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Italian fare all the way from the Old Country; Taste Test Marc Waddington visits Volare restaurant in Southpor t.

Byline: Marc Waddington

ONE sunny evening the other week, it seemed a shame to stay trapped in the sweltering heat of the city centre, so the cool seabreeze of Southport Prom called.

Unfortunately, no sooner had we arrived in the town than the heavens opened and hail stones began to fall. While that put paid to the opportunity to sit out on the front, it didn't, thankfully, put paid to our chances of finding somewhere good to eat.

Southport's Lord Street is pretty much thronged with Italian restaurants, from the big chain names to the small, independents. At certain junctures, they are literally next door to each other.

To avoid getting caught in the cross fire, my girlfriend and I went to a little place that is tucked away at the far end of the picturesque Victorian street, an unassuming looking restaurant from the outside. And indeed what it lacks in artifice it makes up in authenticity.

Apt then, that all it does say outside Volare is "Authentic Italian Restaurant", which is a solid claim by owner-chef Onofrio Maimone. You walk in to find the walls adorned with pictures of the Old Country, the music is straight out of Michael's return to Corleone in Godfather II, and the smell of the food transports you to the Adriatic. As someone who's not had the luck of travelling to Italy yet, this is the closest I would have thought I could get ... in Sefton, at least.

The restaurant is set up around a single, narrow room, the tables close enough together to give an intimate feel but there's room enough to not feel your space is being invaded. There is a very relaxed, family feel to Volare, which is how I always imagine a trattoria in Italy to be.

There is a distinct coldness to some restaurants now, the chill of chrome and glass and virtual silence that some environments seem to demand. And don't get me started on the service!

As it was, I don't know if it was the individual who recently won best waiter/waitress at the Southport Ambassador awards, but you wouldn't have known it wasn't.

High prices are no guarantee of good quality, as numerous restaurants on Merseyside can attest, whether they know it or not. As such, looking over the menu, you're looking for the catch. While the main meat and fish dishes are as you would expect to pay - around pounds 14 or pounds 15 - the pasta dishes hover around the pounds 8 mark, with the option to have a starter size portion for less which, if you've gorged on the bread, olives and oil and sizeable opening dishes, is more than adequate as a main course.

Trying to choose a starter was difficult, there were literally two offers I felt I couldn't refuse. The fritto misto (seafood platter) at pounds 7.95, was calling to me, but in the end I went for the antipasto misto (pounds 7.95), which was a sizeable plate of cured Italian meats, including melt-in-the-mouth Parma ham and salami bursting with flavour, served with homemade mushroom pickle and garnish.

The secret of Italian cooking lies in its simplicity. Over the centuries they have refined classic recipes that use just three or four ingredients, showing off every element of flavour and texture at its best.

My girlfriend''s starter of Caprese salad (pounds 5.95) was a case in point. Buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olives are a perfect combination. It looked a simple enough dish, but its strength lay in the ingredients - the deliciously creamy mozzarella and beautifully ripe tomatoes were a triumph.

By the time I'd finished the antipasto, I was starting to bloat. But that said, my enthusiasm for the food overwhelmed my common sense and I still went for a full-size main portion rather than the starter size.

I chose the delightfully named triangoli al pescespada (pounds 9.75). I'm not normally a fan of seafood-based pastas, but this one seemed too obscure to pass up. Pasta shells containing ricotta and sword fish, served with a tomato and aubergine sauce. The fish and the cheese seemed to melt together, and the aubergine was sweet, juicy and soft.

My girlfriend chose a dish based around similar ingredients, albeit with no meat or fish near it, the less spectacularly-named, penna alla norma (pounds 4.95 for a starter-size dish).

It was a generous portion. Slightly sweet, spicy sauce, covering chunky aubergines and pasta quills. Every mouthful was packed with flavour - another simple-sounding dish made with flair and imagination.

By this point we were almost too full to move, but it seemed a defeat not to sample one of the desserts. The sweet menu is compact but features most of the Italian favourites.

The tiramisu being devoured by the people on the next table appealed to me, but intending not to spend the journey back to Liverpool in too much discomfort, we opted to share a bowl of lemon sorbet, which again, was enough for two.

The sorbet (pounds 4.25) was zesty, tangy and a perfect palate cleanser after the rich tomato sauce of the main meals.

We emerged onto the rain-washed streets satisfied and, given that the whole meal (including one drink apiece) came to around pounds 36, I found myself thankful of the unexpected downpour that had earlier threatened to spoil the evening.

Foodie Facts Venue: Volare, Lord Street, Southport, PR9 0AN Tel: 01704 564232 Email: italianrestaurantsouthport.co.uk Details of meal: Authentic Sicilian home cooked pastas, salads and meat dishes Service: Professional, friendly, quick Value: Very good value, with smaller portions at lower prices

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HOME COOKING: Authentic Italian Volare, in Lord Street, Southport
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jun 23, 2011
Words:949
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