Eatalian dining doesn’t get better, says MICHELLE TOMPKINS
Ciao Eatalia Swindon Street, Highworth SN6 7AH Tel: 01793 762888
IT must be a pretty tough job choosing a name for your restaurant – picking something timeless and appetising, yet still able to convey what the customer is in for, can’t be easy.
But whoever chose to call Highworth’s latest pizza and pasta house Ciao Eatalia has got things very wide of the mark.
I can only imagine how the conversation went when they settled on the signage: “Okay, we need something distinctive, something that sums up what we are all about, something snappy... how about just ‘Ciao’?”
“I like it. It’s friendly, it’s welcoming. But... well, it’s pretty short. How about ‘Ciao Italia’?”
“Yes, yes, that’s better. But do you think people will get it? Ooh, hang on a minute... what if we changed the ‘I-T’ to ‘E-A-T’ - we could be ‘Ciao Eatalia’. Geddit? It’s a play on the word Italia. OMG, it’s perfect!”
“Ha, ha! Brilliant! So clever! Ciao Eatalia it is.”
It’s a shame the name is so downmarket and cheesy, because the food here certainly isn’t. That is, it can be very cheesy (especially if you opt for extra parmesan), but the pasta dishes served up to us were among the best I’ve tasted anywhere locally – fresh, full of flavour and beautifully presented – and the name over the door is, frankly, letting the side down.
Name prejudices brushed aside, we took our seats at the Highworth restaurant at 7pm on a Thursday, in a dining room already half full with customers. There is a bustle about this place that you rarely find in other restaurants outside the weekend, as if the people of Highworth have decided it’s worth keeping and are putting their money where their mouths are.
With a friendly ‘buongiorno’, our waiter propped a specials blackboard up at our table, offering dish after dish of temptations, but with so many options on the standard menu it was more of a distraction than a help.
Eventually we settled on a round of focaccia con olio e rosmarino (pizza base with oil, sea salt and rosemary, £4.95) and a plate of pesciolini fritti (whitebait with garlic mayonnaise, £4.95) between the three of us to start, the plan being not to fill ourselves up too much ahead of the mouthwatering mains.
The pizza bread was heavenly, a cripy thin disc of dough baked in a pizza oven and delivering a heady hit of salt and rosemary in every mouthful. The whitebait was not as plentiful as I’ve seen in other restaurants, but at least they had managed to breadcrumb over those disconcerting eyes.
Starters demolished, we looked ahead to our main courses with relish. With so much to choose from – pizzas, meat dishes, fish – strangley we’d all selected from the risotto and pasta section, where there are no fewer than 16 combinations on offer.
My choice was risotto affumicato (smoked haddock and spinach risotto, £8.95), which arrived in a giant white bowl, flecked with the pungent fish and vibrant greens, and topped with shavings of parmesan. With every forkful delivering an exquisite salty smokiness, I wolfed it down greedily, my stomach groaning under the strain of the final grains of rice.
My son had chosen the far more manly linguine Ciao Eatalia (linguine with strips of beef fillet and Italian sausage in a tomato sauce, £9.95) – a dish obviously off limits for me, given my aversion to that name. Again, what arrived was a hearty, steaming bowl of food, with plenty of chunks of meat amid the pasta. He tucked in hungrily, with barely time to mop the tomato sauce from his chin.
His girlfriend had gone for spaghetti Pavarotti (roasted cherry tomatoes, garlic, chilli and rocket, £8.95), asking politely for the chef to go light on the chilli. In fact, she should have asked him to go light on the dish as a whole as the vast heap of pasta and vegetables defeated her half way through.
“Was everything okay with your meal?” asked our concerned waiter, eyeing the leftovers in her bowl. When we explained she has the appetite of a sparrow, he offered to box up the remains for us to take home. We declined, feeling it would be far more messy than the usual leftover pizza.
Fresh fruit salad was the special dessert of the day, but we couldn’t even entertain that. My son chose a light mango sorbet to finish, and we ended with coffees, taking the bill to a very reasonable £59.
I guess the lesson to take away from Ciao Eatalia is never to judge a book by its cover, or in this case, a restaurant by its name.
But I can’t help feeling the facsia outside this place conveys the wrong message and might even deter some people from stopping.
Or maybe I’m just a snob. You decide.