Italian restaurants are, surprisingly, some of my favourite. I say surprisingly because I’m actually severely allergic to a key Italian ingredient. Trust me, a tomato allergy is very limiting. However despite this being a key ingredient, it is easy to avoid in Italian cooking. Either dishes have tomatoes or they don’t. None of this ambiguity you find in other types of cooking (the amount of British stews and pies containing tomato puree really annoys me!).
Out of Italian chain restaurants, both ASK and Zizzi are close to being my favourite. ASK has the slight edge in that they don’t practise excessive use of herbs. Pizza Express doesn’t even come close. Anyway, I visited Zizzi in Market Harborough last Thursday for my sister’s birthday;
To start, we shared a ‘large’ portion of calamari, and some garlic bread.
I love love love calamari. The best I’ve ever had is either the baby squid at ASK (although seeing them whole is a little off-putting) or the spicy squid at Jamie’s Italian in Brighton. Zizzi’s was also very very good; served so piping hot it burnt, very very crispy, and with a creamy dip that had a good lemony kick.
The garlic bread at Zizzi is also very good, soft, buttery, and garlicky without that dreadful aftertaste.
For mains, I chose the Penne della Casa. Other mains on the table were Rigatoni con Pollo e Funghi, Sofia Rustica Pizza, Zizzi Fish Stew, and the Pork Belly.
My main was delicious, although not without faults. The chicken was beautifully soft and flavoursome, the spinach perfectly cooked, the cheese wonderfully goeey and stringy. The sauce was very nice, although far too thin. The biggest let down was the bacon; it was extremely fatty, and didn’t taste of anything. It was also a very off-putting highlighter pink colour.
For obvious reasons, I didn’t try the other pasta dish, the pizza or the fish stew. The other pasta dish was apparently let down by the extreme use of rosemary. Nothing seemed to be wrong with the other dishes, they were both wolfed down by the male members of our party.
The Pork Belly was the source of my food envy. Described as “crisp slow-roast belly of pork on spring greens sautéed in garlic butter” it was a huge piece of meat, served on top of a massive portion of green vegetables. No starchy-carby sides were provided, although they were not needed. The pork was seasoned beautifully, and cooked to absolute perfection. It was falling apart, yet still tender, succulent, and had wonderfully chewy and crispy edges. The greens still had a good bite to them, and were lovely and garlicky. This is definitely the dish I will order next time!
We didn’t order desert, and instead ate birthday cake. However due to a big delay in our mains arriving (there were multiple Christmas parties taking place) we were given a free bottle of Prosecco which went down very nicely.
The food was a little over-seasoned, but the staff wonderfully. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable meal.