Jade Wright experiences a warm welcome at Gecko in the city centre
IT’S ABOUT this time of year that I always start longing for a holiday. I dream of a dazzling white sandy beach, framed by swaying palm trees as I sit at my desk or battle my way along the Dock Road, the wind whipping my hair against my face.
I find myself thinking about the Greek Islands or the Amalfi coast, spending my days in the sunshine and the evenings in ancient town squares, discovering the joys of Mediterranean cuisine.
Sadly holidays are far on the horizon – in truth I haven’t even booked anything – so for now I’m contenting myself with tasty tapas, mouthwatering mezze and more olives than any one woman should be able to eat at one sitting.
This week my friend Michelle and I popped into Gecko, the new Mediterranean restaurant and bar for a taste of sunshine on our doorstep.
We were on our way to the Playhouse and it’s just around the corner on the site where Left Bank – another Mediterranean restaurant – used to be. Overlooking the splendour of St George’s Hall and St John’s Gardens it certainly looks impressively European – without the cold wind and the threat of snow we could have been in Madrid or Toulouse.
The menu is a mixture of deli favourites and more substantial dishes.
I was delighted to see 21 different types of olives, as well as lots of antipasto, so we decided to share a starter made up of loads of bits and pieces.
We asked for the Haldiki giant green olives (£1.85), Mediterranean bread (£2.95), red peppers stuffed with feta (£3.45) Borretane Italian onions in balsamic vinegar (£2.25) and some dolamades (£1.95).
We decided on a couple of glasses of rose (£4.95) and enjoyed a good old chat while we waited for our deli banquet to arrive.
Our friendly waiter had to come over and explain that, unfortunately, some of our choices had run out.
There were no Haldiki giant green olives or Borretane onions – instead he suggested we try the green olives stuffed with peanuts and artichokes stuffed with cheese.
We agreed – I’m a big fan of artichokes and I’d never tried olives with peanuts.
I was a bit surprised when they arrived to find that the olives were in fact stuffed with almonds, not peanuts, but they were delicious.
The Mediterranean bread was a real treat too – packed with sun dried tomatoes and red peppers and served with olive oil.
The artichokes were a bit soggier than I’d have liked – a bit like the tinned ones you can buy – but the dolamades were excellent, and the red peppers stuffed with feta (£3.45) were superb. We finished every one.
Our starters were quickly cleared away and the main course arrived promptly.
There were three vegetarian mains on offer – ratatouille, Portobello burger and stuffed peppers – but I didn’t really fancy any of them, so I made my own main course by combining a starter of grilled haloumi with Moroccan spiced grilled vegetables and fresh herbs, served with hummus and toasted pitta (£3.95) with a side order of sweet potato fries (£2.45).
Michelle opted for swordfish on a bed of pepperonata (£12.95) and another order of sweet potato fries (£2.45).
She was pleased with her choice – a well cooked piece of dense, almost meaty fish with a slightly sweet taste, sitting on a sweet pepper stew.
My experimental starter wasn’t quite as I’d hoped – the haloumi and houmous were great but the chargrilled veg had formed a sauce as it had clearly been sitting together for some time. I ate a little bit, but mostly focussed on the amazing sweet potato fries, which were worth the trip alone.
I ate my own bodyweight in them when I was in America, and these were every bit as good.
Yes, there had been a few issues but it’s early days at Gecko. I wasn’t mad about the veg on my main and they didn’t have as good a range as I’d hoped on the deli but given the quality of everything else, and the excellent value, it seems a bit churlish to split hairs.
The service was excellent – friendly without being clingy – and felt authentically Mediterranean.
As we paid our bill and strolled out into the night air, we buttoned up our coats against the chill and rushed over to the Playhouse to watch our show.
While the weather may not have warmed us, the welcome at Left Bank certainly did. We’re already planning our next visit.