For a few agonising seconds, we thought our hopes of preceding a visit to Peter Pan at the Winter Gardens with a first-ever visit to Piazza Italia in Cedar Square would be a mere flight of fancy.
‘Sorry, fully booked’ was our initial greeting, which will reinforce the virtues of booking ahead for a Saturday evening, even at 5pm in January.
No sooner were we formulating ‘Plan B’, however, than our host pointed to a corner table in what is a very compact downstairs dining area and said we could have it as long as it was available again for 7.30.
‘No problem’, said we, as, on one count, curtain up across the road was at 7pm and, on another, I can’t recall us ever taking two and a half hours to eat a meal in 30-odd years of dining out.
Anyway, I often think, when a restaurant says it needs a table back by a certain time, it is more down to them and the speed of service than to the diner.
So we were handed menus and savoured the atmosphere of an already buzzing eaterie.
From the moment we sat down, after that initial uncertainty on arrival, we were made to feel really welcome and the manager and staff seemed to genuinely care that we had a good time.
After ordering drinks, we eagerly checked out the specials board which added some very tantalising extra options.
Fegatini, or chicken livers, has long been a personal favourite dish and I made a quick decision to opt for that as a starter (£6.50) and very tasty it was.
For main course, however, I needed a little more time to ponder.
More often than not, I am keen to stick with pasta at an Italian eaterie, certainly on a first visit, so I can savour a dish perhaps presented a little differently to elsewhere.
But here I was sorely tempted by the range of chicken dishes, which looked particularly good value at £11.50 each.
Chicken in peppercorn sauce is always a favourite but I was thoroughly intrigued by the dish named after the establishment - Pollo Piazza Italia, topped with ham and asparagus in white wine sauce – and was delighted with my choice.
Accompanied by roast potatoes and veg which were served under the chicken breast rather than on the side, it was a very generous portion indeed and very tasty.
Like me, Mrs D found her starter on the specials board - deep-fried mozzarella cheese wedges in a tomato sauce (£6.50), which she declared a hit along with her main course choice of penne pasta in a Stilton sauce, again a very generous portion and marvellous value at £7.50.
Our teenage daughter started with a plain garlic bread (£3) and followed with a margherita pizza (£6.50), both of which she said were absolutely delicious and the perfect preface to the show to come across the road.
We were all so glad that our arrival without a booking hadn’t been a problem and our attempt to dine at Piazza Italia on that particular evening hadn’t been consigned to Neverland.
We were impressed with the experience and vowed to make a return visit - but probably best to ring ahead next time.
As it turned out, thanks to very efficient service, our two courses were done and dusted well before 6.30, so there would have been time for a dessert ahead of curtain-up but we were too full.
With an espresso and soft drinks, our bill came to £49.50.