Featured Restaurant: L'Italiana

17th November 2017

3 French Row • St Albans • AL3 5DU • 01727 860609

Reviewed by Lisa Botwright

With nothing to go on but an address, the Husband and I wander down the quaint, narrow lanes of St Albans seeking out this Italian eaterie. Moments later I find myself laughing out loud. We’re here, and it’s a restaurant I’ve tried to get into for lunch on numerous occasions. It’s always been full…

St Albans is delightful. It’s characterful and historic, and has a centre replete with independent boutiques full of swoonsome clothes and tasteful nick-nacks. So when I’m shopping with friends or family, I don’t want to eat in a big high street chain, like Zizzi just around the corner; I like to have lunch somewhere independent and equally characterful. Hence my thwarted attempts to get into this cosy and authentic-looking pizzeria.

Having never quite got as far as sitting at a table before, I’m super-excited and keen to take in what’s on the menu. There’s a great choice of pasta and pizza, as I expect, but I’m knocked sideways by the extraordinary amount of unusual and sophisticated specials also on offer.

The Husband (TH) goes for Seared Scallops with cauliflower purée, and I opt for a light salad starter – the classic Insalata Tricolore. When it’s a simple dish it’s even more important that the ingredients are top quality – and this is indeed a delicious plate of plump mozzarella, sweet tomatoes, peppery rocket and just-ripe avocados, with a little touch of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and oregano to round things off nicely. Despite my starter being exactly what I fancy, I’m deeply envious of my partner’s choice: a very generous portion of scallops balanced on top of the creamy purée, surrounded by a moat of savoury broth. (‘Did I order a main course by mistake?’ whispers TH, momentarily confused by the resemblance of the purée to mashed potato.) He tells me the scallops are perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside and soft and sweet in the centre. It’s a great dish.

Our next choices are both taken from that impressive specials menu: Homemade Lobster Ravioli with clams, king prawns and a touch of chilli for him, and Sea Bass Fillets encrusted with almonds and pistachios for me.

I dive into two huge fillets of sizzling fish, oozing lemon, butter and herbs. They’re very lightly crumbed with almonds and slightly larger flakes of pistachio, which add contrast and texture to the meltingly good sea bass. And just in case my taste buds aren’t tantalised enough, the dish is scattered with mint leaves and tiny cubes of mango. Gosh, it’s good.

TH attacks his lobster ravioli equally appreciatively, mumbling ‘seriously nice’ between mouthfuls. The fluffy pasta parcels are interspersed with clams, king prawns and cherry tomatoes, which add layers of depth as they melt into the sauce.

The pizzas being delivered to surrounding diners look fantastic too, and a huge pillow of calzone is met with a tableful of ‘oohs’ as it’s placed in front of its recipient. Whether it’s casual dining you’re after, or something a little more different, it seems this restaurant easily delivers both. Compliments to the chef, who’s clearly putting in a lot of love and attention behind the scenes.

We finish by sharing a huge slice of chocolate fudge cake that hits the spot nicely, accompanied by a couple of lattes, and as I relax contentedly into my chair, I notice the ‘wall of love’ behind me. It’s a framed collection of handwritten notes and doodles from happy customers, on paper napkins, universally gushing their fondness for l’Italiana. Now, where’s my pen?

STARTERS: £3.45-£8.95 • MAINS: £7.95-£20.95
DESSERTS: £5.25 • HOUSE WINE: £16.90

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