Charming little Italian offers a warm welcome

Piccola Roma, Bishop's Waltham.

Piccola Roma, Bishop's Waltham.

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Carol enjoys a delicious and affordable meal at the Piccola Roma in Bishop’s Waltham.

Italian restaurants have flourished within the UK for decades with their charming style and comforting cuisine.

The traditional look of such restaurants is in keeping with people’s first post-war visits to Italy; checked table cloths and dripping candles with wax cascading down pseudo-straw Chianti bottles. Oversized pepper grinders are flourished over dishes by smiling, cheerfuly accented waiters who might burst into typical Neapolitan song while customers – unaccustomed to spontaneity – cringe with embarrassment through fixed grins.

Well, nothing much has changed in the intervening years, many such clones still exist as well as trendy, stripped back Italian restaurants with modern dishes.

Bishop ‘s Waltham’s Piccola Roma hits the two trends squarely in the middle, although the checked tablecloths – in the red, green and white tricolour – are firmly part of the décor as are black and white photographs of yesteryear including the iconic Fiat 500 and film stars on Vespas.

The piccola here really does mean small, even tiny, less than ten tables looked after by owner Charlie, a waitress and chef-owner Erasmo and Norberto. Their hospitality comes naturally and with heart, Charlie working the room with charm and ease – she should give classes on how to run front-of-house. There’s also an upstairs room , which is more for parties.

The menu follows the concept of ‘when in Rome’ offering the British palate the usual options with pizza and pasta as mainstays – but with a difference.

Pizzas are made to a traditional Roman recipe for higher digestibility, the lasagne is also home-made and you might find unusual types of pasta too such as trofie, a short, thin, twisted pasta from Genova – Norberto’s home town.

There are the usual starters, Parma ham and melon, carpaccio di Bresaola, bruschetta and insalata Caprese.

Mains include risotto with langoustines, gnocchi alla Sorrentina and Hampshire steak with gorgonzola sauce. Prices range from £3 to just under £22 for the steak, with most pastas and pizzas from £7.50 to £11.

Trofie al pesto was my choice, the pasta coated in a pretty green basil sauce which could have used more Pecorino or Parmesan to add extra bite. The trofie was a delight, a perfect summer dish with al dente green beans and roughly cut boiled potatoes tossed in the sauce. This was a very satisfying dish, excellently presented in an attractive white angled bowl. A vibrant, earthy, spicy and moreish glass of sangiovese accompanied the food well.

Finish your meal with one of the usual Italian suspects: panna cotta, tiramisu or gelati. My choice was a beautifully moist, just warmed-through Sicilian orange cake with terrific ice cream topped with strawberries. A little more orange could have featured with maybe caramelised orange slices instead of strawberries , but this is a quibble.

Piccola Roma excels on many levels offering delightful food with a pleasing wine list and providing an inexpensive meal out with heart. One step inside the small door and you’ll be given the warmest and most genuine of welcomes and service, pretty unrivalled in the Portsmouth area. Bishop’s Walthamites are lucky to have this as their local.

My bill came to £15.70.

ESSENTIALS

Piccola Roma, 1 Houchin Street, Bishop’s Waltham, Hampshire SO32 1AR

Call: 01489 892502

FOOD 4/5

SERVICE 5/5

ATMOSPHERE 4/5

Open Tues–Sat: 12pm – 2pm and 5pm – 10.30 pm.

Disabled access: tiny space. Contact restaurant for wheelchair space.

Directions: M27 junction 10, take A32. At Bishop’s Waltham take Shore Lane, Bank Street then Houchin Street. Public carpark.

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