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Restaurant review: Roman road

At the weekend people queue out of the door for tables at Villa Romana. Angie Sammons peers in to find out why

Written by . Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Roman road

In Concert Square, and in the face of stinging rain, the night was warming nicely.

There are experts in standing the distance on long nights out like these. And whether their prospect be another human or 14 bottles of Grolsch, they know, like Roman foot soldiers, they must march on solid fuel or become casualties of the hour.

For some insane reason I had ordered a Crespella di Pollo e Prosciutto which I imagined to be a filligree-light creation. Wrong. This was large, pale and oozing, and had no friends on the plate. It had eaten them

The nearest provider? The Villa Romana, of course. And thus, at the weekend, the queue for tables goes out of the door and halfway up the road.

Perhaps I should get out (even) more, or join queues when I see them. See, I didn't know many people who had actually been to Villa Romana to ask. And it's been going long enough.

It was half-nine when we poked our heads in, after being turfed out of the Peter Blake opening at the Tate because they wanted to get on with feeding the vips, and Claire said she wanted to eat an Italian.

Were we too late? “No, no, no!” our waistcoated waiters chorused, like Amy Winehouse throwing a sickie. Were they sure? “Yes! look at all these people!” We were doing.

The punters were packing the place with song and fun. A couple of parties were in and the staff were fussing over them with cake. A table of eight sang Happy Birthday in Hurdy Gurdy, a dialect of Scandinavian, even though they weren't even having one.

It was all as warm and fuzzy as the lovely brick and ceramic rustic interior suggested on a rainy night in Wood Street. Like finding a blind date who isn't half bad looking, there was promise, and we were cheered.

A bottle of one of the most expensive Italian whites on the list, a Lugana Tenuta Maiolo (£16.85), was swiftly presented with a smile. It was reasonable, and, at these prices and going down, who wouldn't pack the place with song?

You will never starve eating here. There isn't time, you get your food promptly and the portions are gigantic.

Claire hugely enjoyed deep fried breadcrumbed goats cheese with a raspberry and walnut dressing (£5.55), in between mumbling about how she'd been here with Tommy (a man who she subsequently married) on an early date. She had not noticed the food on that joyful occasion, perhaps because her husband is unable to stop talking, ever, the result of a spell put on him by a wicked witch in infancy.

For some insane reason I had ordered a Crespella di Pollo e Prosciutto (£4.65), a chicken and ham pancake in bechamel sauce, which, given its name, I imagined to be a filigree-light creation. Wrong. This was large, pale and oozing, and had no friends on the plate. It had eaten them.

All it wanted was love, and, after a brief flirtation, I was forced to dump it on the grounds that the relationship would do neither of us any good. “It's not you, it's me,” I could hear myself say.

Whoosh came the mains, complete with two bowls of vegetables that had come to a sorry end. Carrots were dull and caved in, ditto the saute potatoes, and both were topped off by two heaps of mangetout which, perhaps sensing that they were about to enter a battle zone in their final hour, had turned the hue of army camouflage.

“It is because you came late,” shrugged our smiling waiter, some time after.

I say “some time after” because we were too focused on Claire's chicken escalope (£11.95) to notice them immediately (that's the job of camouflage, so full marks). Petto di Pollo Marsala (you work it out), had sounded good enough in theory and “the sauce is nice” she nodded vigorously. But the loose and overly moist texture of the flattened meat caused her enough heartache to abandon it mid way. “I should have had pasta,” she moaned, pointing at a table happily scoffing lasagne.

Red snapper fillets, from the specials board, lounged on a bed of sage risotto nails, way past their best. And while Kate Moss or Princess Di might have been delighted by the idea of a large number of snappers being killed, both would have paled at the sheer quantity of the red variety presented here. Three humongous chaps were way too much to attempt in one session. Although, in Kate's case, you never know.

I couldn't bring myself to do dessert from the sweet trolley, all bought in, apparently, with a couple of exceptions that included tiramisu (£3.75) which Claire imbibed in, reporting that that it tasted of little.

After a trip a week later to grab a menu for prices, I sense we caught Villa Romana on a bad night. The owners are proud of the fact that they make all their own sauces in-house, and, indeed, many people were enjoying big bowls of pasta in its many guises.

But they really should have told us to get lost when we peered in. We'd have respected them for it, and, without respect in a relationship, what have we got? A blind, albeit comparatively cheap date who can't say no. The not-so warm, fuzzy end of the lollipop.

Meanwhile, outside in Wood Street, bedlam was breaking out. Another, more predictable casualty of the hour.

Rating: 14/20
Breakdown: 5.5/10 Food
4/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: Villa Romana,
6-8 Wood Street,
Liverpool L1
0151 708 8004

Liverpool Confidential dines unannounced and picks up all its own bills.

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Mr TJuly 6th 2007.

Don't believe the hordes. My favourite Italian was the Italian bistro on Hardman Street. No wine list, just a jug of turps in red or white and the same menu for 20 years cooked by any student who was passing. And no one cared because of the craic in there, on the way to the Crack. Where are they now?

Steven RainesJuly 6th 2007.

I had fish in Villa Romano a couple of weeks ago too, but mine was sprinkled with chopped raw garlic. I kid you not, which I discovered the hard way. As you can imagine, I was nobody's friend for two days.

M MyersJuly 6th 2007.

This is a good lunchtime place and after work for refuelling, especially if you work up that way and need your carbs. But it's a very old fashioned Italian. I don't know, maybe that's what people like. I'm always surprised in this city about what makes people queue round the block.

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