So apparently I’m having an Italian food eating obsession? First Azzuro’s, and now Cheikho’s! Can’t beat a nice bit of Italian food though, it’s got to be said. Now. Cheikho’s is a heck of a lot closer to my ‘base station’ than anything else I’ve reviewed, and it’s been around for as long as I can remember. I lived in the same town as this restaurant, on and off, for over ten years and never went! I tried the dodgy Chinese across the road, and every Indian restaurant in the place. And every Chippy, it has to be said, in those 10 years, but Cheikho’s somehow slipped through the net. Bizarre.
Well, that has now been rectified, you can call off the firing squad and put up your feet. So what if you’re in the Midlands and want an Italian that isn’t as poor as the nearest Frankie & Benny’s? Well, I think the answer will have to be this place on many counts.
My visit here with one of my friends was bought on by my impulse buying of a Groupon deal a month or so ago for a 2-course meal, from the a la carte menu (not a set one!) for two people for some silly amount. I was skeptical, I admit. I googled and the results weren’t pretty – they were also all quite dated, presumably from the last time a similar offer was run. But it’s safe to say that I had my reservations. You know how sometimes you turn up at a venue, or a restaurant or bar with a Groupon or Wowcher or whatever and suddenly that warm smile from the staff turns slightly brittle and fixed and suddenly you realise, with cold dread, that whatever you are about to experience is going to be grudgingly given and second-best? C’mon, you all know what I mean! Well, I’m happy to say they were unfounded in this case. I’d called up previously to reserve a table – I went for a weeknight at 7pm. On arrival we were greeted warmly and shown to a table. I fessed up about the voucher and the chap didn’t miss a beat, he pointed out we had the entire menu, the voucher covered a starter and main each, but steaks were a supplement (which was already stated on the voucher). He took our drinks order and left us too it.
It was so… normal. I didn’t feel like the scum of the Earth!
I hadn’t called ahead to check on vegan options, and it turns out the pasta contained both dairy and egg products so I decided to just ‘do my best’ with my order. The menu at Cheikho’s is wide – for main dishes they have the usual pasta and pizza options, plus steak, fish and chicken dishes, a few vegetarian (cheese-filled) options. There’s a lot of choice on the starters too, although only about 3 or 4 vegetarian.
After some back and forth ideas, we settled on our choices and the waitress returned to take our order, having attempted to previously already but she was very easy going and happily gave us as long as we needed, without disappearing completely but without hovering way to close until we felt hurried.
I went for the Melon Tutti-Frutti, after we stopped giggling at the name. Described as ‘sweet melon served with fruits of the season, smothered in champagne’, I was intrigued what fruits would be classed as seasonal in October. My friend ordered Baked Mozzarella & Parma Ham.
So it turns out, the additional fruits were mango, grapefruit and orange. Personally, though I like grapefruit, I found it too sour with the other fruits. It overpowered everything completely, and if there was champagne anywhere at any point in the dishes’ life, it was long gone from a taste point of view. That said, there was certainly plenty of melon! Even the waitress was amused. Perhaps compensating for the lack of champagne? My friends (unphotographed) parma ham and cheese came with a small pool of salsa as well, and apparently it was all very nice.
For mains, I went with the Penne a Arabiatta (fresh pasta served in a delicious tomato, garlic, chilli and basil sauce) along with a Tomato Side Salad; my friend had Chicken Cacciatora (Chicken breast stuffed with blue cheese and wild mushrooms, wrapped in smoked bacon, pan-fried and baked. Served in a mushroom sauce) with a Mixed Side Salad.
My pasta was a little overcooked for my taste – I prefer it al dente when a pasta-only dish and this was a little soft; however the sauce was brilliant and had just the right amount of kick to leave my mouth ever so slightly tingly, but not in an unpleasant “oh-my-gosh-I-need-water” kind of way. But my favourite bit of the entire meal has to be the tomato side salad. I know that’s a bit sad, but I love tomatoes. And garlic. And olives. And this featured all of those!
I ate all that first before even really diving into my pasta! My friend’s chicken – and most especially the sauce – was said to be very tasty too.
Being a weeknight we didn’t sample any wines, or Limoncello, and we were too full for dessert so our tasting adventure ended there.
Other things to note – throughout the entire meal our waitress was super friendly and I don’t think I ever saw her not smiling at a customer. She never pressured us and was really just very pleasant to have as a server. Chatty but not too chatty as well (you know when a waiter(ess) keeps talking and all you wanna go is eat or pay or leave etc? None of that!)
Despite it being a Wednesday night in a small town, we were not the first table on arrival, and several more came in after us too. I think in total there were five tables which for that town is quite a lot, I’d of thought. I did note that every single person was there with a paper voucher in hand, so I’d perhaps be interested to see how things are in March, when the current deal has expired.
A good Italian in the Midlands, who’d of thought! Good food, pleasant atmosphere and friendly service mean I would both recommend this place to my friends and family, and I would go again. Indeed, I have already said to my fiancé that we need to come back ourselves. It’s just about do-able in a taxi without getting completely ripped off, so perhaps we’ll get to sample the wine too!
Rating: 7.5/10. A lack of vegan options means I drop points these days, and the pasta was slightly overcooked for a ‘Italian’ restaurant in my opinion. Since we were there on a Groupon, it’s hard to comment on the value. We only paid on the night for what wasn’t covered by the voucher – two soft drinks and two salads, which came to just shy of £10.