Dawn Collinson visits Est Est Italian restaurant in Aigburth
Est Est restaurant on Aigburth Road
What is the one thing better than having a new restaurant opening in your area?
The answer is having one that you can walk to from your house. Because then you can bypass all those pre-night out negotiations over who's driving, who drove last, who drinks too much when they don't drive and makes a show of themselves ...
When work started on Est Est on Aigburth Road, everyone I know in the vicinity watched it progressing with interest. We saw the tradesmen coming and going every day, the interior taking shape (when we peeked behind the shutters), tables, chairs and a very cool-looking Lambretta scooter arriving.
Once it did finally open, there was a discernible buzz to see who could try it out first. I rang after about a week to get a table for Friday or Saturday. No luck. How about the next weekend? Still no, not after 4pm anyway. Curse the quicker off the mark neighbours.
In the end we settled on Sunday, and took an early-ish 7pm slot.
Est Est is billing itself as an authentic neighbourhood Italian, but that's not to say it's remotely down-home in its charm. This is a restaurant which could hold its own with any in the city centre.
The interior, so long in creation, is beautiful. Aside from that Lambretta, which takes pride of place in the front window, it is mostly a cream palette with blue strip lighting and dark woods.
When we arrived, we were greeted like old friends by a hostess and by Kostas the general manager, and ushered to our table, coats whisked to the cloakroom.
Our waitress appeared within minutes to take drinks orders and read a list of specials, returning with our wine and glasses of iced water.
She was away just long enough for us to browse the menu of antipasti, pasta, pizza, salads, meat, fish and shellfish dishes. Prices range from pastas and pizzas, mostly around a tenner, to various takes on fillet steak at just over £20.
Rather than fill up on starters, we shared a rosemary and sea salt pizza base bread while we waited for our mains: Diavola pizza for Matthew (£10.50), risotto primavera for me (£9.95) and one of the specials, smoked haddock on a bed of spinach, for husband (£13.95). He'd thrown in a side order of hand-cut chips (£2.95) too, just to be on the safe side.
The bread arrived and was lightly crisp and delicious, with enough garlic butter to give plenty of flavour but not drown the base into soggy submission.
"Ooh that is beautifully baked," said Matt, helping himself to a third slice and Paul Hollywood's script.
When the mains arrived, they looked enticing. Mine and husband's were delivered first, followed by Matthew's pizza brought by Kostas. He was concerned, he said, that the Diavola - with its chilli and hot Calabrese sausage - might be a little too much for a young man's tastebuds, so he'd asked the chef to prepare a back-up. If the original was fine, then all the good, but if not there was an alternative ready to go.
As it turned out, he was up to the job and held on to version one, but it was a thoughtful touch which you really don't come across every day especially in very busy restaurants.
Husband's fish, two generous loin pieces, was moist and flaked on his fork. It came topped with a lightly poached egg, contrasting with the earthy spinach underneath.
My risotto was a whopping portion, dotted with still-crisp broccoli, green beans and carrots, and topped with pinenuts and a drizzle of basil oil. It was so comforting I could have laid down in it.
I didn't. Instead I ate almost every mouthful but it was very creamy and I finally had to admit defeat with just less than a quarter left.
I was mindful to leave a little room - maybe a forkful - for dessert. Or at least husband's dessert. Happily he chose the crostata al miele (£5.25), an apple and ground almond tart with amaretti crumble and creme Anglaise, which I would have gone for too if I hadn't already been full of rice.
It was lovely, with a buttery short pastry casing and a faint citrussy flavour which I couldn't place but really loved.
As we contemplated the stroll home - no cars, no negotiations - we tried, for the purposes of balance, to think of anything negative to say.
"I didn't really like that Queen song which was playing when we came in," offered husband.
And that was the best, or worst, we could do.