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La Piazza Restaurant (Urmston, Manchester)

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      31.01.2007 18:13
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      Great food in a friendly setting

      In the interests of showing that I don’t only live on expense account meals, here’s another in my occasional series of value-for-money restaurants. Ladies and Gentlemen, let me introduce you to La Piazza.

      I’ve known and loved La Piazza since it first opened back in the 1996. At that time I was living a short walk away in Urmston – near enough to stagger home after half a bottle of wine without worrying about needing to drive. However a job change took me away from the area until November last year and now I’m temporarily camping out in the spare bedroom of my old next-door neighbour during the week. Before Christmas we both realised that there was nothing we wanted present-wise so she offered to buy me dinner as my Christmas treat and I offered to do the same back again – hence a great excuse for two nights out. And since we liked our first trip to La Piazza so much, it turned into an excuse for a second visit.

      ~ Where is it? ~

      I have a confession to make. I asked the site to list this restaurant as ‘La Piazza, Urmston’ and in fact it’s NOT in Urmston at all - it’s in Davyhulme. Both are suburbs of Manchester lying to the West side of the city, just outside the M60 and close to the Trafford Centre, Trafford Park Industrial Estate or Old Trafford football and cricket grounds. These are just a few of the places you might want to visit and for which you could use a good restaurant recommendation. If you can’t face all that mass-produced automated food in the food-court at the Trafford Centre, make a small detour for some real Italian cooking.

      When I lived in Urmston in the 1990s, Davyhulme was famous (or possibly infamous) for one thing – the whiff of the sewage farm. I was told that it handled (well, not actually ‘handled’ but you know what I mean) more sewage than any other facility in Europe – something for the locals to be really proud of, as you can imagine. On a hot summer night with the wind in the wrong direction it brought back memories of childhood holidays in French campsites with squat toilets. If you wanted to sell a house back then, you needed to do so before the effluent got too warm. However, in the time I’ve been gone a lot has changed -there’s no pong any more and the house prices have trebled. It’s a case of ‘where there’s no muck, there’s more brass’.

      But enough about sewage and back to La Piazza. The restaurant sits on what locals call the ‘Nags Head Circle’. I suspect it’s actually Davyhulme Circle but nobody calls it that. This is a large roundabout with shops, pubs, businesses and take-aways around the outside and a rather nice war memorial in the middle. You can reach the Nags Head Circle by leaving the M60 at either of the Trafford Centre exits (Junctions 9 or 10) and turning in the opposite direction to the shopping centre.

      La Piazza is right next door to the Nags Head pub and has parking directly outside. If there’s no space in front, there’s plenty around the circle. Park where you like – it’s not a place where you’ll need to count your hubcaps.

      ~ What sort of restaurant is it? ~

      The names a bit of a give-away – of course it’s an Italian. But what the name doesn’t tell you is that it’s a friendly, easy-going family-run place that’s relaxed and welcoming. It competes with a number of other Italian restaurants in the area and claims that it’s the only one that uses fresh dough. Be warned, don’t get me started on dough – I can go on for days. The biggest competitor is probably the Italian Job in the centre of Urmston, but for my money, La Piazza is better.

      The restaurant is laid out in a horseshoe shape with the bar running down the middle. The kitchen lies towards the back and is open to view – you can watch them chopping and swirling and chucking dough around if that sort of thing amuses you. Rather bizarrely there’s a large tropical fish tank set into the wall above the kitchen opening – it always reminds me of a dentist’s surgery. There are plenty of tables – mostly set out for 2 or 4 diners - and they are laid out with enough space to not be intrusive. Most of the tables are made of polished granite and last time I went, about half of them had thick white table cloths and the other half were undressed. I never did suss out why that was the case. The chairs are high backed, sleek black leather ones.

      ~ On to the food ~

      If you are tempted to go, why not have a look at their website – www.lapiazza.co.uk – where all the menus are available. The selection of starters ranges from pizza-sized garlic breads, pastas, traditional Italian sliced meats, soups and salads – far more than I can cover in the review because there are more than 20 different options. Prices range from just under £3 for garlic bread up to £6.95 for a smoked salmon salad.

      For main courses, pizzas start at £5.95 with prices rising based on the number of toppings. Whilst I haven’t had a pizza there in many moons because I’m always seduced by something else, I have had the tomato garlic bread which uses a thin pizza base and I can confirm it’s delicious. Main course pastas – of which there are nearly 20 different options to choose from – all cost £7.95. Risottos are slightly more expensive. Moving onto meat and fish courses, there are a wide range of options for chicken, lamb, steak, fish and shellfish with prices starting around £11.50 and rising to £15.95 for one of th steaks and £16.95 for the most expensive prawn dish.

      ~ My favourite – the Three Course Special Deal ~

      I do like a bargain and the La Piazza three course deal is excellent value. It’s available all evening on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and until 7pm on Friday and 6pm on Saturday. An added attraction on Thursdays is the Live Band – I can’t say it would attract me, but they do it every week so there must be a lot of demand.

      The menu costs just £10.95 and includes starter, main course and dessert. The starters include any type of garlic bread (plain, with tomato, with cheese), garlic mushrooms, melon or soup of the day. In just two visits we’ve tried everything except the soup and all have been excellent.

      For main courses, there are five ‘fish or meat’ dishes; Steak Diane, which my landlady has had both times and adores (normal cost £13.95); three chicken dishes including a Pollo tricolore with a mild curry sauce that practically had my husband licking the plate (normally £11.95), and a tuna steak cooked in tomato, onion, garlic and white wine sauce which had me practically purring. All of these dishes are served with potatoes (chips, boiled etc) and either salad or vegetables.

      In addition to these dishes, you can choose any of the pastas and I suspect some or all of the pizzas too. At our second visit, I had the sea-food penne which contained a generous amount of fish and prawns in a tomato-based sauce.

      You might expect that with such good starters and main courses they really couldn’t do much for the puddings at that sort of price but you’d be wrong. Admittedly the tiramisu and Italian trifle are served in wine glasses and aren’t overly generous, but the chocolate fudge cake is so large that you are faced with a tough decision whether to eat it or climb it. And the nice thing is, the menu is so reasonably priced that if you really don’t want a dessert, you won’t feel you have to have one ‘Just because you’ve paid for it’.

      ~ Wines ~
      House wine is available by the glass at £3.75 for a large glass of about 250 mls. To me that’s a really large glass and with a bottle costing £10.95, it’s nice to see that they aren’t making a big mark up on those of us who don’t want a whole bottle – or are contrary and can’t agree on what sort to order. Other wines by the bottle range from £13 to £30 for whites, and £13 to £100 for reds (with plenty under £20). Sparkling wine starts at £15 for Asti, with the basic champagne at £30 and a top price of £495 for Cristal Louis Roederer (but quite honestly, I doubt many people will be combining that one with the 3-course special on a night out in Davyhulme!)

      ~ The Staff and the Service~

      I would swear that half the staff were working there when I left the area more than eight years ago. La Piazza seems to have a very loyal work-force without the ‘clueless A-level students working for minimum wage’ that are typical in the area where I now live. On our first visit, my husband and I took my ‘landlady’. She’s 71, a little shaky on her feet and quite careful about what she eats. She was convinced she couldn’t possibly do justice to a 3-course meal but polished it all off without any trouble. She likes sweet white wine, which is very unfashionable these days and not so many restaurants stock it. I was impressed that the waiter, rather than saying “sorry we don’t have any” immediately suggested their rose as a sweeter alternative. The same waiter, watching us plough through the enormous menu, sidled up and said ‘If I were you, I’d go for the set menu – it’s really good value and everything on it is great’. Now how often does that happen? That a waiter goes out of his way to make you feel comfortable about going for the cheapest options, instead of looking down their nose at you for not wanting to go a la carte?


      The pacing of the food is very good – they keep you waiting just long enough to really appreciate the food when it arrives and then let you take your time. Nobody is pouncing on your plates, nobody is trying to usher you out of the door to free up the table. Conversely, nothing took too long to arrive either.

      ~ The Price? ~

      Our first visit set us back about £42 for 3 people and the second was just over £30 for two.

      ~ Do I recommend? ~
      Yes of course I do. Even at full prices the food is excellent and if you can fit in your visit with the days and times when the 3-course special is available, then it’s an absolute bargain.

      ~ The details ~
      La Piazza
      1-3 Lostock Road
      Davyhulme
      Manchester
      M41 0SU
      Tel – 0161 747 1772

      (Booking is advisable at weekends but it's worth a try turning up without a booking during the week).

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