THE CIAO FACTOR.
Every town needs a little, local Italian restaurant that really knows its stuff and, in terms of my hometown of Motherwell, that place would be Da Claudio.
Always busy, it seems to have been on the go for donkey's years and I reckon Arthur, the genial big ga er, must be minted.
In fact, a ver says he's reading this in his silk dressing-gown while his butler turns the pages.
Kilmarnock's contender is probably Cafe Da Vinci.
Located in the original Johnnie Walker bonded warehouse in the historic centre of town - a rather derelict area these days, sadly, that makes e Scheme look like Knots Landing - it's the oldest family-run restaurant in Killie.
And, for those of you who like a bit of useless trivia, it was apparently the rst licenced premises in the town to o er the renowned Italian Peroni beer on draught.
Talking of drink, we'd met for an aperitif at my mate Wee Eric's pub - e Goldberry Arms - which I can honestly say is arguably one of the very best boozers in that street...
But, of course, there's no such thing as a free plug - so take a copy of today's Saturday mag into the bar today and Wee Eric will knock a quid o your rst drink. Okay?
You can't miss Wee Eric. He's the same size and shape as one of the workers at Willy Wonka's and his face is probably still cut and scraped after he rounded o this week's review by falling head first into his neighbour's drive (yep, they don't water down the Chianti Classico at Cafe Da Vinci).
This must be a first.
Well, after a heavy Italian meal, hands up if you've ever gone and lled your face with chips?!
Anyway, folks, Cafe Da Vinci was reassuringly busy on the Tuesday night we visited - and no wonder.
All pizza and pasta dishes are just pounds 5.95 on Tuesdays and ursdays and, in terms of value for money, the pounds 9.95 three-course lunch is a steal.
Not too many surprises on the menu - chicken, steak, veal, etc - but there's no seafood as such. Nope, locally sourced on a daily basis, all the shy stu goes straight on to the popular specials board. Nice.
I also liked the way all the pasta dishes are available as a starter (I can never nish a full portion of that stu ) and I kicked-o with a plate of fusilli Mexicana, a ery combo of perfectly-cooked pasta twirls with beef, onions, chillies and peppers.
Wee Eric had garlic breath - sorry, garlic bread (Freudian slip) - while my Killie pals Dennis and Bernadette made light work of the creamy garlic mushrooms (highly recommended) and a portion of smooth chicken liver pate that was the really authentic stuff.
In other words, it was served with not nearly enough toast. How come they always do that?
Next up, a sirloin steak "Rabbie" for Dennis which meant, in honour of the Bard, it was topped with haggis and avoured with whisky.
As opposed to a sirloin steak "Rabbi" which involves taking a sharp knife Keep track and cutting a wee bit o the end...
Bernadette had the llet steak with a mushroom and brandy sauce and I'm assured that both cuts of beef were terriffc. They were served with a mega bowl of chips and enough veg to provide King Kong with his ve-a-day until next Easter.
Between gulps of red wine, Wee Eric picked away at a bowl of Cafe Da Vinci's homemade lasagne (which must have looked like a really hefty portion as he was seeing double by this stage), while I devoured the very best pizza I've had in ages.
The toppings are almost irrelevant (it was an arrabiatta with peppers, pepperoni, chicken and lots of chillies) as I was mainly concerned with the delightful fact it was just the right size - not too big, not too small - and perfectly cooked as requested with lots of crispy, slightly burnt edges. Perfect pizza in my book means you should be able to hold a slice in front of your face and it won't op (almost as if you've swapped the black pepper for a wee sprinkling of freshly-ground Viagra).
If you're feeling brave, ask for a splash of Cafe Da Vinci's chilli oil (the label on the bottle is simply marked "Very Hot!!!") which is truly XXX-rated stuff.
Overall? A great feed at even better prices in a friendly wee place. But no time for dessert.
Well, Wee Eric had a long crawl home....
Keep track of Tam's reviews on the Daily Record website. Find the best places to eat out at www.dailyrecord.co.uk/eatingout. The current Hot Plate winner is Pink Olive, Edinburgh, 0131 662 4493
TAM'S HOT PLATE CONTENDERS
Address: 17 Strand Street, Kilmarnock Tel: 01563 573535 Open: Tue to Sun for lunch and dinner Wheelchair access: Yes Bill for two (with wine): pounds 85 Food: 5/5 - fabulous from start to finish Service: 5/5 -very nice and friendly Decor: 4/5 - classic Italian interior Toilets: 4/5 -clean and fresh Value: 5/5 - superb, especially Tue and Thu Total: 23/25
CAFE FISH Edinburgh. 0131 538 6131 24/25 ONDINE Edinburgh. 0131 226 1888 24/25 BLACK SPARROW Glasgow 0141 221 5530 23/25 CRABSHAKK Glasgow. 0141 334 6127 23/25 CARNBOOTH HOUSE HOTEL, Carmunock. 0141 644 3836 23/25 THE PLAYWRIGHT Dundee. 01382 223113 23/25 TAILEND RESTAURANT Edinburgh. 0131 555 3577 22/25 VISTA Ayr. 01292 264 384 22/25 SPICE East Kilbride. 01355 228286 22/25 PIPER'S TRYST Glasgow. 0141 353 5551 22/25
Glasgow. 0141 334 6677 21/25 NO1 THE BANK BISTRO Perth. 01738 622 451 21/25 BO'VINE Glasgow. 0141 339 8811 21/25 THE HAC BAR Irvine. 01294 311833 20/25 KOOLBA Glasgow. 0141 552 2777 19/25 MOUNTAIN CAFE Aviemore. 01479 812473 19/25 ZANZERO Edinburgh. 0131 220 0333 18/25 THALI Glasgow. 0141 552 8332 14/25 APACHE SPUR Aberdeen. 14/25 GENNARO Edinburgh. 0131 226 3706 13/25 CINAMON Aberdeen. 01224 633 328 10/25
LOVE ME TENDER... Steak meal