12, Goodramgate, York.
On wandering aimlessly somewhere in the region of Goodramgate last Saturday, which you will remember was rather sunny, the tempting waft of freshly-made panettone drifted into our unsuspecting nostrils, and accosted us with a nigh-on uncontrollable desire to find out from whence the heavenly scent had floated. We were drawn like salmon to a fly into this gem of a place; Little Italy.
Downstairs is a superb deli, boasting soft, light, fresh almond croissants in the bakery area which out-do the Library cafe attempt in every possible way. A hundred different varieties of olives, marinades, peppers, marinaded peppers cheeses, cured hams and more adorn the wicker baskets and wooden bowls and boards, and greet you saying “We are Italian. Taste us, you colourless Englishman, and your life will acquire flourish and drama.”
We suddenly discovered a distinct feeling of emptiness and sadness somewhere in the region of the navel, and discovered that not only was it lunchtime, but also that this treasure trove has a restaurant upstairs. We ascended, transfixed, and were greeted by a combination of broad Yorkshire and dainty Italian from the manager and head chef respectively, the latter of whom was tip-toeing between the tables to ensure all was well with his degousteurs, and that they fully appreciated the quality of his fantastic food.
“We are Italian foodstuffs. Taste us, you colourless Englishman, and your life will acquire flourish and drama.”
We were seated by the Broad Yorkshire, and introduced to our entertainment for the afternoon; namely the menu. Reasonably priced, it is better value than most high street Italian chains in my opinion because they serve generous portions of fresh, homemade pasta and carefully sourced Italian ingredients, all covered with dollops of love. Which is more than you can say of your average chain Italian.
A selection of homemade bread appeared with the Dainty Italian; well-flavoured, made-this-morning hunks of goodness dipped in olive oil and balsamic. I’m already sold. We shared a starter of Antipastini della Casa; a selection of cured ham, salami, cheeses, marinaded mushrooms and olives which left me feeling I really needed to go to Italy. Soon. Hints dropped regularly to the Date. The cheese in particular was excellent, one creamy but smoky, the other harder and akin to Parmesan, but less dry. A great success at £5.95 per person.
Starter was followed by a stressful decision on the main. Dainty Italian smiles charmingly and offers advice. To have a special of the day; squid ink pasta with king prawns and a creamy sauce, or Tagliatelle Pavarotti (partly because the name is great), with Mediterranean vegetables, garlic, white wine, and served with fresh rocket? Decisions, decisions. I went with Pavarotti at £9.95 in the end, although he nearly got edged out by a Cannelloni della Casa, promising creamy bechamel sauce and spinach and chicken filling. Life is too short.
The Date went for a more expensive but beautifully presented dish of Misto di Pesce, a seafood extravaganza of king prawns, scallops, mussels, more prawns, calamari, and langoustine cooked in a delicate white wine and garlic sauce served on a bed of spaghetti. Food envy emanated in waves from my side of the table. “Would you like to try some, darling?” “No, no I wouldn’t. Well maybe. Well if you insist.” It was good. As was mine, in fact, a Mediterranean burst of sunshine in glorious reds and greens of peppers, tomatoes, and courgettes, lashings of garlic and a generous covering of black pepper and Parmesan.
Eventually we left. We couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the sun-bathed restaurant straight away so we lingered over our delicate wine glasses filled with crisp reasonably-priced white wine, and planned the next move. Coffee? A slice of panettone (made by Rau, apparently)? Unfortunately they close at 3pm on Saturdays, however we had a conversation with both Broad Yorkshire and Dainty Italian about their restaurant, their ethical, Italian sources, their homemade pasta, their lives in general, until after 3.15, and felt as if we’d made new friends rather than been kicked out when we eventually galvanised oursevles enough to leave.
A highly recommended, fault-free restaurant that I am almost reluctant to review in case it gets flooded by York students when all I want is a quiet meal with the Date. Keep it on the down-low, this one is a keeper.