Safari dinner date

Giraffe Meadowhall
Giraffe Meadowhall

I LOVE giraffes but I couldn’t eat a whole one – okay, now I’ve got that stupid joke off my chest I’ll get on and tell you how I found it eating in one.

Or at least in the restaurant chain of the same name in the revamped Oasis food court at Meadowhall.

Actually, we asked our waiter why the name Giraffe – thankfully, giraffe is not served on the menu – and he looked a bit quizzical and tried to explain the company’s thinking on how a giraffe is tall and so it can see for a long way over the rest of the jungle. None of us were much wiser and I wondered if it was just a name that sounded good in a corporate brainstorming session. Or maybe the boss just thinks they are cute.

After admiring the over-the-top decor at neighbouring ChaoBaby (I can’t help worrying about those blue jellyfish – are they real?), we really liked the more laidback, casual chic style at Giraffe, particularly the wall made up of differently-treated pieces of wood next to our booth. The colours are sort of giraffe inspired with lots of orangey tones and light woods. A semi-open kitchen stretches almost the width of the restaurant.

Our waiter was welcoming and charming and soon sorted out our drinks orders. They have a range of cocktails, beers, wines and soft drinks and one of the many offers means that any drink marked BB for Bar Buddies is half price in the evenings. Check out the website, www.giraffe.net, to see them all. We admired the jam jar with a handle that the elderflower collins was served in.

Speaking of offers, Giraffe is celebrating of Mexican Independence Day last Saturday (September 16) all this week with a two-for-one offer on Mexican dishes like breakfast favourite huevos rancheros, quesadillas and burritos to anyone who downloads a coupon from their Facebook page.

The menu picks out popular dishes from around the world including various stir fries, an offbeat-sounding parmesan chicken schnitzel Kiev, barbecue ribs, steaks, salads, burgers, sandwiches, seasonal offerings, brunch options… not to mention the separate breakfast menu. It must be great fun for families with diverse tastes but there is the problem of a corporate blandness inherent in mixing up so many different cuisines.

There were three of us and we decided to start with one of the sharing dishes, a mezze plate (£8.25 or go bigger for £12.95), plus an order of crunchy coconut shrimp (£5.65). Individual starter prices are around £5 and the sharing plates start at £5.50. As well as soup of the day, individual starters include Chinese-style chicken potsticker dumplings, wok-fried edamame soy bean pods and an avocado, mango and Wensleydale cheese salad.

Sharing plates cover Italian, Mexican and Middle Eastern tastes.

Our mezze platter featured hummus, tzatziki, baba ganoush, brown rice salad, tabbouleh salad, vine tomato and preserved lemon tapenade, falafel and oregano halloumi skewers and came with warm naan bread. All of it was pretty tasty, especially my favourite baba ganoush, which is a smoky-tasting aubergine puree, the aromatic halloumi cheese and well-flavoured and moist tabbouleh.

The good-sized crunchy shrimps, which came with a lime and sweet chilli dipping sauce, were also snapped up pretty quickly.

For the main courses, I was intrigued by the idea of tequila and lime chicken breast, where the meat is marinaded in the other ingredients and herbs (£11.25). I went for skin-on fries or could have chosen salad or herby mash.

Linda tried the chilli beef enchilada (£10.95) and Ruth opted for the butternut squash, sage and pecorino risotto (£9.25), the addition of prawns taking the price up to £10.95, as would the chicken or chorizo options.

We also had a side order of pretty uninteresting garlic foccacia (£2.45) which we didn’t really need anyway as portions are a good size.

My chicken and chips were fine, especially the chips, but the tequila and lime marinade was pretty muted, adding only a bit of a limey tang.

Linda liked her oven-baked enchilada which had a lot of ingredients fighting for attention: the menu lists herby rice, adobe sauce, jack cheese, tomato salsa and pumpkin seeds, plus an avocado salad in tequila and lime dressing. Not enough spice for me, though.

Ruth, who can cook a fair risotto herself, enjoyed her plateful. I particularly liked the idea of adding chargrilled vegetables, which gave it a lot of texture. It would have been an equally good dish without the prawns.

A canny waitress, spotting a table full of women, gave us a few minutes and then tempted us with the dessert menu. It was sheer greed, to be honest.

I went for key lime pie (£3.95), Linda tried the rocky road sundae (£5.65) and Ruth opted for white chocolate cheesecake. The key lime was sublime, the tang cutting right through the rich, cheesecake-like filling beautifully.

The rocky road sundae, a deconstructed version of a rocky road slice, didn’t really keep the interest for long enough, but the mascarpone and white chocolate cheesecake was a joy with its fresh passionfruit accompaniment doing the same job as the lime.

They serve decent quality teas and coffees as well.

Our bill came to £77.13, which was maybe just a bit on the high side, so it’s well worth seeking out those offers.

lVerdict: pretty enjoyable but lacks the wow factor.

lOpen: Monday to Friday and Sunday, 10am to 10pm, Saturday 9am to 11pm.

Giraffe, 65 The Oasis, Meadowhall. Tel 0114 287 0233.