Saturday, 30 January 2010

A Casual Midweek Dinner

We went out for dinner Thursday night on the spur of the moment, which is not usually a good idea when you live just west of London. Most restaurants are booked solid nearly every night of the week, and Thursday is often considered the warm up to the weekend, so your chances of getting a table on spec are pretty much nil. Sure enough, when we arrived at the fashionable canal-side in Reading, every restaurant we walked into was fully booked or had at least a forty minute wait for a table. We decided to try just one more restaurant before we gave up and went home, and went into 'Strada' without much hope, particularly when the couple in front of us turned down an offer of a table in about - you guessed it - forty minutes. The advantage was, there were three of us, and the host said he had a table that should be available in about six minutes. That didn't seem too long a wait, particularly as we have been to Strada before and really enjoy their creative menu and delicious food. And sure enough, we were shown to a perfectly laid table in less than the promised six minutes.

Although Strada do not have a bar area in their Reading branch, the restaurant itself is nicely laid out, so that you feel the buzz of being in a lively restaurant, but you've got plenty of elbow room at the table. Their menu is quite varied with lots of choices for just about everyone. As the majority of the food is prepared to order, should there be an ingredient you are not keen on they are more than happy to leave it out. Our son ate from the main menu, choosing one of Strada's delicious pizza Florentina. It had both cooked and fresh spinach which made for a delicious contrast.

My husband and I were impressed with their set menu which offered three courses for just £13.50 so we decided to work our way through that. It offered two choices of starter, Bruschetta con Peperonata and a Gnocci dish. I hesitated about the bruschetta because one of the ingredients was goat's cheese, something I really do not care for, but the waiter said the chef would be more than happy to leave it off so I chose that. It was really delicious with wonderful roast peppers, and a great way to wet my appetite. (Mind you as it was by now nearly 9pm my appetite was pretty sharp already!) My husband had the gnocci, baby potato dumplings with a delicious sauce. We both selected the same choice from the five main courses on offer for dinner, a Risotto Verdure with freshly grilled asparagus, broad beans, peas, courgettes and spring onions flavoured with grana padano cheese and mint. It was lovely and obviously freshly prepared as the risotto was perfectly al dente. All the vegetables were fresh and crisp and the balance of flavours was perfect. There were only two choices for dessert, a Tiramisu or a Pannacotta, so we decided to have one of each. Both were exceptionally delicious and definitely homemade.

I can't speak highly enough of the service. The waiter was friendly, knowledgeable and attentive. I was also very impressed that a refillable bottle of chilled filtered water and water glasses appeared when we ordered our drinks. It was refilled without hesitation throughout the meal - we did not even have to ask.

It's always hard to recommend a whole chain of restaurants in its entirely as the staff really do make or break these places, but the experiences we have had in our local Strada would encourage me to try one elsewhere without hesitation. The Strada website says that Strada "is all about quality, freshly prepared pizzas, pastas and risottos served in stylish, contemporary surroundings". In this case, it definitely is, and I highly recommend it.

I would recommend booking in advance if possible to ensure you get a table. Strada have locations through the UK and you can use their online booking service by clicking here. Our local branch which we enjoyed on Thursday is canal-side in The Oracle Shopping Centre at 20 The Riverside, Reading, RG1 2AG - telephone on +44 (0) 118 939 4861.

I'm also very impressed by Strada's website, which even offers video recipes. Click here to learn how to make some of their signature dishes from Maurice Maffeo, their Head Development Chef.

(This is a personal review. The opinions are mine and I was not compensated by Strada in any way.)

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