It was a weekend of two halves.
Yesterday was cold and wet and windy. Today was hot and sunny.
Yesterday the marquees were packed with visitors sheltering from the elements. Today they were warm and stuffy.
Yesterday the caterers packed up early. Today they were doing a roaring trade.
Yesterday I was filling wraps at the FareShare stall. Today I was wandering around, listening to talks on endangered species, spotting Alys Fowler and eating rhubarb and ginger sorbet.
On Sunday we celebrated my husband's birthday in Piccolinos. It was our fist visit, we hadn't heard any reports and the main reason for choosing it was a £20 deal. That, and our love of Italian food.
My first impression was of gloom, reminiscent of the set of Silent Witness. The restaurant was very quiet, but perhaps not surprising for a wet Sunday evening. We were greeted by a very friendly waitress, our coats taken and shown to our table. The 'birthday boy' was served a glass of prosecco along with a small selection of bread.
We kicked off with an Antipasto Misto to share (crispy fried squid, bolognese arancini, caprese salad, fennel salami, peperonata, roast mushrooms with goats cheese and spinach and pork and beef meatballs). Apart from the fact that we could have done with a slice or two of bread to mop up the sauces, this was a just the kind of dish I adore - a plateful of tasty morsels.
For my main course I opted unusually, for a salad, a Cesare con Pollo. The chicken was moist and tender, the bacon crisp, the parmesan nice and salty and the dressing plentiful. But again, a slice of bread wouldn't have gone amiss. My husband chose the Risotto di Mare which was packed with seafood (squid, king prawns and mussels) and rich in flavour. My daughter went for one of her favourite pasta dishes, Spaghetti alla Carbonara, which came topped with a soft poached egg adding extra creaminess to the sauce.
Being a starter rather than a dessert kind of girl I was about to pass on a third course in favour of a simple espresso until my husband pointed out the Affogato (espresso and amaretto poured over a single scoop of vanilla ice cream). It certainly revived my senses but I would have preferred it without the Amaretto. My daughter who hadn't managed to finish her spaghetti, settled for a hot chocolate to keep her warm on the walk home in the rain. So it was left to my husband to keep the side up with a Panna Cotta, its silky creaminess cut with slices of poached rhubarb.
The service was attentive, perhaps slightly too much so. I mean, how many times do I need to be asked how things are? The cook misread 'frutti' for 'funghi' and prepared a mushroom risotto but the waitress spotted it just in time and it was hastily returned to the kitchen and the correct dish served fairly shortly afterwards. Apologies were fulsome.
The toilets were stylish but just as gloomy. My daughter and I loved the sea fennel scented toiletries.
Although overall an enjoyable experience, for me the food was let down by the atmosphere of the restaurant. And without the discount I'm not sure I would have paid more to eat at Piccolinos instead of a a similar restaurant not a million miles away.