Last weekend in The Times there was a section in the lifestyle section of the paper featuring twenty recipes from five celebrity chefs. The pasta dishes caught my eye, as the recipes were from Ruth Rogers, the doyen of The River Cafe, a legendary London Italian restaurant. It was established over twenty years ago by two amateur, non-Italian women that set new standards in authentic Italian cuisine, seasonality and outrageous prices.
Perhaps I am being a little unfair as I have never been to The River Cafe but a look at the menu online confirmed that they are still leading the pack when it comes to parting the capital’s chattering classes with their money. No wonder that some MP’s feel an urgent need to submit fraudulent expense claims when they have to eat there. Antipasti such as some ham or Mozarella bruschetta range from £17 to £20, Primi or small pasta dishes (adopt Lloyd Grossman tone and pronounce it as Parstahh) carry a similar heisted price before a main course of fish or meat relieves you of an average £37 a plate. Add some cheese at £13 or a dessert at £9, and you spent the better part of £200 for two before even a single glass of grog.
On Saturday, in need of a Dolmio day of our own, we returned to an old favourite, The Dolce Vita in Marple, confident that although its food may never grace The Times, its owners are authentically Italian and we can eat and drink a little less expensively. Over the seven years we have lived in the area The Dolce Vita has thrived. It has been through a number of makeovers, and currently the first floor is closed whilst further renovations take place.
The restaurant is a classic suburban Italian: pizza, pasta and a wide range of meat and fish main courses. They also have a specials page which usually include a couple of starters and two or three main courses. They have a nice range of wines with something to suit every pocket.
The service is friendly and efficient with Franco and his wife, together with the rest of the front of house team, always ready to welcome you and make you feel at home. Like an old friend, Franco will remember the favourite dishes of returning guests and will often try to guess what you are likely to order.
The front of the restaurant has become a popular bar area with a lot of the younger people of the area who prefer to socialise in an environment with more style than many of the more traditional local Marple pubs. The bar can be opened up to the road but the combination of the traffic and the poor weather mean that the doors have not been opened up much this year and only the modern day untouchables, otherwise known as smokers, brave the three outside tables.
We were seated in the newer rear part of the ground floor and our drinks orders were promptly taken. One of my favourite aspects of The Dolce Vita is that requests for tap water are dealt with promptly and without fuss. Italian restaurants always seem to want to up-sell you to some still or sparkling bottled water, (strangely rarely the same make from one restaurant to another)
To start, the OH chose the Arancini from the specials menu whilst I decided to eat a small portion of pasta to begin and selected a gnocchi dish with dolcelatte blue cheese and spinach. The starters were brought in good time but I was given a pizza with cheese and spinach which I sent back. This was a rare mistake which was duly corrected and explained by a mistake in the use of the hand held digital order taker. The deep fried rice ball Arancini were served with a small side salad and dinky pots of garlic mayonnaise and a chilli dip, the gnocchi were very good , tasty , creamy and with the spinach just wilted.
The main courses we chose surprised Franco as he had expected at least one of us to order Vitello alla Milanese (breaded veal escalope served with spaghetti in a tomato sauce) but the OH decided to go off-piste and selected a Sirloin steak served on Braised Raddicchio. I ate the Scallopine alla pizzaiola , veal served in a light tomato sauce flavoured with olives and capers. We shared a side dish of chips and a small mixed salad. The food was accompanied by a bottle of Barbera d’Asti, a small Peroni. We had eaten well and chose not to eat a dessert or have coffee but paid our bill which came with two complimentary hazelnut liqueurs.
The Dolce Vita has been around since 1986 and is Italian owned and managed. It has an atmosphere of its own and rarely disappoints with the food. If I have a slight niggle, I think it’s just a little bit overpriced in some areas but that maybe me being a GOM (Grumpy Old Man). The restaurant was also not full to capacity on this Saturday which may have been due to number of bonfires on the nearest weekend to Guy Fawkes night or perhaps the increased competition from Marco Marco and Libby’s in Marple Bridge is starting to tell. A reliable all rounder, though, and we would always go back.
A last little observation, in line with the European directive on equality, it’s not just the British busineses whose signs are misspelt, Spot the mistake (you may need to click on the photo to enalarge it):
Answers by comment please. The winner will be allowed to tell Franco in person.