OVER the speakers comes the sound of a tenor singing an Italian operetta. Sadly, we’re not looking out through the windows at Lake Como but suburban Crosspool.
“If they start playing Demis Roussos I’ll think we’re at Abigail’s Party,” says my wife looking at the quadrant-shaped Sixties, going on Seventies, cocktail bar in the corner of the restaurant.
If it isn’t quite the one as seen in the television production of Mike Leigh’s classic play, it is just the sort of thing aspired to by Alison Steadman’s Beverly.
On the tables of La Dolce Vita in Crosspool are sets of vintage wine glasses with matching water jugs and tumblers, each one in different styles and colours. Ours are amber, with dinky little tulip bowls on long stems.
In the corner is a Dansette record player, nearby a circular radiator and on the walls large black and white photos of a bosomy Anita Ekberg in the 1960 Frederico Fellini film La Dolce Vita, after which the place is named. From the ceiling hang globe lights, the kind of thing Beverly might have had.
It looks as if someone has gone to a lot of trouble to get the image they want to create.
We remember this place from years ago when it was Reilly’s, so far Sheffield’s only Irish restaurant, long before the craze for Irish bars. It was another Italian eaterie before this.
It’s now being run by Tuscan Nirvana Bloor – she married an IT man called Matthew – and her extended family, who help out with the cheffing and waiting on.
It seems to be a hit locally, opening a daytime café as well.
I love little neighbourhood restaurants . La Dolce Vita seats about 30. And I love it even more when it’s bring your own wine, as it is here.
There is no website so we booked blind and when we turned up on a Wednesday night it is almost full. That can’t be bad in a recession.
But a first glance of the menu shows a three-course meal here is unlikely to be cheap. In which case Dawes’s Law comes into action: the higher the price the higher the standard of food expected and the greater the criticism.
For starters, I order the bruschetta (there is a choice of three) and mistakenly think I can have one of each but it’s just the one.
I choose the tomato, garlic and anchovy and while it is undeniably very good (they are white anchovies) £5.25 for one slice of posh toast seems excessive. An undressed salad with a whole cherry tomato makes up the space on the plate.
My wife has a starter portion of spaghetti alla matriciana (£6.75), the pasta al dente the way Italians like it, the tomato and pancetta sauce gently spicy. Nice, but a quid too much.
There is a range of pizzas for around £9 but you can have these anywhere. Besides, now deep in Retroland, I’d spotted the anatra all’arancia, the Italian version of duck a l’orange, my first-ever order in a posh restaurant back in the Seventies.
I am a little surprised. For £13.95 I expect the usual breast, crisp of skin in an orangey jus. Instead I get a cheaper roasted leg. It is all right but unremarkable. The skin is limp but I like the sauce (the duck was covered in half an orange worth of slices). It is plated with a spoonful or two of vegetables in a parmesan sauce.
Would that be enough? I ask our pretty young waitress. I decide on a side dish of roast potatoes (£2.95), which effectively bumps my main course up to almost £17.
Meanwhile my wife has the king prawns in brandy (£11.95), another half forgotten retro dish. She gets four tasty prawns – the brandy has added a fiery background – two slices of ciabatta and a lot of salad. And that’s it, prawns toast and salad.
One thing they don’t stint on here is salad. This is a restaurant for bunnies.
We sip our wine and look at the dessert menu. They are all £4.50 and home made. I try a gentle hint to get the kitchen to do a zabaglione for two but Nirvana, whom we see for the first time with our mains, says they can’t spare the time.
I can’t beat about the bush: our desserts are awful. A panna cotta is rubbery and tasteless, the tiramisu is soggy with not a lot of coffee. Not so much of the sweet life here.
We order a couple of espressos (£1.60) and end on a high note. They are excellent.
There are free amarettos after the meal but that doesn’t quite make up for the bill, which comes to a few pennies over £55, rather a lot for homely food.
Along the road at Artisan, you’d have a bit of change to spare, and there’s a weekday £25 special at Rafters. When there’s a recession on, you want to see your money well spent.
The Dawes Verdict
La Dolce Vita
52A Sandygate Road Sheffield, S10 5RY.
Tel: 0114 266 9811.
Open: Mon-Sat from 6.30pm, café during the day. Cash or cheques only. BYO (corkage £2). Vegetarian and gluten-free dishes. Street parking.