Bristol vs the world

A travel (and sometimes fashion) blog about exploring Bristol and the rest of the world, one post at a time.

Food Fridays: Trattoria Mondello’s, Goodge Street, London

Trattoria Mondello, Goodge Street, London. Photo Credit: Steve Bowbick on Flickr.

Even before tasting the food in Mondello’s, we could tell we’d make a good choice. Situated on Goodge Street, this cosy Italian feels like you’re eating at a family friend’s house. A family friend who happens to be a very good cook.

Although slightly old-fashioned, the rustic décor is immediately inviting. Wooden booths line the wall, with smaller wooden tables in the middle that can be rearranged to suit group sizes. The walls are decorated with murals and the specials chalked slightly haphazardly on the board at the end of the restaurant, tempting you with delicious sounding food. It’s not going to win any design awards, but it was cosy and unassuming and perfect for the sort of food served here.

But even more welcoming than the décor are the family who run the restaurant. A lovely Italian couple, they joked and chatted with us just enough for us to feel like they were really paying attention to us and appreciating our custom without at all intruding on the meal. Service was relatively quick, but we never felt like we were being hurried or rushed out as you can do at some many central London restaurants at lunch (admittedly they weren’t full, but we were taking up a lot of space).

The only problem is that their menu, full of classic Italian dishes (pasta, pizza, meat and fish), is huge. All of us found we had too many options to choose between before even finishing half of it!

In the end, though, I went for the meat cannelloni. I think I may have gotten a bit of menu blindness, as I often steer clear of bolognaise-based food in restaurants. Firstly because it can be a bit bland, and secondly because I’ve been spoilt by my Grandma’s bolognaise; renowned for being pretty sensational among our family, its exceptional flavour is rarely matched elsewhere. But I needn’t have worried. The sauce was lovely and rich, with just the right amount of sauce to be creamy without overpowering the dish. Served in the oven dish it had been cooked in, some of the food had crusted onto the side. Not only was this also really tasty, but I thought it really adding to the home cooking feel. Overall I think it possibly even rivalled Grandma F’s. And even better, it cost just £7.50.

The only slightly odd thing about our meal was the pasta special of sausage in tomato sauce. Instead of the sausage being mixed in with the pasta, it was placed around the outside in large chunks – more sausage with pasta as a (large) side. Not quite what what we’d expected! Apparently it was still good, but not quite as appealing as it had sounded when described and probably not worth the extra price compared to the standard menu pasta dishes. However the other food we tried, including chicken, pizza and plenty of pasta, all went down very well – great food, excellent portion sizes.

Although we didn’t try pudding ourselves, we got to salivate over them plenty. The owners bring round a dessert trolley (retro!) so you can ‘pick your own’ (and so they can tempt fellow diners like us in the process). They all looked incredible, a decent size and an even better better price – all except one cost £3-£4. I can’t say we weren’t very tempted.

Our bill came to £10 each including service and a bottle of red wine (although this bottle was shared between quite a few people so it would probably cost a little more with a smaller group). Still, I think even with two courses and a drink, or three courses, you could probably eat for under £20. From our experience I’d say that it’s probably best to stick to the main menu rather than splashing out on the specials, but overall it was a really great experience – I’d definitely like to go back, if only to pick something off the dessert trolley. The perfect place for affordable, tasty, traditional Italian in a friendly, unpretentious setting in the heart of London.

Trattoria Mondello
36 Goodge Street, London, W1T 2QN
Phone: 020 7637 9037
No website, but The Picky Glutton has put a menu on their blog which seems up-to-date in terms of food selection and price.*

*You might notice that their experience of Mondello’s unfortunately didn’t seem to be very good. However having looked on TripAdvisor and elsewhere, the positive reviews far outweigh the bad, making me more than happy to recommend this restaurant!


Au Vieux de la Vielle, Lille

Anyone who knows me knows that I am no good at making decisions. Awful in fact – they’re pretty much my kryptonite. So deciding where to eat in Lille was no mean feat – confronted by lovely looking bistro-style restaurants on every street in the old town, I could have eaten in almost every one of them. We eventually chose Au Vieux de la Vielle, situated on the Place aux Oignons, based on its cosy appearance and affordable but interesting menu.

Once inside, the first good sign was that the waitress addressed us with a stream of French. Usually something about our appearance seems to immediately give us away as British wherever we are (or at least have us mistaken for Germans), so the lack of consideration that we might not be local, or at least French, was a bonus – after all, no Frenchman would eat in a bad restaurant, would they? (Despite this, when it eventually transpired that our French was below par we were offered English menus and a friendly English-speaking waiter, who let us try to speak French but was helpful and understanding when we failed. So anyone with a similar problem shouldn’t be put off from visiting the restaurant.) And as it turned out, a huge range of French people were here, from ladies lunching to families, young groups of friends to office workers on a long lunch. Good sign number two, in my book.

So, good sign number three – its quirky feel. The restaurant’s aim, and the reason for it’s name, ‘The Old of the Old’, is to produce nostalgic dishes that feature in the French’s childhood. The building reflects this; it feels as though you could be eating in someone’s (well, a French someone’s) house. Ascending from narrow stairs onto the first floor, you find yourself in a cosy room decorated with tarnished saucepans, old paintings and black and white photos.

It being an old building, there’s not an awful lot of space and – as you can probably tell from the photos – the tables are pretty close to one another. Sometimes this could prove awkward, but there was enough enough chatter and background noise that it was loud enough not to feel like you’re unintentionally eavesdropping on those around you, without being so loud that it was obtrusive on your own meal. Some of this background noise included what sounded like traditional French songs, adding to the nostalgic atmosphere.

So we were already off to a great start before we’d even tried the food. John had vol au vent, chicken in puff pastry and mushroom sauce, which was perfectly creamy and full of flavour. Intrigued, I chose the beef stew in a beer sauce with gingerbread and brown sugar. I thought it could be a bit sweet, but needn’t have been concerned – it was hearty and the gingerbread and brown sugar added a gorgeous richness to the meal. Both dishes were accompanied by a very generous serving of chips (other options were available). John had a beer, while I had the house white, and we were both happy with our choices.

Although we were too full to sample the desserts, they looked amazing. And the after-dinner drinks of tea and coffee were served in fun-looking, old-fashioned tin pots which looked intriguing and also almost tempted me to indulge in one.

Costing about £15 each for a main course and drink, the meal was pretty averagely price, though probably a little cheaper than you’d pay for the same food and quality in the UK. I’d certainly recommend it to anyone visiting Lille who isn’t looking to splash out on the town’s more high-end restaurants. Its great atmosphere and even better food made for the perfect meal to warm us up and send us on our way for an afternoon of sightseeing on a brisk, December day.

Read more about Lille here, or visit the restaurant’s website.

One day in Lille

“You’re going to Paris?” The initial reaction of my friend when I told her I was picking up Eurostar tickets. Most people have heard of Lille, but it’s more that city you know because it’s a stop on your way somewhere else, or because you changed there and almost got on the wrong part of a complicated train and had to run halfway down a platform with a suitcase in tow to get the right one (not that the latter has ever happened to me. Obviously).

But Lille is actually a destination in its own right. And situated just 90 minutes from St Pancras, 1 hour from Ashford or 1 hour 20 minutes from Ebbsfleet, it’s a legitimate day trip destination. Which is exactly what we chose to do: having caught the 7.30 train from London, we arrived in Lille bright and early at 10 o’clock and left at 8.30, leaving us with over nine hours (not counting checking back in in the evening) to explore the city.

Lille was pretty sleepy when we arrived. The big chain stores were open, however, so if you came here to shop you could do that all day. Instead, we decided to do some sightseeing. First up was a trip to the tourist office, where we came out armed with a selection of free flyers offering city maps in varying degrees of detail. These guided us to the Citadel and zoo, a relatively easy 10-15 minute walk from the town centre.

Situated within a park, much of the star-shaped Citadel is still intact. A moat still surrounds its outer walls; follow it for a picturesque walk. Those interested in visiting the Citadel itself should investigate this possibility beforehand – the inner sections are accessible by appointment only, with the exception of a few hours on Sundays from May to August.

The park is also home to a small funfair with trampolines, mini rollercoasters and the like – perfect if you have kids, though check the opening hours. It was very much closed when we were there, its subsequent desolation almost spooky.

But perhaps my favourite aspect of the park was the zoo. The best bit of this being that it’s free! Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s not quite up there in standards as bigger (more expensive) zoos like London and San Diego, and doesn’t take much more than an hour to amble round. It would probably take longer on a day when the animals were more active mind (although we got to see most of the residents, we only really got a show from one monkey – presumably due to the cold). But even though they were a bit sleepy, there were plenty of interesting animals to see – the red panda, various breeds of monkeys and giant tortoises were my highlights.

Our next stop was the old part of Lille. Narrow, cobbled streets, wooden shutters, those boxy windows: if you were asked to draw a quintessential European town it would look something like this. There are also lots of lovely boutiques, particularly for home interiors, but also for clothes and a few food outlets too. Yet despite browsing for Christmas present ideas and being rather taken by the tea shop paraphernalia, we came away empty handed; particularly with the Euro to Pound exchange rate, we found that nothing was particularly cheap, and, with the exception of food, you could probably find similar homeware items back in the UK. They’re still lovely places to browse though, each one with its own unique feel. Everyone is so friendly too – in almost every shop they took the time to say both ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci, au revoir’, regardless of how busy they were. As someone who does most of their shopping in central London, this was a bit of a (pleasant) shock to the system!

A particular recommendation is the Hippy Market, despite the naff name. A vintage shop on Rue de la Clef in the old town, it was bursting with clothes helpfully arranged by type and colour, available at not-too-bad prices. In fact, Lille seemed like a pretty good place to pick up antique items and vintage accessories in general, though bargaining without decent French might challenging.

Another place worth visting to find interesting odds and ends is La Vieille Bourse, or the Old Stock Exchange, in the centre of Lille. The central courtyard was housing a collection of stalls when we visited (apparently on other days it might be home to flourists or chess players). It wasn’t the highest-end market in the world, but it offered some cheap and different souvenirs, especially for those interested in old French comics, newspapers and advert prints.

However, my favourite shop wasn’t so much a shop as a workshop. On Rue Saint Jacques, we came accross a violin workshop, which Google suggests belongs to Jean Marc Panhaleux (for perspective as to how exciting this is, his last bow went for over $2,000 at Christie’s!). Completed violins are displayed in the window and you can see him at work. After he caught me gawping at the violins (I used to play and am still itching to get back into it, OK!), I felt a little bit embarassed about trying to take a photo, though. And my French isn’t good enough to ask whether that would be OK. Excuses, excuses, I know.

After all this walking, it was definitely time for some food. I often throw caution to the wind in France and head for the toursity areas as the food tends to be good (not as good as the best places, but I can’t afford the best places) and they often have pretty good menu deals. However when wondering round the back streets we’d seen so many gorgeous looking cafes and restaurants that we had to try one out. We finally decided on Au Vieux de la Vielle, on the Place Aux Oignans – read more here.

Talking of food, a must visit in Lille is Meert. Although we were browsing with our eyes only, next time I could definitely be tempted to sit down and sample one of the famous pastries!

A bonus about visiting Lille at Christmas is, of course, the Christmas market and big wheel area. Christmas music plays around the huge ferris wheel (both being afraid of heights, we didn’t venture on!). Although the Christmas market itself probably isn’t a key reason to visit Lille (it’s quite small and very expensive), it’s still worth a wander round, if for no other reason that the hot Breton Cider that was available (for those who have experienced the cold version of this amazing drink in Soho’s The French House pub – it’s like that, but better). We slipped it slowly after sunset while admiring the lovely Christmas lights and the stunning scenes of the city by night.

I have to admit that, unless you’re planning on doing a few museums (there is a good selection of art galleries), nine hours in Lille is probably more than necessary. In future I think I’d plan to arrive around lunchtime, which would also allow for a few extra hours in bed. But that’s probably my only negative. Easily navigable on foot, pretty with a mix of striking important buildings and low-key, cobbled backstreets, and offering an excellent mix of sightseeing, shopping and eating, Lille is an ideal day trip destination. And most importantly of all, there’s a Carrefour five minutes from the Eurostar station – so you can stock up your wine cabinet cheaply, making it value for money too.

See more photos on Flickr.