On my top five of favourite restaurant genres a little Italian restaurant would come pretty high up. There is something about a cosy little place which serves traditional Italian food – the veal, saucy steaks and fabulous sautéed potatoes. Back in the 1980s there used to be a great place on Coventry Road in Birmingham called La Caverna which would regularly lighten our wallet and loosen our waistbands. (It’s still there but with a very different feel). The owner would welcome us in like long lost friends and make a big deal of the fresh fish on offer. We honeymooned in Florence and tried a few places in the back streets which fitted the bill – adding clashing saucepans and rows in the kitchen to the stereotype.
They seem to be getting harder to find in the modern era. The fashion for Italian food in Britain seems to be withering but there is also a trend towards a more modern approach with Jamie’s Italian, Carluccio’s and pizza chains. While the food may be the same there is a very different ambiance.
This Bank Holiday we visited La Coppola in Leamington Spa. It looks the part from the outside. A gangster styling with fresh lemons and chillis in the bowl by the entrance. Inside it has a theatrical feel. The ceilings are painted with the Birth Of Venus and the Sistine Chapel fingertips. There is lovely area displaying the fresh fish and framed with bottles of wine and colourful peppers. There are twinkling fake blossom trees and glossy green palm fronds. We had a nice table downstairs but there is also seating upstairs and even an outside area.
The food is exactly what I enjoy. There is shellfish aplenty, pasta, pizzas (but not too many) and lots of meat. There are also some yummy looking homemade desserts. Most importantly of all there are some truly enormous pepper grinders being wielded and some pretty impenetrable Italian accents.
I started with tuna tartare – a daily special which was prepared at the table. The waiter brought a tray of ingredients and mixed them in a bowl in front of us. If I am honest it was all a bit much. Tartare is all about the freshness of the tuna and the mixing was a little overdone for me and there was a touch too much olive oil. It was fine with good flavours and balance of the capers and mustard and there was a generous portion size served with crispbread.
My main course was calf’s liver in a red wine sauce and onion. It was sensationally good – the liver was soft and tender and the sauce was deep and rich and thick. It was served with some nice griddled polenta. We shared some side dishes. The sautéed potatoes with bacon and onion were good and the battered courgette was superb – hot and crispy. The mixed salad was nicely prepared with lots of fresh ingredients. The lasagne with veal mince was pronounced excellent but very filling and the pasta dishes were left with clean plates.
The desserts were also good. I shared a warm lemon tart (slightly custard you and nicely sharp) with lemon ice cream. The tiramisu is always a good benchmark and this was of the custard rather than cake variety – very soft and creamy.
La Coppola is a great place for a romantic meal or a fun family occasion. The food is very good Italian traditional and portions are good. Service is slightly scatty – we had a waiter with poor English which resulted in a couple of misunderstandings. It’s fair comment that we are in an Italian restaurant but we do need to communicate and there is quite a bit of background noise. Service charge is included which is a bit naughty. Overall the impression is that this is a well-run restaurant with some really experienced old-school owners. Even with the regulars there is an element of formality around their comings and goings.
It’s also mid-priced but this does reflect the quality of ingredients used and a really nice setting. We paid £260 for six people including some predrinks and a bottle of Valpolicella