Set Lunch 2 courses £17.95 | 3 courses £22.95
Starters £5.95 - £13.50 | Pasta £15.95 - £18.95
Mains £17.95 - £35.95 | Desserts £6.50 - £6.90
Cooking 5.5/10 | Service 4/5
Flavour 4/5 | Value 5/5
An age thing, probably, but I have a soft spot for the old school Italian joints which used to be ubiquitous. I'm fond of the original La Lanterna, which has been cosily ensconced in Hope Street in the city centre since the King was enduring miserable schooldays at Gordonstoun. I was pleased to discover that they'd taken over the old La Parmigiana, just beyond the bridge at Hillhead. I was therefore delighted to learn that that was the venue for our annual anniversary lunch with inlaws J & C.
But en route, I felt a chill. When you take over a business you are required, like it or not, to take over the contracts of employment of those working there. Although my review of La Parmigiana was over eight years ago, and a lot of pasta has flowed down the throat since then, I still remember as though it were yesterday enduring quite the rudest service I've ever encountered in Britain. What if he's still there?
Fear unfounded. A very pretty bright modern space. It looks smaller than it used to be, because of the light grey booths which they have created down one side. Good to be welcomed with a smile rather than a snarl, though you are ushered back out of the front door to park your umbrella.
I think the menus of the two Lanternas are interchangeable, but making one's choice here is a little confusing. There is a daily lunch menu. There is also a specials menu. The (very large) main menu is in front of you like a place mat. You might think it was food on one side and drinks on the other but be warned. On the left hand side of the drinks list you will find Stuzzichini, featuring not just bread, but additional starters.
On the a la carte front, taking the stuzzichini into account, there are about 20 starters to choose from, and that's before you get to the pasta. They make their own ravioli and tagliatelle inhouse (8 options). There are another 7 dishes with dried pasta. Add to that 12 mains and 5 specials. I'm feeling bewildered - Lord knows how the chefs are coping. Oh, and not all of the set menu options are on a la carte selection.
Working your way through all of that, the next thing to strike you is the terrific value for money. £17.95 for a two course lunch from a menu which includes both smoked salmon and grilled fresh salmon. On the main course front, if you avoid steak and sole the dearest plate will set you back less than £24. Yes, sides are extra, but with meat dishes starting at £17.95 your banco* is not going to be rotto**.
Three of the troop chose the set menu. One greedy pig went a la carte. In my defence I wanted to see how the kitchen could cope with the Herculean task of turning out such a huge selection. Wonderful though this dining group may be, certain of its company are not fully trained members of the Tom Eats! club. My inability to snaffle bits from all plates makes reviewing a bit tricky. One has to rely on the smiles, oohs and aahs. From the set menu, plenty of number one, not many of two and three. Bruschetta with pesto, mozzarella and sunblush tomatoes got the biggest thumbs up. Smoked salmon and avocado were declared to be fine, and I forget what Mr Nonsharer had ordered. It's a rule that no race does deep frying better than the Italians, and I find it difficult to pass on a frittura mista. If ordering this, do read the small print carefully. Mostly it's 100% fish and/or shellfish, but you can get veg as well. No such problem here, with a mix of squid, whitebait and prawns: the only problem was that there are exceptions to every rule. This wasn't served sizzling hot straight from the fryer. Bizarrely the whitebait had neither a flour nor batter coat, but the prawns were very good, and the portion size, with a good dollop of garlic mayo, was generous.
Next up, the lasagne seemed to hit the spot. A bizarrely named risotto al telefono (asparagus, mozzarella, Parmesan) tasted great at first forkful, but got a bit claggy later. Why the name? Don't know. Your call. There wasn't a huge amount of veal in the Veal Milanese, but at £19.95 one can't complain. The accompanying helping of tagliatelle porcini (yet another pasta dish which didn't feature anywhere else on the menu) was terrific.
One of the hardest meals to score for some time. Food nice-ish; staff nice-ish. It must be said that the decor was the best part. And that menu. It's akin to buying an ultra modern flat and furnishing it with your Granny's old stuff. It was OK in her house, but you really wish you had embraced change. There is clearly some talent in this kitchen. One wonders what they could achieve if not spread so thinly.
*banco = bank **rotto = broken
But you could have guessed that