Salvador & Amanda, Covent Garden

So last night I ended up at Salvador & Amanda in Covent Garden. I should probably correct that comment. ‘Ended up’ makes it all sound as though it was random and spontaneous, but it wasn’t really like that. It was booked in advance after a few emails back and forth.

Dinner plans were the first thing brought to mind for a catch-up with lovely friends I have been neglecting for some time. Second was the Tastecard** and that’s where Salvador & Amanda came in. Taking in to consideration the fact that my friends and I live at opposite ends of London, we needed something central.

Place: Salvador & Amanda is sold as a ‘Bar Y Tapas Y Fiesta’ place, (Bar & Tapas & Party) and it certainly tries to live up to the hype.
The only thing I would mention is that although the room is pretty big, the layout made the room and space feel very small. When we had a full table next to us, we could pretty much hear their conversations and they ours.

Service: was pretty good – I can’t really complain about it.
We were approached by a friendly waiter who was patient and understanding of our need to ask for 5 minutes three times as we were busy talking and not looking at the menu.
After finally consulting (each other and the menu), we ordered a jug of the house sangria (£10 a jug in happy hour) and several tapas.
A really positive point was that we were for the most part left to enjoy our evening – we didn’t feel rushed or as though the waiters were trying to turn-around our table.

Atmosphere: was lively from 6:30 when we arrived til 10:30 when we left. A flamenco dancer performing during the night (from about 8 onwards) was a nice surprise. A little difficult to see due to the layout of the room but was a nice feature.

Food: for the most part was of a good standard. There were definitely highs and lows to the selection of tapas we chose but I think some of it was marred by a heavy hand with the salt.
We ordered: chicken wings, meatballs, ribs, black rice with seafood, scallops, calamari, cod bites, patatas bravas and stuffed peppers. Between 3 people, this was a lot of food and we left stuffed. Most of the food arrived on stands (not too dissimilar to those you may see at an afternoon tea) but was very hard to access so we quickly got rid of them and kept the plates.
Highlights included the perfectly seared scallops, the black rice with seafood – a little over-salted and the ribs.
Lowlights were the chicken wings – dry, the calamari – a bit rubbery and the patatas bravas – could have done with a little more cooking as they were a bit hard.
I didn’t try the meatballs or the stuffed peppers but I was told they were of a high standard.

Price: was £105 including our jug of sangria and the tip – but with Tastecard it came down to £58. All in all, without the Tastecard I’d have been disappointed with the price but with it, I find it hard to complain. We left feeling satisfied and having filled our bellies with food, drink and conversation.

Would I go back? If on Tastecard, yes – but I’d order less food and ideally order a bit better than this time.

Score: 7/10

**For those not in the know, (my silent readers!) Tastecard is a restaurant discount card. In a nutshell, you book dinner at a restaurant which offers Tastecard and you can eat for a cheaper rate – sometimes as much as 50% of your food and drink bill, but usually 50% off the food – not including drinks or specials.

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Vapiano – Restaurant Review

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I was really excited about going to Vapiano’s on Great Portland Street. I was first introduced to this “fast, casual restaurant with a twist” in 2006 back when I was studying / living in Berlin.

From what I remember, the food was good, there were always seats and the chefs were really helpful – especially accommodating my slightly strange amendments – “can I take this out but add this instead (even though it will become a completely new dish)?”

I actually think the concept is pretty cool and after I first went to Vapiano in Potsdamer Platz, I raved about it to my friends and family.
Simply, you walk in, are met by a greeter who hands you a swipe card. I’ve heard this likened to an Oyster Card and I suppose it’s not far off.
You simply decide what you want to eat and go up to the corresponding counter – Antipasti/Salads, Pizza or Pasta – you tell the chef/cook what you want to eat, if you want any extras, hold up your card to the chip reader and it will be updated with the amount you’ll need to pay later.
After you’ve eaten, you head to the door, give the card back to the server, they swipe it and tell you what you owe!
Simples!!

Fast forward six years and my excitement has been building all day.
Don’t get me wrong here, for what it is, it’s not bad. I just think there are some tweaks to be made!

1. Seating – not enough of a system here.
Please don’t misunderstand, I get the concept – it’s supposed to be fast and easy dining! But this concept really loses some of its lustre when for half an hour *at peak dining times* you are looking for somewhere to park your behind. Other restaurants do self-service in some format, but they will ensure you have somewhere to sit. I’d say its a one-off but after speaking to people I fear it’s not – I don’t know how to rectify this but I think offering the chance to sit in a bar area while you wait for a table is an idea, or simply advising that there is a wait for a seat.
The problem I found yesterday was that it became a bit of a free-for-all. People waiting 5-10 minutes were missing out on tables because someone else who had just walked in grabbed it first. I don’t think that’s right!

2. Food was lukewarm at best.
This is a big pet peeve of mine. For those about to jump in with “this should be served like this and that should be served like that”, I am a heathen. If food isn’t supposed to be cold, I like steam rising off it.
I also don’t really understand how you are literally taking the food from a hot pan and putting on to a plate yet it loses the warmth and heat.
Also on the food, I think there was a lack of seasoning. I know it’s a catering for all tastes thing, but a little salt & pepper action never did anyone any harm.

3. Wait time.
Me and my friend both wanted pasta. After choosing one of the four counters to queue at, I thought – oh this’ll only take 5 minutes … ! Not to be. 25 minutes later I finally got my food. For a “fast, casual” dining experience I feel there’s potentially something to be done here too!

***4*** This is actually the big positive and the one which I’ll remember to tell people.
Thor! No not the Norse god of thunder but the very lovely ‘chef’ who made my food! I asked for recommendations on the best pasta and he was happy to advise, he also and I know he probably does it for everyone, asked me if I wanted extra this or less of that. For me, with my very fussy eating habits sometimes always, this was one feature I liked!!

All in all …
Food 6/10
Service 6/10 (let down by seating)
Atmosphere 8/10
Would I go back? Yes! (Not during Peak and would request my food piping hot)

Vapiano
19-21 Great Portland Street
W1W 8QB

Opening Times
Mon – Sat 12-midnight
Sun 12-11

For 1 person, a main course, dessert and soft drink – approx £15