ONE of the best things about living in a city is that you often get to stumble across a little gem of a restaurant.
ONE of the best things about living in a city is that you often get to stumble across a little gem of a restaurant. While some of the busier parts are bursting at the seams with places to eat, a quick stroll off the beaten track can prove fruitful.
Amalia Italian restaurant is one of the new kids on the block – or should that be off the block. Although it is only 100 yards or so from John Lewis and the hustle and bustle of Liverpool One, it could be easy to miss if you didn’t know it was there.
The building where it lives on Campbell Square was once home to La Cubanita – a Cuban restaurant and bar which attracted a niche audience of music-loving diners. Perhaps it was too niche because it closed suddenly and the premises have remained empty for more than 12 months.
But new life has now been breathed into it with the introduction of Amalia.
The venue itself is on two levels – with a bar, waiting area and tables downstairs and an extensive seating area upstairs.
A handful of tables and chairs outside give it a continental cafe feel and one which I know will be fully exploited when the weather is warmer.
Inside the restaurant is light and airy with cool green walls and modern bright leather booths and seating. The pictures and prints on the wall are also a mixture of old and new.
On the night myself and my partner Phil visited the restaurant was busy and buzzing with couples, families and groups of friends.
The menu is a combination of classic and traditional dishes with a contemporary twist.
After briefly considering one of my all time favourite Italian dishes, Melenzane Parmigiana (£5.25) – baked aubergines, garlic and tomato with a Neapoletana sauce from the antipasti menu, I decided to choose the Calamari con Verdure (£5.75) – deep fried, lightly breaded squid and crispy vegetables with garlic mayonnaise for my starter.
Phil considered the Funghi all Aghlio (£4.95) – oven baked mushrooms with garlic, white wine and cream with focaccia bread before eventually deciding on the Crochette di Pollo (£4.95) – shredded chicken in bechamel sauce, rolled in breadcrumbs and deep fried.
My starter dish came in a little silver bucket. The calamari was lovely and crisp and the vegetables were sweet and tasty. The garlic mayonnaise dip was nice and creamy without being too overpowering.
Phil’s dish came as a plate of five or six decent sized croquettes which were hot and crispy on the outside and soft and tasty on the inside. They also came with the same garlic dip.
The main dishes on the menu are wide and varied ranging from salads and burgers to fish dishes, lamb chops, chicken, pizza and pasta.
While choosing our main courses we were momentarily distracted by the fanfare generated by the restaurant’s quirky dining experience – the ‘Calzone Challenger’, a real life Man v Food challenge.
Diners with a hearty appetite are invited to sample the restaurant’s special giant-sized Calzone pizza (£12.95) and if they manage to eat the whole thing within an hour (and trust me a giant egg timer on the diner’s table tells them exactly how long they have) then they eat for free and get a surprise.
Both myself and Phil are pizza lovers but were too cowardly to try the challenge (for fellow cowards they do offer a ‘normal’ size Calzone pizza for £7.95). My sources tell me that at the time of writing only about 11 of 100 people who had attempted the gigantic feat had managed to succeed.
Instead of pizza I went for the Gnochetti con Agnello e Fave (£9.65) and was rewarded with a huge dish of Sardinian pasta with slow cooked lamb, fresh garlic, rosemary and broad beans in a rich tomato sauce.
The dish was plentiful, the lamb melt-in-the-mouth and the sauce rich and deep. To accompany that I was offered a selection of delicious homemade bread, the flavour of which I am told constantly changes depending on the mood of the kitchen.
Phil chose one of the chicken dishes – Pollo Amalia (£11.95) – chicken breast filled with goats cheese baked in garlic and parsley breadcrumbs and served with either salad, chips or new roast potatoes. He said the chicken was moist and tasty and the roast potatoes were crisp and plentiful. He said a little sauce on the side would have been nice to accompany the chicken but that it didn’t detract from the overall dish. We complimented the meal with a very satisfying bottle of Sauvignon Blanc (£17.95).
I am not really a dessert fan but I was tempted to try the traditional tiramisu (£3.95) while Phil went for the chocolate selva nera – chocolate fudge cake with vanilla ice cream (£3.95), both of which were very enjoyable.
We both found the service to be very friendly and attentive without being overbearing and the waiting staff were very helpful and informative – both about the food and the wine selections.
In fact since our first visit to Amalia we have returned twice with friends and family. Who knows the next time we make even take on the Calzone challenger!