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Restaurant review: Bar Italia

David Prior forgets where he is down the cellar steps of Franco Colangeli's Castle Street trattoria

Published on January 14th 2010.

Restaurant review: Bar Italia

THE number of times I've walked past Bar Italia probably runs into the thousands, and yet, when calling up to book a table the other day, I had considerable difficulty placing exactly where it was.

In my defence, I'd suggest there were some very good reasons for this. Firstly, there's the name: “Bar Italia” possesses as much exotic promise as “English Pub” would in Rome. Then there's the exterior: rustic and discreet certainly, but perhaps not suggestive of greatness within. And of course there's the location: surely a restaurant with pretensions of back-street trattoria authenticity cannot honestly reside in such an absurdly central and no doubt rent-busting location, rubbing shoulders, as it does, with Boots and Bang & Olufsen?

But as I descended into Bar Italia my extensive roll-call of prejudices was quickly dismantled. Opened nine years ago by Franco Colangeli, it offers about as genuine an Italian restaurant experience as you can find in Liverpool. With Roman artwork haphazardly dotting the predominantly green walls, tables are squeezed into every available cranny of the long, thin dining area, creating an overall effect that is cosy, friendly and pleasingly ramshackle.

We were soon acquainted with the first of what became a procession of friendly and unusually attentive waiters, most of whom look like they've been there for several decades. There's patently no one-waiter-to-a-table policy here: it's all hands to the pump and the result is you're never wanting for anything. Even Franco gets stuck in, and by the end we felt like old friends with most of the staff.

Happily, the food complements the satisfying surroundings. Although not cheap, the menu is interesting and extensive, with 19 separate dishes to choose from for starter alone (you’re in luck if you like prawns: there are five variations to go at). Such abundance, while chalking up most of the classics you’d expect such as Antipasto Italiano (£7.95), does allow for a certain idiosyncrasy - I haven’t seen “slices of the best Scottish salmon” (Salmone Scozzese, £7.95) offered in too many Italian restaurants before.

My opening soup (Minestra del Giorno, £3.25) was chockfull of vegetables, predominantly courgettes and celery, but lacked something by way of a kick – too often it was watery and forgetful. My companion's avocado and prawns (£6.95) was very good, the former ripe enough to slice like butter, while our side helping of garlic cheese bruschetta (£3.95) came oozing with perfectly grilled formaggio.

There's no pizza on offer, and while there is an array of pasta dishes, it is those without pasta that predominate, featuring chicken, pork, veal, steak, fish and duck.

Cannelloni alla Romana (£8.95) was a hugely satisfying, furnace-hot dish. A crusty lid of grilled parmesan hides an intensely pleasurable combination of shredded spinach, béchamel and tomato sauce, but it’s the slight edge supplied by the spicy minced meat that truly sets the dish off.

Breast of duck with honey and orange (Anitra All'arancio, £16.95), was a combination that could quite easily slip into sickliness but was, in fact, subtle, while the slices of meat were tender and crispy in all the right places.

The one gripe concerned the side portion of vegetables; for £16.95 all in, you’d expect nothing less than freshly cooked, but there was a suspicion that the cauliflower, broccoli and carrots had been reheated, or at least stranded under a hot-light for a few too many minutes. A bottle of Pinot Grigio (£14.95) provided a fresh, dry accompaniment that was rich enough to hold its own alongside our hearty main courses.

Unlike many restaurants, our desserts proved something of an unexpected treat, with presentation of prime importance to Bar Italia. Mine was a fairly uncomplicated Caramel parfait (£5.00), but the ice cream and its caramel casing was gooey perfection, while my partner's tiramisu (£5.00) was light and fluffy enough to ensure it never became a test of stamina. Two generous Bailey's coffees (£5.00 each) capped the meal with a good selection of Italian biscuits and, er, some grapes, swiftly followed by two complementary shots of lemon liquor from Sorrento.

By this stage Bar Italia was a throbbing mass of happy, satisfied customers, most of them evidently paid-up members of the Franco fan club, and although I’d only been there for a couple of hours, I too felt a genuine warmth for the place. Despite its high-street location, Bar Italia exudes back-street charm and a real determination to please its customers. For this customer, it worked.

Liverpool Confidential dines out unannounced and picks up its own tabs.

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

AlexSeptember 26th 2008.

I first went there a couple of months ago in search of a tuna pasta to rival the one they used to have at Buco di Bacco. I probably expected a bit too much there. However, my girlfriend had a very tasty fish pasta so I returned last week and had that. Second time round was very enjoyable. I has the tiramisu which is less than flattered by the photo accompanying this article. Highly recommended.I'm less sure about the chocolate fudge cake though. We've both had it on one visit and if you ask for it warm, it is still firm in the middle.There are complimentary bread-sticks and bread served with your main course.Like anywhere, it is a case of finding what you like from the menu. Having found something, I will be returning. The waitress is rather sweet too.

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2008.

we walked past and weren't sure about going in but I had read in the daily post about it and the tea time specialwhich was not advertised in the windowwow what a surprise we had a lovely meal and excellent value for money.the atmosphere and staff were great as well, if I go to the arena mid week I will definitely go again

AlexSeptember 26th 2008.

Should've known better than to question myself in the first place. I'll get my coat!

AlexSeptember 26th 2008.

Please excuse the misspelling of 'complementary'. I don't want to start a rash of 'Your hair looks nice' type jokes.

ahimsaSeptember 26th 2008.

I entirely agree with this review - I was introduced to Bar Italia by friends fairly recently and it is a gem! I've been back twice already! The food is great but it's the atmosphere that you return for - it is a superb place where the service is fantastic. Alos a plus for those of us on the right side of 30 it is on the quiet(er) side of town so you can avoid the crush that is town on a Friday/Saturday night. The place is also child-friendly without being like many such places - bascially it doesn't dumb-down to children but does cater for them and allows you to take a child to have a quality dining experience.

AnonymousSeptember 26th 2008.

I went to this restuarant and can honestly say I wouldnt return I ordered a brucshetta far too much cheese ended up giving half to my chap, the main course I had the Cannelloni alla Romana it came bubbling with so much cheese on it I sent the cheese back on a side plate! NEver again

Once a sub editor...September 26th 2008.

Actually, Alex, you were right the first time about the spelling.

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