L’Italiana

I’ve always had a huge appetite, but I haven’t always been into food the same way that I am now. I used to be all about the quantity, and not at all bothered about the quality. When I was younger, after ice skating on a Saturday morning, sometimes my mum would give into my pestering her and she’d take me for lunch at McDonalds. I’d order two large chicken burger meals, and polish them off easily. School was no different. Some days I’d eat the packed lunch my mum had packed for me at morning break, then go to the canteen at lunch and order two meals – usually a jacket potato with cheese and beans and a bacon and cheese panini or a slice of pizza. I’m so self conscious about so many things and I remember how embarrassed I used to be embarrassed about my eating habits – all these years later I still remember pretending that I was buying lunch for a friend when I was ordering my food! When I went to University I was the same – I’d go to huge, all you can eat buffets and stuff myself full of plateful after plateful of rubbish food but I was no longer embarrassed. I’d grown to embrace it and I’m lucky that Marcus is a firm supporter of my big appetite 🙂

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Now I’m older, even though I still have a ridiculous appetite, I’m much more about the quality of the food, and I want to enjoy what I’m eating rather than just mindlessly stuffing my face! I’m still a complete sucker for a huge portion though, I still get disappointed when my meal is tiny, and when my food arrives on a plate that’s bigger than my face I can feel the inner child in me getting excited. This is exactly the case at L’Italiana – the portions are huge. That said, they absolutely do not compromise on quality, so I’m satisfied on both fronts. I remember the first time I went and I ordered a calzone – look at the size of it!

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L’Italiana is a little gem right in the centre of St Albans. It has deservingly won restaurant of the year for St Albans and Harpenden for four consecutive years. They have two parts to the restaurant separated by a huge pizza oven – a front area where the tables are slightly smaller and face out onto the high street and a back area with larger tables. The décor is nothing special but the food more than makes up for it.

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Their menu is huge! They have every pizza topping under the sun, pasta dishes ranging from your basic spaghetti Napoli (tomato sauce only) to Spaghetti Scoglio di Sorrento (mixed seafood in a white wine sauce) or Linguine Vongole, risottos and an endless list of meat and fish options. They also have a number of daily specials written up on a blackboard. They are a definite exception to the ‘less is more’ rule – I have often found that the best restaurants usually have a very small menu done exceptionally well but despite the extensive menu, every dish I’ve tried has been delicious and cooked fresh to order. They make their pizza bases fresh each day but they go for a more traditional pizza base made from normal flour. Personally I think I prefer a sourdough base like Franco Manca but the most important thing for me on a pizza is a thin base with thick, doughy sides and they absolutely deliver on this front. As well as the endless list of toppings available there’s also the option to go half-half which I always do since I can never decide on a single set of toppings!

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True to form, I’ve never ordered a pasta dish from there. I love pizza so much that every time I go to an Italian I end up with pizza – even when there are pasta dishes which sound amazing I know I’ll get serious food envy if I see other people eating pizza so I always order pizza with the view that ‘I can make pasta myself at home.’ I know that at many good Italian restaurants this isn’t actually the case, and I read about a famous restaurant in London which supposedly does amazing pasta so I’m hoping to go to at some point (Padella). I have tried other people’s pasta dishes though and they were delicious – not quite as generous a portion size as the pizzas, but still a lot bigger than your average pasta dish and cooked perfectly (to me that’s al dente – I am not a fan of soggy pasta!)

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If you’re like me and you love big portions (and are up for a challenge), definitely give their calzone a go! It’s an absolute monster and it comes stuffed full of mozzarella, ham, tomatoes and mushrooms (but you can swap these for pretty much any filling you want). At under £10 it’s an absolute steal too.

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Even though their mains are huge, don’t pass up on starters if you go – they have a huge selection including olives, fresh bread, meats, cheeses, salads and mussels. My personal favourites are their calamari and mozzarella fritta (deep fried mozzarella) – though admittedly I don’t know who could make fried cheese taste bad! Their calamari is piled up served with with lemon wedges and tartar sauce, each piece of squid encased in a light and fluffy batter. I also love their funghi ripieni, which is mushrooms filled with cheese and spinach, topped with Napoli sauce and mozzarella and baked in the oven – it’s not the prettiest but it tastes incredible!

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With good food comes demand though, and they are always busy! Despite the fact that they’re always packed and the food is cooked fresh, the service is surprisingly efficient. But to get a table at dinner you almost certainly have to book in advance. It’s not like London where you seemingly have to book months in advance to have even the slightest of chances to eat a sociable time but it’s definitely not the kind of place you can just walk into. Even when I walk past during the day they always seem to be full and they have special offers every weekday for lunch. Are there better Italian restaurants around? Yes – I’m sure there are, particularly in London, but for a small independent restaurant they do big plates of exceptionally good food at bloody good prices.

Would I recommend it? Yep!
Worth going out of your way for? No, especially if you live in London..
Would I go back? Yes 🙂

Link to their website: www.litaliana.co.uk

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