Supermarket restaurants and cafes have been forced to up their game in recent years. For every major shopping centre there’s a casual dining venue nearby or a drive-thru option likely to be at your fingertips.
If you’re going to attract people to eat inside, the offer needs to be clean, clear, inviting and value for money.
Decks, the restaurant run by Tesco at Arena Shopping Park has been closed since March due to the global pandemic – and it will never to be reopened.
Instead, the supermarket giant has portioned off a section close to the entrance within the shop-floor footprint and swiftly built a new in-house restaurant, called ‘The Cafe’.
It opened for the first time on Friday (October 2) and we made our first visit just 24 hours later.
First impressions are good. It’s bright, light and airy with the high roof above making it seem larger than expected. Given the current situation during the global pandemic, tables are spaced out well and there’s plenty of room to make your way to the till point.
A simple menu is positioned on the left as you arrive which lists the all-day breakfast offers, ranging from the £5.20 vegan breakfast to eggs on toast, which will set you back £2.85. One eye-catching option was an avocado and halloumi muffin (£3.30).
The lunch menu’s costliest item is a finest British beef burger at £6.10 while there’s soup on offer for £3.05.
Prices for jackets, toasties and paninis as well as kids meals are available here, but you’ve got to go to the order point to learn more about what’s on offer as well as the snacks and beverages they serve.
Our order consisted of the smoked salmon and scrambled egg bagel, a goats cheese panini with chips, a kids fish fingers meal, two coffees and a caramel shortbread that came to £19 on the button. Not bad at all for three people to be fed and watered.
And the service was exemplary.
It started with the initial instruction to check in by scanning the track and trace code, before moving on to our order.
Given it was only the second day since opening, it was a little surprising to learn elements of the kids meal pick and mix were not available along with questions over availability of ingredients for our secondary option for our child. Teething problems I’m sure.
The situation was handled professionally and in an open, engaging way.
Our hot drinks almost beat us to our table such was the speed of service. The curse of the wobbly table struck us but, that aside, the eating/drinking atmosphere was pleasant.
While it is a big open space, you do not feel like you’re on show for the hordes of shoppers streaming into the supermarket. There’s plug points and USB ports underneath too to charge your phone or fire up your laptop.
Just six minutes after receiving our receipt, lunch was served. My salmon and egg bagel was a light option at just 500 calories (dietary information is provided on the menu) so I didn’t expect it to be a thick, doughy bagel slathered in cream cheese and drizzled with sauce.
It was a simple, well-executed, pleasant dish. The sheets of salmon were fresh and tasty and the scrambled egg was cooked well. The bread element was thin and a little on the dry side, but for under £5, this felt like a value-for-money dish.
My partner’s goat cheese and caramelised onion panini, a snip at £3.45, wasn’t overly generous with filling but still compared favourably to ‘out-of-the-packet’ options you’d pick up from a chain coffee shop.
It tasted good too, with the cheese lightly melting and the onions adding a sweet, binding element.
The portion of chips was sizeable, with a bowl of thickly cut, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside chips served up making it well worth the £1.30 outlay.
Given our orders were for mediums, our coffees were huge! My black Americano (£2.40) was flavoursome and punchy while my partner’s medium latter (£2.40) with caramel syrup (40p) was a little on the milky side, however, wasn’t overly sweet and once more – you certainly got your monies worth.
The accompanying caramel shortbread square (£1.70) rivalled anything you’d have along a coffee at a major chain.
Our daughter’s kids meal of fish fingers (there were three of them served up) chips and peas was a real plateful for £2.85, and she happily gobbled most of it up.
Overall the experience was relaxed and enjoyable. The service swift and friendly, even if there was a few bumps on the road with items not being available.
With the Arena Shopping Park losing Frankie & Benny’s,Chiquito,Starbucks and the aforementioned Decks in recent times and the opening date for the new Nando’s still yet to be announced – this helps go someway to filling the gap of casual dining they have left behind for the thousands of people who shop here everyday.