Avanti, Main Street, Kirkby Lonsdale.
We had passed Avanti on our previous visit to Kirkby Lonsdale and stopped outside to take a look at the menu.
The food sounded tantalisingly good, so much so that I had to be dragged away by my girlfriend, for we were already booked in elsewhere.
But we vowed to return to sample what it bills as “rustic Mediterranean cuisine”.
We did so during a recent weekend day trip – and by the end of a hearty meal our only regret was not having paid a visit sooner.
Avanti is unusual in that you cannot see into the restaurant from the street.
It’s not quite ‘hidden’ but it leaves you wondering what lies down the little passageway leading from the roadside. And on this evidence it is certainly a rough diamond if not a gem.
When we arrived, downstairs was packed, so we were seated upstairs in comfortable brown leather seats next to a central stairwell.
The service, was friendly, but didn’t get off to the best start in that I was served a house rioja (£3.60) rather than a merlot as requested.
Given that I had been torn between the two anyway, I let it go, and fortunately, it was very nice – smooth and fruity.
My girlfriend Becky was similarly complimentary about her house pinot grigio (£2.80).
My other gripe about the service was the habit among the waiting staff of loitering the other side of the stairwell. At one point three of them were doing this.
On the plus side, this shows that Avanti is well staffed, but the downside is that you wonder whether you are being watched.
And while diners never want to feel they have been forgotten, here the staff sometimes seemed almost too eager to swipe your glass or plate while you were still digesting the contents.
While drinking our wine we also drunk in the surroundings. It was a nice enough space, with low wood-panelled ceiling and wooden floorboards, but a lick of paint might soon be in order.
Avanti boasts an emphasis on art and style, and from where we were sitting this appeared to manifest itself in the shape of colourful acrylic portraits of such luminaries as Ringo Starr.
I liked them, but they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea – and few Beatles fans would cite Ringo as being either the most artistic or stylish of the ‘Fab Four’.
Another artistic touch was a chandelier which appeared to be made from tyres and was styled as a pelican.
But it was my tummy that was posing the most serious questions and you are really spoiled for choice.
Starters included ravioli (also available as a main), peppers stuffed with Bolognese and garlic prawns, while mains included pasta and pizza dishes, fish, chicken, meatballs, fillet steaks and salads.
To start, we shared bread and oils (£2.90). Unusually, the bread came served in a long row of tiny slices with dishes of virgin olive oil, chilli oil and balsamic vinegar. Very nice indeed.
It was a tough decision, but the Pork Milanese (£9.90) won me over with its promise of breadcrumbed fillet of pork and accompaniment of potato rosso (potatoes and spinach in a red pepper sauce).
There were two pork fillets and they were top notch – all meat and no fat. The potatoes were beautifully cooked too, but the clincher was the tasty sauce, nicely spiced and given a further dimension by the spinach.
I washed it down with a second glass of wine. This time it really was the rioja (£3.60) with its more complex notes.
Becky went for the swordfish in a puttanesca sauce (£13.50). Intruigingly, the menu detailed how this sauce originated from the ‘Italian Ladies of the Night’, who apparently used it as part of a quick hearty meal. For those of you familiar with Alan Partridge: Fact of the Day.
The sauce consisted of tomatoes, red peppers, chillies, olives and anchovies with sautéed potatoes, a lip-smackingly good mix of sweetness, saltiness and fiery heat. The sturdy swordfish, meanwhile, was deliciously fresh.
Somehow, we found room for puddings, me a decent sticky toffee pudding with ice cream (£4.95) and she an acceptable lemon creme brulee (£4.95).
After paying a value for money total bill of £46.20, we departed very well fed and vowing to return.
With a few refinements to the service and surroundings, on the strength of its food Avanti could be right up there with the very best.
I’m glad we returned to sample its wares.