We must have passed the Villa Italian hundreds of times but had never previously ventured in.
The former Fairfield Arms just yards from the M55’s junction three has been under its current guise for some years now, as part of the Villa Express hotel complex, so a call was certainly overdue.
We eat a lot of Italian food, so we thought it would be interesting to see how it compared to the many excellent restaurants of that style within a short driving distance – and the first sight of the menu certainly offered promise.
Our Sunday afternoon visit coincided with a set menu deal which applies from noon until 5pm daily and is tremendous value – two courses for £11 or three for £13.
The options listed consisted of five starters, four pastas, five pizzas and four salads, and there is also the offer of any pizza, pasta or salad for just £6.99 between noon and 2pm.
Two of the three of us were quick to identify choices from the set menu list which appealed, although it would have been nice to be able to make those choices with a drink, especially after a 25-minute drive on what was a hot day.
On arrival, we had been promptly shown to our table in a bright, attractive small conservatory-style area, glad that we had passed through the big room between it and reception, which appeared to offer little exterior light.
But we were left at our ideal daytime table with menus and nothing else until several minutes later when a woman we took to be management came to take our food order – and noticed we had no drinks.
Both orders were taken at the same time and the drinks followed shortly after. Mrs D and I were delighted to see the all-too-rare option of a large bottle of mineral water available, while our daughter had the choice of size for her Diet Coke of small, large or pint, eagerly quenching her thirst with the latter.
For my starter off the ‘menu fisso’ deal, I chose meatballs, which came in a tasty tomato and cheese sauce and were very satisfying.
Sometimes with set menus, the fear is that the portion sizes are somewhat smaller than the options off the main menu but that was certainly not the case with the meatballs and even more so with my main choice of Rigatoni Piccanti, chicken peppers and mushrooms in a creamy tomato sauce.
It was a very generous serving and the sauce was tasty, although I have to say rather missing the kick I was expecting from the word ‘Piccanti’.
The other set menu choices were bruschetta al pomodoro, which was very nicely presented and declared an ideal appetiser, followed by margherita pizza, which sadly our teen diner declared rather a disappointment.
She felt the base wasn’t crispy enough and a surfeit of tomato sauce under the cheese topping just added to the ‘soggy’ feel. It isn’t often she doesn’t clear her plate but that was the case on this occasion.
The garlic bread starter (£4.50), on the other hand, had been declared very good and certainly much crisper than the pizza, while Mrs D was also happy with her main course of fettucine al salmone (£11.95), which included a generous portion of fish.
We were too full to consider desserts, which on the set menu consisted of a choice of apple crumble, fruit salad or an extensive choice of Bonds ice cream flavours.
I rounded off the meal with an espresso (£1.95) and asked for the bill as it arrived, but then it took far too long to pay it.
No waiting staff passed the table for several minutes, so I thought it would be easier all round if I headed to the bar area but again I was left hanging around far too long with bill and card in hand.
The food we had, apart from the disappointing pizza, was very good and the set menu options in particular made it excellent value but with so much Italian restaurant competition in the area, I don’t know how soon we will return.
Perhaps it was because the restaurant is part of a hotel complex but the service and atmosphere were rather more corporate and clinical than we ideally prefer. Our bill came to £48.60.