Oh to be a lady who lunches! Strada and Platillos

Lunching is one of the more affordable luxuries that no lady should be without. Don’t worry though, we sometimes let the boys join in. After all, even they have to agree that there is not much nicer than whiling the hours away over a lunchtime meal into the early afternoon. It’s all very naughty; especially when wine is involved (and with me it generally does make an appearance).

In the run up to Christmas, the social calender gets pretty full doesn’t it? It’s a time where you don’t particularly need a real reason to meet up with friends. Many are going away for Christmas and want to say goodbye before they go; other friends are staying at home, but there is still a need to see them before the big day. And in the run up to this rather busy, pre-Christmas week Gav and I decided to treat ourselves to one of these lunchtime extravagances. The joy of the Tesco Clubcard deal vouchers allows us to do this more regularly than we would otherwise be able to. There are a few chain restaurants who accept these vouchers, but our favourite is Strada. In fact Strada is our favourite chain restaurant and although I wouldn’t go here and pay cash (on principle more than anything else), I am more than happy to use the vouchers here.

Our local Strada is about 5 minutes walk away from the flat (oh the joys of city living) and at half past two on a COLD Saturday afternoon, it’s suitably quiet! Not dead, but quiet. We sit and peruse the menu, which doesn’t take too long as it doesn’t change that regularly and we do visit quite often. The starters are pretty dull at the moment. The exciting sounding Carpaccio di Manzo is as far away from that invited by Giuseppe Cipriani as it possibly could be and a serious let down. Nothing else on there particularly inspires; although the antipasto misto is always worth a go. This time, we order from the specials menu, well I say specials, they probably change weekly, definitely not daily! We order a selection of small dishes; ciabatta with goat’s cheese, bread sticks wrapped with Parmesan, rocket and some ham, some salame and some ciabatta with roasted peppers and anchovies. There was more than enough and everything was fine.  I was pretty impressed by the slab of goat’s cheese served as it was pretty substantial given the £2 price tag.

On to the main, I had, as always, the bistecca di Manzo, which is basically a char-grilled rib-eye steak.  Gav had the sea-bass from the specials menu. We also shared some broccoli with chili butter. I like my steak medium rare, but as many restaurants have a tendency to overcook steaks, I always ask for it rare.  It generally works out for me, as it did on this occasion. The steak was nicely seasoned, nice and red and perfectly tasty. It was a good size, for me and Gav had scoffed down his sea bass before I was half way through (I am a slow eater). Gav’s sea bass was also a decent sized dish, with basil mash, olives and tomatoes. The sea bass had a crispy skin but the fish was still nice and delicate.  

All this, washed down with a bottle of Primitivo, was an ample touch of luxury which, thanks to the Clubcard vouchers, did not leave us out of pocket. Don’t get me wrong, you will not get a gastronomical experience here and as there isn’t any veal or lamb on the menu, its Italian roots must be questionable, but you will get a reasonably good meal and, for me, it’s the best that any of the chains are offering.

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Now. a long-time favourite restaurant for me is Platillos. It’s tapas/mezze/antipasto type food taking inspiration from all over the world including Italy, Morocco, Turkey, Spain and Greece. There is a bar on the ground floor which is a bar in its own right and one I often frequent on an evening out and the restaurant is on the first floor. The decor is mainly dark wood and brick work, with funky furniture and lots of greens and oranges. The atmosphere, whether eating in the restaurant, or drinking in the bar, is relaxed and informal. It has been my favourite place to be for some time now and one I would always rely on for taking friends or family. However, we had taken a break from eating there after experiencing a couple of average (rather than good) meals. 
Meeting some friends from work, I suggested we eat here, mainly because the lunch menu is quite reasonable and also because I have been missing their calamari, which is easily the best in Sheffield.  
The restaurant was quiet, but busier than the bar downstairs, but I suppose that on a cold Monday afternoon in December, that’s to be expected.  Once seated, in true extravagant, but controlled, lunchtime style, we share a bottle of house white which, between three, is enough to relax with, but not enough to render us useless for rest of the afternoon.  
My friends chose burgers, I chose a selection of taps/mezze, or Platillos (little plates). As is typical with this kind of food, some of mine arrives before the burgers, but this is ok. We each pick at the delightfully light calamari (which is perfectly cooked and not in the slightest overdone) and wait for everything else to arrive.  Admittedly the food was not the highlight of the visit as I was catching up with friends before Christmas, and although the calamari reinforced my faith in this place, the Melanzane could have been better. It was made with Emmental cheese rather than Parmesan and the dish did suffer from the lack of cheese flavour in there. However, the bulgar-wheat salad and the Moroccan spiced sweet potatoes were fine, so I was satisfied overall.  
With friendly and efficient service and a relaxed atmosphere, this place will still remain a favourite and perhaps one that Gav and I will frequent a bit more regularly again.
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But what about you guys?  Where do you like to go for your lunchtime treats?  Do you have any recommendations?  Any hidden gems that you care to share?!
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