The Radio Two breakfast show has nearly nine million listeners, huge. Commercial radio has a smaller audience, but in my day I only had to vaguely mention the word competition and all the phone lines would light up, long before any mention of the number to call. Not bad. Even smaller though is BBC local radio. You mention the competition and the number, you hope that more than one person calls, and that neither of them is Maurice from Winlaton.
Then there are blogs, like this one. It’s not local, it’s available worldwide to a huge potential audience. But, and it’s a big but, not everybody reads them.
So when I wrote a blog entry Sad to see the demise of a great restaurant, about Strada Restaurant in Newcastle, I was pleased to receive an email from the Marketing Director of Strada’s parent company, Tragus Group. I’d like to think my blog is that powerful. I’d only have to mention the BBC once, for instance, to receive an email from George Entwistle, or complain about the late arrival of a Virgin train to get a call from Richard Branson. But, sadly, it doesn’t work like that. My good friend Cliff Marsh, who does subscribe to this blog, knows the Marketing Director of the Tragus Group, Jemima Bird, and alerted her to this blog.
Jemima read my post and realised this was not a random moan, but the comments of someone who regards Strada as a favourite and was disappointed that the brand had deteriorated. Jemima said that she was sorry my visit had not been good, and offered to come up to Newcastle, from London, and take us out for a meal! In the hope, of course, that all would be well with Strada and my faith would be restored.
This happened a few days ago. We met Jemima at Strada and had a very pleasant evening. Was all right with Strada? No, not quite. Plus points: It’s a nice restaurant, good ambience, excellent service, I cannot fault the service, and the food overall was very good indeed. But the downside was that my Rossa Pizza was still not as good as it used to be.
ROSSA – Spicy salami, roasted red peppers, red chilli, caramelised onion and garlic.
This was better than the last one I had, but although spicy it was a little bland to be honest and the salami was way too salty. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time, but I think now that there was less red chilli than there used to be. Everything else though was fine. Helen, Nick and Jemima all enjoyed their meals. We had assorted breads as an appetiser, Antipasto to start, assorted mains and then Jemima and I shared the Bunet Piemontse dessert.
BUNET PIEMONTESE – A soft rich custard made with Italian chocolate, hazelnuts, crushed Amaretti biscuits and a generous splash of amaretto liqueur.
This had the potential to be a disaster. Amaretti is very strong and could have been completely overpowering. The Amaretti hits you immediately and you think, oh dear this is going to be too much, but it isn’t, it fades as the other, more subtle, flavours come through. I would never have chosen that as a dessert, but I would now. It’s excellent.
In my last blog I complained about the removal of the free filtered water, which for me had been a selling point. I really don’t like paying £3.25 for a bottle of water. They will of course serve you tap water free of charge, but it tastes horrible and is tepid. Not good. Jemima explained that they had trialled a new menu, and not offered the water, at a few locations for some weeks. No one at all complained that the water was not included. A shame I wasn’t part of that trial. As it costs Tragus quite a lot of money to provide it, I can see why they don’t do it anymore. I did explain to Jemima that having just a couple of bottles of water, at £3.25 each, added about 12% to the total cost of the meal, and may well, for some, be the tipping point between having a meal at Strada or not. But the decision has been made.
Interestingly with the launch last week of their newly revised menu, which is very good, Strada no longer add a discretionary service charge to bills for parties of less than eight people. Now you can decide what the service was worth, I think that’s better and perhaps keeps the staff on their toes. So having said I would not be returning to Strada, and having now been back as a guest of the Tragus Group, will I go back again when I have to pay? The answer is yes, but next time I’ll give the Rossa a miss. Perhaps I was expecting too much of it. Perhaps the Rossa and I should have a trial separation. Perhaps it’s time to move on. Next time I think I’ll be trying the Fegato, Jemima ordered that and it looked excellent.
FEGATO – Calves liver with crispy pancetta, mashed potato and a sage butter sauce.
However one thing was very clear from our evening out. Jemima has a passion for food and cares about the Tragus brands, Strada, Café Rouge and Bella Italia being the main ones. She cares passionately about what they are trying to achieve and it was really good to be in the company of someone who so clearly wants to get it right. Full marks for that. Add to that the fact that Strada cook everything from scratch to order, no boil-in-the-bag here, and you are on to a winner, perhaps.
The problem seems to be that not enough people know that this is essentially a high quality restaurant, offering excellent freshly prepared food at reasonable prices. With names like Pizza Express, Pizza Hut, Burger King and even their own Bella Italia, you know what to expect, the clue is in the name. Strada means nothing, actually it’s Italian for ‘street’ but not a lot of people know that! It doesn’t give a clue to what the brand is about. To get this message across will take some doing. Perhaps it will require a little passion as well, in which case if Jemima is behind the marketing of this restaurant brand, and she is, then it will probably succeed. I hope it does.