If the late George Bernard Shaw had got his way, I would have missed a vital part of the pleasure of a visit to Christiano’s, for every good meal should be savoured in advance. The great man, if you recall, had a thing about apostrophes. When not being funny in his extended old age or writing wordy plays now seldom performed, he would campaign against these useful midair commas, finally leaving huge sums of money to a fund to change English spelling.
Neither of these efforts succeeded, although schools have lately done part of his work for him by ceasing to teach either apostrophes or spelling.
The thing was, I was advised to try this excellent restaurant in Tarporley on the phone and, because you can’t hear those elusive commas, I assumed it was called Christianos, which would have made it Greek.
So all the way through the winding country lanes, I was picturing a Greek establishment, with the proprietor breaking plates and playing on a stringed instrument while serving those delicious mezes on small plates, accompanied by that paint stripper retsina, which I happen to like.
But on getting lost on Tarporley’s moneyed main street, we asked an intelligent man sampling pure English chips out of a bag, who directed us faultlessly and changed my imagined Greek to Italian to conclude his accurate directions.
I was reminded that another great thinker, the equally late Inspector Morse, was investigating a murder in a Greek restaurant in one of his programmes and somewhat tactlessly told the proprietor, who was helping with inquiries, that it was not one of the great cuisines of the world.
I don’t think even he would have questioned the premier position of Italian food, ranking surely with French, while China, India and Japan lurk threateningly in the distance.
As well as splendid food, Italians have the most beautiful of languages, so the cheerful ‘bona sera’ that welcomed us to a Thursday evening set the tone for something memorable.
A very good early warning sign in the long main room was the presence of families with young children enjoying a meal together at 7pm, with more arriving as time went on, so plenty of tables were occupied by the time we left at 9pm and the handy alcove filled with two cheerful parties.
The menu was just about right, with a full range of starters, pastas and pizzas, together with some memorable main dishes, but without trying to stun you with weight, as does sometimes happen.
After the usual careful negotiations, Sue and I managed to choose something different, which always helps in a restaurant review but which we do not always achieve.
I opened with king scallops backed by very tasty bacon – well worth the editor’s grudging £8.95 – with Sue taking gambas Christiano’s, complete with apostrophe, which was first-class prawns in creamy sauce with a touch of Parma ham, all coming in at £1 less.
For the main course, she took anatra arrosto, pieces of duck breast supported by one of those salads featuring lots of olives and slices of peppers that employ the rapier rather than the bludgeon, with my choice falling on a large and succulent breadcrumbed veal escalope, served with spaghetti in a tomatoey Neapolitan sauce, with plenty of lemon to flavour the veal.
The main courses were set at £13.95 and £14.50 respectively and all this was sustained by a bottle of Ruleja Barbera, one of those robust Italian reds produced, as the label proclaimed in that resonant tongue, at Castillo Montegrosso (which sounds more exciting than Big Mountain Castle).
That was £18.50, with the wine list providing a reasonable range, with a few final specialities on the £100-plus mark.
There was no reference to any of the wines being offered by the glass, apart from a sweetie to go with the desserts, which I avoided because of the need to drive home twenty winding miles.
My dessert was a notable meringue supported by ice cream and touches of fresh fruit while Sue decided to wind down and conclude with a cup of tea.
That did take rather too long to arrive but came with a charming apology from the active Gino, head waiter and front of house, who is one of those bustling Italians who enjoy their work and have an eye for everything going on in a very large room full of diners.
All in all, an excellent evening out, with the added pleasure of enjoying an imaginary meal in advance – in the wrong country.
Christiano's, 57 High Street, Tarporley.
Tel: 01829 733833.
Price: Two lavish dinners, a bottle of wine and one pot of tea cost £72.55.
Best thing: Outstanding Italian food and a busy atmosphere.
Worst thing: Slight hold-ups in service, albeit with handsome apologies.
Would suit: Anyone who enjoys the Italian style.
Wouldn't suit: Picky types like me who want a prompt bill.