It wasnÕt so long ago that eating out was synonymous with Italian restaurants, simply because they were the only places to go. Even in my remote village in Scotland the only cafˇ was owned by the Mancini family; Italians who sold cappuccino and crostini when we still though they were called frothy coffee and toasties. Further afield, posh nosh invariably meant Chianti bottles with dripping candles; white pebbledash walls; a waiter called Luigi who called you signorina (even if you were 57); and veal that had been killed twice Š once before cooking and then again when murdered with 3 inches of mozzarella and aubergine squashed on top like a fat lady trying to close a suitcase. Then of course there would be the oversized pepper mill. In mythology, Priapus is usually depicted holding a libation cup in one hand and sporting an oversized phallus Š a near approximation of an Italian waiter - though as a bonus, for foreplay, the good Italian waiter will also tell you that you look lovely tonight. What more does a girl want?
Mimmo dÕischia is just such a place, but with better food. Take your mind back a couple of decades and inhale the flaming sambucca. Walls are lined with photographs of Mimmo, the owner, taken a la Michael Winner with assorted celebs. The restaurant has been around for ever and supposedly comes complete with faded stars of yesteryear - though none were evident on the night we visited. My companion apologised for the lack of star f***ability but insisted that he used to go there with David Bowie; so on the six degrees of separation basis I can say I have dined with the stars. Albeit twice removed. And I did use the celebrity loo down the back stairs, so I have - well, enough, you get the drift.
Reputedly people are greeted like kings by the owner, Mimmo, and schmoozed within an inch of his open necked shirt (revealing, yes indeed - a medallion). Mimmo, however, wasnÕt in the house when I arrived, so I spent five minutes idling in the hall after a man with the expression of a chewed dog-toy, grunted in my direction, then walked away. Twice. A more experienced customer arrived afterwards, swanned straight in and gallantly insisted I was looked after. So then I stood alone at the bar like a lost umbrella for about ten years before being seated. And the waiter called me signora.
Food is of the traditional antipasti variety (breseola, Parma ham, melon, asparagus, avocado), followed by straightforward pasta dishes, grilled fish, seafood and veal. Puddings are also reassuringly familiar; taramisu and a plate of strawberries floated past as a promise of things to come, much like my companion who eventually arrived half an hour late (football on television, apparently). The restaurant was packed with lots of square jawed men and people saying darling, noisily, in several European languages. One table featured Arab women dressed in the full hijab and a few others in mufti who looked distinctly like people I might be related to by marriage, all with helmet hair featuring the signature tsunami, candy floss flick over their forehead.
I started with two big, fat Turkish figs (exactly the same as the two boxes I bought 3 for £1 at Portobello Market) served with proscuitto. I thought I couldnÕt get enough of them but I was wrong. Being a little figged off after my own fig compote, fig ice cream, etc, I idled half way through. Mimmo, who had by this time arrived, commented: ŌArenÕt you going to finish your figs?Õ as he wafted past the table. Like I need another mother. But I finished them, obediently.
My companion had a starter portion of linguini in white sauce Š vongole with cream, while musing on the older manÕs predilection for young arm candy, which he enthusiastically shares (usually, I add Š IÕm well past the candy stage and on to being a soft centre); but itÕs a difficult act to pull off when you have white clam juice spilling down the side of your chin. He followed with a tranche of cod, the size of a small planet, grilled and served simply with butter, spuds and some courgettes cut into strips and fried in batter in the delectable way of Italian restaurants. I had a passable fritto misto with calamari, whitebait and scallops, with a hugely butch langoustine dominating all in size, flavour and desirability. An accompanying finger bowl was not forthcoming, and trying to get the attention of the speeding waiters all juggling leaning tower of Pisa-laden plates as the spun and weaved like whirling dervishes doing formation dancing, was impossible. So I licked.
Pudding defeated us, thanks no doubt to the plate of grilled aubergine, roasted peppers and grilled courgettes already placed on the centre of the table with, on our visit, some anchovies. There is a cover charge for this of £1.75 per head but a mysterious extra £3.00 was added on the bill as an Ōopen starterÕ which, when I rang later to query, they said Ōwould probably be for the anchoviesÕ. Humph. I wish IÕd eaten them now