Piccola Roma – Bishops Waltham

We’d been wanting to try this new Italian restaurant for ages but only got a chance last Thursday, a good excuse to celebrate the start of the long weekend!

We went for drinks in the newly refurbished Crown Inn beforehand – absolutely beautiful inside and worlds away from it’s previous incarnation – I actually struggled to believe it was the same pub once we were inside! Definitely worth a visit if you are in the village and the perfect place for a cozy glass of wine before dinner.

We arrived at Piccola Roma about 8pm and it was very quiet in the small restaurant with only a couple of tables occupied. The lovely owner greeted us and said we could pick any table we wanted, a huge bonus in my book! We chose a little table for two right in the window and ordered a glass of wine and a beer.

The decoration is really lovely inside with dimly lit tables and a generally romantic atmosphere. There was a couple on the table next to us and a family  on a larger table near the door. There was a huge print of the Colosseum stretching over the wall next to us which got us chatting about how much we’d like to visit Rome one day.

We perused the menu first and decided to share a couple of starters in order to leave room for what sounded like a stellar line-up of main choices.

We ordered mixed olives and the bruchetta. Both came out looking magnificent!

The olives were perfect – fat, pitted and doused in a flavourful garlic, chilli and herb oil. The bruchetta was presented as a trio and we halved each one to ensure a complete tasting experience. My favourite was the chopped olives – perhaps an olive overdose for some given our second starter but the intense olive hit was just perfect teamed with the crispy grilled bread. The mixed pepper and sliced tomato bruchetta were also lovely and we obviously scraped the plate clean of balsamic glaze.

I was having some trouble deciding what to order for my main and was stuck between a having a bowl of cheesy, creamy, comforting tortellini or just going for it with a massive steak. The owner came over and chatted to us for a bit and eventually I plumped for the steak after she declared it “the best I’ve ever eaten!” Obviously biased but I’m not going to let a declaration like that pass me by and before I knew it I’d ordered it, medium rare please.

Ben was absolutely spolit for choice at this restaurant and had a choice of at least 3 different main courses! We had seen on the online menu that they served an aubergine parmigana which he was quite keen to try but after asking our server we learned it had been taken off due to lack of interest. Unfortunate but understandable. In the end he went for the pesto pasta with a side salad of onions and tomatoes.

Our main courses were brought out and I literally could not have been more excited to see the sheer size of my steak. Ben said as soon as he saw it he knew we’d be coming back! It was a 10oz rib-eye steak with a creamy dolcelatte sauce, chips and a salad. I have recently become obsessed with blue cheese and have been adding it to pretty much everything I eat so the chance to have a steak slathered in it pretty much made my day.

We were both impressed because I have only ever had a steak like this in Florida – sitting proudly on the plate, taller than everything else. Normally I get a bog-standard sirloin or similar which, while delicious, cannot match the impressive appearance of a fillet or rib-eye. The steak was perfectly cooked and in fact next time I may have to chicken out somewhat and order it medium as  the thick, meaty centre was very very rare. As it should have been! Only I wasn’t expecting the sheer girth of it and overcompensated thinking they would err on the side of caution.

The insanely rich sauce complimented every single bite of the steak. I was so tempted to ask for more sauce (pretty much to just drink) but I remembered I am actually on a ‘diet’ (using the MyFitnessPal app, it’s amazing!) and although we had walked to the village and so burned an additional 300 odd calories, I really shouldn’t push my luck. As it was I really scraped my plate clean, using the chips more as a vehicle to get sauce into my mouth than a side dish in their own right. They deserved more than that really as they were lovely chips.

Ben was very happy with his main course and although it appears quite small and forlorn in the vast bowl, he was actually struggling to finish!

His side dish of onion and tomato salad was somewhat resplendent in appearance and rather stole the show from his main.

More balsamic glaze, score! He was pleased because the pasta was cooked al-dente (they actually state this on the menu and you can ask for it to be cooked longer if you prefer) and the pesto was fresh and flavoursome. The salad provided a lovely contrast to the pasta and helped break up the unavoidable monotony that afflicts most pasta dishes.

We were contentedly full after our main courses and I was pleased we had shared a starter (although does it really count as sharing if you order 2…) and happy to leave without dessert in order to avoid the wrath of MyFitnessPal. Our dinner came to £42 which we thought was really very reasonable with a drink each and starters. Saying that, I did order the most expensive thing on the menu so we could have quite easily kept costs down if I’d gone for the tortellini. Oops.

We will definitely be going back to Piccola Roma given it’s fantastic food, convenient location and friendly service. The owner was very pleasant to chat to and we learnt that she lived in Rome for 6 years and actually met her husband there, the chef at Piccola Roma! Fantastic to hear we were receiving real authentic Italian food and for me, lovely to hear the back story from someone who is so obviously passionate about Italy and Rome.

A Tale of Two Pubs

My boyfriend lives in Bishops Waltham and there are a lot of nice pubs in and around the area that we enjoy visiting. We recently went to two in the space of a couple of weeks so I thought I should feature them on the blog in case anyone is thinking of gracing them with their presence – they are both independent pubs and its difficult to find information about them online.

First up is the Barleycorn Inn, right in the centre of Bishops Waltham village. We’ve been coming to this pub for years and the food is terrific – delicious, huge portions and very reasonably priced. They change the menu all the time so you never really know what will be on offer until you arrive!

This particular visit was a Friday lunchtime on a very rare weekday off for us – we’d been to Disneyland Paris all week and got back late the night before. After a lovely lie-in we sorted ourselves out and walked down to the Barleycorn for a well needed glass of wine (it was a very stressful return journey, we may have missed the Eurostar…) and some lunch. The pub was really quiet and although the weather was pleasant, it was still early March and we opted to sit inside the cosy, dimly lit restaurant area. We ordered drinks and then sat back to peruse the ever-changing menu with the help of the very friendly landlord who pointed out veggie options for Ben.

Ben opted for the vegetarian bean burger which he’s had before and loved, but unfortunately they were all out that day! It was no problem though and he quickly chose another meal, a cheese and pickle sandwich and chips. A boy of simple pleasures! However, there was a fair amount of other meat-free options – sandwiches, jacket potatoes etc and a couple on the specials board, had he changed his mind. I was tempted myself by the caramalised onion and brie tart but opted instead for one of my favourites, the bacon and cheese ‘Barley’ burger with crinkle cut fries.

The burgers here are all homemade and freshly cooked and you can really taste the difference! The bacon ‘Barley’ comes with a generous portion of crispy bacon, cheddar, onion rings, red onion and BBQ sauce piled on top, with a HUGE side of fries and salad. So much food! And all for the bargain price of £7.95!

Ben was very pleased with his cheddar and pickle sandwich which again was VERY generous with the cheese! It came with a large side salad and tortilla chips and he also opted for the homemade chips – big, fat seasoned wedges, perfectly cooked.

The Barleycorn has a wide selection of desserts that we are rarely man enough to sample due to the marvellously obscene portion sizes. The sticky toffee pudding though, is the best, a proper British stick-to-your-ribs dessert.

We would really recommend the Barleycorn if you are visiting Bishops Waltham – it’s a lovely independent pub with great food and reasonable prices and, more importantly, a huge, fabulous beer garden! Perfect for sharing a jug of Pimms in on a hot (okay, warm) British summer day.

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Our next pub is the Robin Hood in Durley. It was a gorgeous freakishly warm March day and we decided to walk even though the pub is situated on a main road. Luckily the traffic was pretty quiet as it was a Sunday and we actually had a very pleasant walk.

We arrived about 2.30 and were relived to see that they serve food all day on Sundays, as we had thought we may be too late for lunch. We peeked round into the garden to check if there was space and luckily there were a few free tables so we headed into the bar area to order drinks. Drinks weren’t overly cheap with a pound odd change from a tenner for a glass of rose and a Stowford press. We perused the two extensive specials boards which each had 10 or 12 mains and starters on, lovingly etched in colourful pastel chalk. I was quite taken with the idea of the butternut squash and sage risotto with blue cheese crouton, but it sounded rather heavy and dinner-like and I was forced to achnoledge that a. I was very unfortunately on a diet and b. this was only lunch. We grabbed our drinks and headed outside, asking a passing waitress to bring us a menu on the way.

Perched on a wooden picnic table with a welcome umbrella shading us from the sun, we decided on our lunches, placed our order and relaxed while we waited. The Robin Hood does have a really lovely beer garden with a huge grassy field area at the back and a nice wooden decking area at the front. There are plenty of chairs and tables and we noticed that lots of people were coming in just for a drink, rather than lunch, thus vacating their tables quickly.

Our food arrived within about 10 minutes which we thought was really good considering how busy they seemed. We both ordered the roasted red pepper, olive and mozzarella ciabatta.

Now I have to say, I was slightly disappointed with the contents of the ciabatta. Sparse was the word. There were lots of lovely fat olives but only one strip of roasted pepper in each sandwich and a scant amount of mozz (although it looks adequately filled in the photo, all the topping was on the edges!) There was also no sauce or dressing or anything – I felt a good strong pesto would have carried the filling a lot further. It was enjoyable though and not unreasonable for the price (£5.95) with a lovely side salad dressed with honey and mustard. We were very restrained and managed not to order a side bowl of chips although we were relieved when we saw that the ‘chips’ were in fact thin, floppy McDonalds-style fries!

Overall though, this is a lovely pub and the beer garden is the real star. Perhaps the quality of our food was down to the busyness of the pub – there was a 50th birthday party going on inside plus large groups of families all ordering lunch. I would like to go back one evening to sample the dinner options – my mind is still on that risotto!