Good pizza and red wine are a winning combination

YOU can t go wrong with pizza or pasta accompanied by a large glass of red wine. Which is why it is easy to

YOU can't go wrong with pizza or pasta accompanied by a large glass of red wine.

Which is why it is easy to understand how Italian restaurants have stayed at the forefront of dining in recent years.

Alongside the independent eateries which have long existed in this country, there has also been an explosion of chain restaurants.

One such chain is Strada, which has successfully carved a healthy reputation as a provider of consistent, family-friendly restaurants.

The first restaurant opened in 1999 and there are now more than outlets across the UK and more are on the way, sticking two fingers up to the recession in the process.

London is home to several Stradas including those in Camden and Highgate.

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But it was West Hampstead which I was given the opportunity to experience and put to the test.

The restaurant itself is impressive - a terrace for al fresco dining in the summer and is cosy without being imposing for a winter warmer.

There is a range of places to sit - including booths - and caters for couples, families and big parties.

It was a Saturday night and therefore busy and bustling yet the service was excellent throughout and our needs were well met during the evening.

The menus are extensive and range from the main menu to special menus for lunchtimes and evenings.

My partner and I decided to choose from the main menu which offers mouthwatering treats from sections which include meat, pasta, pizza, breads, salads and risottos.

The cost of the main meals are about average ranging from �6.95 for the cheapest pizza to �17.95 for a fillet steak.

The starters range from �4.70 to �6.95 and the breads are �1.60 to �4.50.

We began by sharing some bread with oils and balsamic vinegar which was fresh and tasty.

We then moved on to the starter. I opted for Gamberoni - roasted butterflied prawns with garlic, white wine, chilli and lemon butter. This tasted delicious but was slightly lacking in quantity.

My partner chose Antipasto Misto - a platter of speck, prosciutto crudo and salami wuth mozzarella, tomatoes, olives and ciabatta. This was the opposite and the meat was plentiful, receiving a definitive thumbs up.

For the main course, I chose Saltimbocca di Maiale - a fillet of pork with sage and prociutto with potato puree, green beans and a white wine, sage and butter sauce.

Pork would not be my normal choice but there seemed to be so much going on here that I was curious to give it a try. All the flavours worked surprisingly well together but it was extremely rich and meat heavy so is definitely one for a healthy appetite.

My pizza-loving partner delved in for a Piccante - a pizza with spicy southern Italy salami, red onions, olives, rocket, tomato and mozzarella. He was very impressed and put it well ahead of pizza from other high street chains.

After a break to settle our stomachs, we were tempted by the dessert menu. My partner devoured his bread and butter pudding while I enjoyed a warm melting chocolate pudding. The only criticism from me was that the chocolate had soaked into the sponge rather than being runny.

The wine list at the restaurant is pretty good and we enjoyed a bottle of chianti at the reasonably priced �16.75. Other bottles - red, white and rose - range from �13.95 to �45.

So the verdict - certainly one of the best high street chains I have experienced. The food is very good, reasonably-priced and the atmosphere is laid back and lively.

I'll definitely visit Strada again.


291 West End Lane

West Hampstead


Tel: 020-7431 8678

Opening hours: Mon-Sat 11.30am-11.30pm; Sun 11.30am-10.30pm

Rating: Food - four stars

Service - four stars