High street dining on trial
Starter or pud
Between the casse-croûtes, hors d’oeuvres and plats rapides, there’s an enormous variety at the cheaper end before you get into the spécialités and grillades. Olive recommends lots of sharing. Desserts are substantial – think twice after a main.
Tannat-Merlot, a black, firm red, 175ml/£4.30.
The authentically Gallic prix fixe lunch menu is available all week from 12-5pm, one/two courses £6.50/£8.50.
119 branches nationwide. Starters from £4.75; mains from £10.50; desserts from £3.95. (caferouge.co.uk) TH visited the Gatwick Terminal 3, Tottenham Court Road and Sevenoaks branches
In 1997, when YO! Sushi brought the idea of kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) eating to the UK, it was astonishingly novel. Over the years, the food has evolved into perhaps a more mainstream hybrid cuisine all of its own. Today’s YO! has surprisingly little raw fish on the belt; in its place are Japanese-inspired, tapas-sized dishes, with some exciting and outstanding flavour combinations. These days, you’ll find less selection on the belt, but many more dishes available to order.
YO! roll (signature dish), spicy chicken ISO (inside-out), salmon nigiri, kaiso salad, chicken gyoza, chicken katsu and chicken teriyaki.
YO! is hot on fish quality, following recommendations by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC ) to offer ingredients from sustainable, approved and certified wild fisheries. It also promises not to serve any species on the IUCN Red List.
Starter or pud
YO! doesn’t distinguish between starters and mains, but the fruit platters are the ideal foil to the hot and salty flavour combinations.
The flagship Market Place branch in London serves collagen drinks (which claim to be anti-aging). Or Asahi Super Dry beer, 500ml/£4.65.
Join the YO! Sushi Love Club online to get 1/3 off your first visit and on your birthday. (yosushi.com/love-club)
58 branches nationwide. Dishes £1.70-£5 on colour-coded plates so you can keep track. (yosushi.com) TH visited the Poland Street branch, London
Strada’s formula of slick interiors and a menu featuring daily specials with an emphasis on fine Italian ingredients suggests ambition. Does it deliver? On Olive’s test visit, the quality was akin to luxury supermarket ready meals, which, when you’re paying up to £17.50 for a main, tastes expensive. A pizza rossa (Strada’s bestseller) had an exemplarily paper thin base, but the dough was lifeless and lacked char. Toppings, including southern Italian salami, were sadly overpowered by chilli. A plate of panzerotti porcini was thick and rubbery. Our advice? Stick to the pizzas.
Bruschetta con peperonata, pizza rossa, fondente al cacao.
Strada uses imported Italian cheeses, meats and some desserts – authentic, but it racks up food miles.
Starter or pud
Starters have the edge. A bruschetta con peperonata was fine, and decent ingredients mean the basics (caprese salad, meat platters) are reliable. However, a chocolate pudding was indistinct, and a lavender-heavy sauce spoiled an otherwise precise panna cotta.
The Tratturi Fiano Sicilia is a zesty white that would pair well with pasta or pizza; 175ml/£4.75.
Strada is progressively green in one way: it serves free, filtered tap water in reusable glass bottles.
72 branches nationwide. Starters from £5.25; mains from £7.75; desserts from £3.95. (strada.co.uk) TN visited the Irwell Square branch, Spinningfields, Manchester
Gourmet Burger Kitchen
Call yourself ‘gourmet’ and you had better be good. Happily, GBK is. Made from 100% Aberdeen Angus beef and created with consultant chef, Peter Gordon (the famed fusion pioneer from London’s The Providores restaurant), GBK burgers are all cooked to order and are differentiated by various sauces, usually made on-site. The fundamentals here - fresh, toasted sesame seed buns; pink, flavoursome, chargrilled patties – are sound. GBK venues are relatively rugged, wood panelled, no-frills burger bars. The Trafford Centre site looks like a converted sawmill.
Top five burgers: Cheese, Avocado Bacon, BBQ, Blue Cheese, Habanero (with hot, spicy sauce).