I don’t know about you, but when I heard about another Italian joint opening in Altrincham, it didn’t fill me with excitement. Cheshire is inundated with them. And there are very few that’ll knock your socks off.
But when there’s the promise of tiramisu, I can always be persuaded. Especially when it’s on Greenwood Street – Altrincham’s fully-fledged foodie destination, where a team from Sicily and Rome have found a home for their new restaurant.
Locanda is an entirely different ball game to many of the area’s hipster joints. There are no gimmicks and no fads. You won’t find peacocking funsters. This place doesn’t do trendy and there’s not a bit of snootiness, no no no.
Instead, belly-laughing regulars huddle around tables and couples pitch up in corners, hiding away with cheerful pasta dishes to a soothing soundtrack of soft jazz.
It’s laid back, unshowy and kitsch with black chandeliers, red draping curtains, leather chairs and fake red roses at the centre of each table.
Some might say it’s dated, or maybe the dining room is a re-imagining of an Eighties-style trattoria. But aesthetics aside, warm grins will greet you from every staff member and that heart-warming service never falters throughout a visit.
The owners’ passion for the place is obvious and they’ve pulled in a young, unpretentious team to run the floor and eagerly take you through the menu.
They’re professional but pally and you’ll want to chat with them all night long.
For starters, kick off with the mussels – they come in three varieties, but my moreish portion, sautéed in white wine, garlic, parsley, lemon and black pepper was a cracking plate of salty loveliness and a fine warm-up to the meal.
My husband’s starter was a little underwhelming – the fritto mari e monti was essentially a haul of deep-fried arancini, prawns, whitebait and polenta sticks.
But it really lacked some lemon wedges or a big dollop of aioli.
Elsewhere on the menu, you’ll find all the usual suspects – lasagne, spaghetti carbonara, spaghetti Bolognese – the type of Italian dishes we now take for granted, all around the £10 mark.
Plus some excellent-sounding olive-oil-doused fish and steak dishes using ingredients that riff heavily on the Mediterranean.
And I’m relieved to see a menu that’s not all about ‘small plates’. Sometimes you don’t want to share or have your far superior dish being savaged by your dining chums.
Sometimes you just want a great hulking plate of home made pasta all to yourself.
I went off piste with the agnello scottadito – grilled lamb chops in mixed spices with Sicilian peperonata. It was bold and full of flavour with smoky tasting grilled lamb.
My husband’s fillet, wrapped in parma ham, was hefty and juicy, smothered in a red wine sauce. If you’re a skinny thing, the steak might be a bit overwhelming but the meat itself was perfectly cooked with the addition of some salty and crispy potatoes.
And for dessert? You’ve got to go for the tiramisu. It’s everything you want in a pud – indulgent, rich and sweet to the core. My guess is you won’t be able to finish it after guzzling such mammoth portions throughout, but hey, it’s still worth popping the top button of your jeans for.
Locanda is old school and down-to-earth, and with a bit of refinement, it could well be the life and soul. Things do get a bit nostalgic here – quite brave at a time when surrounding restaurants are becoming more inventive and adventurous.
But that doesn’t mean that sometimes you just want good pasta, good wine and good steak. There’s nothing wrong with pulling out the classics.
I can see its outdoor terrace humming with bright young things on sultry summer days, supping up some afternoonies and grazing on olives. And the bar getting absolutely chocka when evening falls – which you won’t mind, when you’re chugging a cracking montepulciano and a steak.
Best unbuckle that belt.