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Restaurant review: The Italian Club

The Italian Club was recently voted best cafe/bar in the North West by a trade mag. AA Grill makes his own mind up

Published on September 29th 2010.


Restaurant review: The Italian Club

I HAVE a parking ticket. If you were in South Road, Waterloo, about half an hour ago, you may have been one of those four or five people staring - the way you do when you are witnessing an accident. Well, it was me you were gawping at. Me with the death ray eyes burning into the soul of a traffic warden who was evidently revising for his NVQ in street philosophy.

“I’m sorry, “ he insisted, “but you’ve got to remember that shit happens to everyone”.

If you like good food, go in and demand they give you a bowl of seafood stew. Tell them you are not leaving until you get one. That’ll rattle ‘em

I mention this partly because it’s therapeutic, and because I can, and also to illustrate how much I must like The Italian Club because even though I am in a really, really, really bad mood and I need to take this out on someone, I am struggling to find anything bad to say about the place.

The Italian Club is the one of the latest independent-spirited recruits to Bold Street, which continues to boldly go its own way, demonstrating how the small-scale is infinitely more satisfying than the global branding, standing padded-shoulder-to padded-shoulder (they’re back, you know), along Liverpool One, while, in between, Church Street’s grandeur slowly succumbs to the fifty pence shops.

Don’t be put off by the overpriced pasta in the window. Go in, sit down and let the kitchen do the cooking. This is proper Italian, owned and run by Rosaria Crolla, who comes from a long line of cooks, first in the Apennine mountains, then in Glasgow where father Walter was a head chef, then ran a fish and chip shop. When Crolla moved to Liverpool in 2005 to help her cousin open Il Forno in nearby Duke Street, she saw a market for simple, high quality food.

A long, narrow space has been put to good use: lots of tables without looking cramped, a stripped floor, handsome, purpose-built shelving, Crolla family portraits that look like a social history of Picinisco and go a treat on the plain, pale cream walls.

The menu is only half the story and its chief area of interest lies is in the antipasti; platters of Italian cured meats and a wonderful insalata di mare (£6.50) – masses of mussels, sacfuls of squid, not a prawn in sight but oodles of octopus, not so easy on the eye but a sight more pleasing to the palate. Along with fresh, tasty peppers, red onions and lettuce, all tossed in a light, lemony dressing.

And from the side orders, tiny, sweet cherry tomatoes, garlic and basil piled on to slim, soft, gently browned bruschetta, with an extra drizzle of oil (£2.95).

Regular main courses comprise eight varieties of panini and a club sandwich. Nothing wrong with a panini, but it’s not my idea of a main course.

The best stuff is not on the regular menu, changes daily and arrives, up from the kitchen, when it arrives, with no fanfare. When we walked in, there was a good, solid lasagne (£4.50) and spicy Italian sausages in a lush mushroom sauce with mini roast potatoes on the side (£4.50). That was the boys taken care of.

A word of advice – don’t arrive too early. It was 1pm and we had finished ordering when a great silver tray containing seafood stew (£6.95) was carried past our table. I changed my mind on the spot. Five minutes later it was followed by a tray of sticky, sliced, gratinated potatoes concealing goodness knows what treasures below the surface.

We catch Rosaria later, and she admits to the slightest hesitation about introducing unfamiliar dishes too quickly. Maybe the first restaurant she saw when she stepped off the train at Lime Street three years ago was Caesar’s Palace and she thought “Liverpool isn’t ready”. Maybe she thinks we won’t like the undiluted taste of Italy. But what’s not to like about mussels and prawns; lovely big chunks of white fish; a deep, rich, fresh, herby, tomatoey broth to dip your bread in.

Having made light of his lasagne, the seven-year-old parted his mother from her roasted vegetable panini with mozzarella and olive oil (£4.75). Artichoke, aubergine, courgette: these are the words young children use to conjure the devil, yet there he was happily munching away like it was double chocolate fudge cake.

If you like panini, you’ll like these. But do me a favour, if you like fish, if you like Italian, if you like good food, go in and demand they give you a bowl of seafood stew. Tell them you are not leaving until you get one. That’ll rattle ‘em. If there has been one tiny criticism of this place, it is the feeling that you are required to eat it and beat it. The waiting staff were, without exception charming and willing and able, but we did sense a zealot’s desire to swipe our plates at the first opportunity.

In this respect, The Italian Club is partly a victim of its success; there is limited space and when you are running a food business, and you see people queuing out the door, you need to get them in before you lose them forever.

The boys wanted to stay forever. It’s their new favourite place. “Better than Eddie Rocket’s,” declared the eldest. Be certain, that’s some claim from a lad who would go without parents before he would go without burger and fries.

There is no kids’ menu but they happily provided child-sized portions. And the staff’s willing attitude extended to leaving the premises to find straws for their drinks. For pudding, there was excellent tiramisu (£4.25), and lemon cake (£3.50), both with whipped, piped cream.

Rosaria’s boyfriend is in charge of the kitchen, which makes it quite a partnership. Let’s hope they stay together – if only for the sake of my children.

Rating: 15.5/20
Breakdown: 8/10 Food
4/5 Service
3.5/5 Ambience
Address: The Italian Club,
85 Bold Street,
Liverpool,.
L1 4HF
0151 708 5508.

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Mr XJuly 11th 2008.

Repeating yourself again, Street, old chap

spankingJuly 11th 2008.

?

Graham BandageJuly 11th 2008.

Italian Club? Isn't that a cosh? I can say that, I'm an eighth-Italian.

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