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Mamma Mia

Liz Lacey gets fawned over at Il Forno

Published on January 14th 2010.

Mamma Mia

IL FORNO prides itself upon being an authentically Italian experience slap bang in the city of Liverpool.

From the oracle-mouthed pizza oven through the charmingly child-worshipping staff, to the impressively wide range of home made ice-cream, it certainly has the feel and flavour of a genuine trattoria.

We made our way onto the pavements of Duke Street. Quite literally in my case. I really ought not to have had that last glass of wine

For Mothering Sunday, my family and other animals had decided to descend upon it, to test its good nature to the limit. Round the table were ten hard-to-please people ranging from Nathan (age nine...most likely to say “I’m not eating THAT. What is it?”) to my own Sainted Mother (Aged 85 ...ditto, but expressed with more politesse).

By this time, a number of delightful and efficient waiting staff had frisked about us and glasses of prosecco appeared. We were told that they were complimentary (the booze not the staff), so getting Mummy merry seemed to be, quite correctly, a priority.

The special Mother’s Day menu provided a pleasing set of choices for the woman who never saw a carbohydrate that she didn’t like.

I am that woman, so I started with cannelloni (£6.95) filled with minced beef, pork and tomato. Béchamel and Parmesan sauce made it a different experience from the limp sheets of pasta with gritty grey school-dinner mince filling that often passes itself off as cannelloni. This dish was fresh and unabashedly meaty.

During our first course, several babies arrived at the next table. Not on their own, they had minders. My Mother raised an eyebrow. She is not keen on babies and had high hopes of my brother and I being Labrador puppies.

However, by the reaction of the waiting staff, you would have thought Madonna herself had turned up with Angelina Jolie and both their wildly extended families. “Child-friendly“ didn’t begin to cover it.

I had been tempted by the rather-Heston-Blumenthal's-Mad-Feasts- sounding suckling pig, but. I felt that it really ought to be at home with its mother, suckling.

Instead, then, a lamb dish (£17.95) which was sufficiently grown-up to have red wine with it, in the form of a “jus”. Roast potatoes were arranged alongside with some rather perky green beans.

I have a big thing for roast potatoes but, in my experience, Italian restaurants never get them quite right. Although we do terrible things to pasta, to be fair.

These specimens were edible, but that’s about it. Perhaps a quick course on The Way of the Spud might be useful?

The rack of lamb was meltingly delicious. I glanced at my son; who was consuming the spinach and ricotta ravioli with tomato sauce (£9.45), at a speed that was frankly frightening. His fork was a blur. His verdict was “boss”. Il Forno might like to use that in their publicity?

By this time we were all relaxed and mellow. Such was the atmosphere that even the yelling babies shouting the odds at the next table didn’t break the mood. When the dessert menu arrived, it was studied with the level of concentration my family usually only gives to bank statements, but with enthusiasm rather than broken sobs.

Pannacotta (£4.95) appealed because I like the blancmange texture. Is there a whole generation now being reared who don’t even know what blancmange is?

Anyway, there is the Italian equivalent, but with a creamier texture and fresh strawberry sauce. Again, some call it “jus”. Not me. Softly separating at the merest pressure of my fork, it was perfection. The children present dismissed it with contempt, and made a beeline for the gelateria, where a smiling young woman with fascinating rainbow eye shadow dished up one scoop after another from an equally dazzling variety of ice creams... a far cry from the denatured whipped fat that British people readily accept as ice cream.

Around the walls of “Il Forno” there are huge paintings of idealised families, in the classical Roman style. Around the tables on Sunday, there were more informal families, chatting, catching escaping toddlers, looking nervously around to see where older children had got to. And so on. At one big table, a Liverpool matriarch was explaining (with diagrams, on a napkin) exactly how everyone was related to one another.

We loitered with coffee and then, all several stones heavier, we made our way onto the pavements of Duke Street. Quite literally in my case. I really ought not to have had that last glass of wine.

The food overall was good, but just on the right side of pricey. The service, however, was outstanding...and it is that which so often lets down so many of our better restaurants. Particularly on special occasions, when one might expect special service. I have always found it puzzling that in a city which rightly prides itself on the friendliness and charm of its inhabitants, restaurants often deliberately seem to recruit surly scruffy staff for whom no effort is too little.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Don't be daft.

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

spewy greenMarch 25th 2009.

Too right mate! Service charge is theft. How would they like it if we nicked the knives and forks? I always make sure that I take home any handwash, colognes, and occasionally toilet rolls just to get my own back off these dago thieves.

mrs eat a lotMarch 25th 2009.

food great, service good...but one thing I didnt like when I went there with friends was they wacked service charge on the bill. A pet hate of mine and thing if you want to leave a tip...you do..it shouldnt be added to the bill

AndyMarch 25th 2009.

Anyone been to the noo Italian Club Fish gaff??

AndyMarch 25th 2009.

Anyone been to the noo Italian Club Fish gaff??

Professor ChucklebuttyMarch 25th 2009.

Splendid stuff from Ms Lacey in a style as delicious as the food. Full of whimsy but that's probably the green beans. I hope we see some more. Absolutely right about the service in here, always been made to feel very welcome, either in a large group or just me and Mrs C.The big bread oven is a bit of a worry though. last time Mrs C and I were in she did one of her animated yawns as she often does when I am talking to her and one of the staff mistakenly shovelled a big lump of dough in her mouth. I just shook my head at him quickly to say no and pointed to the real oven. He gestured his apologies and made a quick retreat. She didn't notice so no blood spilled or jus, as they call it in casualty.

Captain HurricaneMarch 25th 2009.

Eyeties aren't dagoes, you fool.

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