La Piazza is refreshingly old-school Italian, which somehow seems appropriate for the ever-so-slightly sleepy market town of Braintree. In contrast to Braintree, however, the restaurant retains a lively and welcoming atmosphere, helped by being heavily populated with punters.
This in itself speaks volumes for the local reputation of La Piazza, and more particularly the quality of its food, confirmed on this, my second visit. Indeed, this is the proud boast of La Piazza on its website:
- We aim to provide a superb eating experience with excellent food and attentive staff.
- All food is cooked to order from the finest ingredients by our authentic Italian chef.
- Service charges are not included in your final bill – gratuities left go entirely to the kitchen and waiting staff.
The menu is a fairly traditional trattoria mix of antipasti, pizza, pasta, meat and fish, but is supplemented by daily specials, which unquestionably catch the eye. My companion’s eye was caught by the aubergine parmigiana starter, and mine by the starter portion of scallops in pancetta, and veal t-bone main course.
In fact, the use of veal escalopes on the menu too is a welcome sign that the establishment has not compromised traditional Italian cuisine to kowtow to the unfortunate British squeamishness regarding calf meat – all the more ironic given that only rosy veal is sold here and we share no similar qualms about eating lamb! On a similar subject, credit goes to La Piazza for including both wild, rather than farmed, sea bass and halibut on the menu as a diversion from the ubiquitous salmon.
The aubergine, a sadly neglected vegetable in this country, looked delicious, baked in cheese sauce not unlike a pastaless lasagne. Scallops have, on the other hand, become almost a cliche these days – easy to prepare, bacon keeps them moist, and almost invariably tasty with any half decent ingredients. Usually they are the smaller and cheaper queen scallops, though these were undeniably fresh, plump and tender, and avoided the cardinal sin of being overcooked.
While my friend chose and enjoyed spaghetti with lobster and crab, a dish I would usually lap up gratefully, the veal t-bone, sympathetically grilled with butter, was as mouth-wateringly tender as any slab of meat has any right to be, and was accompanied by potatoes and veg which passed muster. This is a good differentiator for ambitious Italian restaurants, since often you may well find lavish attention paid to the centrepiece of your plate, but a very sorry pile of neglected and overcooked beans and carrots, and maybe insipid cubed sautee potato on the side. Here an assortment of veg were nicely al dente, buttered and tasty.
Desserts are often a high point of an Italian meal. A white chocolate cheesecake and creme brûlée went down a treat, and were the real deal.
There was plenty of bonhomie about the service, though from our position stuck in a corner it was not easy to attract the attention of our waitress.
Even so, it is the company, the occasion and especially that veal t-bone and an excellent bottle of Aglianico del Vulture I will remember most fondly. If that veal is on the specials board next time I visit, that item will be very, very hard to resist.