King's Lynn: Prezzo
Prezzo has enough dishes, from rotisserie chickens to salads, to ensure it has covered the gamut of Italian chain restaurant food.
It's great when a decent, reliable restaurant is literally within stumbling distance of your front door. That was my good fortune when Italian chain Prezzo set up in the empty Woolpack pub on Tuesday Market Place. Gone was the tired, humdrum watering hole and in its place a buzzing, bright and thriving restaurant packed to the rafters virtually every night.
It's a cliché, but it does feel like a breath of fresh air in King's Lynn, where a sleepy silence falls at about teatime when the shops have shut up for the night.
Walk in to Prezzo, and you feel you're instantly transported into a warm, bustling, cosmopolitan atmosphere that's been beamed in from Cambridge or London.
With all its restaurants having their own style, dozens of David Hockney prints peer down from the white walls in Lynn, a colourful contrast to the pristine tablecloths and handsome dark wood surround of the bar.
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It became instantly popular when it opened just before Christmas 2004, and it is still difficult to get a table most evenings without booking, or at least waiting while others savour their puddings.
We did the latter when I met two girlfriends there on a Wednesday evening and relaxed in the small seating area by the door - our appetite sharpened by the delicious aroma wafting from the kitchen.
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The place was busy and, as usual, the staff were flitting from table to table serving couples, a work night out and a large party. We certainly didn't feel we were ignored or biding our time - a smiling waitress quickly brought our drinks and within a couple of doses of gossip we were shown to our table.
Deliberating over the menu, we all took a while to decide because so many dishes would hit the mark. The bruschetta sounds like a great starter - but what about the crab cakes with a lime and dill dressing?
My pals finally opted to share Mushrooms Al Forno, stuffed with parmesan, garlic, onion and breadcrumbs. The power-packed flavours were a great appetiser, although perhaps the small mushrooms could have been a little more open-cup.
I tried the Crostata Di Capra, a freshly baked puff pastry tart filled with caramelised balsamic onions and goat's cheese, which proved a great combination with its melt-in-the-mouth texture.
Prezzo has enough dishes, from rotisserie chickens to salads, to ensure it has covered the gamut of Italian chain restaurant food. There are more than 20 ways with pasta adorned with olive oil, tomato and creamy sauces, including the fiery salmon with broccoli, crushed chillies, pesto and cream; and meatballs and wild mushrooms with linguine.
Or, there's a dozen or so 12in thin and crispy-based pizzas, with all the classics on offer as well as Prezzo's own combinations, including the piquant gorgonzola, leeks, roasted peppers and marinated olives.
The salads offer something less carbohydrate-heavy and are bursting with the colour and fresh flavours of juicy beef tomatoes, roasted peppers, avocado, crispy leaves and artichoke hearts.
And as if that wasn't enough, there are always two specials to add to the confusion, too.
My choice for main course proved tricky. My previous visits to Prezzo had almost always had one thing in common - I'd gone for the Spaghetti Con Mazzancolle.
Call me a creature of habit, but the crayfish tails and garlic in a light cream and sherry sauce with fresh coriander is, to me, pasta perfection. But, to my horror, I spotted two new and very wrong words when I feebly attempted to divert my gaze away from that part of the menu. Petit pois. Or, put another way, peas. Who on earth decided that peas go well with crayfish?
I ordered it anyway and found it quite amusing when my dish of coiled spaghetti arrived and was clearly bereft of the tiny green veg. Maybe the chef was telepathic, or maybe he'd just run out - it was fine by me.
Louise was as happy with her Mezzaluna Ricotta E Spinaci, a generous portion of huge pasta crescents packed with spinach and ricotta, complemented by a tangy tomato sauce.
Sadly, Nicki was a little less impressed with her Pollo Carbonara from the 'al forno' section, a linguine dish of seasoned chicken, smoked diced bacon and a cream sauce which may have had a little too long in the pizza oven.
This was not bad enough to complain about, however, and was soon polished off.
All three of us were feeling fairly stuffed after our main courses, but when the waitress collected our plates a “can we look at the dessert menu, please?” accidentally slipped from my greedy mouth.
The honeycomb smash cheesecake proved too tempting for Louise and I, and I have to admit I was looking forward to this grand finale.
The soft cheesecake melts on the tongue and is peppered with chunks of crunchy, chocolate-covered honeycomb.
It was all over with too soon, but I have a good feeling I'll be back. And maybe next time I'll get to give peas a chance.
t Prezzo, Tuesday Market Place, King's Lynn; 01553 777616.
t Where is it and where should I park? If you're not familiar with Lynn, follow the brown road signs showing the comedy/tragedy theatre masks, which will take you directly to Tuesday Market Place. The huge square doubles as a pay and display car park, which is free after 6pm. Prezzo is situated on the corner with King Street, opposite The Globe.
t Wheelchair access? Yes, and a disabled toilet on ground floor.
t Is there much for vegetarians? The menu has a good range of meat-free dishes, plus the specials board always has at least one vegetarian option.
t Haven't I seen it somewhere before? Yep, there's a Prezzo near the station in Thorpe Road, Norwich, and at Saltgate, Beccles.