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RESTAURANT REVIEW: Strada, Montpellier, Cheltenham

By Weekend  |  Posted: January 01, 2014

  • Strada, Montpellier, Cheltenham

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There are many infamous stories involving hellraiser Oliver Reed but there is one in particular that springs to mind whenever I’m waiting to order at a restaurant.

On one occasion the actor, known as much for his exploits off-screen as he was on it, was sitting at a Parisian cafe with a friend.

They browsed the menu and as the minutes passed without placing their order, Reed became increasingly impatient.

Seconds later he snapped, picked up a chair and hurled it through the window of the cafe.

As diners looked on in horror and the waiters gathered round his table, Reed told them “Ahh yes, I’ll have the fish soup to start”.

It was this particularly tale that leapt into my mind as we waited to order at Strada in Montpellier with glass panels running the length of the restaurant’s entrance.

There was never any danger of a repeat, mind. I’m not in the business of throwing inanimate objects and the service, from start to finish, was pretty faultless.

It’s a lesson for all restaurants really; employ staff who are friendly and attentive without venturing into a world of over-familiarity where before long you’re telling them about how much you can’t stand your neighbour’s cat.

Of all the Italian chains out there – there’s so many now that the Dolmio puppets are counting their days – Strada has always been one of my favourites.

It has a lot to do with their pasta dishes I think. Rather than drowning in sauce with pasta that’s the wrong side of al dente they are generally light and well-balanced and put together lovingly, as Lloyd Grossman would put it.

Yes there are your timeless classics such as Spaghetti Bolognese (£9.25) and Penne Arrabbiata (£8.45) but then there also dishes such as the artfully named Strozzapreti Luganega (£11.25), which, on past experience, I can assure you is a cracker with hand-twisted strozzapreti pasta, crumbled Luganega sausage and chilli butter proving a winning combination.

But I was on the hunt for something a little bit different. Thought I’d treat myself, it was a Wednesday after all.

So to start I chose the Polpette (£6.45), a generous portion of beef and pork meatballs on a swirl of smoky tomato and paprika sauce tempered by a dollop of creamy mascarpone cheese.

With shards of foccaccia croutons on the side, it was a very full-flavoured and rich dish and on reflection – albeit I devoured the lot – a bit much for a starter.

My friend on the other hand chose the Gamberoni (£6.95), king prawns with garlic white wine, red chilli butter and parsley.

They smacked of the ocean but he was disappointed at having to shell the prawns – a First World problem if ever there was one.

While the starters’ menu is suitably small, there are a wealth of options for the main affair including chicken breast, sea bass, rosemary lamb shank, rib-eye steak and butternut squash and pumpkin risotto.

But I was curious to try the Prosciutto E Verde pizza (£11.45) with toppings that include Parma ham, asparagus, salsa verde and fresh chives.

In theory, I thought, it could work. Salty ham, fresh herbs and the slightly acidic salsa to cut through the cheese.

But I was wrong. It was a complete mismatch of flavours that clashed with each other like Gordon Ramsay and Marco Pierre White and the dough, although crisp and light, had a strange flavour that lingered far too long.

My friend’s pizzetta of Pollo Sophia (£9.25) with spicy shredded chicken pieces and roasted red pepper was better.

I skipped dessert but the Affogato (£4.95) of ice nougat semi-freddo ice cream with a shot of hot, fresh espresso to pour over the top, was an utterly brilliant combination and was demolished on the other side of the table.

With a good selection of wine, cocktails and beer – including bottles of red-labelled Peroni you rarely see – and a relaxed atmosphere, Strada, set over two floors, on paper has it all. But then again, so did a certain Oliver Reed.

Jonathan Whiley

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