Food isn’t, especially, a theme of this blog, but anyone who knows me can tell you that my interest in it is more than just a matter of fueling up!
To be sure, these days I waffle on about the delights of the hearty, traditional dishes of Tenerife, but of course there are whole other dining experiences here in the island’s south……thing is, you may need to venture into a resort to find one………something I try to avoid, and if I do recommend somewhere I generally will prefix with “don’t think this is typical of Tenerife!” Of course it is typical of one face of Tenerife, just not one that I care for very much personally.
I came back from London last November not only with my wanderlust turned up to max (not only because of WTM but because of having had a great time there overall), but with my taste buds refreshed, and still dreaming of the memorable meal I had at PJs in Covent Garden, and feeling not a little despondent that, although there is great food around here, I wouldn’t find the variety I had in England…..so …Yay! I was proven wrong within just a couple of weeks.
Just before Christmas Venture Restaurants opened a new eatery in the Safari Center (sometimes considered Playa de las Americas, sometimes considered Los Cristianos, take your pick – but definitely grockleland), so when a friend suggested eating out one evening my first throught was ” try the new place” – and let me, right away, tell you that this opinion wasn’t solicited in any way. The meal was paid for in the normal fashion, and I didn’t speak with anyone about the possibility of writing about it until it was pretty much over, so this is a totally honest verdict. I’m quite the fan of Venture’s other restaurants, so my expectations were high.
The Safari Center is quite swish, and the surrounding area, home to some relatively up-market shops like Escada – in other words I felt a need to wear shoes, although Tenerife is very much the sort of place where dress rules go by the board, and you see girls in cocktail dresses and guys in shorts and vests dining in the same restaurant. Still, old habits die hard! It’s a daily delight to shrug on casual clothes, even after all these years, and I don’t even own really formal clothes any longer, but I think it’s both respectful and fun to wear what passes for decent gear for dining in a “proper” restaurant i.e. shoes!
We had a drink first in Harry’s Bar – no, not somewhere I’d recommend, but their view of the dancing fountains, which happens on the hour in the center of the mall is the best, and it’s worth watching if you haven’t seen it before. You can be forgiven for thinking you’re in Las Vegas as Ride of the Valkyries heralds the beginning of the display, which melds into Elvis and the Hawaiian Wedding Song if you’re feeling romantic. I wasn’t. I was feeling irritated because the barman didn’t know what a spritzer was – remember I’d just come back from London, so that was a bit of a shock, almost as much of a shock as noting that he didn’t even care. Ah the sub-standard service so typical of Tenerife! (T’ongue firmly in cheek -it’s only typical of certain type of places.)
Trotting across to Empire which is just at right-angles to the bar I was inwardly muttering to myself about this possibly not having been a good idea. See, this is exactly one reason I don’t come to these places. Hey, but one smile from the greeter at the restaurant entrance dispeled my mood. Even if the food wasn’t as good as it is, it would be worth visiting a Venture establishment just for the service. Since it’s the same in every one, I conclude it’s the training. They walk that tightrope between friendliness and efficiency which is not easy to balance. You know – overfriendly and your food goes cold whilst they’re talking, or so formal that you worry about your elbows on the table and which knife and fork to use all night.
We settled into comfortable chairs close to one of those patio heaters on the large terrace…….always, always be outdoors if you can and the place isn’t full of smokers (which it wasn’t, happily) anywhere that is, not specifically in Empire. Why live in a climate like this and be indoors if you don’t need to be?? I eagerly studied the menu. Hmmm……hard not to squeal in delight……talking to the Venture owner later, he described the theme as “upmarket pub grub,” and I’m guessing that’s perhaps the best description, though my intimacy with English pub grub is a thing of the past.
Let me regale you with a few items from the starters: Seared Queen Scallops on sliced crispy belly pork with crushed cream peas; Quiche Tartlet with pumpkin, goat’s cheese and artichoke; and Empire’s Exclusive Scotch Egg – made with our exclusive Empire sausgage meat, carefully prepared by our butcher using only finest local ingredients, served on a bed of mixed green leaves with beetroot chutney – really? This is pub grub? Even the traditional prawn cocktail had a new twist. OK – perhaps another visit to England is necessary to bring myself up to date!
And the mains? Stilton Cheesy Dumplings – fluffy, cheesy dumplings grilled until golden and bubbling, served on a bed of roasted creamed pumpkin with herbs and crispy artichoke fritters; Crisp Belly Pork with raspberry and port reduction; and even Bangers and Mash made to a secret recipe. Arg……and I had to make a choice!
Now, I am allergic those kind of restaurant reviews which rave pretentiously on about the perfection of the coulis or the lightness of the soufflé or whatever, so I’ll quote the menu, and just say that the standard is well up to the best London fare of this type, that when a flavor or texture was meant to compliment something, it did, and that everything was just as I anticipated and hoped it would be.
Salmon Fishcakes with Avocado Mousse: a light fishcake made with succulent salmon flakes, infused with parsley, dill and lemon, served with smooth avocado and sour cream mousse……chunky flakes of salmon, check!
Wild Mushroom Wellington: ……..a puff pastry parcel filled with mixed sautéed wild mushrooms, baby basil and spinach in a goat’s cheese mousse on a bed of wilted spinach…….honestly I could write an entire post just on how this tasted! I chose it deliberately to see how a vegetarian might enjoy the place, and it surpassed my expectations – vegans might not fare quite so well, I’m afraid.
I had tastes of my friend’s meal, which was the aforementioned scallops followed by good-old fish pie, well, not exactly “good-old,” it was chock full of salmon chunks and prawns, and this was the other nice thing about the meal – the portions were generous, not just a taste plated to be creative, more like served with care for the customer as well as the food.
So generous were the portions, in fact, that neither of us had any room for dessert, which seemed to be a crime, when I looked at the menu. I guiltily explained to the waitress that perhaps I would come back and sample dessert on its own one day, and she pointed out that they were planning to do cake and tea in the afternoons, so a couple of days later I returned with another friend to rectify the situation.
I had the Apple Tart with smashed almonds and vanilla ice cream, and Colleen had The Ultimate Empire Chocolate Fondant with raspberry sorbet, and when Colleen proved her friendship above and beyond the call of duty by letting me have a taste……truly, it was that good! I owe you, Colleen!
As well as the fancy fare mentioned, Empire does steaks, fish and chips and their own, special burgers; plus kiddies stuff, sandwiches, evil-sounding “3 times cooked chunky chips,” and brunches … yay, again!
Venture has a formula which works really well, which includes good service, stylish decor and real attention to the food. There is only one restaurant I haven’t tried and that’s Bianco Bistro, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend any of them. I’ve had the odd disappointment over the years, but anywhere has a problem every now and then, and when I’ve gone back to the restaurant in question the standard had been restored, it had been a blip. I wrote about their Thai Botantico Restaurant previously, and it was nice to have my opinion validated a while later when I ate there with a friend who knows Thai food really well. I’m quite sure this restaurat will be a real hit with local expats. It’s the sort of food we’ve been missing until now!
Whilst there is apparently no dress code, I’d say it’s well worth putting on your shoes for!