When I sit down at a table in a restaurant and the first course is served on a oblong, square, or half-moon shaped plate, or even worse on a piece of slate or wood, my heart sinks. I may be dull and old-fashioned but I like my coffee in a cup and my food on a round plate. When it's anything else, I know that the restaurant places more importance on how the food looks than how it tastes. This I believe is true in 99 percent of the cases - I've carried out extensive empirical studies.
Last night, because it was the start of yet another flat hunting weekend around Hampstead in London, and because our wedding anniversary had been in the week when we really couldn't celebrate it, we decided to try out an Italian place we'd been to many years ago. Villa Bianca is a traditional restaurant, with white-coated waiters milling around, piano being played upstairs and an all-seeing Maitre'D at the helm, conducting the proceedings.
Walking into the place you feel as if you'd stepped back in time,and I guess that's its charm, and the reason the restaurant is still there.
But when my starter of asparagus en croute arrived on an oblong plate, the alarm bells started ringing. Now it may be that this theory of mine where food suffers when placed on anything but a round plate may be a self-fulling prophesy. In the case of both our starters, I was almost proven wrong. The asparagus was perfectly cooked and the pastry was thin and soft as it should be. It was all served on a bed of delicious hollandaise sauce, so I had no complaints. Husbands fishy pasta was equally satisfying. It wasn't the most fantastic food we'd ever eaten, but it wasn't bad.
But then the main courses arrived, on square plates, too large for our round table, forcing our sweet waitress to shuffle glasses and other table furniture to make room for them. We'd both opted for veal, partly because in England it hasn't been very popular until now, and partly because it made the wine choice easier. Husband's veal chop was well cooked but tasteless. My veal escalopes were covered in buttery sauce with capers. The whole dish looked as it had been hanging around for a while - perhaps it was a left over from lunch? The vegetables we'd opted for were new potatoes and broccoli, again both dishes were tasteless and unimaginative.
It may be half-term in London, and we noticed that Hampstead in particular seemed almost quiet, but all the same on a Friday night Villa Bianca was less than half full. Could this be because the food had suffered from an attack of funny shaped plates? Or is it that on a sunny evening the last thing people want to do is eat Italian food? I don't know. But I do wish that the friendly and attentive staff would have better food to bring to their customers. Not only because I love Italian food and would like nothing more than make this restaurant my local Italian.