Monday 15 June 2009

Strada, Great Queen Street, Covent Garden, central London

With big round mirrors mounted on a wall cladded with thin strips of bamboo above sturdy wood panelling, the decor in this two-storey branch of Strada conjures up Japan or Scandinavia. But the food is all Italian. As you sit down, one of the waitresses will bring over complimentary, filtered water in minimalist bottles and they don't seem to mind if you drink nothing else. Among the starters, the Cesto di Pane Misto (£4.50) is a selection of rather dry and disappointing breads rescued only by the accompanying bowl of olive oil. The antipasto misto - mouthwatering mozzarella, parma ham, pepperoni and flavourful tomatoes - is much better, but pricey at £6.50. The pizzas with their wafer thin bases, fresh, appealing toppings and big diameters are also a cut above those served in most pizza chains. Even the kids' pizzas (just £4.50) are large and alluring.

Fresh and vibrant sea food
Less generous is the pumpkin and butternut squash risotto (about £10), topped with very slim strips of pancetta. It is creamy and pleasant, but lacks some punch. The excellent sea food risotto (about £11) is also a tad small, but the mussels, squid, prawns and clams are very fresh and vibrant. Although service (optional 15% charge) can be sluggish, it is friendly and attentive, particularly to children. A short walk from the tourist honeypot and boutiques of Covent Garden, this branch of Strada makes a good lunch stop on a family day out. 7/10