Tag: review

An average curry

Red pepper garnishI’ve recently been to Mela Contemporary Indian Restaurant. It’s taken me quite some time to get round to righting about it because I’ve been struggling to think of something to say about it. I still am. The problem is that it was just so average. The way the prawns were arranged on the Taweli Chingri starter was mildly artistic and the taste nice, but nothing remarkable. The main course Hash Bahar was of a similar standard taste wise. Visually, it was undistinguished, apart from a large red pepper slice, which seemed to feature of all their main dishes. Now, I’m not one to go for very hot curries, but when I choose a mild option, I expect something mild in hotness, not mild in flavour. The only other notable feature of the food was that all the meat options were halal with the exception of the duck.

With little worth remarking on in the menu, that leaves only the service and the environment to lift the experience above the average. In these respects, Mela does well, with a fairly prompt service that attentive without being intrusive. The decor was clean and modern, though I wouldn’t go as far as their website to call it ‘stunning’. So overall, not much more than an average experience, with even the price, £20 excluding drinks, not much more than average for Swindon.


komadori has been lucky enough to attend two works Christmas meals this year: one at The Old Bank Brasserie and one at Fletchers Restaurant.

Toast masquerading as bread and butter puddingVenues are rarely at their best when preparing food for Christmas parties, with the large numbers to be served resulting in something more akin to mass production than quality cuisine. This was definitely the case at The Old Bank. The ‘Cream of Carrot and Coriander Soup with a hint of ginger and garnished with garlic croutons’ tasted more like cream of cardboard, with the ginger and garlic indiscernible. For the main course, the turkey had been cooked into submission — it was stodgy and lacked texture. And whilst the stodgy meat was plentiful, the serving of vegetables was miserly. Worst of all was the ‘Rich Baileys bread and butter pudding, mixed with toasted almonds, cooked until golden brown and served with vanilla ice cream’. Well, yes it was cooked until golden brown and it was served with vanilla ice cream. There were also a few bits of almond. But it was neither rich, nor matching the description of ‘bread and butter pudding’. As the photograph shows, it was little more than a single slice of toast. At over £30 for three courses (excluding drinks), I expected far better.

In contrast, Fletchers provided a reasonable meal at a much more reasonable price (£18.50). Pork, apple & Calvados pate with toast starter was fine if unremarkable. For the main course, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, vegetables and roast potatoes was tasty though not overly tender. However, the meal ended on a high with ‘Chocolate Box Shortbread base topped with an indulgent Belgium chocolate mousse with a cream caramel centre’. That chocolate mousse was exquisite.

Unpretentiously tasty

Pate CampagnolaThe entrance to Il Capricorno on the High Street of Swindon’s Old Town does not look impressive. It is a narrow and inconspicuous. However, inside the restaurant widens out behind the frontage and seats around eighty people. The food served is equally unpretentious. A starter of Pate Campagnola was well presented and the taste delicious, though the lightly-toasted bread was a little late in arriving. The berry covering was perfectly done too, strong enough to balance the liver in the pate without overpowering it. The main course arrived promptly and in appearance was unpretentious to the point of plainness. The flavour fully made up for that. There was a generous quantity of well matured bacon in the Penne Amatriciana and, with a sprinkling of Parmesan and pepper, it was the most flavoursome pasta dish I have tasted for a long time.

Penne AmatricianaWith a soft drink to accompany the meal and a cappuccino to finish, the total bill came to £16 excluding tip, though a different choice and a few extras from the menu could easily double that.

According to their website, Il Capricorno offers ‘The finest authentic Italian food in Wiltshire’. It’s certainly the finest in Swindon.

Extreme vegetable cutting

Pom’s stir-fried noodlesI’ve been to Pom’s Thai Restaurant in Old Town a few times now, but this was my first visit for several years and my first time at midday. The cooking at Pom’s is refreshingly light, by which I don’t mean that the food is insubstantial, but that the greasiness experienced with the fried dishes at many oriental restaurants is absent. Another feature of their lunchtime menu is that each main course is offered with a choice of chicken, pork, beef, prawns or vegetables, giving vegetarians a wide choice. With hindsight, I’d have gone for one of their ‘spicy’ dishes, as the ‘mild’ dish that I chose was so mild as to have no hint of spice at all. Nonetheless, as stir-fried noodle dishes go, it was nicely done, with the thin slices of beef well-cooked without being over done as is often the case with similar dishes at other restaurants. At £9.99 for a starter plus main course, it was certainly good value for money.

There is one other feature of meals at Pom’s and that is the great effort they put into carving their vegetables. This wasn’t so much in evidence at lunchtime as it is in the evening, as a comparison between my photograph and that of the same dish from their website shows, but still adds some interest to what are quite large chunks of raw vegetable.

Soup with a lid on

Soup with a lidAt the weekend, whilst travelling, I stopped for my midday meal at the Fountain Inn at Parkend in the Forest of Dean. The meal was very enjoyable and tasty, but didn’t quite live up to its billing on the menu. I went had the steak and ale pie, ‘A rich, old-fashioned pie, topped with puff-pastry.’ Well, rich, yes, though a little runny — it would have benefited from the gravy within being a little thicker. It’s also true to say that it was topped with puff-pastry, but that’s the problem, it was only topped, no sides nor base. For me, ‘old-fashioned’ when applied to pie construction implies that the pastry encases the filling, not just tops it off in modern mass-catering style. It was very tasty, freshly prepared stuff, but more like chunky steak-and-carrot soup with a puff-pastry lid on than a real pie.

Fountain Inn, ParkendThe inn clearly does plenty of business from the local railway and the welcome was friendly and the beer good. It’s well worth a visit, just don’t expect the food to be as authentically traditional as the website menu suggests.

A rich bowl

Ciabatta starter at the Spag BowlI recently lunched at the Spag Bowl on the corner of Holbrook Way and Bridge Street. It is more a cafe than a restaurant, offering breakfast as well as lunch and dinner, and has prices to match. The food though is definitely of restaurant standard, and quite a good restaurant at that. The Pesto & tomato ciabatta for starter was pleasantly rich and light. The sauce on the main course of Amatriciana was equally rich, yet not heavy, being perfectly done and a fine savoury combination of bacon, onions and tomatoes lightly seasoned with herbs and spices. This is an establishment that clearly takes its olive oils seriously, it being the source of the richness mentioned and with over five being offered with their caprese. I’m not a connoisseur of Italian coffees, but that too seemed high quality to me, with a fine flavour and not over-roasted as is often the case in cheaper Italian restaurants.

If you should find yourself in a queue awaiting entry to Cosmo just across the road, abandoning the wait and making the short journey to the Spag Bowl would be a wise choice. If you’re interested in fine food, you’ll not regret it.

Would you like anything more to drink?

Pagoda Palace Cuttlefish dumplingsI found myself oddly disappointed by a lunchtime visit to the Pagoda Palace restaurant this week. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the meal: there wasn’t. The food was good, in the English Chinese-restaurant style. The deep-fried cuttlefish dumplings for starter were exquisitely formed and the main course of chicken with black bean sauce and green pepper was tasty, as were the plain-fried noodles with beansprouts that I chose to accompany it. Other dishes sampled were of equal quality, though in the seafood dishes flavoured with ‘salt and chilli’ the former is rather too prominent. The venue is great, with a fine location overlooking a lake. Indeed, at an average of £18 for two courses, in comparison with other restaurants in Swindon at lunchtime, at least some of that price would appear to be for the location rather than the food. With the same price in the evening it’s distinctly good value. The service was good too, although the repeated enquiry ‘Would you like anything more to drink?’ was more that a little irksome by its fourth repeat. What let the place down though was that, of the twelve items that the group I was with ordered, three were either not available or, in the case of duck, only available if we were prepared to wait ‘one or two hours’.

The Palace is a large restaurant, seating up to three hundred people, and their menu is long. At lunchtimes, when the number of customers is small (there were only three groups there when we visited, amounting to less than twenty people in total) they should perhaps offer a smaller menu, so that what they offer matches more closely what they can deliver.

All that could eat

Today komadori sampled the lunchtime offering from the new all-you-can eat ‘pan-asian’ restaurant in Swindon, Cosmo. At just £5.90 per person (plus £1.30 for whatever beverage one chooses, alcoholic or not), this is certainly not the highest quality authentic oriental cuisine. But for the price it is very good, as evidenced by the fact that by 1 pm the restaurant was full. The lunchtime menu is not as extensive as the evening one (the ‘5 live cooking stations’ that their website boasts were distinctly dead), but there was a good range of ‘Chinese’ food and assorted curries. There was a good range of vegetarian options too, though some that, on face value, one might have expected to be vegetarian were not marked as such. There was also a good range of desserts, though these were not sampled, as after a full plate for starters and a plate-and-a-half for main course, komadori had already reached his all-he-could-eat limit.
Just the starterAll I could eat
Given its proximity to Swindon’s warehouse boozing establishments in Fleet Street, prices are higher on Friday evenings and Saturdays, when the atmosphere is also, apparently, more disco than family-meal-out. As their website suggests, advance booking is advisable, and at the busiest times don’t expect to be allowed to sit and relax after you’ve finished your meal: the staff will be anxious to see you on your way to make space for the next group waiting to be served.

A new Rendezvous

I tried out the new branch of Rendezvous this lunchtime, on the corner of Haydon Street and Corporation Street. The smell of fresh paint was still detectable at the entrance, though fortunately not beyond. The meal, at £7 for three courses plus china tea, was sufficient, though not generous… which is how I like it at lunchtime — an afternoon’s work on a bloated stomach is never the most efficient. The decor also is sufficient, functional and tidy without being overly elaborate. I found all three courses a little sweet for my liking, but still very good for the price. The crispy pancake roll starter was quite mild, to my liking. The main course of beef with green peppers and black bean sauce was good, with tasty thin slices of beef. I would have preferred to have had a choice of fried or boiled rice, rather than it being prescribed on the menu, but that is a minor quibble, and the fried rice was very finely done and not greasy as is often the case, even in much more expensive restaurants. The desert was fine, though slightly crisper batter for the apple fritter would have been nice. Finally, the pot of china tea was very generously sized, though a little weak. Service was a little confused — to many waiters with not enough customers to serve — but I am sure that will improve as trade picks up. In all, the meal was good for the price and the establishment is a welcome addition to this corner of Swindon.

An educational meal

I have previously commented on others’ experiences of the student-run restaurant at Swindon College. Last Thursday I sampled their offerings for myself. Whoever devised the menu clearly had an obsession with orange. That apart, the chicken and bacon salad starter with chive dressing was a succulent start. The dressing in particular was a pleasant change from the vinegar or oil based dressings in which salads are often drowned. The main course of gammon steak was good but nothing exceptional. The dessert of apple and ginger crumble in caramel cream was a delight, with just the merest hint of ginger, the only disappointment being a less than generous covering of caramel cream. These three dishes were rounded off with a pot of tea.

At just £5 for a midday meal, the restaurant appears popular with the local pensioners. I recommend not waiting quite so long.