Food review: Zizzi, Stafford Riverside, Stafford
For a cosy and amorous dinner there’s nothing quite like an Italian meal. Lisa Williams reminisces on a recent romantic getaway in just the place. . .
It’s always exciting to try out a new restaurant for the first time and even better when it’s a cosy dinner for two.
On a visit to M&S in Stafford for a Dine in for Two Friday night treat I spotted Zizzi was opening opposite the store in the new Riverside complex.
I was eager to visit as many moons ago they had an amazing dish on the menu, Pasta Genovese with green beans and pesto (if I remember correctly) – and every so often I would salivate at the memory of eating it. We’ll get back to this later.
The opening date was shrouded in mystery and I watched patiently as notices about recruiting staff appeared on the windows and the dining space gradually took shape behind the huge glass windows.
It opened a couple of weeks before Christmas (good marketing) on a day where thick snow blanketed the land like a cosy, warm duvet (not ideal). We’d booked a table for that very evening and enjoyed a romantic snowflake covered journey to eat out. It was quite busy considering the conditions, not everyone is deterred by this kind of weather.
We were welcomed warmly from the cold and shown to a table upstairs which was more of a mezzanine level overlooking the dining area downstairs. It was toasty warm and there was a convivial buzz in the air. It gave us the opportunity to gaze down below and check out the furnishings which were tasteful and retroesque in their styling. The lights were bright but didn’t seem big enough to fill up the large ceiling space. It was an intimate table meaning we could gaze into each other’s eyes without putting off the other diners. Perfect for a ‘date night’ and luckily there was a candle flickering on the table to up the level of romance. The taste of Italy also holds a special place in our hearts as it was the scene of a rather romantic proposal.
The menu was vast with plenty of nibbles, starters and mains to choose from including pasta, pizza, risotto, along with baked dishes too. I scoured the dishes but alas, Pasta Genovese was a thing of the past and no longer featured on this more modern menu. Sigh.
I was keen to try something new and to have a more interesting starter than just garlic bread. It’s a staple in our household with most meals and opens up a debate as to whether slices, baguette, pizza style or dough balls are the best form. I go for dough balls he prefers slices.
Anyway on this occasion I decided on the arancini – risotto balls with mozzarella, peas and a breadcrumb coating served with a red pepper tapenade dip – and bullied him into ordering the ‘little soul’ bread which are doughy puffs baked with garlic and smoked sea salt they come with two hummus-style dips too.
A bottle of red wine was also on the agenda, perfect for the cold night outside. We went for the Nero D’avola, Sicilia, which was a bargain for restaurant wine at £14.95 and it tasted pretty smooth. The waitress was bubbly, polite and helpful and while it was clear that the staff were still finding their feet, everything seemed to be running like clockwork.
The starters arrived in just the right amount of time and we decided to share them so we could sample both. The little soul bread was lovely, light and fluffy with a gorgeous golden crispy crust. I would have preferred a less viscous dip, something a bit more liquid would have been nice, even just olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The other half quite liked them although I got the feeling he would have preferred to go with a more traditional garlic bread.
The arancini balls were a little bit disappointing for me at least. He quite liked them but this was his first time so he had no comparison. I, however, have sampled a few in my time and these weren’t the best. The breadcrumbs were great: fine and crispy with a nice crunch but inside, instead of being a gooey stringy heaven was rather too sticky and stuck to the roof of my mouth.
One of the reasons I’d picked them was the mention of peas but I couldn’t really taste any so that was a bit of a blow. The tepenade was full-bodied, sweet and very tasty, perfect with the salty cheese flavour. I did eat them all but they weren’t the best I’ve ever tasted.
The mains were on their way and once dishes were cleared and wine topped up and chatter resumed they arrived piping hot and decent sized portions too.
He’d gone for an Italian classic lasagne and I’d decided on something different the porcini giganti – giant tortelloni pockets filled with ricotta and porcini mushrooms in a creamy wild mushroom sauce with baby spinach, crispy sage and riserva cheese.
He was delighted as the lasagne was creamy, tomatoey with an explosion of herbs and seasoned meat in every mouthful. There was plenty of mmm-ing from his side of the table. Once again I had ordered badly on this evening.
The pasta was a bit too heavy going. The filling a little dry as if it had been overcooked. It was very mushroomy which overpowered any flavour of spinach or ricotta which was a shame as they were my favourite elements (again that is more about personal preference).
We’d also gone for a side of herby potatoes which were gorgeous a nice amouth of oil and herbs and perfectly cooked fluffy spud. I didn’t have too many as I was carbed out from all the ever-so-slightly claggy pasta pillows.
We didn’t order dessert, no room after all of that so requested the bill instead. There were some tempting choices though including a chocolate and banana calzone: a sweet, warm dough filled with banana, chocolate sauce and mascarpone cream, with vanilla gelato and salted caramel sauce. And a sticky chocolate and praline torte: a dairy-free chocolate torte with a date, hazelnut and walnut base. Served with coconut and chocolate ripple gelato. Yum! We’ll some room for that next time.
Unfortunately we were left sat with our plates right up until the end which wasn’t great but as it was opening night these are things we could overlook. Perhaps the chef was still learning the dishes and the waitresses still learning the ropes. But the ambience and service with a smile more than made up for any negative points. We will undoubtedly return, I’m all about giving people and places the benefit of the doubt and previous visits to other Zizzi chains have always gone down as a great success.
We walked off our meal with trek home through the snow and I’m hoping for second time luckier for my meal!