RESTAURANT REVIEW: The Villa Italian, Guild Hall, Preston
We walked up to Preston's newest restaurant in the rain with me hoping there would be someone else in it.
The last time I’d done a review at one of Simon Rigby’s restaurants inside the facelifted Guild Hall – Review – my husband and I were the only ones in. Which made it a bit awkward taking pictures of the food.
But our luck was in, and we were settled down inside the very bright, open-plan dining area among half a dozen other couples.
The first thing I noticed was that, as with Review, this hasn’t been a cheap job.
The tables are solid white marble, the cutlery is reassuringly heavy, the chairs are quality leather.
There’s driftwood hanging from the ceiling, twinkling lights, and even the dangling plate warmers are in the Italian tricolour.
The bar, back-lit in blue looks very sophisticated, but the only thing that didn’t really sit well in my opinion, was the open kitchen.
Yes, it’s lovely to see what’s happening, but here there’s something a bit ‘off’. It might be the very stark lighting, but it reminded me of a canteen or an industrial kitchen.
Anyway, on to the food and the very nicely presented menu.
Plenty of choice here, from pasta dishes, risottos, salads, oven-baked dishes, grilled fish, steaks, and of course, Pizzas.
I decided on the deep-fried brie to start (£6.25), followed by the Fettucine Alfredo (£9.50), and a cheeky prosecco spumante (£5.50).
There’s not a lot they could have done wrong with deep-frying brie, so that turned up exactly how I’d expect and as I’d hoped. Two bread crumbed triangles that melted into yellow gooeyness , with a side salad and reasonably-onioney chutney.
The main, which came in a deep grey dish, seemed to be a version of tagliatelle with ham and mushrooms in a creamy sauce, only this was better.
The pasta seemed to be home-made, with a little resistance to the bite, the mushrooms were small and plentiful, the little cubes of ham added saltiness and smokiness, and the cream was not too rich, but well-seasoned.
There was also loads, so the desert menu was wafted reluctantly away.
Chris’s starter was deep fried calamari (£6.50), then he opted for a contadina pizza (£8.95), featuring chicken, sweetcorn and oregano.
And because it’s him, he also asked for added garlic and ham, which the chef was happy to do and charged no more for. Two Peronis to wash it all down cost £9.90.
As an observer, the calamari looked a little on the pale side, but Chris said they were tasty and not rubbery.
He would have liked them a little crispier though, to dunk into the accompanying mayonnaise sauce.
The pizza – a true, basic test of any Italian – was a triumph. A lop-sided triumph.
The base was thin, crispy, and has the same indulgent, buttery taste of a ciabatta.
Chris even said: “It’s unusual I actually want to eat the crusts of a pizza.”
The toppings were plentiful and delicious.
The service was also polite and timely, and made the meal hassle-free.
I hope this works out and is a success, it certainly has the recipe to be.
It would also be nice to mount a challenge in the Italian restaurant scene locally, which is dominated by one family (and achingly similar menus).