As well as an ongoing and as yet undocumented quest to find the best tiramisu, I recently began a search for my favourite Caesar salad.

While not strictly adhering to the classic list of ingredients, to my mind (and anchovy loving palette) this would involve:

  • Crunchy sections of romain or cos lettuce
  • Anchovies (not just in the dressing)
  • Decent sized crunchy croutons
  • Parmesan shavings
  • Plenty of the traditional salty and lemony dressing
  • Chicken only if it is part of a ‘chicken’ or ‘chicken and bacon’ version
  • No bacon (unless as part of a ‘chicken and bacon’ version)

When the salad is served as a main dish, I don’t think this seven-point plan is too much to ask, but I’ve been surprised at some of the variations I have encountered.

I had two supposed Caesar salads while on holiday in Kos. I got Kos lettuce rather than cos or romain and both places had much to learn in my opinion. In the first instance the croutons were miniscule, there were no anchovies in sight, the bits of chicken had an odd brown peppery coating showing where the chicken steak had been marinated in something unidentifiable prior to it being sliced up and the lettuce tasted more like dandelion leaves. The second one was better but still very much wide of the mark. No photos I’m afraid because it was these two salads that got me thinking about doing this blog post.

Once I was home I had an inkling where I might find a decent Caesar salad (The Square in Nottingham – as it turns out it was no longer on their menu when we got there and so there’ll be separate post about the place later this week). So the second set of restaurants were in Loughborough. I’ll keep going until I find ‘the one’ and for now here’s two that didn’t quite hit the mark and one that I should’ve sent back to the kitchen.

Delice deli cafe is a combined deli and cafe just down the road from the cluster of chain restaurants around the Cineworld cinema in the rejuvenated Baxter Gate area of Loughborough.

On a surprisingly busy Friday lunchtime, there were mostly pensioners inside. We got a warm welcome from the staff. The lunch menu includes lots of baguettes, a lunch deal with soup and a main, lots of ‘artisan’ stuff, meat, cheese, vegetarian boards and there is an extensive menu for soft drinks and special teas – fifty-two in fact. They also have a small selection of wine (French and Italian) and bottled beers.

Their chicken Caesar salad had grated dry Parmesan instead of shavings and only one lonely anchovy resting on top. A mixture of salad leaves was used as opposed to a single crispy variety.

Close, but no cigar…

The bits of chicken were nice and large but only helped to emphasise the rather diminutive croutons which seemed to be out of a packet instead of freshly prepared.

A very nice homemade coffee cake with a good amount of coffee cream and walnuts helped to counter my slight disappointment with the main.

Croma in Loughborough, situated at the front of the Odeon cinema in the marketplace area, came very close to what I’d consider a very good version but failed on a couple of counts with their chicken Caesar salad.

The crunchy fresh lettuce was correct but not cut up – purists would say this is right – but for me (who uses a knife only when really necessary) it makes the salad fiddly to eat. There were plenty of anchovies too, which were of good quality and not at all bony and there was also plenty of dressing. But err hello? Where were the croutons?

Croma’s salad came close
Okay, so here’s a spoiler alert! – this so far is the best tiramisu in Loughborough. That day a little damp, but usually divine. Moomba were also very good – but sadly they no longer have tiramisu on their menu.
Siggy’s raspberry cheesecake was lush

The salad came with a plate of very nice garlic dough balls but it doesn’t excuse the glaring omission of croutons imo. Also the Parmesan was grated not shaved and the pancetta pieces were unnecessary.

Croma however do make a fantastic tiramisu and indeed the salad, dough balls and dessert made a very satisfying Saturday lunch.

Browns Lane weren’t giving their chicken Caesar salad away at a whopping twelve quid for the main, but given I had this post kicking around as a rough draft and Caesar salad was on the menu I couldn’t resist checking it out.

We sat downstairs in the bar area and enjoyed the free wifi. It sounded quite busy upstairs so we were prepared for a wait. The decor is a trendy mix of grey tones and the seating comfortably padded grey leather. The music consisted of contemporary kind of live lounge stuff set at a restrained volume.

We had time to review the cocktail menu with a dozen cocktails priced at around £7 and then the chillaxed atmosphere was broken by the arrival of a wedding party. We waited twenty minutes, as advertised on the menu, in the end. The salad when it arrived, despite being on a plate rather than a bowl, looked like a dog’s dinner – nil points for presentation.

Looks like something dug out the bin doesn’t it?

The salad was mostly made up of whole of vertically halved leaves and was very light on the Parmesan – featuring only tiny slivers.

There were lots of anchovies, dare I say too many. The chicken was a breast sliced up and plonked unceremoniously on top. The ratio of sauce to leaves was good – each leaf carrying a decent coating. The croutons were big and malformed and if I was being generous could be described as rustic.

It could’ve been passable but for one inexcusable problem. Some leaves were marked with brown damage marks and (this is the inexcusable bit) some were just plain rotten in places – turned dark green and gunky. This smacks loudly of very poor attention to detail or just a plain lack of respect for the diner and the salad was certainly not worth twelve quid. The dodgy leaves actually brought me to complain after the meal which despite my opinionated attitude on this blog isn’t something I do very often in person. I got a negligible apology and so the decision not to head back soon was quite simple.

Hidden under the dog’s dinner – rotten lettuce. Gee thanks guys…

Once upon a time I used to work in a kitchen and one of my jobs (before I was promoted to running an ice cream kiosk) was to build salads. I would never have dreamt of putting a salad out containing rotten leaves – it’s hardly rocket science.

Croma came close but the quest continues…