*I was asked to visit my local Giraffe and write a feature about it by their PR team. I received financial compensation for this post.*
I don’t usually eat at chain restaurants, not having a young family-a demographic for whom a lot of them seem to cater for-and chain places seem a bit too ‘maison de la casa house’ as Calvin Trillin once said with their mixing of dishes from all over the world, many of them anglicised out of all recognition.
Unfortunately located on Parkway next to the stop-start traffic of Bury’s inner thoroughfare and therefore not the most attractive site, Giraffe is nonetheless convenient for the pre and post-cinema crowd who park nearby and mill about restlessly outside the doors of the various food outlets here. There’s a lot of competition and not a lot of opportunity to distinguish yourselves from the others when your restaurant is housed in a generic built-for-purpose retail block but they have kept the exterior pleasingly stripped back.
Giraffe doesn’t take reservations for weekend brunch, having decided that first come-first served is the fairest way and it also means walk-ins can be accommodated. It can get busy because their brunches are pretty good examples of when chains get it right, menu-wise. Once inside, you’ll notice that Giraffe has had a recent refurbishment if you are a regular, resulting in a clearer and more adult vibe although it retains its family friendly atmosphere. I saw a lot of families dining here, they seemed happy with their lot. I asked head office about customer reaction to the refurbishment which comes in the light of increased competition at mid-market level: “We’ve had a really positive response here. Guests especially comment that it feels lighter and welcoming- a great atmosphere,” a spokesperson told me. “We re-opened on November 13th 2015,” they added, “and Emily, Giraffe’s Bury St Edmunds’ General Manager describes the design as “fresh, colourful and fun.”
The coffee is pretty good for a chain and Giraffe say they are passionate about their blend, and use Union Roasted coffees. I don’t know enough about coffee to comment on this brand but our server told us about the training he had recently completed and rattled off impressive statistics about cups served and the lengths Giraffe went to in sourcing good coffee and investing in decent machines and barista training. We drank Bright Note, a blend of Guatemalan and Brazilian coffee with a fruity cocoa finish. They serve it English style in a mug with no frills if that’s what you want as well as all the cortados, americanos and expressos you could ask for. We didn’t order a capuccino because only philistines order them after eleven a.m.
Across two visits including brunch, I tried the huevos rancheros Mexican breakfast, a large plate covered with a tortilla topped with either scrambled or fried eggs, chorizo and a pile of black beans topped with cheese, adobe sauce and an avocado & tomato salsa; the falafel burger with red pepper & harissa hummus, and the miso & lime grilled salmon with wasabi fried rice, teriyaki greens, lime and sesame crunch. We shared fries and some garlic bread, good and large portions of these staple sides. I liked the look of the bowls packed with lively salads too: the ‘Penang Bang’ with shredded chicken, peanuts, bok-choi and nappa cabbage with a lime-chilli-ginger dressing and another one made with quinoa, edamame, fresh herbs & elderflower dressing. Ideal light lunches, really.
The miso and lime salmon was great, looked and felt healthy, with a pile of really well flavoured rice with a wasabi-like heat [although probably not the real wasabi as the margins on that would be too low for a chain restaurant] and some citrus crunch from the lime and sesame. I steamed through this and would happily order it again. Husband ordered the falafel burger as a kind of test as he tends to find most places serve a vile, shrivelled little ball with not enough juice in the accompaniments to get it down his gullet but Giraffe’s version was better than most and the harissa-hummus pushed away any tedious chickpea blandness.
We also tried out one of their ‘dessert cocktails’ which, on paper, sound totally OTT but was less sickly than it sounded and quite fun to drink because, um, alcoholic pudding. The Banoffee Martini came in a large cocktail coupe with crumbled cookie crumbs on the top. The combination of butterscotch, brandy & banana liqueur with cream nearly put me under the table [lightweight] and its definitely not one to order if you plan on doing anything other than lying flat on a sofa afterwards with a smug ‘I’m not at work and you are’ grin on your face.
I did think there was potential to develop their appeal to the post-work drink crowd: the bar looks good for a chain, the bar staff are knowledgeable about their product and keen to try out new cocktails and guide you towards something new. There’s already a Bar Buddies offer, which provides 50% off cocktails after 5pm from Sunday-Thursday and the possibility of more offers to come.
This is the best of all the chains, a business that pays more than lip service to healthier menus and doesn’t think that all parents want to eat with their children in gaudy, noisy and infantile surroundings. I also prefer it to fake trattorias and fake French bistros which make me want to hurl. It’s also a place to bring the morning papers or your tablet and sit with a coffee and breakfast in one of the booths away from the busier and more open seating areas. There’s room to attract business clientele and the evening crowd looking for somewhere to have that first drink. I liked Giraffe and I didn’t expect to.
Find Giraffe online.
Images by Giraffe.