Review: If you can’t go away, this Preston city centre restaurant will bring the holiday to you

Posted on - 20th May, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - Business, City Centre, Food & Drink, Opinion, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Restaurants in Preston, What's On in Preston
La Viva exterior Pic: Tony Worrall
La Viva is located in Fishergate Pic Tony Worrall

As it was a sunny day my daughter Ground Zero and I wanted to eat somewhere that had outside seating so, as I’ve never been before, I decided to head to La Viva Cafe Restaurant.

Situated at the Primark end of Fishergate among a row of eateries such as Brucciani’s, Moka and Saladishy, it had plenty of outside tables and a menu on a pedestal at the seating entrance, so passers by could have a look. The owner/manager frequently stands nearby and approaches to tell them about the food. It’s not overbearing or pushy, just something that we don’t see as often in the UK as we do in overseas holiday destinations.

The walk from the car was enough for us to realise that we were being lied to by the sun again and to scrap the chilly idea of eating outside, so we were led to a table inside and given menus.

The choice was extensive, covering the usual cafe staples such as baked potatoes, full English breakfasts and sandwiches. On the recommendation of the manager, or possibly owner, I chose a well-done cheeseburger with chips and Ground Zero went for a Turkish breakfast. ‘Went for’ as in chose; she didn’t try to attack it.

My burger was on a nice bun, and the fries were as good as the frozen catering type can be. The pattie was the bouncy burger-van type that’s never going to rock anyone’s world, but it was alright for £5.70, considering that La Viva is on Fishergate. It also had a processed Kraft slice on top; that weird, square clammy stuff that Americans invented for anyone who feels threatened by the taste of actual cheese.

La Viva's cheeseburger and chips

Ground Zero’s meal was unexpected because instead of the Menemen – eggs cooked with tomatoes and peppers – I’d ordered a Turkish breakfast that was small slices of sausage, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, toast, cheddar, feta, jam, olives and two eggs for £7.95.

La Viva's Turkish breakfast
If anyone tried throwing one of those eggs at a politician they’d take their head off

It’s hard to ruin a collection of cold, sliced foodstuffs unless you’re trying to slice them with your forehead, so anyone wanting a Turkish breakfast would be happy with most of what they received. The hard boiled eggs could have done with being taken out of the water a couple of hours sooner, but the feta made up for it, being soft and far less crumbly and sour than the classic supermarket type.

We were asked if everything was okay with the meal, which was a ‘yes’ because everything was okay. Nothing to rave about with the food, but also nothing to rant about.

If we’re comparing La Viva’s burgers to those from independent burger bars, theirs would lose. Likewise, when comparing their breakfasts to those offered by independent breakfast and brunch places. The menu is simply too big to use entirely fresh ingredients, which brings the quality down. On the positive side it’s inexpensive, and there’s an option for almost everyone on it.

La Viva is a tricky eaterie to categorise. It isn’t one of the cheap, funky eat-and-leave types selling outstanding food, like Coco’s Soul Food on Friargate. You wouldn’t have a leisurely evening meal and a few glasses of wine there, like you would at Fino Tapas on Guildhall Street. The burgers aren’t high quality, like you’d get at Smashed Preston in Miller Arcade. There are better burgers to be had in our city centre.

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But La Viva gets a lot of glowing reviews on TripAdvisor, so, I wondered – how?

I think I figured that out when I looked at the menu again, and asked the owner which items were homemade. He was refreshingly honest, listing a modest number of items such as chilli con carne, lamb casserole and soup with bread. I wasn’t hungry after my meal, but thought I’d try some of the bread just to get an idea of the quality of their homemade food. It was wonderful; warm, obviously fresh and similar to a pitta bread sprinkled with sesame seeds.

La Viva's homemade bread
The homemade bread stole the show

Looking more closely at the five star reviews when I arrived home, I noticed that almost all of them mentioned the coffee and the bread and soup combo. Clearly, I’d made a mistake.

A visit to La Viva is exactly like you’ve walked into a family run cafe restaurant in one of the touristy resorts of Turkey or Greece.

First, it’s cheap, especially as it’s situated on the busiest shopping streets in Preston, and it’s modern and spotlessly clean.

The owners and staff are incredibly welcoming. There was a group of women with babies occupying a table at the front, who were treated like friends who visited often both when they arrived and when they left.

The menu at the front with the friendly staff greeting anyone who pauses to look at it is straight out of Bodrum, as is the massive choice of mainly English meals, the quality and taste of which are acceptable but not exceptional.

Like a rookie holidaymaker, I missed out on the homemade, authentic food that runs rings around the usual ‘Brits Abroad’ offerings like my cheeseburger and chips. The beautiful, creamy feta in the Turkish breakfast was a hint, but it was too late by then.

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La Viva occupies a category of its own in Preston, allowing customers to feel like they’re on holiday for a few hours, due to the service and the welcoming atmosphere as well as the difference in quality between the Mediterranean and British food that is standard in most sunny tourist traps.

I’d like to go back, because I believe that a visit to La Viva would still feel like a micro-holiday even if it’s snowing outside. Hopefully, the owners might be able to offer more homemade meals at some point, but until then I’ll order the soup, the fresh bread, some feta and a coffee, and I’ll wear sunglasses and mosquito spray for the full holiday experience.

Have you tried the soup and bread in La Vita and got it all down your bikini? Tell us about it in the comments.

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