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      22.05.2013 10:39
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      Nice enough Italian accented dishes, but they really do need to work on the speed of service

      A recent trip to Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth saw us looking for a spot of lunch after a morning's shopping. As per usual I'd taken a wee peek at Money Saving Expert the day before we went to see if any of the restaurants at Gunwharf were doing any special deals. Sadly the deals were rather thin on the ground and I was limited to either Café Rouge or Azurro. I didn't really fancy either of them so I was rather pleased to find a last minute entry from Strada where they were offering £20 off four main courses. Just like Ask, Prezzo, Bella Italia, Pizza Express, Carluccio's, Azzurro and Zizzi, Strada also offer Italian themed dining. To be honest there are so many different brands on our high streets all offering the same sort of Italian dishes at the same sort of prices it does make one wonder how they can all manage to scratch a living. Having been underwhelmed by distinctly average food at nearly all of the above, I hoped Strada were going to impress the hell out of me. ~*~ POSIZIONE, BENVENUTO E ATMOSFERA ~*~ The Portsmouth Strada is located at Gunwharf Quays, a vast leisure complex which houses a cinema, bowling alley and casino as well as tons of restaurants and high street outlet shops. The focal points of Gunwharf are the renowned Spinnaker Tower and the Lipstick (a huge block of flats shaped like a lipstick), both of which can be seen for miles all around. Strada is located in a very nice spot approximately halfway between Spinnaker Tower and the Lipstick. Although set back from views over Portsmouth Harbour itself, Strada still overlooks the waterway that adjoins the harbour so you do still get pleasant waterside views. The venue has plenty of outdoor seating, and it must a lovely spot for lunch or dinner on a warm summer's day. Sadly the bitter winds of February did not encourage us to linger outside and admire the views, so we hurried on indoors. Strada at Gunwharf is rather large. The venue is split over two floors with plenty of indoor dining space as well as tables and chairs on the balcony upstairs and the terrace on the ground floor. We dined there on a Wednesday lunchtime in February so none of the outdoor space was being used, and neither were any of the tables upstairs. It has to be said that the restaurant wasn't all that busy, and I estimate that about half of the tables within the ground floor area were occupied by diners. This was just as well for us, as were hadn't booked in advance and just took pot luck on whether they'd be able to accommodate us. Upon entry we were greeted almost immediately and invited to sit where we liked. The venue is very light and bright inside due to the huge glass fronted picture windows to the front of the place and mirrored walls and pillars to the back which reflect all that light back into the room. The décor inside feels quite retro mainly due to all the low hanging paper shades suspended from the ceiling (I can remember the same sort of spherical paper lightshade over the dining table at home when I was growing up in the 70's!). The venue also has a predominance of wood everywhere, not just the tables and chairs, but the bar and a huge oak staircase leading up to the first floor. All in all, it's very light and bright in Strada and it had a nice welcoming atmosphere. ~*~ IL MENU ~*~ Strada offer traditional Italian cuisine with a well rounded range of all the dishes you'd expect to find on any good Italian menu. There are salads, antipasti, pizza, pasta and risotto on offer. Starters (antipasti) feature all the usual suspects from Olives, Ciabatta, Bruschetta, Zuppa (soup) and Flat Breads with prices ranging from £2.25 to £6.95. Main courses offer a goodly amount of choice but aren't over heavy on the pizza and pasta front. Yes, you can have both pizza or pasta, but there are plenty of alternative dishes if pizza isn't your sort of thing (that'll be me then!). There are lots of more interesting meat and fish dishes such as Branzino Basilico (panfried sea bass on basil mash) or Agnello Brasato (lamb shank) or Tegamaccio (seafood stew). If you like your Italian cooking to be limited to pizza there are eight different flavoured pizzas to choose from ranging from your bog standard Margherita through to a slightly more exotic Contadina (goat's cheese, aubergine and caramelised onions). There are six different pasta dishes ranging from Spaghetti, Linguine or Penne, and there is a choice of three different Risotto concoctions as well. Pizza, pasta and risotto prices tend to range between £7.95 to £12.25. The meat and fish main courses are slightly more expensive and range from just over £10.00 up to £16.95. The dessert card is short but sweet and features old Italian favourites such as Pannacotta, Tiramisu, Gelato and Sorbetto. Dessert prices range from £3.95 to £5.25 apiece. ~*~ IL NOSTRO PASTO ~*~ Our waitress offered us a choice of olives or garlic bread with our drinks order, but we declined any of these as we were keen to get stuck straight into the main event. Before we ordered we clarified with the waitress that the discount voucher I was clutching in my sweaty palm was valid and that we would receive a £20 discount on four main courses. She said she would confirm if there was a problem, and as we heard nothing further we assumed all was well. Our discount voucher allowed us to choose any dish from the main courses, be it pizza, pasta, risotto, salad or meat/fish dishes, and there were more than enough to choose from. After some deliberation, I chose the Pollo Milanese at £10.95 which was described as Panfried Chicken Breast covered in Grana Padano cheese, lemon zest and breadcrumbs with a tomato and basil sauce. The dish was served with roasted new potatoes and green beans. My mother was going to order the Gamberoni (sautéed king prawns with garlic, white wine, red chilli butter and parsley), but thought it may be a little too spicy for a luncheon dish. Therefore she decided to join me in having the Pollo Milanese. The chicken breast had been beaten flat and then coated in crispy breadcrumb. The chicken was nice and moist inside the crumb and the coating nice and crunchy. Unfortunately I couldn't taste any of the cheese or lemon the dish should have had in either the breadcrumb or the chicken, but it was still tasty enough. The tomato and basil sauce was a very nice accompaniment and added a bit of flavour to the chicken which tasted a little bland on its own. The dish was served with a small portion of green beans and new potatoes. All in all, this was a tasty enough dish and I thought it was reasonable value for £10.95. My partner and my father both chose the Bistecca Manzo at £16.95 which is a 35 day aged chargrilled 250g rib-eye steak marinated in rosemary. It came served with caramelised onions and peppers, roasted new potatoes. They also had a choice of sauce with their steak and both of them went for the Marsala sauce rather than the Gorgonzola one. They both enjoyed their steak as it had a lovely chargrilled flavour to it. The Marsala sauce was a nice accompaniment as it was rich yet quite subtle, so it didn't detract from the main event which should always be the steak in this case. Marsala would certainly be my choice too as a cheesy Gorgonzola sauce sounds like it may be a little too overpowering. Gorgonzola is a cheese that makes its presence felt so I cannot see it lending any subtlety to a sauce! Where the dish fell down was the rather risible portion of potatoes accompanying the steak. Both thought that the portion of new potatoes was rather on the mean side. As they were paying £16+ apiece for their meal, it seemed rather mean not to serve this steak with a bigger portion of potatoes and at least one, if not two, side dishes. They were both asked if they'd like some broccoli with their steak, but had luckily spotted that this would add a whopping £2.95 to the dish so it would cost just shy of £20. All the side dishes at Strada are priced at £2.95 each and that seems a little greedy. For the portion served, I thought that the £17 price tag on this dish was a little cheeky. They should throw in a couple of sides and up the potato portion to increase the perceived value here. My mother and I lingered for a dessert apiece whilst my partner and father returned to the pub next door for another pint (more on that later...). My mother chose Affogato at £4.95 which is iced nougat semi-froddo ice-cream with a shot of hot, fresh espresso to pour over the top. I'd never heard of Affogato before but it is evidently a favourite of my mother's and she pronounced the Strada version as one of the best desserts she has had in eons. Affogato is Italian for "drowned" and it gives its name to the dessert as it is a scoop of vanilla gelato (ice cream) literally drowned in a shot of hot espresso. It did look mighty tasty, but she wasn't letting me try it no matter how much I pleaded :o( Instead I had to make do with my choice of Cioccolato Fondente at £5.25. This was a chocolate fondente (steam pudding) served warm with one of those melting chocolate centres. The dish was served with vanilla ice-cream. Whilst I enjoyed this pudding, I did think that the chocolate fondente was rather miniscule and it looked rather lonely on the huge plate it was served on. The melting middle, however, was as rich and gooey as one would expect it to be. ~*~ IL SERVIZIO E LE BEVANDE ~*~ Strada offer a full selection of mainly Italian accented drinks. My mother and I stuck to bottles of mineral water at £3.50 apiece. However, there were plenty of other tempting options if you like wine with your meal. Wines, not surprisingly, have a mostly Italian origination with red Valpolicella and Chianti and white Soave. If Italian wines don't appeal there are plenty of choices from other countries too. Beers-wise you're limited to bottled lagers with the matching horrendous prices. Strada offer Peroni lager at a vastly inflated £3.60 for one tiny 330ml bottle. My father and partner were most unimpressed as they had expected a venue of this size to have at least one draught lager on offer. They both made do with a Peroni apiece but grumbled intermittently about the price and the fact that their bottles weren't all that chilled. After muttering amongst themselves for about ten minutes that one tiny 330ml wasn't going to hit the spot or do much in the way of quenching their thirst, my partner hit upon the bright idea of going next door to the pub and having a "proper" pint. As my mother and I raised no objections they duly hot footed it to the Fullers Brewery pub next door to Strada, The Old Customs House, where they enjoyed a pint apiece for less than the overpriced tiny beers at Strada. We were slightly concerned that their food would arrive whilst they were in the pub next door, but we had no worries on that front. From the time of ordering to the delivery of our food we were kept waiting for 50 minutes, so they could have had plenty of time to enjoy not one, but at least three pints next door if they'd have wanted to. Considering Strada was rather quiet with at best 25% capacity, I have no idea quite why it took them 50 minutes to serve our food. Goodness knows how they'd cope if they had a rush on! When we were paying our bill, our waitress asked us if we had enjoyed our meal, and my mother said that although the food was good, a 50 minute wait for its delivery seemed a little slow. The waitress replied that it was because all the food was freshly cooked, but that seemed a little too pat and rehearsed to us, so one suspects it's an ongoing problem. Nothing we ordered was all that complicated - two steaks and two chicken breasts. I very much doubt they are rolling out the chicken breasts and coating them in breadcrumbs on site to create our Pollo Milanese. The breadcrumb coating certainly didn't look homemade - it looked very much like the sort of thing that is made on mass and shipped out to all the freezers in all the Strada outlets. Delays in food service aside, the service was mostly attentive and always friendly. It would have been nice if our waitress had dropped by our table after 30 minutes or so to explain there was a delay in the kitchen, but she studiously avoided our table until the food was actually ready. I do think that a 50 minute wait for lunch is unacceptable without an apology or an explanation, and Strada need to work on that if they cannot improve the speed of service in the kitchen. Thanks to Money Saving Expert, we had a printed off discount voucher entitling us to £20 off four main courses. Therefore the final bill came to £57.50 for four main courses, two desserts and a round of drinks. I certainly wouldn't have wanted to pay £77.50 for the same meal, but thought it was good enough value once the discount had been applied. The food was certainly tasty enough when it finally arrived, just not particularly outstanding. ~*~ RACCOMANDAZIONE? ~*~ Would I return to Strada? And how did they fare in comparison to all the other middle of the road Italian high street chains I've dined at? The food was nice enough, but not all that special. Strada, like its Italian competitors, is just serving generic high street cooking with an Italian accent, and you can sit yourself in any Pizza Express, Ask, Zizzi, Strada, Carluccios etc etc and eat exactly the same sort of dishes in the same sort of surroundings. It would be nice if one of them rose head and shoulders above the rest and did something a little bit different so they stood out from the crowd. Three stars from me - the food was nice enough, but generic. The drinks are overpriced, but expected in this type of venue. However, where they really let themselves down was the slowness of the service. A fifty minute wait in a virtually empty restaurant without explanation or apology is just simply not good enough. Strada need to pull their socks up, and fast. There is so much competition at Gunwharf Quays, diners will vote with their feet and go swiftly elsewhere. I would eat at Strada again, but I wouldn't be in any tearing hurry and there would have to be two provisos.....the first being only if I had a good hefty discount voucher and the second only if they did something about the speed of the kitchen. ~*~ ALTRE COSE ~*~ There are over 70 Strada outlets throughout the UK. Strada is owned by the Tragus Group Ltd (http://www.tragusgroup.com), who also run all the Café Rouge, Bella Italia, Amalfi and Belgo outlets (amongst other lesser known brands). Strada R2-R3 City Quay Gunwharf Quays Portsmouth Harbour Portsmouth Hampshire PO1 3TW Telephone: 012392-817278 Email: portsmouth@strada.co.uk Website: http://www.strada.co.uk/italian-restaura​nt/portsmouth-gunwharf-quays - The website displays the full menu, a restaurant search facility and an online reservation system - Opening hours: 11.30am to 11.00pm (NB: closes at 10.30pm on Sundays) - All major credit cards are accepted - Disabled access is rather poor as there are steps up to enter the venue and all the toilets are upstairs - Dress code is relaxed and informal - Vegetarian options are clearly marked on the menu - Free WiFi

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        15.12.2012 20:53
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        A great restaurant

        Strada is a restaurant chain that I had never even heard of before until recently. There isn't one in Nottingham as far as I know and there definitely isn't one in Grimsby. However, while in London recently and not being able to find the restaurant we were supposed to go to, Strada seemed like the next best option and it was right where we were anyway. The Strada I will be reviewing is Strada Marketplace, London. == Restaurant Information == 9-10 Market Place, London W1W 8AQ 020 7580 4644 == My Experience == This particular restaurant is really easy to find. The best tube station to get off at is Oxford Circus and you just need to head behind Top Shop in order to find Marketplace. Here there is a range of restaurants. Strada is on the left hand side and right in the middle of the street. All I knew about Strada before actually eating there was that it served Italian food. The restaurant had an outside eating area although I definitely didn't want to sit there as it was freezing and had been raining all day. Upon entering the restaurant, we were asked if we had reservations (which we didn't) then shown to a tiny table shoved in the corner. The space around the table was tiny and although the table next to us was empty when we arrived, it was soon filled and there was a struggle for the other people to get in and for us to get out after we were done. The restaurant was dimly lit, which did give it a lovely romantic and intimate feel to it although this made me wish I was there with my fiancé instead of my flatmate! The closeness of the tables added to the intimacy although for me this was not a good thing. It seems as though they just wanted to pack in as many tables as possible especially as the restaurant is quite small. However, I did like the setting of the restaurant and it also made going out for a meal feel more special than it actually was. This would be a lovely place to go with your other half. After only being sat down for a couple of minutes, we were asked if we were ready to order and if we wanted any drinks. Having barely looked at the menu at this point, we ordered 2 cokes which cost £2.35 each. A glass bottle of coke was brought over along with a small glass with ice and lemon in. The waitress then left us alone for a good 5 minutes in order for us to decide what we wanted to order. My flatmate opted for the Rigatoni Speck pasta which consisted of a creamy sauce of Gorgonzola cheese, smoked speck ham and rocket with rigatoni pasta and this cost £10.95. I went for a basic margherita pizza which cost £7.95. We always tend to share dishes when we go out to eat so I figured I didn't want to get pasta as well so that way we would both get something different. We also has Algio which is a basket of hand stretched flat bread topped with garlic & rosemary to share between us and this cost £4.95. Considering that the restaurant was nearly full, it only took 10 minutes for our meals to arrive. My pizza was absolutely massive and it made me wish we didn't order the side of garlic bread as well. The base of the pizza was lovely and thin, making it crispy on the edges but softer in the middle. The top was loaded with cheese on top of a wonderful tomato base. Although this is a basic pizza, and with not much to it, it tasted great. My flatemate's pasta was even nicer though. The cheese sauce was rich and creamy and mixed with the ham and rocket, there was a good mixture of flavours and textures. The pasta itself was soft and extremely hot and that made it an all-round very nicely tasting dish. The garlic bread was soft and crispy at the same time in different places and the garlic not too overpowering. We were not pressured to hurry up during our meal and someone only came over once to make sure everything was ok. I liked this about Strada because sometimes, a waiter or waitress can come over too much and it makes it feel like you should have been gone a while ago. The atmosphere at this restaurant was nice and relaxed although the service was spot on. After our meals we were asked if we wanted dessert but we were far too full so we asked for the bill, paid (with a tip) and left. == Overall == Although I had never been to a Strada restaurant before, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit here and would now happily go again.

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          18.11.2012 18:00
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          Decent option for a dinner out but not the most exciting

          Strada is an Italian chain restaurant which I have been to a couple of times. I tend to see it as similar to Carluccios, Zizzi etc. Last Friday I went to Strada opposite Spitalfields market in London and my review is talking about that branch. --- Location --- This is a great convenient location which is easy to walk to from the City, Shoreditch or other nearby areas. The closest station is Liverpool Street which is about 5 minutes walk away or less (if you use the Bishopsgate exit). There are also plenty of buses. --- Look and Cleanliness of Restaurant --- The restaurant has a pleasant but non descript look to it inside. I could hardly even tell you about the interior now because it was not particularly memorable! We did not see any hygiene or cleanliness issues which caused concern and everything seemed clean. However the toilets were not great as the hand drier did not work and they did not keep them fully stocked with toilet paper. The only toilet I could see was one disabled one, so if there are others they are not clearly signed at all. --- Staff --- The staff were polite and friendly, and they were pretty quick to serve whenever we needed anything. They checked back during the meal to see if everything was okay. They all looked smart in uniform but my sister complained to me that one waitress really smelled of cigarette smoke which put her slightly off her meal as she hates this smell, but I did not notice it. Then again I was sitting on the "inside" seat by the wall, and my sister had her back to the aisle so she was always closer to the staff, so had more chance to notice these things. On the whole I didn't really have any complaints with the staff. --- Menu and choice --- The menus were given to us straight away along with a separate drinks menu. There is a fair range of food to choose from. For staters they have bruschetta, mozzarella and tomato, various sea food and fish items, soups and more. There are also olives and breads that are sides but you can order them as starters. We got bruschetta to share. For mains there is also a very good choice, I would say maybe a bit wider than Carluccios. They have a number of pasta dishes, pizzas, and main meat and fish dishes. There are also salads. There is a fair range of vegetarian offers for each type of food as well. As far as deserts go there are about 6 or 7 things to choose from but a lot have alcohol in them so some guests who don't drink are a bit more limited in their options. --- Food quality --- The bruschetta was nice, crisp and not soggy. It came with plenty of tomatoes which were nice fresh and flavoursome. It was no problem to share the starter between two as we simply cut it in half with no difficulty. For mains I got a risotto verdure which was a vegetarian risotto which had asparagus, peas, mint, edamame and various other veg (mainly green) in it. This was pretty nice but not the best I've had as it was a little bland. I was offered Parmesan to go on top and some of this was grated on by the waitress, which did make it a bit more flavoursome. The texture of it was okay but after eating a lot of it it started to feel quite heavy. On the whole I liked it but I wouldnt rush to order that dish again. My sister got penne buffala which was a penne pasta dish with mozzarella and tomato. This was also quite plain but she liked it. I also tried a bit and liked it. However I would find it a bit boring if I ordered that as it something very easy to make at home so doesn't feel special, but for a reasonable convenient dinner out it does the job. We decided to get a dessert to share and this was the ciocolate fondente, a hot chocolate pudding with melting middle of chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. The ice cream was really nice and creamy with a strong vanilla flavour. The pudding was a bit stodgy but still very nice. When sharing it started to get a bit too much as I was nearing the end of my half so I don't think I would rush to order a whole one for myself, and I am a person who normally loves puddings. --- Price --- We paid £40 for a starter, two mains, a dessert, 2 diet cokes and 2 coffees. I think this is pretty reasonable. The mains were about £11 each which is fairly standard for this type of chain restaurant. --- Overall --- It's a convenient restaurant with quick and friendly service. The food is fine and nice enough but in my opinion nothing to write home about. I would happily go again but it's not the first place I would pick out if I wanted a really amazing meal. I would give it 3.5 stars but since I can't give halves, it gets a solid 3 out of 5 from me.

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            22.08.2012 13:31
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            I went to Strada last thursday with a few friends. None of us had ever tried any Strada restaurants before so thought we'd give it a try. ***Location*** It is located in the recently created Spinningfields area of Manchester, however isnt in the obvious centre part where the open air cinema is, but a few minutes round the back closer to the apartment blocks. Because this part of Spinningfields is slightly hidden from view it is as a result much quieter and was actually quite eerie, however it meant we could easily get a table in the place. ***Restaurant*** The restaurant was much bigger than I expected, it is a vast space including a large bar area and a long dining area stretching out along a glass wall of windows. I was really impressed by the look of the place and overall it looked modern and new. The furniture was modern looking and the tables well spaced out. We were given the choice of where to sit which was nice and we chose a table next to the window which was nice and light. We noticed that the place was very quiet, other than a few groups of young professionals who looked like they had come direct from work, the place was deserted. This was a good thing in some respects as we hadn't made a reservation, and I suppose I would prefer that to the place being packed, yet it was almost a bit too quiet! Luckily there was subtle music playing while we were there which broke the silence in the place a little. ***Drinks*** We decided we would share a bottle of wine with the meal. There was a nice choice of wines and 3 Rose wines to choose from which ranged from £17-£21 which was reasonable. The wine was brought by the waitress in a cooler and was poured out for us. We also asked for a jug of water which arrived chilled with ice and was also poured out. We were a bit disappointed that there weren't any cocktails on the menu. Most restaurants these days, particularly chains, have a few cocktails on the drinks menu so it was a shame they didn't as we may have stayed longer if this had been the case. ***Food*** We all decided to order starters so I chose the Arancini Ragu which are risotto balls containing beef & tomato ragu and mozzarella and coated in breadcrumbs. It was £4.50 for this starter and I was a little disappointed in it. I got 3 of the breaded balls presented on a small plate with no other garnish etc, so they looked a bit odd just sat there on their own. They were nice and hot and I enjoyed the mozzarella element and the breadcrumbs they were coated in, but I could barely detect the beef and tomato ragu which I could only just see if I looked closely and could barely taste. Also the balls weren't too big and with only 3 of them it wasn't a very big starter considering the price. For my main course I ordered the Rigatoni Siciliana which was rigatoni pasta servied in a tomato & basil sauce with aubergines, courgettes, peppers and finished with ricotta. This dish was £8.75 and worth every penny. To start with the portion was generous which was a relief considering the size of the starter. There was plenty of pasta served but also lots of aubergines, pepper and courgette pieces. I often find restaurants are quite sparing with the vegetables in pasta dishes, but that wasn't the case here where there was plenty of veg in my dish. Everything was cooked well and the dish was hot when it arrived. The vegetables had plenty of taste and had clearly been cooked properly and not boiled to death. The sauce was very tasty, particularly since it was simple tomato & basil sauce, it was very rich and enjoyable. I was also pleased with the ricotta which was a generous portion placed in the centre of the bowl and lasted me throughout the dish. Therefore overall I had mixed feelings about the food but the delicious main meal definitely made up for the slightly disappointing starter. ***Service*** Because the restaurant was so quiet, despite there only being a couple of waitresses they had plenty of time to see to everything we needed. The waitress was always present to take our order when we were ready, and empty plates were cleared away quickly but we never felt rushed. The food also arrived very quickly which was a relief as we were all hungry, but again I think this is due to how quiet the place was. The waitress was also very helpful telling us the special dishes of the day and was always polite with us. We never had any need to complain or ask for anything out of the ordinary so I can't comment on how this would be handled. ***Value*** We asked for the bill and it wad brought to us quickly. Considering we had 2 courses each and wine the bill was a reasonable price and worked out at roughly £20 each including a tip. I was more than happy to pay this amount for what had been an overall good meal. We all paid in cash which was straightforward. I thought the main course was on a par with a dish I would expect from a good Italian restaurant and the price was also similar. I wouldn't say this place is a complete bargain but for the quality of the food the price was very reasonable and good value. ***Cleanliness*** The restaurant and all crockery, cutlery and glassware was immaculate and new looking. Despite the place being new, it is still clear that it is kept very clean and tidy which showed when we were there and gave me confidence in the hygiene in the kitchen area. ***Overall Opinion*** Overall this is a very good restaurant which service generally good food (depending what you order) which appears to be made from fresh ingredients and cooked freshly. The service was very pleasing and I really liked the clean modern surroundings. The only downside of the place was the lack of atmosephere due to how quiet it was, which isnt a failing of the restaurant and out of their control, but did make the whole dining experience feel slightly awkward. I can imagine this would be even worse if you went as a couple. But other than this I have no complaints and would recommend this restaurant for a good quality Italian meal at good value. ***Contact Details*** 4a Leftbank Irwell Square, Spinningfields, Manchester M3 3AN Tel: 0161 819 5691 Website: www.strada.co.uk/italian-restaurant/manc​hester-spinningfields

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              20.02.2011 18:28
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              excellent quality Italian restaurant for reasonable price

              Strada is an Italian restaurant chain owned by Tragus Ltd. The Nottingham Strada restaurant is located on Burton Street and is part of the cornerhouse entertainment complex. The restaurant is quite large and has a modern but cosy feel about it. My mum and I last visited Strada in November 2010 after I had converted my Tesco clubcard vouchers into Strada restaurant vouchers so thought I would treat my mum to a meal out. We had been to Strada a few months before and had a lovely meal so though we would go and try some more of the menu. Strada takes part in the Tesco Clubcard scheme which allows you to convert your Tesco clubcard vouchers into 3x the amount of restaurant vouchers, you can then use them to purchase food but not drinks. Although Strada often has many promotions on either the Money Saving Expert website or by registering to receive the Strada newsletter through the restaurants own website. When we arrived at the restaurant the matradee desk is located just inside the entrance. All of the seating is located on the ground floor although some is slightly elevated if you wish to sit near to the window. There is also some outdoor seating, but this would only be suitable in the warmer summer months. We were quickly greeted and shown to a table next to the window, although the view is not the best I do quite like to people watch. It was around mid-afternoon on a Friday and there were quite a few people in the restaurant, sometimes when I pass Strada in the day it is often empty but busy in the evening. As we were shown to the table we were also given the food and drinks menus. We were waiting around 10 minutes before our waiter came over and took our drink orders as well as our starter and main courses as we told him that we had already decided what we would like. He was very friendly and told us that our drinks would be with us shortly. On this occasion for starters I opted for the Funghi Timo e Crema (£4.95) a selection of mushrooms with garlic in a cream, porcini and thyme sauce on grilled polenta and grana pandano. My mum chose the Bruchetta con Peperonata (£4.95) a ciabatta with warm caramelised pepper and onion peperonata, crumbled goats' cheese and fresh basil. For the main course both my mum and I choose to have the Saltimbocca di Maiale (£12.95) a fillet of pork with sage and Parma ham with potato puree, green beans and a white wine, sage and butter sauce. We also ordered a bottle Il Padrino Bianco White Wine (£13.95) which was described as having juicy fruit salad flavours from sunny Sicily. The waiter quickly returned with the bottle of wine and asked if we would like to try it before he poured us full glasses. He also brought over a complementary bottle of filtered water which I think is a great touch and wish more restaurants would do this as I do not like to pay for bottled water but can be made to feel a little mean if you ask for tap. The starters soon followed, they were both a good size and looked very presentable. I have never had grilled polenta before but was rather impressed as it worked fantastically with the mushrooms. My mum's bruchetta was also very good and had a wonderfully fresh taste. Our main course came out around 10 minutes later and was as also lovely, the pork was tender and melted in your mouth and was complemented beautifully with the sauce. Our waiter did come over to us both during the starter and the main course to check that everything was alright with our meal. He also offered us the coffee and desserts menu after we had finished the main courses. We decided to treat ourselves and both chose a dessert which does not seem to now be on the menu but was like an amaretto and chocolate cheesecake served with whipped cream (£4.95). When the dessert first came over I did think the two triangular pieces on the plate looked rather tiny. But as soon as I began to eat the dessert it became clear that in fact the two pieces were rather generous as they were very rich and indulgent and I did almost struggle to eat it all. I did also make a trip to the ladies while in there which is on the upper floor so quite a few steps to contemplate but I did notice a disabled toilet on the lower level making the restaurant fully accessible. The ladies toilets were very clean and fresh smelling, fully stocked with toilet roll and even hand cream. When I asked for the bill I presented the waiter with our Tesco restaurant vouchers which he happily accepted. The bill arrived and was all correct, although I will warn you that Strada do add on a 10% optional service charge to the bill. This is something that I do not like at restaurants as I like to decide for myself whether the service and food quality has been good enough to justify leaving a tip. In conclusion it was a great meal with good service and I would recommend anyone liking Italian food to try it. Strada have a great selection of dishes from, pasta, pizza, risotto and salads. Also keep an eye out for discount vouchers by signing up for the Strada newsletter on their website www.strada.co.uk or by visiting www.moneysavingexpert.co.uk

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                06.02.2011 22:21
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                Loved Strada - Will go again!!

                My husband and I recently walked past Strada and thought we would pop in and well i'm glad we did. Although we hadn't booked a table the staff managed to get us seated straight away. We enjoyed a basket of garlic bread to start and opted for a chicken dish for the main, we then finished the meal off with a dessert. I found the portion sizes were really good, as in the past I have visited restaurants and felt over faced by the amount of food they have provided. At the end of the meal, I felt full without feeling sick or that I had over indulged. The meal was delicious and each dish came out in good time, we didn't feel like we were waiting in between courses, however we also didn't feel rushed through the meal. We were also given a complimentary bottle of water for the table, which was nice to drink alongside the meal and also meant we didn't have to purchase more than one drink each. There was a family at the table next to us with a young boy whose birthday it was, the staff had decorated his table and bought him out some balloons, they also put candles and sparklers in his dessert and together sang happy birthday to him. He looked so thrilled and his parents were so proud as they took pictures, these little extras can really make a difference to the mood within a restaurant and I thought the effort the staff made with the little boy was lovely.

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                09.08.2010 20:48
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                A first-class dining experience!

                I cannot praise the Strada highly enough. I have eaten at the Strada (ICC Birmingham) several times now before evening concerts. The quality of service is simply superb, and the menu has a wide selection of items. The Strada is perhaps most famed for its authentic Italian pizzas. I say 'authentic' because they are how pizzas should be, not like those thick flabby things you buy in the supermarket topped with peculiar things like pineapple! I can highly recommend the Pizza Florentine...how do they get that egg to be cooked so perfectly in the middle!?!? Alongside the pizzas, there's an interesting choice of meat, pasta, fish and salad dishes. There is a delightful selection of starters, and some extremely temping deserts (including a chocolate pudding to die for). The food is clearly freshly prepared with top-class ingredients. For me though, the most important thing about the Strada, is the quality of service offered. No request is too menial for the staff to handle (right down to providing a bowl of water for a guide dog!). The fact that customers have the option to not pay the service charge is an incentive for the waiting staff to provide a really top-quality service. I have never yet seen anyone refuse to pay this charge, and in addition, I've seen many leave tips too. These days, it's so difficult to find pleasant places to eat; there are so many faceless chains around, but luckily, the Strada really has maintained its individuality.

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                23.04.2010 18:41
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                Lovely italian restaurant, just don't go to the Richmond branch

                Strada is a relatively well known Italian restaurant which has 'branches' all over the country. Personally I have been to 3 of them - one on South Bank (London), Richmond (Surrey) and Portsmouth. The restaurant: Each one is styled in the same general fashion, regardless of size. The main colour that dominates the restaurant is red and the furniture is dark brown, with tables often closely packed together. Menu: I've never been to Italy so I can't give an opinion on whether the food tastes like authentic Italian food, but it is good. They do a wide range of pizza's, pastas and risotto etc. with the menu available to download from their website (http://www.strada.co.uk/assets/pdf/strada_main_menu.pdf) so you can decide if there's anything that takes your fancy before you even go! I usually end up having the Rigatoni Speck e Gorgonzola (pasta in a creamy sauce with smoked ham) which is absolutely delicious. The only thing I would say is that I wish the portions were bigger! Staff: Generally speaking I've found the staff to be polite and helpful - they don't make you wait ages before taking any drink and food orders and they check to make sure you're happy with the meal. I did have one negative staff experience though - my mum and I decided to go to Strada in Richmond for an early christmas meal together (she was going to be in Australia at christmas so we were celebrating early). I got my usual pasta and mum ordered one of the risottos, as she started eating she discovered a hair in her food so called over one of the waitresses. The waitress took away the hair and said she'd tell the manager - a couple of minutes later the manager comes back, with the hair and says 'I'm not saying anything but the hair you found is red and no one who works here has red hair' then looked at me in an accusatory manner (I had dyed red hair at the time). I was annoyed that she obviously thought the hair was mine and that I had planted it in my mum's food to get something off the bill. I pointed out that the hair was a different shade of red and my head never went near my mum's plate of food (on the other side of the table) and she said 'Well you can have it for free, this time.' Needless to say I was very unimpressed at her attitude. I wrote a letter to Strada's head office to complain (no point in writing to the Richmond one seeing as she was the one in charge) and never heard anything back. Prices: The food prices aren't too high - I can't remember exactly as I haven't been in a while, but most mains are under £10. They also have a set lunch menu which has a discount and if you go online you can often find vouchers for Strada such as buy one get one free/ half price or buy one get one for £1 (usually only valid between Monday and Thursdays).

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                02.02.2010 13:34
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                Cheap and quick, somewhat lacking in charm

                I went to the Queen's Street (London) Strada last week for lunch with a friend. It was my first visit to a Strada, eventhough there appear to be 100s around - how has it escaped my radar? My friend works in Holborn so suggested Strada for lunch as it was close to her and you can get a lunch deal for £8.95 including drink so it was worth a try. We arrived just after 1230 and it was relatively empty. We were the first people upstairs and first impressions were (apart from the mega heavy front door) clean, cramped chain restaurant. The table they tried to offer us would have left us fighting to get out so we opted for a larger one near the till. The lunch deal menu is quite varied, I opted for sardines with ciabatta and rocket salad, my friend had some pasta. Sadly we couldn't take up the included booze (driving, work etc) we went for soft drinks which were of a good quality. The food came quite quickly, there was an offer of some parmesan for my friend but not even an oversized pepper mill - we had to do this ourselves. I was disappointed with my meal, the sardines were quite fiddly, and there wasn't really much room on the plate or for my elbows to really get stuck in. The rocket salad wasn't dressed and the whole plate was really bland - a shame really as I love italian food and it doesn't take much to make it tasty. My companion's pasta looked very nice, she was impressed but there wasn't much of it. By the time we'd finished the restaurant was full, so they would appear to concentrate on quantity rather than quality, but for £8.95 in central London it wasn't bad. At service charge was added (think about 10%) which we paid as the service was quite good - too busy to hover over us but brought stuff as and when required. I don't think I'll go back again for lunch, as it did feel a bit cramped and rushed, but I would try one for dinner (if hubby is reading) as I feel it might be a bit more relaxed and the menu looked good.

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                  14.12.2009 10:41
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                  Italians themselves give Strada the thumbs-up.

                  Having spent several years in Italy, I know what to expect from Italian food. I also know, from friends working in restaurants, that a lot of so-called Italian restaurants here are actually owned by people who are not only Italian, but not even European! While the basic concept of Italian food is not hard to understand and can be replicated by anyone, perfecting it is quite another matter, and satisfying the demanding taste of the pleasure eater is harder than just filling a drunken stomach with any greasy pizza. Alright - So I don't know who actually owns Strada, and if they're Italian or not. But if they aren't, they must have spent ages researching the subject, because it's as close as it gets to real Italian food. At least out of the big chain restaurants, Strada is the one I prefer. Let's get straight to the point; their pizzas are good. consistent with how an Italian restaurant would cook a pizza. Now, there is a huge variation even within Italy how this is done, but there are things an Italian pizzeria would never do, and Strada's pizzas stay within the boundaries. I don't know what exactly it is, but there is a balance of flavour and texture that is so often lost in cheaper 'italian' eateries in this country, and this is certainly not the case here. Not only they are faithful to the real thing, but these pizzas are actually good. They won't necessarily be loaded with ingredients, they will tend to be simple but that's the whole point. So, if you eat there, make sure you have one. The non-pizza elements of the menu are also very satisfying. While there has been an adjustment made to better meet the target audience, the recipes used are very much the classics, and my impression is that the ingredients they use are fresh. Their appetizers are also definitely worth ordering, even if some of them sound humble and appear overpriced for what they are. You'll realise they were actually priced in the right range. The beauty of Italian food is that even a bowl of olives can add a great deal of satisfaction to a nice meal, if the quality is up to scratch. The drinks they have are nice in that they include a few lesser known items such as some Italian beers that the connoisseur will recognise and appreciate. I like these restaurants. I don't tend to go there if I'm hungry and I have an itch to scratch for Italian food, no, there's better places for these cases. I tend to go there when I really want a fine meal, because that's what I usually get. I tend to spend around the £20-25 mark without wine for a full meal; I would not suggest going there just for a pizza. I would rather recommend sitting down, taking your time, looking at the menu and making your pick of appetizers, main course and pizza - although it may be a good idea to share at least one of these items with your partner if your stomach isn't so big.

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                  14.11.2009 02:04
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                  Use it as a pizzaria

                  I exclusively visit the Strada Manchester so my review is based purely on that outlet. In terms of the building it is has been opened alongside several chain restaurants in the new Spining Fields area of town, conveniently next door to where i work which allows me to take advantage of the restaurant at lunch and in the evening The interior is contemporary, relaxing but lacks any real character and i have never visited when it has been more than 50% full so you can feel isolated and cold when dinning. Service as whole is friendly but at times lacks urgency especially considering they never seem to have much trade. The lunch time menu is great a main and a beer for £7.95 although choice can be a limited you can guarantee to be seated watered and fed with 45mins. In the evening you have a much more comprehensive menu to choose from. Most of the time i will plump for the fiorentina pizza which is by far and away the best pizza i have had from any franchise restaurant in terms of taste and portion size(it must be 12 inches) as for the rest of the mains its sadly a different story having tried dinning partners main course they tend to be bland, over salty and just don't come up to standard for the price tag. Moving on to pricing i am fortunate to a have a dinning card to get me 50% off main courses but without you are looking at 2 mains and 2 drinks between £18-£25 add more for a bottle of wine. Overall stick with the pizza and this place can mix with any of the franchises

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                  04.09.2009 01:30
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                  I won't be coming back!

                  I've never understood the fascination with Strada. And I *love* Italian food. I'd visited a couple of the restaurants before: one in Leamington Spa and one in Richmond. But sadly my experience had been of bland, under seasoned food at high prices. However, I tried to give the chain another chance when wandering the streets with a friend in Covent Garden. I knew she loved it so I suggested we ate there. It was a Tuesday evening, about 7.30 pm and very busy. We waited for 10 minutes and were then seated in a very peculiar offside room which was a bit dark and dingy, but very private and good for conversation and we weren't going to complain, they'd clearly made an effort to find us a table. We ordered a bottle of the house white between us which was surprisingly pleasant and well priced at £12.99 a bottle. We then perused the menu: a mix of classic Italian main courses, risottos, pastas and pizzas. The dishes all sounded appetizing, if slightly simple; the sort of stuff you could knock up at home in ten minutes after reading 'Jamies' Italy'. My friend eventually opted for a Fiorentina and I, a pasta dish with blue cheese and parma ham, at the waiter's recommendation. The service was quick and impressive albeit slightly rushed, although hey, they're not going to hang about chatting when they're that busy. The food arrived quickly and my friend seemed to enjoy her pizza. My pasta, I'm sad to say it, was very bland and lacked seasoning, while the pasta was so 'al dente' I could feel it sliding down the back of my throat - not nice! The dish tasted very much like macaroni cheese and there was no hint of blue cheese at all. There were a few thin strips of parma ham scattered on top, but not enough to balance the cheesiness of the sauce. The price of the meal came to around £34 for two and although that may not sound much, I couldn't help but think of what a lovely meal we could have prepared at home for that much! Although, I must admit that the restaurant had a wonderful ambience and I can imagine it would be an enjoyable place to spend the evening with friends. However, I can't help but think the standard of the food isn't up to scratch and I won't be hurrying back!

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                    30.07.2009 15:44
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                    An average Italian chain serving average food despite being marketed as more upmarket

                    I eat out a lot but I had never eaten out at Strada until only recently where I dined at Strada restaurants twice a month. The first experience was in the Newcastle restaurant which was pleasant but average and the second in the Birmingham ICC restaurant where the experience was slightly below average. Before dining here a close friend had raved about how good the food was and what a "posh Italian" this was after she had dined at Strada. Being honest I thought it was exactly the same as Zizzi's or Est Est Est; average only slightly more pricey. ***Restaurant / Location*** Strada is described on the website as "all about great quality, freshly prepared pizzas, pastas and risottos served in stylish, contemporary surroundings". I would definitely agree with the later part of this statement that in the two Strada restaurants I dined in the surroundings were stylish and contemporary. The Newcastle Strada restaurant is less than a year old, and the place does have a very "new" feel. Wooden floors, light modern furniture and a very airy clean feel to the restaurant. Dark wood with leather seating and lots of chrome. The restaurant is on two levels with a mezzanine level, and the front of the restaurant has floor to ceiling windows which makes the restaurant very light and feel spacious. The restaurant is located next to Eldon Square, Newcastle's main shopping centre. The restaurant is great for during he day and although it is in the City Centre if you are dining at night and want to go to a bar after you will need to walk 5 minutes in each direction in order to find somewhere suitable. The Birmingham ICC restaurant also had a light and airy feel to it but not so much so as the Newcastle restaurant. Although it was raining and dull outside, however lighting in the restaurant compensated for this but did not make the lighting feel harsh and artificial. Colour scheme and décor wise this restaurant was very similar to the Newcastle restaurant. The restaurant is split over two levels a raised area which holds around 10 tables of 4 and a lower area which has around 30 tables. The location of the restaurant is right outside of the Birmingham ICC (hence the name). The restaurant is canal side. If you cross the canal bridge you are in an area where there are lots of bars less than a one minute walk away. The toilets in both restaurants were also immaculate as was every aspect of the restaurant. A very positive first impression! ***Food/ Menu/ Prices *** The menu for both times I dined here was exactly the same. I did not sample the desserts therefore I cannot comment on these. The menu has a wide choice of dishes of pizza, pasta, risottos and meat, although in comparison to some chain restaurants the menu does not have as many dishes. The starters menu for example in Strada contained 8 dishes; a mix of hot and cold starters, 6 pasta dishes and 4 risotto dishes. The choice of pizzas is quite large. The first time I visited I ordered a mozzarella salad (£4.95) this was a generous portion but was average. The salad was fresh however the mozzarella pieces were overly rubber and the cheese was not as creamy as you get in the likes of Zizzi's or Est Est Est and bordered on bland. The second time I dined here I ordered polenta con funghi (£4.95). This was gorgeous; the polenta was cooked perfectly and was moist. The mushrooms and sauce was creamy and you could taste garlic but the garlic was not overpowering and spoilt the other flavours in the sauce. From the main menu, the first time I dined here I ordered Pollo con Funghi (£10.95) which I ate but did not fully enjoy it. This was chicken, with porchini mushrooms with cream and marjoram sauce with new potatoes. The new potatoes were not cooked fully so were hard and raw. The sauce on the chicken was lovely but because the chicken was overcooked it was dry and therefore I felt that there was not enough sauce. On my second visit I opted for a pasta dish. I could not decide between Orecchiette Salsicca e Brocolli (£8.95) or Panzerotti Porchini (£8.95). I opted for the Orcecchiette as I liked the sound of the red chilli butter as a sauce however my friend ordered the Panzerotti Porchini so we decided to share our dishes. When my meal arrived I was surprised at the amount of pasta and the lack of "sauce" the pasta just appeared dry. The dish did contain sausage, which did not look like sauce pieces more just mashed up meat however not a lot of it. There was also 3 small pieces of broccoli within the dish. Not a good start. I love spicy food and I am the type of person who eats jalapeño peppers by the jar. When I tasted the dish even I was surprised how spicy the meal was. After chewing about 3 pieces of pasta all I could taste was chilli. My mouth was actually burning and extremely uncomfortable; a sensation I rarely experience. All other flavours could not be tasted due to the hot chilli taste in my mouth. The sausage just had a mushy consistency in my mouth and I could just taste chilli rather than a meaty taste. My friend who I was sharing my dish with likes medium but not overly hot dishes. After one taste of my pasta she was gulping down wine complaining her mouth was on fire. After the remaining members of the group tried the meal they all agreed the meal was inedible for "normal" people. When I looked back at the menu there was no mention of this being a hot dish or a warning that it was overly spicy. I ate a fair amount but due to the amount of pasta left about half of the dish. What was surprising is that everyone else who ordered pasta dishes had small portions. We ordered two bottles of house wine which was £12.95 per bottle. Average price for a bottle of house white if not a couple of pounds higher than in Zizzi's but it was very nice house white and did not taste cheap like some house wines. The first time I dined here the bill came to £39 for two courses for two people and two soft drinks (inc service charge of 10%) . The second time the bill came to £94.90 for two courses for 4 people which included two bottles of wine. We viewed this as reasonable, if not slightly higher than I would expect to pay for a chain restaurant of this quality as the food was very average and service was extremely slow. A 10% "optional" service charge is automatically added to the bill. On my first visit Mr Lools and I paid this, but on the second visit in Birmingham to Strada my group of friends refused to pay a service charge for service that was so poor! ***Service*** As I mentioned the service was not excellent; in the Newcastle restaurant average to poor, in the Birmingham Strada poor to very poor. In Newcastle the restaurant was half full however there seemed to be a lot of staff wandering around doing nothing. It took 10 minutes after closing our menus to notice we were ready to order. The staff were friendly both who served drinks and those that served food (it was apparent some staff were there for drinks and some to serve food and they don't do help each other out when clearing tables etc). Almost 45 minutes after entering the restaurant our starters were served. This seemed a long time to wait for two mozerella salads! A quick two course early evening meal took around 1 hour 45 minutes. This was made worse by the fact it took 15 minutes for the bill to arrive after we asked. The service is the Birmingham restaurant was really poor. Once we were seated it took the waitress 20 minutes to take our orders. And another 10 minutes to give us drinks after that. As you can imagine after 30 minutes I was pretty thirsty!! The starters came after 20 minutes from ordering which was not too bad, however we were one knife short on the table. The waitress took over 10 minutes to come back with another knife. If the restaurant was busy then this would have been forgivable. However there were only 5 other tables of people in the restaurant and 5 members of staff milling around. Once finished the starters the plates were left on the table for 15 minutes when our main courses arrived. One member of staff brought our mains over whilst another cleared the table. We ordered another bottle of wine however this took 15 minutes to arrive. When we eventually came to get the bill we refused to pay the service charge as we felt not only were the staff slow for no apparent reason they were not at all friendly or helpful. ***Overall*** The service was pretty slow on both occasions but this was more than likely down to individual staff members on these occasions. The food was ok but nothing memorable or dishes that you could not get from any other Italian chain restaurant. The Strada restaurants that I visited were very light and airy and the restaurant was very contemporary, and probably more appealing aesthetically than other chain restaurants. Not a bad restaurant but not actually very good either!

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                      28.07.2009 19:56

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                      A nice restaurant, good ambience and good food.

                      I really like Strada, it is an excellent restaurant and I am never disappointed by a meal there. Of course, I can't speak for every Strada but the staff at my local one are always friendly and helpful. The food is great, although perhaps a wider selection of pasta would be good. Their pizzas are great, however, as are their puddings. In fact, I can't go to Strada without tucking into their fondente al cacao, which is absolutely to die for! Deals are available, and they have a fixed price lunch menu, which is a good deal for such nice food. The prices are slightly more expensive than their competitors however, but I do feel the quality of food and ambience is infinitely higher in Strada and I woul pick there over other italian restaurants. Not too pricey, but good food and definitely in my top restuarants to go to for a night out.

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                      23.07.2009 15:51
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                      A very ordinary restaurant with aspirations above its station

                      My mother's birthday falls on a weekday. It is decided that I (and my Tesco vouchers) will take her out for lunch and a place of her choosing...as long as it's on the Deals menu. There is a new Strada in Spinningfields, near her office. Neither of us have been, so it's the obvious choice. We arrive around 1pm to find an open door, but a deserted restaurant. We walk cautiously past empty tables and round a corner. Ah, there is another door. It too is unmanned, but the small, very small, sprinkling of diners is a little reassuring. A waitress appears. Blonde and thin, the food here is either not very good or she never gets the chance to enjoy it. Given the occupancy rate is less than 5%, it may be the former. She seats us in a table that has both a chair and, opposite it, a long bank of seating shared with other tables. As we're in the corner, it feels a bit like being in an American diner style booth. I love booths. All the tables here are already set with water glasses and cutlery except for one. The one directly next to us has clearly been used and not reset. Cleared but not cleaned, crumbs remain. This would be acceptable were the place busy, but it's not. Besides us there are just two more couples, and a group of maybe 8 people, though they're still at the menu reading stage too. I decide to count waiting staff and get to...zero. The thin blonde thing has now disappeared. Not a single employee is about. It feels like the Twilight Zone. We pick up the menus and start to read. You have to read them, not glance at them. They're pretty complicated. You can see a full menu (minus prices) here: www.strada.co.uk/assets/pdf/strada_main_menu.pdf Not a thing on it is plain or simple, but if you read the descriptions carefully you will find a lot of 'normal' Italian restaurant fare, just jazzed up with descriptions that mean very little. They have, annoyingly, not highlighted which items are suitable for vegetarians. In Mexico, this is expected. In Manchester, not so much. Our conversation goes a little something like this: "Good lord, you'd have no idea what anything was if they didn't give you descriptions" "Yes, even reading the Italian names is no help. Their idea of a 'Spinach Salad' is not my idea of one" "It's a bit pretentious" "For the north, yes. But cheap, for pretentious" "-ish. It is a chain." "So a cheapish, pretentious chain then". We may have solved the mystery of the waitress with the enviably slender thighs. She's foreign. Maybe she can't read through all the nonsense on the menu cards in front of us. We begin to play a game of 'Guess the origin of the waitress". I say not Poland or Western Europe. Maybe Russia? But I read the Sunday Times last weekend. I thought all the Russians were in Dubai now. Unless that's just the prostitutes. It is a harder and less entertaining game than 'Man or Woman?', our favoured past-time of Mexico. The slender-thighed waitress of indeterminable origins finally returns and we place our food order. A friend of hers, apparently allocated to the bar, has returned to post too and took our drinks orders while we were playing. We are brought our orders, plus a free bottle of filtered water. Clever how they don't bring this out until after you order a drink you will be paying for. But, like Coke, water just tastes better from a glass bottle. We down both. The glasses are lovely, with smooth, curved shapes and a heaviness that an unthinking flick of a wrist will not upset. Were I still in my student days, I would be pocketing one on my way out. My whole uni kitchen was equipped with lovely items thanks to the concourse Starbucks at Piccadilly Station. Back to the present, and 4 glasses on a small table for 2 do start to take up some room though. Said drinks arrived immediately, but then we are a mere 1 metre from the bar. The food takes a little longer - a whole 10 minutes in fact. Yes, the place is empty, but surely they should therefore want us to sit there a bit longer, and let passers-by think the place is buzzing. A small girl with a big voice, I can add more buzz than you might think. But no, the food is here and it's time to tuck in, lest it get cold. Alas, it already is. Luke warm pasta and bread all round. It begs the question: if you need more than 10 minutes to cook something fresh so it's piping hot when served, why would you not take the extra time needed? Are they working to some bizarre timed, Ready, Steady, Cook style rules in there? The food is so-so, complicated by the size of the table versus the size of the serving. There is a basket of garlic bread, but nowhere really to put it, especially not with all those drinks glasses, plus their accompanying 3 glass bottles. They need one of those elevating metal racks like they have in Est Est Est, to whisk it out of your way and leave the table free for more essential items, like your plate and cutlery, but they don't stretch to such things here. The pasta looks like it has no sauce on it, and some of the ingredients are a little sparse. Had you not taken the time to read the mammoth essay of a menu, you might not know it was supposed to have artichoke in it. Maybe they hope / assume you won't. It's a nice serving size though - not too much to gobble down, quickly, before it cools entirely. We wouldn't want more for lunch, but dinner might have been a different story. Feeling like we're living in a foxtrot now (slow, slow, quick, quick, slow) we have to wait a long time for our plates to be cleared after our slow start, slow ordering, and quick arrival of both food and drink. We request the puddings menu, but it is uninspired, so we leave it and go elsewhere. The Arndale has a new Gelato place just calling our name. The bill comes to about £17, but my main was a starter, and my mother's main was vegetarian and therefore not the most expensive thing on the menu. For two normal eaters you're probably looking at £10 per head, less if you go for a more restricted choice off the lunchtime menu (NB: Tesco vouchers can only be used on food, and not on special menus such as this). They helpfully include a 10% service charge which we pay, but precisely, with no additional tip. It's going to be a slow day for slender-thighed blonde waitress, but we never did discover where she kept disappearing to in between dancing around, serving the 4 occupied tables. Would we return to Strada? Probably not in a hurry, even for a virtually free lunch. The menu is difficult to navigate for vegetarians, since you can't just scan the headings. They sneak meat into a lot of things you might not always expect, and though they do have veggie options these are limited to just a couple of pastas (you'd also have to ask for them without parmesan, since this is never vegetarian), a couple of risottos and some of the pizzas. As they stand on the menu, none of the salads would do, though they might be willing to substitute ingredients at less busy times. Which is pretty much any day at the Spinningfields branch. We didn't look at them, but fish and meat items are also available on the menu, at a slightly higher price. The restaurant is attractive and well designed, but really needed some more people in to give it a nice atmosphere, especially given its gigantic size. This is not a direct criticism of Strada - most places in Spinningfields are still quite empty - but considering the location in the new business district of town, I think it will always struggle given its poncy menu (not much to attract those middle aged northern business men who would much prefer a pie and a pint than something with an unpronounceable name). I'm not sure what the place in the market is for Strada. It is not cheap or cheerful enough to be the next Pizza Express or Bella Italia (both also on Tesco Deals at the moment), nor did it seem that family friendly, but it also is not individual enough to be a rival for the independent Italians, of which Manchester has some great ones, at comparable prices. I don't think it will last that long up here, and I don't think it will be that great a loss for Manchester when it leaves.

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                    • Product Details

                      Italian restaurant preparing and cooking pizza in traditional wood burning ovens.