In restaurant reviewing, as in life, it is always wise to have a Plan B in case Plan A, your first choice, falls as flat as an overcooked soufflé.
But how many of us have a Plan C if B goes bust?
You join me on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, a man without a plan looking for a restaurant to review. Earlier in the day a telephone call to Plan A established that the place we had our eye on had decided not to open that evening.
That’s up to them but it seemed a bit odd after all their online advertising.
No matter, with practised ease we switched to Plan B. We hadn’t booked and it was busy but if we waited upstairs they would get us a table.
It took no more than five minutes but when we got down we found the special menu trumpeted on its web site and the wall outside was not on. No names, no pack drill, we might decide to go back. So we left with the prospect of no dinner and no review.
What do you do in these circumstances? Phone a friend, or in my case, a colleague. Further along the road a new place had opened which was a possibility. But seeing how the evening was going there was the chance one of The Star’s Saturday reviewers already had it in their notebook.
They hadn’t but we found our Plan C before we got there. A menu board outside the Italian Kitchen caught my eye with trigger words like ‘confit,’ and ‘pork belly,’ and saved me from drowning into an alphabet soup. We’d been before but couldn’t remember how far back and the place did look inviting so we went in.
It’s run by second generation Anglo-Italians, sister and brother Victoria and Simon Guadagnin, whose dad Paolo had one of the first Italian restaurants on Ecclesall Road, just a few doors away.
But why is Simon grinning like a Cheshire Cat when much later we settle our bill and confess that while we’ve enjoyed the meal the Italian Kitchen had not been our first choice but our Plan C.
“Last time you came here we were your Plan B after you couldn’t get into Felicini’s,” he says.
Some might say it’s a bit of a snub to not think of the Italian Kitchen first but we like to think it’s serendipity.
It’s a modern, laid-back, contemporary Italian restaurant – there are no gingham tablecloths, Artex walls or posters of Italian footballers. Last time we came there were album covers of Engelbert Humperdinck on the wall but they have disappeared.
Shorter than most Italian menus, it makes the usual nod towards pasta, pizza and steaks with a short selection of Golden Oldie mains but its heart is a seasonal specials board with starters such as asparagus with poached egg and Parmesan shavings or mains such as asparagus pizza (with salmon) or salmon in a white wine sauce (with asparagus).
There are two rooms with the wall in between pierced by an aquarium. “There are 12 fish. I shall count them all again when I get my dinner to make sure none have disappeared,” says my wife, who has ordered the stufato di pesce (fish stew).
We begin well with that asparagus starter (£6.50), a little pricy but light and tasty and the only way asparagus should be cooked in our view, grilled not steamed.
My starter is the dish which beckoned me in, a couple of skewers of cubed pork belly interspersed with apple with a lively chilli and lime dip (£5.50).
The meat had been gently marinated in ginger and was juicy with a touch of sweetness. The apple, though, could probably have been better tasting.
I belatedly realised I’d had my main here before: four sturdy, rugged, hefty tortelli filled with spinach and ricotta in a gutsy tomato and basil sauce (£9.50), served up with a slice of very garlicky ciabatta. It was worth eating again.
My wife’s fish stew (£13.95) contained king prawns, mussels, salmon and calamari but no tropical fish in a broth related to my tomato sauce.
Her dish came with chips so naturally I pinched some then burst out laughing. I was eating chips and garlic bread in a going-on posh Italian restaurant. It could be the future.
Victoria, who previously ran the place as the more traditional Vittoria’s, says that being flanked by two very informal Thornbridge Brewery ventures – Graze Inn and Relish – gave them the impetus to be more relaxed for a younger clientele and it seems to have worked.
The informality extends to breakfasts. You can get a Full English here. “I’m already in the kitchen so it makes sense,” says Simon.
We finish with a pretty decent tiramisu and what appears to be the restaurant’s signature sweet, an excellent plum and almond tart (£4.50) each. It’s been a very pleasant relaxed meal.
Food cost £55.20, sparkling water £2.20 and the house white £14.
“Come back and see us when we’re your plan D,” says Simon.
Italian Kitchen, 349 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield S11 8PF. Tel: 0114 2664168. Open daily from 10am until late. Music. Credit cards. Vegetarian and gluten-free dishes available. Disabled access and toilet. Street parking. Web: www.italiankitchensheffield.co.uk