Sunday 28 October 2007

Restaurant Review - Ilkley Piccolino

Now I was a bit sad when Johnson's closed earlier in the year. OK! So, I had never been in the place but, somehow it seemed to fit in with Ilkley life reasonably well. I had never even heard of the Piccolino chain, but they appear to have a dozen odd places across the North of England, so must be a biggish operation. Certainly, the money that has been spent ripping and fitting out 31/33 Brook Street suggests a lavish budget. This place is more upmarket than I had expected. It's not like Pizza Express; more an Italian Farsyde. The decor is great - modern without being crass. If you're downstairs, it's a bit of a goldfish bowl as the full length windows mean it's not the place to be carrying on an illicit affair. Better book upstairs - especially the table in the bay window, where you can watch the comings and goings of Ilkley life rather than be watched. If you want to be seen, any of the downstairs tables facing into the street should do the trick. There were lots of staff when we visited and things have yet to settle down. Despite booking and wishing to dine straightaway with young children, we were ushered to the bar area for pre-dinner drinks as our table wasn't ready. We were then asked for our "tab card" which we had never heard of. You need one of these when you arrive (apparantly). It all seemed a bit of a waste of time for, even before our drinks had arrived, we were ushered off to our table and our plastic credit-type tab card was collected back in, to be replaced by an identical looking "cloakroom card". I did ask if we needed another card to enable us to eat and was dryly told that a Mastercard would be needed for that! The manager looked quite stressed by all this, even though the place was three-quarters empty at 5.30pm. The service was not as good as it should have been, given the large numbers of staff. It's also that kind of place where even a Yorkshire waiter insists on calling you Senor. Cringe cringe! Having spent ages going through the menu trying to find something for our 7 and 9 year olds, it was annoying to find halfway through ordering that there is a separate children's menu, which was not offered at the outset. So, we then had to start again! The food for adults is excellent - interesting pasta dishes, very fresh tasting and good salads. Beware that portions are adequate, rather than generous. We didn't have time for desserts but they too looked good. Young children may well struggle, especially if they are used to Pizza Express or La Sila, both of which are much more children orientated. No, this place is going to be serious competition for a number of other places in town. It's ideal for small adult groups rather than couples, as the atmosphere is very open rather than intimate. All in all, recommended. Decor 10/10, Atmosphere 9/10, Food 9/10, Value 7/10.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

Where to Eat and Drink in Ilkley and Wharfedale - your latest views

The Yorkshire Deli (it's new) - "accommodated our large group very well" said Joyce Anderson from Liverpool Smoooth - "does very good coffee and smoothies" The Wells and Farsyde - "Both excellent" says Marjorie McCellan from Oxfordshire Bistro Saigon - "Good option of veggi food, well cooked and good service" reports James Page from Dundee Ilkley Moor Vaults (The Taps) "Very good food" says Frank Carroll from Washington The Box Tree - "Expensive but very good" reports Edwina Fitzmaurice from Lytham St Annes The Fleece at Addingham - "Very good value, friendly and efficient" says Mary Lazarus from St Albans The Keighley and Worth Valley Railway - must go Farsyde "Good, but they overcomplicate the menu and mix too many flavours" suggests Tim Williams from Sevenoaks Hesketh Animal Farm - "Very hands on and well organised. Good value for money although food is expensive" Kirsten Groth from Hampshire. and perhaps not so good... The Dalesway Beer Garden "A dogs toilet with added smell of chip fat" said a guest from Liverpool. The Midland - "Dingy. Beer not good" reported a guest from Dundee.

Tuesday 2 October 2007

Cafe Review - Smoooth

I'll be frank and say that when I heard that a smoothie bar was to open on Wells Road, I had big doubts. When the opening got delayed by several months, failed to get a hot food licence, announced that they didn't want to appeal just to school children and then struggled to find staff (they even approached me, so they must have been desperate!), my expectations were low. It was therefore a pleasant surprise when I tried it out last week, having had favourable comments from my children who had already been several times in the opening few days. The place is bigger than I expected, going right back into a lounge room at the rear. The decor is clean and fresh and not nearly as cheap and cheerful as I feared. The menu is very extensive when you consider it revolves around a few drinks, sandwiches and salads. For example, there are a dozen different smoothies to try with exotic ingredients such as acai and passion fruit. And here lies the problem. At peak periods they just can't cope with the menu. I called in on a Saturday afternoon and, whilst not over full, you could immediately sense from the absence of drinks and food on the tables that service was struggling. I had to wait nearly forty minutes for a basic panini (the only hot food). Others had clearly got fed-up and left. A waitress was wandering around with a tray of items and I had to point out that the people had gone at least fifteen minutes before it arrived. The preparation area is on full display and staff were trying to identify - without success - whether table 14 had ordered a Tropical Storm or a Brazilian Boost. The quality of the food and drinks is general very good. The smoothies are not cheap but interesting and tasty. The cakes - especially the organic carrot cake - were good, the panini (goats cheese and roasted vegetables) ok but served with a very tired salad garnish. Some things are over the top. You can't just have a pot of tea, you have to have a wooden board boasting a "tea temple with a fine glass teapot". All very well but glass is not good for keeping the tea hot and it was half cold by the time it arrived. There was more commotion when it was time to pay. A long wait whilst staff were trying to work out more orders and then no change in the til, meaning that the tip box had to be raided for coins. I hope Smoooth succeeds. A lot of preparation has gone into the place and - with the multi-nationals like Pizza Express creeping in, Ilkley needs small, individual places to open up like this. They must get the service sorted out and need to consider opening on Sundays. They also promote their website, but that doesn't exist yet either. Do go when it's quiet; avoid on a Saturday, or if you've got a train to catch. 14-16 Wells Road (01943) 600064. Take-away also available. Quality 9/10, Atmosphere 9/10, Service 2/10, Value 7/10, Wow factor 8/10. STOP PRESS - December 2010 - we hear that Smoooth has now closed. Very sad.