Quaint little place, is Tickhill.
Historic buildings, pretty cottages, cobbled walkways and a high street lined with specialist food shops and boutiques selling designer clothes and stylish interiors, it’s not called ‘the jewel in Doncaster’s crown’ for nothing.
Shoppers have come here for centuries; in its 14th century heyday it was a bustling market town.
Many 18th century shoppers wanting hale and hearty food after spending their money would have found themselves at the Red Lion, the town’s coaching inn which catered for travellers on the London to Glasgow and Sheffield to Louth mail coaches.
The inn was long ago developed as an upmarket shopping centre, St Mary’s Court, but to this picturesque courtyard shoppers and passers-through still come for their supper.
Here you will find Roccos (without an apostrophe). Its owners describe it as an ‘Italian Kitchen,’ though it’s more of a small Italian village, it’s so large and rambling.
The size does not make it feel cold or unwelcoming, though. There are nooks and crannies all over the place and the clever use of seating booths breaks up the space. There are wicker overhead lampshades casting a warming orange glow, but the modern Italian interior could do with softening; maybe tablecloths, and different crockery – all our food came on rather drab-looking earthenware plates and platters. Probably it’s about trying to create that rustic trattoria look, but it doesn’t show the food off to its best advantage.
The sister to Bawtry Italian Ziniz (no apostrophe AND a z), the restaurant prides itself on its regional cuisine – it traverses Italy from north to south, the menu says.
At first glance, the choice didn’t look all that different from any other UK Italian. A selection of pastas, pizzas, meat and fish dishes.
Anti pasti starters ranged from marinated olives, garlic breads and bruschetta to home-made chicken liver pate, steamed mussels in white wine and fishcakes.
Confusingly, every dish had two prices on it; a reasonable one, and a £2 more expensive one. We later discovered the lower price was for early birds dining before 5pm. Apparently it did say so on the menu, but we didn’t spot it.
I fancied the fishcakes, but it transpired the first waitress had forgotten to mention they’d run out. So I went for the leek and potato soup on the daily specials menu instead and my husband ordered Gamberoni Calabrese, a whopping £8.95 of freshwater king prawns, sauteed in garlic, chilli, white wine and parsley. You’d pay that for a main course in some restaurants these days.
The soup was hot and plentiful, though not at all Italian in flavour. It came with two thick slices of very good ciabatta. I gave one to my husband, who needed it to mop up every last drop of the chilli and garlic-laden fishy juices in his expensive though far superior dish (which tragically came without bread).
It was my turn to have prawns next; I’d ordered Linguine Gamberetti Indiavolati from the 10 pasta dishes on offer and I’d got high hopes, especially as it was a steep £10.95.
The dish looked pretty; a little branch of nicely cooked cherry tomatoes sat on top of pasta studded with pink tiger prawns, fresh green herbs and little flecks of lemon zest. The linguine was nicely cooked and there were plenty of prawns, but way too much oil and not quite enough flavour. A little bit more care in the kitchen could have made all the difference and lifted a dish I could have whipped up in no time at home into something worthy of eleven quid. I asked for more lemon for a DIY attempt, but got just one segment.
The husband’s choice trounced mine yet again; his Spezzatino della Nonna, £12.95, one of the nine main courses, was great. There were dense, gutsy flavours in the slowly-cooked ‘authentic family beef stew’. Clearly it had been infused with plenty of red wine along the way, the onion was meltingly sweet and the meat lean and tender. It was served with a separate bowl of creamy mashed potato topped with parmesan shavings – a nice combo.
It was a huge portion, too. He was so stuffed afterwards, I had to insist he had a proper pudding instead of ice cream. He always has ice cream.
From a choice of seven desserts, which included profiteroles, tiramisu, tarts, a £7.95 cheeseboard and imported Italian ice creams we chose a cheesecake brulee, £5.50.
The biscuit base was topped with a baked ricotta and mascarpone filling topped with a caramel sauce and bruleed almond cream. The texture was good, but someone had been a bit heavy-handed with the almond essence. He got his ice cream, though; a ball of quality vanilla accompanied it.
Instead of a pud, I went all retro and had a £3.95 liqueur coffee. I haven’t had one for 25 years. Infused with a hearty slug of Tia Maria and topped with double cream, it was delicious.
With a £15.65 bottle of good Sangiovese (we had plumped for a bottle because two large glasses would have cost £5.20 each), the bill came to £62.20. But a 10 per cent service charge had been added automatically, bringing the total to £68.42.
It seemed a lot to pay for a pleasant but average meal. Had everything been at those early bird prices and the size of the tip left to our discretion, we’d have left a lot happier.
n My star ratings (out of five):