Restaurateurs hate TripAdvisor. Notwithstanding the fact it’s open to abuse – there are legions of tales about those who’ve threatened to post bad reviews unless they get a discount – there’s a more pressing problem.
TripAdvisor provides a platform to those whose misgivings might formerly not have been aired or would only have been voiced in hushed tones at the end of a meal.
And so while chef-patrons would once have been able to brush criticism under the carpet, or ignore it altogether, now it has a life of its own and negative comments live for eternity.
Little Italy draws mixed reviews from Wolverhampton’s dining public, earning itself a ranking of around 100 out of more than 400 restaurants; while being placed eighth of 12 Italian restaurants.
And while we are occasionally criticised ourselves for being too damning, TripAdvisor provides no Editorial controls. So while Little Italy has 55 excellent reviews, it also has 10 from people who say it’s terrible – and those are the ones that are funny.
In August last year, Poynts77 said: “To say I would rather be served by the Dolmio puppets is an understament.” You have to hand it to Poynts; that’s a damn good line.
StevenWBA visited in the same month and said: “The canteen in my workplace has a better atmosphere.” If nothing else, the Black Country has a number of excellent and funny restaurant reviewers.
But the most damning critique came just over a year ago from Carly H, who said she’d rather go to Bella Italia. Ouch. Nobody would rather go there.
Little Italy, therefore, had it all to do. And it made an inauspicious start as we sought to place an order. Its website can be accurately described as being basic; if a picture tells a thousand stories, the ones told by its low-grade site are distinctly unflattering.
Having been unable to find the restaurant’s menu, we called and were directed to either Facebook or TripAdvisor. My tip would be this: If there are reviews that feature plenty of damning reports, it might be more sensible to stick your menu on your own website rather than directing people to a place where customers advise using Bella Italia.
But we persevered, flicking through the TripAdvisor pictures until we found the menu and refusing to be put off by a gallery of unflattering pictures. And we were glad to do so.
Located in leafy Tettenhall, Little Italy is eeking out a living at a time of unprecedented challenges. Many of the criticisms on TripAdvisor are fair. The interior needs a little TLC. Actually, scratch that, it needs a complete make-over.
And the least said about the venue’s pasta dishes and garlic bread the better. A square of lasagne was flabby and dense; I think it may have contained peas. Unremarkably seasoned, lacking in flavour and doing a disservice to the dish many know and love, it was less than the sum of its parts.
There’s never an excuse to serve food that is outgunned by mid-range supermarkets or by competent home cooks. The seafood pasta was similarly unappetising. Boiled pasta with a few pieces of mixed seafood scattered on top delivers an absence of wow. The garlic bread, meanwhile, was a slice of supermarket French baguette with toasted cheese on top. It was unsophisticated and unremarkable.
And yet. And yet. Arguably the most accurate review on TripAdvisor is a 4/5 from NikkiMas79, headlined It Is What It Is. Her critique is the most balanced and fair of the lot and reads: “The place is small, the service isn’t amazing, but it’s not bad. I’ve heard the food on the menu isn’t great, and having seen some of the dishes myself, it doesn’t look very appetising. but you can’t fault the pizzas at all.”
So, to the service. In Covid-19 lockdown, the restaurant is offering a take-out service only. The chef was thoroughly polite and engaging. When I’d placed my order, I’d given an arrival time of 7pm but ended up 10 minutes early. He chastised me, jokingly, telling me he’d have had the food ready bang on time if I’d stuck to my ETA.
The pizzas, meanwhile, were fabulous. Little Italy isn’t geared up to dazzle; its kitchen appeared to be fitted with a two-stack pizza oven and a regular family oven. But the pizzas were delish. My partner ate a spinach special, featuring mushrooms, cheese and spinach. It was generously topped and while the mushrooms and spinach generated a bit too much liquid, it was pleasing enough.
I ate a Hawaiian, featuring plenty of our old friends ham and pineapple. Again, it was perfectly enjoyable, if not a little behind-the-times. The base was decent, the toppings plentiful, the cheese had been baked until it bubbled a golden brown.
I guess visitors to Little Italy ought to take three things; their wallets, a bottle of booze (the venue is unlicensed) and appropriate expectations. If you’re looking for a gastronomic experience, stay away or face disappointment. There’s nothing on the menu that’s redolent of mama’s kitchen, it’s basic food with neither finesse nor razzle dazzle.
But if you’re looking for a cheap and cheerful evening out – or, in the present circumstances, evening in – then Little Italy delivers in spades. The guy behind the counter is welcoming and hospitable, the prices are eminently fair and the pizzas are delish.
The TripAdvisor critic who invoked the Dolmio puppets was wrong – funny, but wrong – for those running the restaurant are putting in a shift and eeking out a living on the slenderest of margins.
The takeaway pizza is better than most – there, that would be your TripAdvisor headline – is its worth supporting our small, independent businesses unless we’re willing for them to go out of business.
Be sensible with your expectations, order pizza rather than pasta and Little Italy won’t disappoint.
Meatball salad, £4.90
Garlic bread with cheese, £1.20
Mozzarella, tomato and basil, £3.95
Homemade lasagne, £7.50
Spaghetti Bolognaise, £6.96
Chicken tikka, £8.95
18A, Upper Green,