Saturday, 30 June 2012

Supping at Strada

We'd not tried Strada before. Well, I say we, more strictly speaking, I mean Baby and I. The Hub has apparently eaten there before. Of course I knew of Strada - they're a fairly well-known Italian-style restaurant chain and appear in high streets all over the UK. I think I'd heard someone said they hadn't been much good on the allergic front, but the other day, being on holiday at Center Parcs and needing a place to lunch (we'd already lunched at our 'usual' twice during the week) we ended up there anyway. 

The Hub had checked it out (online) the night before. Me being the awkward one (or so we thought) - requiring food which is both gluten and dairy free (which can be quite difficult) we were delighted to find that, among the 'Mains,' there was a lamb option I could have. Well, The Hub thought I could, but wasn't sure - the menu can, apparently ,vary from location to location. 

To our disappointment, the lamb option didn't appear on the menu board, outside the restaurant. Feeling braver than I sometimes do, I sighed and decided to go inside and ask anyway. 

The young chap at the desk was punctiliousness personified, but I believe I detected a slight look of horror/apprehensiveness as I coyly approached the subject of 'dietary requirements.' 'Not a very reassuring sign!' I thought. However, he managed to locate THE folder - you know, the one with all the allergy listings and was quite happy for me to rifle my way through the pages. The dishes were listed in alphabetical order with a whole raft of food allergies laid out across the top of the page. This made the table fairly difficult to read. Handily for me, wheat and dairy were listed alongside each other!

I soon discovered, that the lamb dish did indeed exist in this restaurant. The confusion  had occurred due to the fact that more than one menu seemed to be available. One was a main menu and another the lunch menu. There may even have been another kind drifting around, but only two (alongside the drinks menu) made it to our table!

We decided to go in and eat - reassured by the waiter that any dishes ordered from the kitchen, by us, would be accompanied by a notification to the chef, concerning our dietary requirements.

Drinks ordered, we set about ordering food. Me? Lamb with new potatoes, simple! Baby? Spaghetti Bolognese, a dish she loves, that we often make at home, simple! 

Baby's choice
Not so simple! The waiter soon returned, to (very apologetically) explain that the ragu sauce in the Spaghetti Bolognese was not dairy free. 'How strange!' I thought, 'we've never used milk to make our Spaghetti Bolognese! Are we missing something?' It turned out, as it often seems to do, these days, that the only dish available to the Dairy Free Baby or child, is pasta with a pomodoro tomato sauce. Disappointing!! And hardly nutritious - where's the protein?

Why is it, when us mums manage to make all manner of dairy free dishes at home, that restaurant chefs, with all their food training and expertise, can only come up with the same old one? Still, the twisty pasta looked nice! And Baby ate it quite willingly - although she couldn't manage the whole bowl!

Baby, being served from the 'Kid's Menu,' was entitled to Antipastini, but we decided she could probably skip those, as we knew she wouldn't eat the carrot sticks and couldn't be bothered to go through the rigmarole of checking the bread sticks. However, she also received a 'Fruit Cooler' (she had Apple & Blackcurrant) as well as a dessert. 

There was a dairy free dessert option - a 'Chilly Billy' ice lolly, made from natural fruit juices. She's had one of these before, at Nando's, but this one was more child sized and perhaps thus more 'small child friendly' than the one she'd had before. She gave it a good licking, for a while, but to be honest (having tried it) The Hub and I agreed that it wouldn't appeal to many kids that we knew, especially as it was a bit sharp.

My choice
Agnello Al Rosmarino (Lazio) - it sounds so nice in Italian, doesn't it? That's roasted lamb with potatoes and some greens, to you and me (I always go straight to the main course). The Hub, knowing my horror of being served meat containing blood, ordered it well done. It certainly was! 

Unaccustomed as I am, to eating my meat, 'well done,' in restaurant terms, I wasn't sure if what I got was turned out to perfection. I usually forget to order my meat, 'well done,' so end up with meat that is swimming in red juice - which I consume whilst silently praying that I won't fall ill! This meat, however, was so well done, that it was in fact a bit tough - but at least I knew I wouldn't catch anything from it. 

The potatoes and the greens, which accompanied it were nice enough, but the 'olive oil sauce' seemed more like a bath! I like olive oil, but not this much!

The Hub's Choice
Rigatoni Speck - A pasta dish, with ham and a creamy cheesey sauce - a dish that once upon a time would have been my choice too! The Hub's comment was that he found it a bit rich, but he said that he'd had it before and knew it would be quite rich. The Hub thought that what with Baby and me both being dairy free (meaning that cream and cheese had been off the menu for quite a while) he'd become unaccustomed to it! However, he thought that the dish itself was fine, for what it was.

What about the price?
Prices are listed online. Our meals broke down as follows:

Baby's Pasta, Drink and Dessert - £6.50

My lamb - £15.75

The Hub - Rigatoni - £9.95

Drinks - The Hub and I both chose San Pellegrino Limonata - a light and refreshing drink but at £2.30 for a can which your pour yourself...

Anything to add?
With all our food requirements, I was pleased that at least we could eat something and we didn't go hungry, which I would have done, if I'd gone to some of the other restaurants at Center Parcs (I still haven't found anything on the menu at Cafe Rouge which is both dairy and gluten free). However, I think I was a bit underwhelmed by the quality of both my food and Baby's food, especially for the price - I think I could do better if I ordered roast lamb in a country pub. 

That said, I might try Strada again, if options were limited, just to find out if the quality of the lamb was better elsewhere, when cooked by another chef. The waiter, however, definitely did his very best!

One more thing - it was nice to see that Strada had dedicated space to a children's play area, with some nice toys. Do they do this in all their restaurants, or is this just for Center Parcs? It was definitely a plus for Baby!!

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  1. Just wanted to pick up on "Why is it, when us mums manage to make all manner of dairy free dishes at home, that restaurant chefs, with all their food training and expertise, can only come up with the same old one?" often in these chain restaurants the chefs are simply grill chefs (I've previously worked for whitbread) the menus are created at head office and the food it shipped out to the restaurants almost ready made, that is why some are impossible to change ingredients, you need a very fancy restaurant with a fresh kitchen to be able to whip you up something for you on the spot. So it's head office you need to speak with there the ones that lack imagination with menus. I have eaten at Strada it's not bad but limited as you demonstrated and I don't eat meat which doesn't help.

    1. dairyfreebabyandme30 June 2012 at 21:03

      Thank you so much, Sugarpuffish - you have just confirmed what I had already suspected. I am not at all surprised. You can always tell when a restaurant has proper chefs working behind the scenes - they have the ability to be much more flexible about the food that they serve.