You don’t go to Jenners for a masonry drill, you don’t go to B&Q for lingerie and you definitely don’t go to Carpet Warehouse for curtains. And, as the great Sir Sean Connery so memorably mused in The Untouchables, you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight. So why, I asked myself halfway through a meal at La Favorita, did we go to a famously popular Italian restaurant that’s renowned for its pizzas and, in our infinite wisdom, choose to completely ignore the house speciality?
As our meal progressed and these thoughts raced through my increasingly grumpy mind, two grinning teenagers from across the table tucked into their calzones, studiously ignoring all of our pleas to be allowed, pretty please, to try a little. If that was bad, it was even worse when they finally relented and each passed a parcel of pizza across the table. Their calzone was as good as our meal was ordinary, a realisation that reminded me that a simple acronym – KISS, Keep It Simple Stupid – applies as much to eating out as any other activity. When you’re in a steakhouse, order steak; when in a curry house give the ham and eggs a sideswerve; and, most importantly of all, when you’re in a pizza restaurant, don’t look past the pizza.
That goes double for La Favorita, which has a well-deserved reputation for producing the best pizzas in the capital; so good indeed that smaller satellite takeaway operations are popping up all over Edinburgh. Back at the mother ship on Leith Walk, the pizzas are made as they always have been, in the most traditional manner: the home-made (and gluten-free) dough prepared four days in advance before being topped with all manner of delicacies and then finished in the sort of wood-fired oven that was once de rigueur in the mother country.
Our kids, connoisseurs who have eaten pizza in every conceivable corner of this great country, not to mention in Italy, were certainly impressed. Their choice of calzone amalfitano was an interesting one, although I wasn’t sure whether the calzone format (a super-laden pizza folded over so that it looks like a huge, doughy pasty) would be to their liking. It turns out that they’re both calzone veterans, and this absolutely enormous version, packed with tomato sauce, mozzarella, ricotta cheese, ham, spinach, salami and Parmesan, passed with flying colours. It may have looked slightly doughy and parched on the outside, but once the moist mélange of ingredients from the centre began to leak out, dry mouth syndrome was not an issue.
So yes, I think on the basis of this snapshot we can definitely say that La Favorita’s proud boast about the quality and authenticity of its pizzas isn’t far-fetched. This is one Italian restaurant which is all talk and trousers.
Sadly for this stylish and extraordinarily busy venue, that was the end of the really good news until we hit pudding and then the highway. Bea’s starter of fagottini alla polpa di scampi, a dish in which crepe pockets are packed with shards of scampi, prawns and crabmeat and then served with a velvety cognac sauce containing shallots and courgettes, was a case in point. Small yet so rich that Bea struggled to get to the end of it, she was unimpressed (and this from a girl whose three months in Venice as a student gave her a lifelong love for, and appreciation of, traditional Italian food).
My pappardelle alla farina di castagne alla boscaiola, in which the ribbons of pasta came with a tomato, minced boar and mushroom sauce had a nice hint of intensity, but again it was a small portion and arrived lukewarm, which isn’t really what you expect for an £8 starter.
Our main courses were also disappointingly run-of-the-mill. Bea’s torre di pollo, a chicken breast with leek and Gorgonzola and served with tagliolini and a mushroom sauce, suffered from an almost total absence of Gorgonzola and slightly overcooked chicken. My vitello alla Milanese, a breaded and fried veal chop, was fine, but instead of the usual thin-cut chop this was more like a thick-cut steak. Again, both dishes were functional but they suffered by comparison with those served by competitors such as Locanda Di Gusti, and were nowhere near as impressive as the pizzas.
Pudding, however, saw a return to form for a restaurant at which we as a family have eaten several times down the years. The banoffee pie was distinctly ordinary, but the tiramisu was top drawer; smooth, nuanced and reeking of hazelnuts, Bea pronounced herself suitably impressed. The After Eight mint parfait turned out to be a gloriously gaudy sundae-style confection served in a tall glass that wouldn’t have been out of place in a 1950s American diner, and it delighted the nippers.
Indeed, everything delighted the young ’uns, from their gargantuan calzone pizzas and their outrageously sugar-loaded puddings to a waitress who was unexpectedly cheery amid a relentless workload. Unfortunately Bea and I didn’t share our kids’ enthusiasm for a meal that was noticeably more expensive and less impressive than we had anticipated.
Just to put the tin lid on a meal of two halves, as we left I found out that everyone else, in a fairly expensively-priced inexpensive restaurant that was nevertheless crammed full, seemed to have availed themselves of the “50% off in January if you book online” offer, of which I had been unaware. But then, any man who ignores the prime law of eating in a pizzeria – order the pizza! – deserves to get stung.
Main courses: £10.50-£25.95 (pizzas £7.50-£14.95)
Puddings £4.50-£5.95 (cheese £6.95-£10.95)