All change – a great choice of quality Italian food seems to be pulling in the customers, writes our anonymous restaurant critic the Insider.
I'm feeling in a philosophical mood this week, so let’s begin with the musings of Mark Twain.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
Hmm. Try telling that to Chris Huhne. What do you think is going through his mind this week, as he contemplates the ruin of his career and the prospect of imminent imprisonment?
Is he saying to himself: “You know what, I don’t regret being clocked for speeding outside Stansted Airport, getting the missus to take the penalty points, and being dobbed in to the Old Bill. I just wished I had booked that cruise?”
Doing nothing is often a jolly good option. Ask Gerald Ratner.
Yet as we headed for this week’s culinary expedition in the Staffordshire village of Armitage, first and foremost in my mind was a regret about something I had not done when I first started writing this column back in 2008.
For the last five years, I have been brooding about the fact that last time I came here I did not eat a lamb shank. Such a golden opportunity, but I missed the boat completely, and chose the pork.
Not that the pork was bad. As I recall it was rather good, but no matter which way you spin it just wasn’t a lamb shank was it?
Anyway, after half a decade, I think the time is now right to correct that wrong. To leave the safe harbour and head back to the Plum Pudding and eat that lamb shank. To explore, dream, and discover.
This place has changed quite a bit since I last came here. Back then, this wasn’t Il Marchigiano, and it wasn’t Italian. Just the plain old Plum Pudding. It was also very quiet, with just a couple of other tables in the dining area being occupied.
So I was quite surprised to see that this time around it was packed to the rafters, and being advised I would need to wait in the bar until our table was available.
The decor is essentially the same as it was when I last visited, which is no bad thing.
The well-used leather sofas in the bar make for a comforting, homely place to relax before and after a meal, while the light pine wood decor of the main dining room, and the powder blue upholstery of the chairs, make the place seem airy and modern.
I wasn’t too struck on the rather shabby looking posters on the walls, though.
We were invited to take a seat in the bar while we waited for a table to become free, and were handed a menu. There is a pretty varied choice, including swordfish, salmon and seabass, as well as several vegetarian choices and a good range of steaks.
There is more choice on the weekly specials board, but of course, I had decided what I wanted long before I had set foot in the place.
While there is a pretty reasonable choice of wines by the bottle, only the house wine is available by the glass, and the wine list gives no details of where it is from or even what type of grapes are used.
While both the rose and the dry white were pleasant enough, it would have been nice to have known a little more about what we were drinking. Peroni lager and Worthington’s bitter are among the beers available.
After about 20 minutes perusing the menu, a very pleasant young waitress announced, with the sort of reverence usually reserved for a visiting head of state, that “Giuseppe would be with us shortly.”
True to form, a few minutes later, owner and chef Giuseppe Iaconi strolled out to greet us and take our orders. Relaxed and casually dressed, Iaconi is an engaging man who clearly has a passion for his food.
He is a native of the Marche region of Italy, where he says cooking is rooted in a peasant tradition ruled by the home cook rather than the career chef.
My companion chose the Bistecchine al Pepe, beef medallions and shallots cooked in brandy, port and peppercorns, and chef Iaconi explained that they were cooked in a traditional Italian way without cream, although she could have cream added if she wanted.
She decided to go with the chef’s advice, and went without. We also decided to have a side order of chips as well.
At around 9pm, around half an hour after we arrived, we were taken to our tables, and the food followed about 15 minutes after that.
It was certainly worth the wait. The lamb was a generous cut, plump and tender, and was cooked in a lovely, rich red wine sauce. The vegetables were fresh and quite well cooked, in a manner that I find far more palatable than the rock-hard “al dente” style.
The crisp, golden saute potatoes were also very tasty, and it was good to see proper chips rather than the stringy “fries” you often get at Italian restaurants.
And while my lamb was very good, I think my dining partner’s beef was even better. The way it was cooked in the sauce, rather than having it added afterwards, gave it a powerful, potent flavour.
For afters, I had lime and ginger cheesecake, a fresh and zesty twist on a familiar classic, while my companion opted for lemoncello, essentially similar to tiramisu, but with lemon liqueur.
The bill was £52.45, which was about what you would expect to pay at a venue such as this.
While I would have preferred not to have waited so long to take our table, there was a definite buzz about the place, and we soon found ourselves chatting to regular customers.
The food was both tasty and authentic, and the staff were all friendly. And I finally got my lamb shank. And what is this thing with the lamb?
Well, basically it’s down to this restaurant’s location.
I’d always wanted to write that I had eaten an Armitage Shank. Mission accomplished.