Eating Out: Piccola Parma boasts of its fry-ups but Italian side of its menu is magnifico
377 Woodstock Road,
028 9020 7007
YOU expect to walk down Belfast’s Woodstock Road and be greeted with a blackboard proclaiming “The Best Fry in the East”. There’s a good chance you’d see the same on the Castlereagh Road or the Newtownards Road. And if you moved round the cardinal points of the compass the Antrim, Lisburn and Falls roads would offer their own variations on the claim.
But you don’t expect the board to be sitting outside a cafe telling you it’s “Belfast’s first Italian osteria and cafe”.
How does that work? Filled sodas and black pudding on one side of the menu and aged Parmesan and marbled coppa on the other? As it happens, Mr Smarta**e, that’s exactly how it works.
Close your eyes, walk in, sit down, look at the side that begins with that fry – yes, obviously open your eyes again – and you wouldn’t think you’re anywhere but the Woodstock Road. But then you see your omelette is called a frittata. And you can get mortadella in it. You’ll find panini on just about every cafe menu around, but here they’ll do you one with speck and asiago. And the menu will gently let you know that panini is the plural of panino.
Lift your head and you’ll see the Italian images all around. Open your ears and the chat and ads you’ll hear between Bon Jovi and Primal Scream on the radio is in Italiano. Crane your neck around the counter and you’ll see a spectacular leg of prosciutto di Parma with it’s own gravitational field.
Turn over the menu. Toto (also on today’s playlist), I’ve a feeling we’re not in east Belfast anymore.
While the fry may warrant its self-confidence, I’ll probably never know. Because I can’t imagine coming back – and not coming back would be just stupid – and veering away from this Italian side of things.
The menu is short and simple, with a few choices each among starters, pasta, meat and desserts. It’s the sort of thing that you know will be fantastic if done right. From the moment the first sliver of ham hits the board, it’s clear it will be.
It’s in a £10 platter of cheese and cured meat of head scratching quality. On the cheese side there’s ubriaco – which has spent its time swimming in wine – pecorino, Parmesan and asiago. All are superb. Meat-wise, there’s speck, Felino salami, coppa and Parma ham. Again, not a fault to be found.
You can see why it recently claimed a UK-wide award as Parma ham specialist deli of the year from the Consorzio Del Prosciutto di Parma, the official guardians of this piece of piggy perfection.
There’s a special of gnocchi, the little pillowy dumplings light but sticking to your ribs, helped by a huge hug of a cheese sauce shot through with shards of salty, smoky speck ham.
It’s a beautifully balanced, comforting bowl of food; a few ingredients treated expertly to deliver way beyond what you might expect.
The same goes for the lasagne; though obviously containing a few more ingredients, it delivers a great whack of deep, meaty, flavour from beef and pork that may have been simmering away since last Wednesday.
A ‘beeramisu’, made with stout, is a nice conceit but doesn’t taste all that different from a regular tiramisu – albeit as good a regular tiramisu as you could ever want.
The strawberry crostada – chef Christian Lanfranchi’s mother recipe – is much like a jam tart. But – again – the only jam tart you’ll ever need.
The filling is essence of the fruit, and carries the sweetness of the dessert against the crumbly, not overly sugary pastry. Like everything, it’s nothing fancy, and maybe not made for Instagram, but for £3 it’s an honest-to-God marvel.
All in, with a couple of coffees and sparkling waters (you can bring your own brooze with the already reasonable £1 corkage made even better by half of it going to charity) it’s a bit over £30 for two.
Head into the city centre, head anywhere in the city, and you’ll do well to find Italian food this good for a lot more than that.
You wouldn’t expect that walking down the Woodstock Road now, would you?
Tagliere formaggio & salumi £10
Sparkling water x 2 £2.60