section is the salad of shredded green beans in sesame oil. It’s a strong, slimy salad, but once you get over the initial strangeness, it’s deliciously different.

After the seafood, it was time to sample some Chinese and Indian grub. If you’ve ever been to a Chinese buffet before, you know the drill: fried rice, prawn toast, spring rolls, stir fried vegetables, noodles, and meat in sticky sauce. When it comes to Indian, Cosmo have a selection of curries, as well as everyone’s favourite Indian side dishes: poppadoms, dips, and bombay potatoes. It’s all standard buffet grub, although Cosmo go easy on the seasonings and spices for both cuisines, so if you regularly eat at Chinese and Indian restaurants, you’re going to find Cosmo’s offerings a bit on the bland side.

Cosmo chinese

Another plate, another country, and this time it was a trip to the Mexican taco stand. The taco shells were surprisingly crisp and crunchy, to say they’d been sat under a heat lamp, and there was a good variety of sauces and toppings on offer, so I piled my plate high with cheese, zingy salsa, and sharp, pickled jalapenos.

However, when it came to choosing a chilli filling for my taco, I hit a snag. The Mexican stand had a pair of bubbling pots of what I’d assumed to be meat and veggie chilli, but when I took a closer look, I couldn’t be sure. Both were a hearty-looking mix of beans and veggies in a fragrant tomato sauce, but it was difficult to tell what else they contained. In the end, I settled for an extra helping of salsa instead (and then nipped back to the Chinese section and grabbed some more stir fried veggies too, which is why my plate looks so random!)

Cosmo Mexican

The way Cosmo label their dishes, is my other major gripe. On the evening I visited, the Chinese meals were meticulously labelled, right down to the garlic and other herbs used in each dish, but elsewhere the labelling was hit-and-miss. If you have a long list of foods you don’t like, or any food allergies or intolerances, buffets are always going to be a minefield – but Cosmo should at least give you the gist of what each dish is!

When it comes to meat, if you’re a committed carnivore, then Cosmo will leave you spoilt for choice. The meat lovers in our group gave the quality of the meat a big thumbs up, piling their plates high with meaty pizzas, barbecue ribs, sausages, and Chinese-style beef.

Cosmo meat

I still had a list of foodstuffs I wanted to try, but I was starting to struggle, so it seemed time to wrap things up with a spot of dessert. With all the savoury fodder on offer, I wouldn’t have been surprised if Cosmo treated pudding as an after thought. They don’t.

The Cosmo buffet has an entire section dedicated to sweet treats, including hot desserts, cold desserts, cakes, bowls of sweets, and fruit – not to mention a chocolate fountain, with all sorts of goodies for dipping. It’s enough to give you one roller coaster of a sugar-rush!

Cosmo dessert

The best part of pudding, is the bite-sized cubes of cake. Whether it’s a mouthful of tiramisu, a square of double-chocolate brownie, cheesecake, carrot cake, or sponge, it’s the perfect portion of something sweet to finish off the meal. And the best bit is they’re so small, you can try a bit of everything!

My advice is to ignore the larger “pudding cup” style desserts, as they’re mostly cream, with just a tiny bit of cake buried in the bottom. And who wants to fill up on spoonfuls of cream when Cosmo has so much more on offer?

Cosmo dessert

It’s easy to pick fault with individual items on the Cosmo buffet, but you can’t really compare “all you can eat” grub to dishes that are cooked to order in a restaurant. I went to Cosmo expecting a simple case of quantity over quality – but this wasn’t completely the case. In terms of quality, Cosmo is a cut above what you’d expect from an “all you can eat” establishment, and the variety and quantity of food is second to none. I even discovered a few dishes that I’d have been happy to be served in a restaurant, which was unexpected!

Cosmo serves up massive amounts of grub, the occasional star dish, and generally delivers great value for money. Most of the time, eating out is about the quality of the ingredients, and how much care has been put into preparing your meal – but sometimes, you just want to stuff your face until you can’t move.

When you’re in the mood for the latter, Cosmo is perfect.

Three and a half stars

El Paso

August 18, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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El Paso is one of those places I’ve walked past upteen times, but never actually visited. Perhaps that’s due to its less-than-ideal location (at the bottom of the Moor, with a prime view across the current building work) and its shiny red plastic exterior, which is more takeaway than restaurant. But, after a couple of fantastic meals at London Road venues that don’t look much cop from the outside, we decided to give El Paso a whirl, and were very pleasantly surprised.

Behind the tacky exterior lies a cosy, welcoming little venue. We were braced for a worn-around-the-edges sort of place, but instead were greeted by neatly laid out tables, a funky little bar tucked away in the corner and a clear view into the kitchen, which is always a good sign.

And the surprises kept on coming: not only does El Paso have a cocktail menu, but our mojitos (£5.95) could have given snazzier venues like Browns and Mud Crab a run for their money. They were certainly a notch above the mojitos we had at ultra-modern Revolution the previous week – who’d have thought it??

True, they were sweeter than your traditional mojito, but they went down such a storm that we were on our second round before we’d finished weighing up the menu. El Paso has the full range of Mexican and Italian nosh on offer: crespelle dishes, enchiladas, burritos, chimichanga, paella, chilli con carne, lasagna, bolognese, pizza, and seafood dishes, including swordfish for those feeling adventurous. As lovers of both Mexican and Italian, we had a tough time picking just one meal, but finally gave the waiter our orders and, tums rumbling, waited for our grub.

And waited.

And waited.

Despite being one of only two parties in the restaurant, it was a good forty minutes before our food arrived. We could see the chef preparing our meals from scratch in the adjoining kitchen, but forty minutes is longer than anyone should have to wait for their dinner in a next-to-empty restaurant. If you visit El Paso during peak dining hours, make sure you don’t arrive as hungry as we did.

I plumped for the Mexican side of El Paso’s double-whammy Mexican/Italian menu, and ordered a veggie burrito (£8.95). My pair of fat, cheese-slathered burritos were served with a mountain of yellow rice covered with fistfulls of corriander. The coriander gave the rice a freshness I wasn’t expecting, while the burritos were absolutely stuffed with the usual suspects plus something I hadn’t encountered in a veg burrito before: spinach. The spinach not only gave the filling a unique colour, but also a really different flavour, with the fiery spices and cooling cheese completing this flavour-packed dish. Quite simply one of the freshest and most interesting-tasting burritos I’ve ever had the pleasure of crossing paths with.

After the taste sensation of the burrito and herby rice, the side salad was a complete let down. It was as bland as pre-packaged supermarket fare. To make matters worse, the El Paso staff brought us an extra portion of salad to share, which included the bonus prize of a stray piece of cling-film. The bowl it came in was also stained, as though it had been used for serving sauce-based dishes in the past. It may not have been dirty, but this bowl should have been bleached, or thrown out rather than reused as a salad bowl.

Moving on from this salad-related disaster and onto the star of the meal: El Paso’s paella (£10.00). This jaw-dropper was faultlessly presented with decorative shell-on king prawns and a ring of mussel shells arranged around the edge of the plate. A generous sprinkling of herbs, and you’re onto a winner even before you’ve taken a bite.

But what about the taste? The shell-on king prawns didn’t just have the visual wow-factor; they were succulent and perfectly cooked, and the rice was a treasure-trove of seafood: melt-in-the-mouth squid, small prawns and mussel meat, with a little chicken thrown in for good measure. A seafood lover’s paradise.

Our bill came with a few complimentary chocolates, but if El Paso were trying to soften the blow of the bill with sweets, they needn’t have bothered: we’d had our fill of fresh, tasty and high-quality grub for a very reasonable price.

After such a satisfying meal, it’s easy to play down El Paso’s shortcomings – the bland side salad, the less than spotless salad bowl, the missing locks on the ladies’ loo, and the shabby, empty function room you have to walk past on your way to the aforementioned lock-less loo. It’s this lack of attention to detail that makes El Paso a rough-around-the-edges find, rather than something really special. Fantastic food, surprisingly good cocktails and reasonable prices – but frustratingly, this place could do better.

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