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Restaurant review: Just like Mamma used to make?

AA Grill discovers that you won't find any knees trembling at Il Forno, so he makes do with olives and pizza at the place that calls itself Liverpool's first authentic Italian restaurant

Published on September 29th 2010.

Restaurant review: Just like Mamma used to make?

IL FORNO sounded like a Naples massage parlour and I wondered what would happen if I asked for more olive oil on my king prawn.This linguistic ambiguity is encouraged by a menu in which whole pages are devoted to single words with sensual messages: Passione, Amore, Oroglio. I don’t know what that last one means but I’m guessing it’s the Italian for orgy.

The place looks great: banquettes (should that be bonkettes?) all down the outside wall, soft tones, faux Japanese furniture, mosaic floor tiles and funky music to boot. It’s as big as a warehouse but manages an air of easy intimacy.

The joint was jumping when we went. Last time Twangy was in there, there were cartloads of children. It’s located on an increasingly busy Duke Street, in that part of town which nobody but PR executives and estate agents calls “the Ropewalks district”.

Il Forno actually means “the oven” and refers to the restaurant’s striking main feature; a pizza oven designed in the form of a Romanesque, fire-breathing mask to rival those great kitchen furnaces of Naples in the only places that take more money than the brothels on a Saturday night – the pizzerias.Or maybe it’s a sacrificial chamber into which incompliant restaurant critics are tossed and rendered into pizza topping. But let’s not give anyone ideas.

Il Forno professes to be Liverpool’s only authentic Italian restaurant – whatever that’s worth. The drinks were authentic enough: San Pellegrino, Peroni, a good selection of aperitifs including the classic Italian Negroni. Plenty of Italians among the wine; though two glasses of average dessert wine for £14 was having a laff.

A bottle of Vernacchia di san Gimignano (£19.95) was as smooth as a freshly sanded Daniel Craig, although, not for the first time in my life, a too-helpful waiter and I found ourselves wrestling over the bottle like a pair of dipsos with the shakes.We got nothing but cheery smiles when, no sooner had we settled, we decided we wanted to move again. Indeed, the waiters were always keen to be of assistance, just not always able. The reaction to a couple of straightforward questions had me wondering if I had unwittingly slipped into Wielkopolskan, an obscure Slavonic dialect frequently confused with deeply slurred English.

The first conversation I wish I hadn’t had went like this:
Grill: “Is the chicken free range?
Waiter: “Sorry?”
Grill: “Is the chicken free range?”
Waiter (wearing blank expression): “I’ll ask.”

The waiter consults, at some length, with a higher authority and returns.

Waiter: “What do you mean?”
Grill: “Er . . . well . . . was the chicken raised, er, not in cages?”
Waiter (wearing blank expression): “I’ll ask.”

The waiter consults, at some length, with a higher authority and returns.

Waiter: “YES! It is.”
Grill (wearing doubtful expression): “I’ll have fish.”
Waiter: “Okay.”
Grill: “Is the salmon farmed?”
Waiter: “Sorry?”
Grill: “It doesn’t matter.”

The food is fairly standard Italian fare (authentic, they would say) and you can eat cheaply enough. A bowl of pasta and a decent glass of wine in a pretty groovy setting is worth a tenner of anyone’s money. On the other hand, we covered a fair portion of the menu, without any great extravagance, and were a bit miffed to rack up a bill for £108.

Olives were good, bread was OK. Calamari (£4.75) in flaccid batter was saved by the dips – garlic mayo and a blazing salsa piccante – and a nice assortment of vegetable fritters.

King prawns (in garlic and oil, £6.95) tasted like they had been raised on a diet of bread and – well, obviously – water, and I resorted to dipping them in Twangy’s chilli sauce. The less said about their bed of mixed leaves the better, except that I would have been better off eating my sheets.

Monkfish with sauteed ceps in a red pepper sauce (£14.50) was pretty good, and the pile of shredded, deep-fried leeks was a treat.

Lapsing into Wielkopolskan again, I enquired about the desserts and we ended up with ice creams – not what I wanted but they slid down nicely all the same.

And what about the contents of that oven? Pizzas to rival Naples’ finest? Twangy passed on the smoked salmon and caviar topping, she even spurned that night’s special: oven-roasted brains of ungracious local newspaper critic (I’d wondered why I hadn’t seen him around lately), claiming cannibalism had never appealed. But I know for a fact she regularly eats call centre operatives for breakfast.

For her, a quatro stagio (£7.95): The toppings were OK, she said, as was the base, but the crusts were not so edible. "On a really really good Italian pizza you can eat the lot,” she declared.

The most striking item in the pizza section is the Americana whose topping features Frankfurter sausage and French fries, which doesn’t say a lot for the Yanks, or the Italians’ opinion of them. Personally, if I were having sausage and chips, I would eat it off a plate, not a pizza.

AA Grill

Photographs by Chris Keller Jackson

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

That's LunchDecember 15th 2006.

Amazing Cyril, and you can do all that with a knob of butter?

Esther Rant headDecember 15th 2006.

it's latin for sexually sick vegetables

Pizza manDecember 15th 2006.

This is a very fair and accurate review of Il Forno (very funny, too, AA Grill) and Maria is right about the Italian Club. The owners are cousins, I believe, but how different the two places are. The Italian club should open at night.

Buon Eato MusselinguiniDecember 15th 2006.

And it's Latin for sick vegetables.

mariaDecember 15th 2006.

I really dont like il forno ...something fake about it ... but I love the italian cafe in bold street ... go there and have some pasta!! Ultra tasty and really italian ..i know that those two restaurants are conected in some way .. but they are so different... Try the aranciniin this Cafe with a nice cold glass of simple House Pino Grigio !!! Haven !!! Bellissimo!!

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