I embarrass myself nearly every day, and today's sheepish confession is that I was so utterly exhausted after work that I ate at a chain. My hotel is within reading distance of the Brunswick Centre, and I just stumbled into Strada, fell into a chair, and waited for them to shovel hay in my maw.
It wasn't an awful meal. I had the polenta-mushroom starter, which was okay, and for my main the mixed-veg salad with warm little logs (mmm!) of mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto. The salad was even very good, and I think I can make it even better at home (although I'm not sure how to warm the prosciutto-cheese logs without crisping the ham or melting the cheese).
I do feel guilty about patronizing Strada, but it was the best I could do. I ate at Carluccio's the night I came down from Cambridge (I didn't know it was a chain, despite there being one in Ely), so I couldn't go back; Nando's is vile (and there was a line, if you can believe it); Hare & Tortoise was packed to the gunwales; Giraffe looks dire; and Yo Sushi, well, I embarrass myself just uttering the name.
But what interests me most is that every Italian restaurant in the UK appears to be chock-full of Americans (and if it isn't abundantly clear, I am one, so physician heal thyself and all that), and that goes double for the chain Italian places. I'm guessing that more than half the diners at Strada were American, and a couple of the waiters were Canadian.
I'm not entirely sure why, but I'm guessing that the ristorante Italiano vibe, especially when smoothed out and blandified chain-style, is particularly recognizable and comforting to the American diner. But maybe that's unfair. I don't think that Italian food is that much better than any other cuisine, but could its mediocre setting be higher than that of others? That wouldn't account for a preponderance of Americans. Any other theories out there?