IT LOOKS like we are incubating Aberdeen’s first Italian Quarter without anyone noticing.
On the upper deck of Union Square, the mall is now home to five – count ‘em, five – restaurants that can lay claim to Italian roots.
Any more and this will be the place ex pats from Rome and Naples flock to when the World Cup is on. Not that it’s a bad thing to be blessed with so many places offering a feast of pasta and pizza. After all, there’s a reason Italian food is so popular – it’s good.
Well, to be specific, when it’s done well it’s good. There are some places out there taking liberties with food the way mama would never have made it.
So, it was interesting to see which side of the fence the Aberdeen branch of the Prezzo
chain fell on when we dropped in for a casual family meal.
The opening salvo was a dish I doubt you’d find for lunch in Florence – Italian nachos.
But it was a particularly pleasing fusion with Mexican cuisine, with tortilla chips slathered with intense pesto, bursting-with-flavour cherry tomatoes, a touch of onion and melted cheese.
A touch on the greasy side, it was more-ish none the less.
There was a flurry of hands to get the best “juicy bits” – largely driven by the hunger pangs after the longish wait for the starter to arrive.
Since our warm welcome to this glittering place – it’s all funky wood and mirrors – the service had been on the slow, verging on off-hand, side.
However, something changed – a shift changeover perhaps as we were dining early – and our new waitress picked up the pace and the charm offensive.
We didn’t have too long to wait for the mains – and could even watch the chef whipping up pizza at the huge, central flaming oven.
Our loon had decided to try his first calzone (“think pizza folded and baked”, I told him) and was glad he did.
It was golden and bursting with spicy pepperoni, seasoned chicken, crispy pancetta and onions with a big hit of rosemary in the pomodoro sauce.
Mrs B had stepped out a bit with her choice from the grill – chargrilled chicken with prosciutto ham and plum tomato slices.
For a fairly simple dish, it punched well above its weight on the favour front – the virtue of fresh ingredients treated well.
But when it came to flavour, my lobster and crab tortelli was the hands down winner.
Parcels of pasta, stuffed with the tastiest seafood, were just a delicate delight on the first bite. Then seconds later, the chilli shot through the mix delivered a burst of fire to the tastebuds.
Miraculously, it didn’t drown out the shellfish, but actually lifted the flavour, along with the subtle saffron sauce.
It was one of the finest pasta dishes I’d had in ages.
And as an added bonus, the fussy-eating princess in our gang of four loved her spag bol.
As chains go, Prezzo has the mix right between corporate efficiency and treating the cuisine with the care and respect it deserves.
Smooth out the service and you have a force even the most traditional, family Italian restaurant has to reckon with.