The John Paul Young hit Love Is In The Air from 1978 is blaring from the radio. How come? It’s the day feared by many, loved by few.
And Valentine’s Day has gone and fallen on a weekend this year. Now there is no excuse for an absence of card/present/enormous cuddly toy. But the day can be redeemed, with the rapid booking of a restaurant table, somewhere suitably romantic.
"Diners come here for classic southern Italian cooking"
Contini Ristorante occupies a special place in the hearts of its owners, Victor and Carina Contini, as it was the first restaurant they opened, as Centotre, in 2004. Located in a former banking hall, its vaulted ceilings lend it the wow factor. Diners come here for classic southern Italian cooking – nothing too experimental, but dishes that have become familiar to its regulars, served using the finest ingredients imported from Italian markets.
There’s a particular buzz here because it is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner with coffees and cocktails served all day, so you never feel rushed to place your order or ask for the bill.
Two of us pretended to be continental ordering the antipasto misto (£8.95) to share, divvying up the Prosciutto di Parma, Bocconcini di Bufala Campana DOP, Pachino tomatoes, roasted Italian vegetables and garlic bruschetta. The third member of our party of three remained resolutely Scottish and made perhaps the most sensible choice of the day, ordering the freshly made seasonal minestrone soup, served with warm sourdough bread (£5.95), perfect on this bitterly cold day.
For mains we roamed across the menu, choosing one pasta, one main and one pizza. I graciously allowed Liz to order my all time favourite Contini dish, the contadino orecchiette with fresh Italian piccante sausage, cremini and dried porcini mushrooms, rocket and Parmigiano Reggiano DOP (£8.25/£12.95), and I encouraged her to choose the starter-sized portion as this is quite filling, but so delicious that you would be quite broken-hearted to have to leave any of it unscoffed.
There was a near wobble when Jim almost ordered something exotic – the pollo alla Milanese, which features chicken dressed up in breadcrumbs. Thankfully normal service was resumed when he realised that the pollo he wanted was the pollo alla cacciatore; oven-roasted free range Scottish chicken breast with San Marzano tomato and Chianti red wine salsa, rosemary and Taggiasche olives (£15.95).
Due to a current overfondness for aubergines, once I had clapped eyes on the pizza melanzane e alici, tomato salsa, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, I Ciacca extra virgin olive oil, roasted violet aubergines, salted anchovies and dried oregano (£12.95), I couldn’t see past it. I wasn’t disappointed; the salty tang of the anchovies cut across the sweetness of the eggplant, and the base was pleasingly thin and crisp, thanks to pizza dough made daily with the best caputo flour by the Continis’ in house pizzaiolo. There are plenty of pizza choices on the menu, but the team are happy to put together a bespoke creation.
As usual we couldn’t resist the dolci, but unfortunately the sweets were the only part of our lunch that left us disappointed. We ordered two to share but to a man steered clear of one on account of the potentially costly effect the hard meringues might have had on our Lanarkshire fillings. The homemade meringue with Madagascan vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate sauce (£6.95) wasn’t an entire let down as we enjoyed the other elements on the plate.
For our second dessert we avoided all the light, fruity options and picked the torta al cioccolato, a rich 70 per cent Valrhona chocolate tart served with crème fraîche and honeycomb (£6.95) which would appeal to all chocoholics.
One small gripe – Liz and Jim reminded me that while the service was charming, we weren’t offered pepper or Parmesan on dishes that might have benefited from them. But we’re still in love with this place.
ALSO ON THE MENU
Vegetarians might fancy the peperonata con verdure (£13.95), which features Italian peppers, aubergines and courgettes slow-cooked in Sicilian tomatoes and Taggiasche olive tapenade, served with garlic bruschetta on the side in case it was beginning to sound too healthy. A lunch and pre-theatre menu is available from noon-7pm, Monday to Friday, offering two courses for £12.50. There’s also the Contini fast lunch, consisting of a pasta of the day, for example puttanesca, washed down by a 125ml glass of wine for £10.