Giraffe

For as long as I can remember I’ve loved writing. I remember spending ages writing silly stories when I was younger, from illustrated books for my little sister to long stories that I thought were immensely captivating at the time (they were awful). I still enjoy writing now (which is ironic given I studied maths!) and I love sitting down with a big mug of tea and biscuits with my laptop to start a random ramble. But to be asked to write a review about a place in return for free food is like a dream come true!

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I’m pretty open about the fact that I dislike chains. Food chains, coffee chains, pub chains, I just don’t like them. I often find that they lack the good service, uniqueness and attention to detail that an independent place is forced to excel at if they’re to stay open in such a competitive industry. There are, of course, plenty of exceptions (and plenty of independent places where the service is abysmal) but I try to avoid chains as a general rule. It can be impossible hard to find decent alternatives in some places, especially smaller towns or cities, but in London, where there’s a cute coffee shop or quirky little cafe on every corner I avoid them like the plague.

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When I was approached by Giraffe to sample their food at their rebranded venue in Victoria, of course I jumped at the opportunity – who turns down a free meal after all!? – but I was a little sceptical. Not only are they a huge chain, they brand themselves as a world kitchen, and I often find that a menu with too many contrasting options can be a recipe for a disaster. A hugely diverse menu brings back very miserable memories of meals at Frankie & Benny’s or similarly dire meals at pubs which attempt to serve pies, stir fries, curries and burritos all at once – and do them all badly. I can honestly say that’s absolutely not the case with Giraffe’s menu though. Although they brand themselves as a “world kitchen”, they don’t literally offer every cuisine under the sun; their menu is carefully thought out and focuses on the most popular but contrasting cuisines – Mexican, Asian and American. There’s quite literally something for everyone. Despite offering a variety of dishes from all over the world, they don’t go overboard – they’ve carefully selected a few of the most popular dishes from each cuisine. Too much choice can be overwhelming, and for me their menu had the perfect balance – I feel like I could find something to eat no matter what mood I was in, yet I didn’t find myself torn between thirty seven variations of what is essentially the same dish.

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One thing you’re guaranteed to get with chains is a good location and atmosphere – their buying power pretty much guarantees it. Much as I hate to say it how often do you find a Starbucks up a dodgy old alley or a Nandos with a ropey, crumbling interior!? And how often do independent places close to revamp just because they fancy a change? I remember when the Nero near me closed for weeks just to modernise their interior, despite clearly not needing it since it was rammed every single day. Of course it looked better afterwards, though their coffee was still just as crap (the only time I get one is on o2 priority and the amount of times I’ve got back to my desk and taken the lid off my cup to find my white “Americano” looks like pale, milky pond water is disturbing!).

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Giraffe is no exception, and they’ve recently revamped and launched a new menu. Their location is perfect; literally a stone’s throw from Victoria station. Their interior is beautiful. The ambience is lovely. It’s bright enough for you to be able to see your food, yet dark enough to create a relaxed atmosphere. It’s modern and spacious too. No typical London experience of sitting in someone’s food as you try to squeeze past to get to one of five tiny tables crammed into a space no larger than a garden shed. And of course you can book – and it’s not an issue that forces them to close half the restaurant if you have a party of more than four people!

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I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that before going I actually thought of a bunch of generic positive reasons to visit a chain restaurant – good location, nice atmosphere, good for groups etc. But as it turns out, much as all of these things were true, I didn’t need to think hard about positive things to say – honestly I was shocked. I might even go as far as to say it’s made me look at chains in a whole new light. The quality of the food was so good, and the service was amazing too. Obviously service can be hit and miss and I’m sure it varies by both day and location, but our waitress was funny, friendly and the right balance of attentive whilst still making herself scarce – waiters/waitresses  hovering around is something that really irritates me.

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We started off with cocktails and they were so good. Full of flavour and pretty strong too 😉 We had a few Mojitos and a few variations of my other favourite cocktail (Daiquiri) and they were lovely.. and so well presented too, which for me is vital when you order a cocktail. They aren’t cheap (as cocktails never are), so it’s nice to feel like thought and effort has gone into the presentation! They come in a few flavours – but the triple citrus and grapefruit & vanilla were our favourites.

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The starters were ridiculously good – I was honestly shocked (evidently that’s a recurring theme of this post!). The world breads platter was always going to be a winner in my eyes; as a carb lover I can never resist ordering bread when it’s on the menu, but it can often be boring and simple – a few slices of bread thrown into a basket, warmed up if you’re lucky. Not here. We were presented with a platter of bread. Four different types – each one different, each one delicious, drizzled with olive oil and grilled to give them a beautiful almost smokey taste. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the exact flavour of a couple of the breads but they were divine. As if each bread wasn’t delicious enough, we got three dips – balsamic and olive oil, an incredible tomatoey red pepper hummus (sprinkled with toasted walnuts!) and whipped feta. Everything was so well thought out – they all went perfectly together, and it was a clever and unique twist on a standard “bread and oils” starter that most places serve up. For my starter I got the prawn saganaki. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what saganaki was, but I went for it anyway. I was torn between that and the tacos but I decided to try something a bit different and I’m so glad I did. The sauce was unbelievable. Rich, tomatoey and packed full of flavour. The prawns were soft and juicy, I got a fair few in there, and the sprinkling of feta on top finished it off perfectly. I’m not sure where I stand on rocket – sometimes I like it and sometimes I find it too overwhelmingly bitter, but it went so well with the sweetness of tomato sauce and the saltiness of the feta. Often I find that leaves are just thrown onto the plate for aesthetic purposes or to unnecessarily bulk out a plate of food but I’d actually go as far as to say it genuinely added to the dish. Marcus went for the chicken gyoza. I tried one and I wasn’t a huge fan of the filling – I found it a little salty – but he loved them.

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For mains I was torn between a few things but for some reason the blackened salmon really jumped out at me. Much as I love salmon, I rarely ever order it when I’m out (I don’t actually know if I ever have before actually!) but the dish was described so enticingly and it turned out to be even better than I was expecting. It had a huge number of components and they all worked perfectly together. The fillet was packed full of flavour and skin was crispy and covered in spices. It was served on a bed of brown rice which was divine – cooked so that it still had a bit of a bite, with the slightly nutty flavour that makes me much prefer brown rice to white and kidney beans just bursting out of their skins. It was ridiculously tasty despite being quite “dry” – in a good way – no unnecessary drowning in oil which I feel is common in so many restaurants. On the side was a lovely sweet, buttery corn on the cob and a lovely salsa complete with pretty pink pickles, with a few chunks of fresh mango and a wedge of lime to lift the dish.

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The waitress recommended the side of greens which I thought was a slightly strange recommendation but we went for it – the greens were kale, chard and broccoli. They came steamed and I loved them. They were fresh, tasty and an incredibly appealing bright green. Other people might think differently but If I’m ordering veg as a side, I’m ordering it because I like veg, not because I’m pretending to be healthy whilst secretly wanting it to be drowned out with butter or oil or boiled until any ounce of nutritional value is long gone. The number of times I’ve ordered a nice light side salad as an accompaniment to a heavy meal and it’s ended up feeling heavier than the meal itself as it’s drowning in half a litre of oil is infuriating.

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Marcus chose the American BBQ beef brisket. It was served with rustic fries, onion rings and a heap of coleslaw. The meat was exactly how you’d hope it to be – tender, soft and falling off the bone, with a smokey BBQ flavour. The fries were crispy with some of their skin left on and the coleslaw was creamy and uniquely colourful, rather than the standard white and orange.

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The dessert menu is everything you could possibly want. I was so torn between the cookie sandwich and the banana waffle split. I wanted to be a good blogger and get the cookie sandwich because that would have undoubtedly made for a better picture, but I make cookies pretty much every week at home so I decided to try something different. I love caramelised banana and I absolutely love waffles (who doesn’t!?) so it was always going to be a good decision! They also have a big selection of ice creams including dulche de leche and speculoos. Speculoos ice cream. How could I not get a scoop of those on the side to try!? I’d had a lot of coffee and a lot of cheese that day, and my stomach wasn’t particularly happy with me, but I decided it was worth the pain to try them. And I was right. They were so good!! I often find that the one thing that lets a dessert down is a lack of ice cream so this was the perfect solution 🙂 I later found a picture on Giraffe’s social media of their cookie sandwich though (I’ve put the picture right at the end of this post – they do it a lot more justice than I ever could have!) and it looks every bit as amazing as it sounds.. Definitely one to order next time 🙂

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Marcus got a salted caramel ice cream sundae which came with toffee sauce, caramel popcorn and pretzels – talk about giving the people what they want! It was amazing (I loved the crunch of the pretzels for texture!) but my waffle was undoubtedly my favourite. It was warm, sweet and soft, topped with the most incredible caramelised bananas, vanilla ice cream and drizzled generously with chocolate and toffee sauces. The ice cream was sitting on top of the bananas which stopped it from melting into a messy puddle and the bananas themselves were every bit as amazing as I’d hoped. They were so soft with a hint of cinnamon and the most beautiful caramelisation on the edges – slightly crispy where the sugar had browned. And the sauces – sweet toffee and rich chocolate. I could’ve had jugs of them. Combine that with two extra scoops of ice cream on the side and I was in dessert heaven!!

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They have a huge selection of tea pigs tea and coffee too, and a crushed ice mocha which sounds like an awesome take on a frappe. We’d both had a lot of coffee and it was late but we got tea as we wanted to get a hot drink to stretch the meal out a little more since it was so lovely. We usually eat quite quickly as we’re so focused on the food but well over two hours had flown by and we could’ve stayed there for a lot longer!

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Every single one of their dishes is carefully thought out and beautifully presented. They use colourful plates and vibrant colours and their whole decor and interior just feels fun and exciting. It really seems like their menu has been designed by someone who has a genuine passion for food – each plate had a huge number of elements without being overcrowded.

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Giraffe is undoubtedly one of the better chains I’ve eaten at and we both thoroughly enjoyed our meal. Even in London where there are so many amazing independent restaurants around I’ll be the first to admit that chains definitely have a time and a place. For large groups, fussy eaters, if you’re short on time or if you’re waiting at Victoria station with big bags and neither the time nor the inclination to travel far to eat then it absolutely fits the bill. If I was going out with friends, I’d happily book Giraffe, and would recommend it to others too. You’re guaranteed consistency and you know you’ll be served good food with a lovely atmosphere. It’s perfect for large groups too – it’s more than big enough to cater for huge groups, they do a ton of amazing cocktails and I challenge even the fussiest of eaters not to find something they like on their extensive menu!

And if you’re not convinced yet.. check out their cookie sandwich below 😉

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Link to their website: http://www.giraffe.net

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