Whenever I dine out I tend to follow the mantra “If it’s busy, it must be good”.
Preston’s Cafe Bar was packed out within 15 minutes of opening for lunch when I met a friend there this week, so I felt the staff and chefs must be doing something right.
The plain and simple name that does not really sell the small cosy restaurant - it conjures up images of a burger bar. But the reality is very different.
It is situated off Winckley Street - a charming cobbled street in the city centre. It has become popular with families, groups of friends and couples for its decent food and early bird menu.
Its surroundings are warm and opulent, making it easy to expect to pay a lot more than you actually do.
I’ve been a fan of the Cafe Bar for its romantic ambience, its tasteful decor and its great choice of food for a while. The biggest plus point is its snug hidden outdoor courtyard which gives the sense of a mini oasis.
I’m no stranger to the venue, it was one of my favourite haunts in Preston when a student pal and I used to skip lectures at UCLan and hide out in the pretty courtyard sipping a glass of wine and wolfing down a cheap lunch deal.
But I hadn’t been for a couple of years until recently so I was surprised to see it has retained its charm.
On this occasion the weather was a bit doubtful so we were promptly seated at a comfortable table for two inside and offered drinks – a crisp dry white for me and a pint for my companion.
The bar and the kitchen are open so diners can see their food being prepared. The interior is spotless.
The kitchens produce European dishes but the menu is mainly Italian.
After perusing a decent and varied selection of starters - mainly Italian themed – we settled for the chicken livers and calamari dishes.
I was surprised at how quickly it arrived, how carefully it was presented and the portion sizes, which were generous for starters, though one of the salad garnishes was slightly brown.
The calamari was piping hot, just crispy enough and not too rubbery which has been a flaw at other venues.
My friend let me sample the chicken livers and although I’m not a big fan of any liver it was moreish.
After the starters were efficiently taken away we had a short time to recover before our delicious mains arrived.
I had been a little disappointed that the scampi special dish advertised on the menus on the way into the restaurant was not available, but when I saw my mouthwatering Fiorentine pizza – a pizza served with a fried egg and spinach on top – I soon forgave all.
The Cafe Bar chefs cantake a classic Italian dish and add their own quirks.
My pizza base had a pleasant stonebaked taste, without the stone hard crispy texture you get at other pizzerias. It was smothered in a generous amount of cheese and spinach - I always like to try to achieve my five a day!
My companion’s dish – seafood risotto – looked bland in comparison with no garnish or apparent thought into its presentation. It was a surprisingly small portion.
However, it did taste much better than it looked, with a well cooked and seasoned selection of seafood in the dish including tiny baby octopus.
The restaurant was bustling by the time we had devoured our mains but the staff were friendly and helpful and seemed more than able to cope. My biggest disappointment was that there were NO desserts other than ice cream.
Being a sweethtoothed, cakeaholic this was a somewhat disappointing end to what was otherwise and very pleasant and highly recommended dining experience! It seemed unreal after such a good choice of starters and mains and in my friend’s word it left us feeling “unsatisfied”. We both skipped the sheepish offer of chocolate ice cream and ended our meal with a coffee.
This is a place that would suit all tastes and pockets. Our bill for two drinks, two starters, two mains and two coffees came to just over £30 but would have been even cheaper if we had stuck to the competitive early bird menu.
All in all a charming little taste of the Mediterranean to warm people up on a cold Autumn afternoon.