Picture the scene – the sun is going down after a busy day shopping and strolling by the boats at Gloucester Docks, you think you’ll stay a little longer and grab something to eat from a waterside restaurant, and then realise a toasted sandwich is about all there is on offer.
From the outset this was always the vision of the regeneration of the docks area, which had the same exciting possibilities as other successful developments in other parts of the country – but then the recession hit.
Where restaurants and bars should have been heaving at the weekend, there have been empty windows and ‘units available’ signs for years.
Pizza Express and Nando’s have been a bit out on a limb at Gloucester Quays serving those who knew where they were.
Now, with the economy finally perking up a bit, the Quays is back on track to become the leisure quarter it always aspired to be.
In recent weeks and months there has been a domino effect of openings, from gastropub Portivo Lounge to Ed’s Easy Diner, Mexican Chimichanga and the new Cineworld cinema.
Among them is Zizzi, the Italian chain which already has a restaurant in a converted church in the Suffolks in Cheltenham.
Its new restaurant is just as impressive, although here it has swapped the old for the new.
The refit has made the most of the airy, glass-fronted space with industrial-style lighting mixed with rustic hints, including wooden branches, a whole wall covered with pictures of birds and leaves and an assortment of colourful wooden chairs.
There is an open pizza oven at the heart of the restaurant and plenty of tables too, to accommodate diners who call in on a whim.
The restaurant opened in November and has been lapping up the busy Christmas trade – it was positively heaving during the Victorian market when we called in for an early supper with our daughter.
It’s great for couples and families who have been shopping and want somewhere a little more special than a coffee shop to round off the day.
Zizzi is on a par with the other Italian chains such as Strada and Pizza Express – it knows what its customers want but throws in plenty of ambience too.
We hadn’t been to Zizzi for a while but all the familiar favourites were there – breads to share, big plates of antipasti, pizzas, salads and robust pasta dishes.
It also has a Bambini kids menu including dough sticks, main and dessert for £6.50.
We ordered some Zizzi olives (£2.95) to start which were an addictive combination of giant nocellara and purple olives given some punch with thyme and chilli.
For the main course, my husband ordered a Rustica Mezzo e Mezzo pizza (£11.25) – it’s the larger of the pizzas on offer which is stretched into an oblong shape with an ultra thin base. The topping was split in two – one half covered with mozzarella, slices of new potato, riserva cheese, red onion and thyme and the other with roasted peppers, chilli, mushroom and rocket.
We were a bit dubious about potato on a pizza but it worked really well.
Along with classic pizzas and rusticas, there are also skinny pizzas if you can’t decide between a traditional pizza and a salad.
I went for the Skinny Pizza Primavera (£9.55) and was warned by the waitress that the topping would be cold.
I wavered initially, but it had all my favourites – goats’ cheese, roasted aubergine, artichokes, peppers, slow roasted tomatoes and olives – so I stuck with it and wasn’t disappointed.
Instead of everything being cooked in the oven, just the wholemeal base topped with passata is cooked first and then piled high with the remaining ingredients – as a result it tasted fresh, the goats’ cheese was still crumbly, not melted, and the vegetables tasted full of Mediterranean wholesomeness.
I had to get up and ask for a dessert menu – during the evening we had lots of different waitresses and were forgotten about at times – but I was determined not to go without.
We shared a new addition to the menu, a rich Tartufo al Cioccolato (£5.95) – a velvety dark chocolate mousse topped with crushed hazelnuts and amaretti biscuits. With a glass of house red and a Peroni Gran Riserva beer, it was the perfect end to our day.