“ 26 Belvoir Street / Leicester / LE1 6QH / Tel: 0116 255 8547. „
There are only 3 places in the UK where I have had many restaurant meals, St Annes and Manchester where I grew up and now live, respectively, and Leicester where my sister has whiled away her undergrad, PhD and Rocket Scientist days. With Italian as my favourite fare it's not surprising that I have dined in most of the establishments of this kind in the 3 places, often several times, and Zizzi's is no exception.
I like Leicester because it's that tiny bit smaller than Manchester - while I have to trek out of the centre to find a good selection of restaurants, and parks for that matter, my sister can literally be shopping one minute and dining the next, followed by a 10 minute walk across some greenery to home. Zizzi's is in the centre, close to the railway station and situated on Belvoir St, which, despite no-one comprehending why, is pronounced 'Beaver St'.
When I lived in Australia I loved the way lots of cafes and restaurants has big windows that would open fully, allowing people to enter and leave the establishment by climbing through the remaining frame if the doorway was currently blocked or had suddenly become passé. The first thing I noticed about Zizzi was that it had the same look going, with wide open windows, modern, homely décor (think nice chunks of solid wood and an almost Mediterranean feel to it). The view of an alley way, a nearby pub and several other restaurants wasn't quite Bondi Beach at sunset, but the place definitely had the same vibe.
Last time we went was a weekend, about 7.30pm. We had no reservation, having been watching Trampolining finals all day and unsure what time we would finish (woo, well done Simon), but were quickly seated at a table for 2 and presented with menus. That evening seemed to be the one night of the year when hen nights are compulsory, and we saw several parties go past as well as one join us inside the restaurant, but the staff seemed to cope well with their arrival, as well as the couple of birthday parties that were already underway - evidently Zizzi's is a popular place with the locals.
Though this is the only branch I've ever dined at, Zizzi's is actually a reasonably sized chain with maybe 50 branches throughout England. The menu, common throughout all branches but with specials that vary day to day and location to location, is your standard Italian grub:
· Starters (£1.95 - £4.40) include breads and salads
· Pizzas (£5.30 - £8.50) range from standard Margheritas to special meat and fish ones, and to fancy folded Calzone
· Pasta dishes (£5.80 - £8.65) cover most usual shapes and sauces, and include a selection baked in the oven as well as those prepared on the hob
· Salads (£2.95 - £7.95) would never seem enough for a main course to me, but the ones here do seem to have a fair few ingredients
The menu made everything sound appetising, and my only comment would be that they fail to mark out those dishes which are suitable for vegetarians meaning you have to hunt through the menu, reading carefully to be sure what you decided upon is suitable.
We ordered and after a slight moment of confusion (I asked for butter or olive oil on my pasta, the waitress thought I wanted both) settled down to await the food.
The garlic bread we shared to start with was divine - a huge pizza base, high on garlic and low on butter, it was light and fluffy and more than enough for two people to share.
My pasta was just as I'd requested it, and topped with parmesan shaved for me at the table - always preferable to a big bowl-full they've prepared earlier in the evening which will have been drying out ever since.
My sister's Calzone was giant, far larger and fatter than you'd think a folded pizza would be, and shaped like a crescent moon. It was truly huge and since neither my sister nor her appetite can also be described in such a way, some of it was left, but only after a good portion had been devoured and thoroughly enjoyed.
We skipped on pudding but they appeared to have a nice, normal if slightly limited selection on offer - ice creams, chocolate mousse and tiramisu were the main competitors.
We found the service throughout the evening to be spot on, but the same could not be said for the couple at the next table - they were tucking in to their starters when we arrived but when our main courses arrived before theirs they flagged the issue. A few moments later a waiter arrived with their starters .again. These were promptly returned to the kitchen, and the correct mains brought out, but not before some frustrated eye rolling ensued. Things like this happen in restaurants - in some more than others (note to all: skip Fellicini's on Oxford Rd, Manchester) - but here at Zizzi's it was promptly put right and apologies for, and I got the impression this was the exception rather than the norm.
Before leaving I ventured to the toilets to wash the garlic off my hands (so much easier to do that than to use a knife and fork to begin with). These are located downstairs but a disabled toilet on the ground floor is also available. The toilets were nice and clean, but all had the seats raised giving me a moment of doubt that I'd actually gone into the ladies' after all.
In the end we stayed about an hour, and the total bill including drinks was just over £20 - perfectly reasonable for a nice meal for two.
I like Zizzi's and would recommend it as a place for a casual lunch or dinner. Thumbs up for:
<> the service (to our table at least)
<> the prices
<> the quality of the food and the portion sizes
<> the size of the soft drinks - 330ml instead of the usual 200ml or 250ml most restaurants lump you with
<> the ambiance - casual, relaxed, with no loud music, just lots of contented chatter
<> the attention - someone dropped a knife and a waitress immediately rushed over with a whole new cuttlery set as she wasn't sure which item had fallen
26 Belvoir Street, Leicester, LE1 6QH - Tel: 0116 255 8547