Restaurant: L’Antica Locanda
Address: The Shambles
Menu: £20 -£25
Rating: * * * *
Italian restaurants are like Italian operas: there’s a lot of shouting and arm-waving, but the performance lacks subtlety. You could be forgiven for thinking this if your experience of Italian food depends on places like Pizza Express or Bella Italia – restaurants that employ thousands of waiters whose only duty, it seems, is to flirt with female diners through the suggestive medium of the comically-oversized peppermill.
But it is my experience, in both England and Italy, that the closer you get to an authentic osteria, the less “authentic” will be the behaviour of the waiting staff. Portions are smaller – sometimes distressingly so – but a two-course meal should guarantee repletion and satisfaction: plenty of ‘molto’ and just as much ‘gusto’.
L’Antica Locanda is such a place. Our starters, I cannot deny, were disappointing. A few flaccid slithers of grilled vegetable cost me the equivalent of three pints of mild bitter, and Helen’s mixed salad was as unremarkable as it was overpriced. Nil points.
I was ready to fold at the flop, but L’Antica’s chef had pocket aces. In the finest tradition of Mediterranean cuisine, seafood rose to the occasion. My Misto Mare was a recipe from the Adriatic coast – a busy circus of prawns, mussels and fish on a rice base, and swimming in a well-seasoned potage of its own infused flavours. Meanwhile, Helen ate an entire sea bass which was cooked lightly, perfectly, and came with a prawn and olive accompaniment. As good a pair of fish dishes as you are likely to find anywhere. Dix points.
The wine was good value – or rather, the extortionate mark-ups were no greater than you would expect. Overall, L’Antica just about justifies its high prices with a charming, simply-furnished interior and (if you can get a window seat) its historic location. I would say, “Don’t go here on a tight budget”, but that would be inconsistent with the financial planning instinct of most students, which holds that while £20 towards a meal is unthinkable, £30 on a sweaty evening in one of York’s unbearable nightclubs is money well spent.
So, d’ya know what! Go to L’Antica. Treat your other half. Have a liquid starter (I recommend the Chianti) and a delicious fishy main and return home sober without vomiting all over your the sleeping housemates. Just for once, pretend you’re not a revolting student.
Over to Helen, who doesn’t think you’re revolting:
Despite my fellow diner’s dim view of his contemporaries, I would say that at least half the restaurant was filled with fellow members of the campus population who I dimly recognised (no doubt, James would claim, from some drunken incident in the Ziggy’s queue) who were wining and dining with friends and partners.
The prices were, however, undoubtedly a little steep, and it’s worth saving this one for that ever-so-special occasion.