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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Revolution

August 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Posted in Restaurants | 2 Comments
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Located in the snazzy West One Plaza, Revolution may make you think of vodka shots (in thirty homemade flavours, no less) rather than food, but one look at the menu shows Revolution have some serious food ambitions. Sunblushed tomato, asparagus and pea linguine, summer mezze board platters, and plenty of pricey tapas – no bargain beer and a burger deals here! So, keeping an open mind, we headed to Revolution for a midweek treat (and a few midweek voddies, of course!)

Inside, Revolution Sheffield is an aircraft hanger of a place, with floor-to-ceiling windows, shiny wooden surfaces, oceans of room between the assorted tables and booths, and an ultra-modern bar of LED lights and glittering booze-bottles. Decor-wise, it feels like a trendy nightclub – not your usual venue for a spot of supper. Keeping an open mind, we settled into a booth and ordered a round of mojitos (£6.50) which tasted too much of soda water, but we ploughed ahead, slurped down our cocktails and ordered some tapas to start: homemade potato wedges with dips (£4.95.)

The chunky potato wedges arrived with the skins on, just the way we like them, but the accompanying sour cream dip was strangely runny and tasteless – disappointing. Thankfully, Revolution redeemed themselves with the sweet chilli dip, which had a fierce kick. As a spice fan, I scrubbed the sweet chilli bowl clean, but if you can’t take the heat you might find the sweet chilli dip a painful ordeal.

Appetites duly piqued, we wasted no time ordering our mains, which arrived in double-quick time. My Salmon and King Prawn Linguine (£8.95) looked promising, as I was presented with a bowl full of linguine and creamy sauce, topped with a generous portion of smoked salmon.

The white sauce was refreshingly light without skimping on taste and, mixed up with a forkful of linguine and assorted veg (firm asparagus, fiery rocket and peas to be precise) it was delicious. The smoked salmon was the highlight for me, delivering a hit of seriously strong, salty deliciousness, but I was disappointed by how overcooked the king prawns were.

On the whole, a flavour-packed dish of perfectly-cooked veggies, a light but tasty sauce, and plenty of seafood, although at £8.95 Revolution are definitely being cheeky with their prices. To put it into perspective, my linguine was roughly the same price as a vegetarian pasta dish or Spaghetti Ragu at Strada.

Since we were in a vodka bar, we just had to sample Revolution’s special vodka glaze, and ordered the intriguing Revolution Vodka Pizza (£7.95). This thin and crispy pizza wasn’t mean with the toppings: chorizo, goat’s cheese and mozzarella with sweet chilli peppers, fresh rocket and the aforementioned vodka-glazed chicken, finished off with a drizzle of tart balsamic vinegar. Thin pizzas are easy to overcook, but the Revolution staff avoided this pitfall and sent out a perfect thin and crispy pizza. The vinegar drizzle in particular was a clever touch, giving the pizza extra bite.

Which brings us neatly onto the bill, and our major issue with Revolution – the price. Not only is the food expensive, but the steep booze prices bump up the bill even further. Even if you stick to pints all night, expect to feel the pinch. The surroundings are top-notch and the food is tasty with a few quirky options on the menu and quality ingredients used throughout, but there’s no escaping the fact that Revolution feels like the sort of place you’d pop into for a bite to eat on a whim, rather than somewhere you’d book in advance and look forward to – and the prices don’t reflect that. Good food, modern surroundings, but ultimately, the cheque was a bit of a stinger!

Strada

June 5, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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For a meal out in the hustle and bustle of Sheffield’s town centre, it doesn’t get any better than Leopold Square. With fine italian eateries like Zizzi, Popolo and Strada; posh tapas courtesy of Platillos; flaming hot Aagrah curries; and noodles from Wagamama, the only hard part is deciding where to eat.

After ASK whet our appetite with its hit-and-miss italian grub, we settled on another italian restaurant this week; Strada.

Although there’s enough seating for a few bus loads of people inside, Strada maintains a cosy feel with lots of dark wood and intimate booths. We were escorted to one of the corner booths by a polite and friendly waitress and promptly got the party started with a bottle of white wine (expect to pay between £16 and £27) and a bottle of red (prices range from £16 to a whopping £35). The wine list is sorely lacking budget options (something around the £12-£14 range would be ideal) but taste-wise, we had no complaints about our bottles of pinot grigio (£18.50) and merlot (£15.60).

We began our dining experience with a helping of Olive Castelvetrano (that’s green olives to you and me) which were very reasonably priced at £2.50, and a basket of breads (£4.50) with those old italian classics, olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping.

The bread basket and dipping oils were a massive hit at our table. The waitress was even kind enough to leave us full bottles of olive oil and vinegar so we could dip away to our hearts’ content. At other restaurants, we’ve had the staff dole out a strict ration of oil and vinegar, and inevitably you run out of oil before you run out of bread. The variety and quantity of bread was a pleasant surprise; our basket contained the standard white and brown bread, but also olive bread and crispy pane carasau. Easily one of the best “bread and oil” starters we’ve had in an italian restaurant, and the quantity is perfect for sharing as our bread basket could have comfortably served 4-6 people.

At this point, bowls for the waste seafood shells arrived at our table, which made the seafood-lovers amongst us very excited. Any seafood dish that warrants an extra bowl for the shells is always going to be something a little bit special.

Our seafood bounty included a Risotto Frutti Di Mare (£11.75), a risotto of squid, mussels, prawns and clams. Risottos are reliably rich, but the thick sauce means they’re not always the prettiest of dishes. This seafood risotto was different: a light sauce meant it looked every bit as good as it tasted.

Our seafood-fanatic reviewer raved that it was one of the best seafood risottos they’d ever had.

Pasta is another italian staple, so we couldn’t leave without sampling Strada’s pasta. We ordered a Panzerotti Porcini (£9.25), pasta parcels stuffed with a creamy mix of mushrooms, ricotta and provolone cheese and covered in a light broth with a few exotic-looking mushrooms scattered over the top.

Deceptively filling, this dish got another big thumbs up, especially the fragrant broth which was a nice contrast to the earthy mushroom pasta.

Another pasta dish winging its way to our table was the Spaghetti Ragu (£8.95). The beef, onion, red wine, tomato and herb ragu was perfectly seasoned, and came on a mountain of spaghetti. At just under £9, this is a value-for-money meat dish.

But if you’re a seafood-lover, you owe it to yourself to try Strada’s Tegamaccio. It’s at the more expensive end of Strada’s menu, but it’s worth every last penny of the £14.95 price tag. Essentially a posh fish stew, the tegamaccio boasts a lip-smacking selection of clams, mussels, red mullet, squid, prawns and even a shell-on king prawn. The clams, mussels and king prawn all come in their shells, giving the stew a rustic appearance, especially with the hunks of bread perched on the side of your bowl, ready for dipping.

And believe me, you’ll want to dip: the white wine and tomato based soup is heaven. Hearty and satisfying, faultlessly seasoned and packing a real wine zing, I could have drank a bowl of this on its own. In fact, I’d supped half of the soup before I even tried the seafood. When I finally got around to it, the seafood was juicy and tender, even the squid, which is so easy to overcook.

There were a few things that prevented the tegamaccio from being perfection on a plate, and one was the burnt ciabatta bread. Even worse, both pieces of bread arrived with the blackest sides turned face down in the soup, which made me wonder whether the burnt bits had been spotted by the staff. There were also capers in the stew, which kept delivering an unexpected squirt of pickled liquid that didn’t compliment the dish at all. Even with these minor quibbles, Strada’s tegamaccio is one of the best seafood dishes I’ve had the pleasure of devouring.

Miraculously after so much top notch grub, we still had some room left, so we ordered a few reasonably-priced coffees (£2.20 for a latte.) The lattes were smartly presented in neat little glass mugs and white saucers.

For the more boozy members of our party, a shot of after-dinner amaretto (£3.20) was on the cards. Alongside the drinks, we ordered a portion of Strada’s tiramisu (£4.95). For just under a fiver, Strada plates up a doorstop of caffeine-soaked sponge and mascarpone cream drizzled with sticky coffee syrup.

Be warned, this block of cake is not for the faint hearted, and I have no shame in admitting I had to share it with another member of our party. A genuinely indulgent dessert!

If you’re craving something a bit more delicate, the Mousse Al Cioccolato (£5.25) is like a work of an art on a dessert plate. A molded chocolate case filled with fluffy mousse and adorned with a row of fresh strawberries, this dessert is finished off with a dollop of cream, a drop of delicious strawberry coulis and a chocolate filigree. The end result is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

A fussy, fancy dessert that tastes as good as it looks, thanks to some of the most decadent chocolate you’re likely to come across.

For high street italian food, Strada is a tough one to beat. There were a few niggling problems with my fish stew and the wine is expensive and can really push up your bill if you’re not careful, but overall the food was excellent, and the bread basket starter is highly recommended. Not a cheap evening out, but for the quality of the food, the convenience of the city centre location and the spacious surroundings, this is a top high street italian restaurant.

ASK

June 3, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Posted in Restaurants | Leave a comment
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Remember that heatwave/summer we had last week, before the Curse of the Bank Holiday kicked in and plunged us back into 24-7 drizzle? During one of those rare evenings where you don’t need waterproofs just to go into town, we headed out in search of that old classic: italian grub. Sheffield has no shortage of fine italian restaurants, and in the end we settled on ASK.

Located on Cambridge Street, ASK has some stiff competition from Leopold Square – so how does it stack up against neighbours Zizzi and Strada? Well, unlike the Leopold Square crew, ASK lacks outdoor space, which is only going to be a problem during nice weather. Unfortunately, this was one of the 5 days a year where being outdoors doesn’t require full winter gear. Even though the ASK staff had thrown all the windows open, it was still a few degrees above comfortable inside.

Temperature gripes aside, ASK’s big, gleaming open plan interior has a cafeteria feel to it, that doesn’t set the ‘italian restaurant’ mood. Thankfully, ASK makes up for this when it comes to its eye for detail: the wine comes in stylish, gleaming glass carafes and the water jugs have polo-style hand-holes set into the glass.

Still a little too warm for comfort, we downed glasses of water while examining the menu. ASK serves the usual crowd-pleasing mix of pasta dishes, pizzas and seafood, all mixed up with plenty of those italian staples: cheese, tomato and herbs. We ordered our meals and switched from water to a carafe of white wine (£10.15 for the chardonnay) while we waited for our food to arrive.

First to appear was a helping of risotto gamberoni (£12.45). The risotto sauce was creamy and layered with tomatoes, prawns and refreshing shredded courgette. The courgettes and rings of red chili were perfect additions; the freshness of the courgette and the fiery kick of the chilis prevented the thick sauce from becoming overpowering.

Despite some interesting flavours thanks to the chili and the courgette, I was wondering why a rice dish demanded such a hefty price tag – until I tucked into the single shell-on king prawn that came with the risotto. The king prawn meat was as fresh and tangy as sushi, and cooked to juicy perfection. Although I only managed to scrape a few forkfuls of prawn meat from the shell, the price tag suddenly made sense. If I’d been served a plateful of nothing but those king prawns, I’d have gone home raving about ASK.

Also shipped to our table, was a Stromboli pizza (£8.95) The pizza arrived rustic-style, on a chopping board with an extra helping of chilis, as requested. Despite the sprinkling of chili peppers, the pizza still lacked a kick and there were complaints of it being too salty.

Finally, we were treated to the ravioli marittimo (£10.35). The pasta parcels were jam packed with a creamy mish-mash of seafood: crayfish, crab and salmon, to be precise. Like the rest of our ASK meals, the portion sizes seemed disappointing at first glance, but it’s the sheer richness of the food that leaves you stuffed. Topped with a herby tomato sauce and a few prawns, the ravioli completely finished our reviewer off.

However, we had one major gripe with ASK, and that’s how quickly the food arrived. While speediness is usually a good thing for rumbling tums, it meant we’d ordered and finished our food in under twenty minutes. Paying nearly £13 for a risotto that’s ready in ten minutes leaves you feeling cheated.

To stretch out our evening, we felt compelled to order a round of hot drinks and some puddings. Just like the carafes and quirky water jugs, our lattes (£2.15 each) arrived in style. Served in neat glass mugs with silver handles and white saucers, the presentation was faultless. Meanwhile, the honeycomb cheesecake hit the spot, although at £5.25 it was rather pricey for just one slice.

Our experience at ASK was a bit of a mixed bag. They certainly know their way around seafood, but the prices are a bit on the steep side, especially for food that arrives in under ten minutes. If you want to make an evening out of ASK, be prepared to shell out for plenty of extras. We were left stuffed, but with the nagging feeling that our evening out was over too quickly.

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