The Prince of Wales was at one time an old-fashioned country pub. Then it became a gastro-pub, which was well thought-of but apparently lost money hand over fist. It closed down. When I moved into Tiptree (just over 2 years as I write this review), the doors were barred and bolted. A tragedy, I thought, but surely someone will buy it and reopen as a great local. Sure enough, a for sale sign went up, and some months later vanished again. The air of anticipation was building.
When the signs started going up to the effect that an Italian restaurant was opening in the fine old pub building, I raised an arched eyebrow. Granted that pubs get converted into many things, but this place looks so, well, pub-like, it would be very hard to imagine it as anything else.
Then Il Principe opened up. I did not go myself, but a few friends said it was pretty good. Since it was practically on my doorstep, there seemed little reason not to go, so when the opportunity arose for a meal with friends, this was the establishment I suggested. After all, it sounded promising – something of an “old-fashioned” Italian air about it, though the pub interior has been fitted out as a classy restaurant. The menu reads like you’re in Rome: I Saltinbocca Alla Romana, La Scaloppina Alla Siciliana, Il Fritto Misto Di Mare… poetry to the ears, quite apart from the stomach!
Truth be told, that’s exactly how Il Principe is in practice. Old-fashioned, that is. The waiting staff are Italian, imbued with that essential quality of loving what they do and what they serve. They are courteous and professional, but charming with it. The ambience is subdued: quiet music, very light on the Christmas decorations, modern decor but not in your face. Not so much a pub, but still retained the best features of the old Prince of Wales in the process.
So far so good. But Italian food has a habit of disappointing in restaurants that look promising. We chose well from the menu and the specials board. In fact, we would have chosen exactly the same items, were that not against my religion! She had the king scallops in parma ham with madeira sauce, which was little short of divine. I can think of no words of criticism. It was truly a perfect dish, even in the era of scallops becoming a cliche. Since she had selected MY starter, I had big prawns in garlic butter, which was very lovely but somehow paled into insignificance by comparison with the melt-in-the-mouth scallops.
However, on main courses we could not be divided. It had to be the veal t-bone off the specials menu. Maybe I am being decadent, but this is the second veal t-bone I’ve had in two months. They are pretty rare on the menu too, but sublime on the palate, a texture truly to be savoured. I definitely have a thing about veal, which for a Brit is not necessarily to be widely advertised: our nation frowns upon veal, quite wrongly so. We don’t frown on lamb (which Germans feed to their dogs), so maybe that is just one of many hypocrisies in our cultural outlook. Anyway, the veal was tender as the day is long, perhaps over-sauced but sympathetically served with cubed potatoes and Mediterranean veg.
Washed down with an excellent bottle of Brunello di Montalcino (heartily recommended as a fine alternative to Chianti and Barolo), we were well happy with the food in every respect. If we had a problem with the meal is would be that the main course followed too hot on the heels of the starter. Not exactly a kitchen malfunction, but just a little too keen for comfort. That apart, it was utterly delightful in every way.
Luckily, the waiters did leave a while before asking for our dessert choices, and even then we were stymied by the desire to have each other’s choices. I had vanilla crême brûlée, she had vanilla pannacotta. That both were flavoured with vanilla matters to me not one jot. Vanilla is not, as cliche would have it, vanilla-flavoured, but nectar of the gods. It is simply delicious! Both were very good, though maybe not great examples of their art. Coffee was splendid, and we both felt totally relaxed and comfortable – unwilling to move.
In short, a fine restaurant, to which I will happily return at the first decent opportunity. No excuse not to, given that I could walk it in 10 minutes from home. My faith in Italian restaurants is hereby restored. I wish Il Principe every success, but given that they were virtually full by the time we left, I doubt they will need any good luck. Do the basics well and the customers will follow.
PS. It would appear that there is a new opening at the site. The Italian restaurant is being scaled down (possibly to the point of non-existence) and at least part of the premises is becoming the “Red Dog Cafe.” Further reports to follow!