WHEN London's super-duper Savoy Grill closed some months back for modernisation, there was a great outcry from crusty old regulars who could not bear the thought of their favourite restaurant being vamped up.
My family have experienced a similarly traumatic, if not terminal, culinary experience. The crustiest of characters are children. They are the archetypal conservatives who, having established a routine, cannot bear change.
Part of the ritual of visiting my father in Chester is a circuit around the Rows taking in the Arts & Crafts model shop and the Formula One shop. This is an excursion so predetermined that you could measure it almost to the nearest foot.
This pilgrimage always began at Pizza Express, Lower Bridge Street. As with much of Pizza Express's property portfolio, this outlet was set in a fine old building. Gamul House is a Jacobean hall, built as a grand townhouse by the Gamull family, who were so big in the local big-wiggery department that they entertained King Charles I there in 1645.
He was in Chester busy fighting the battle of Rowton Moor, so history does not relate whether he exercised his divine right to a Pizza Fiorentina or a Pizza Veneziana (30p to the Venice in Peril fund). No offence to the cook, but chances are Charles I didn't enjoy the meal as the battle went badly.
Fast-forwarding to post-war (as in post-Iraqi War, not post-Civil War) times, we arrived to find the establishment was no more. Pizza Express had suddenly departed. Strangely, no eaterie ever lasts long in this fine building.
The wailing and gnashing of teeth was only to be expected, so thank goodness for Dino's Pizzeria across Lower Bridge Street. Opened 17 years ago by the Palumbo family, the pizzeria is in the basement of a Georgian house that also contains the family-run restaurant and hotel.
Down the steps we trailed and into a Anglo-Italian pizzeria so perfectly formed that English Heritage should be over with an inspector to slap a listing order on it. After all, the former Reece's Café in Upper Bridge Street received such an accolade.
The roughly plastered arches, the copper pans with their artificial flowers, the trellis work with its ivy, the Gypsy Kings strumming out over loudspeakers, primitive plates and maps on the walls. Best of all, flickering lanterns set on balustrades, as if we're on a terrace in Amalfi caressed by the Adriatic's warm dusk.
Clearly, Dino's has the stamp of approval from Chester's middle class professionals grappling with young families. The restaurant quietly echoed to the sounds of Sachas, Sians and Siobhans slurping and spattering their spaghetti. They were being inculcated with the delights of Italian cuisine prior to holidays spent in the villas of Tuscany and Umbria.
The Palumbos have picked up some tricks from the big pizza chains. Our children contentedly drew all over the paper table clothes and played hangman which shocked my Aunty Rene. Even when it was explained that this is permitted she wasn't very impressed.
Where Dino's departs from the big boys is in the quality (and quantity) of the food. All dishes are home-made in the open kitchen and it makes a heck of a difference.
My Penne All'Amatriciana (tomato and smoked bacon sauce and vegetables) was the best I have eaten. My youngest son's Pizza Marguerita (mozzarella, tomato, olive oil and oregano) was smartly despatched after his grave suspicions about the word oregano were allayed. Our 11-year-old munched contentedly through his Pizza Mafia (onions, salami and oregano) and my father did battle with a vast Pizza Romano (chicken, sweetcorn and onions).
Aunty Rene's Spaghetti Carbonara (egg and smoked bacon in a cream sauce) was also highly satisfactory. The pasta in both this and the penne was first class. We also demolished two side dishes of French fries and a superb Avocado salad.
The alcohol imbibers enjoyed the house red, a full-bodied Merlot. The wine list offers 17 Italian red and whites, running from the Merlot (£9.20 a bottle) up to a Barolo at £24.
Only one thing spoiled my enjoyment. What was that above my head? A B&Q coat rack? Don't tell English Heritage.
Dino's Pizzeria, Hotel Roma, 51 Lower Bridge Street, Chester. Tel: 01244 325091/320841
Opening hours : Mon - Fri: Noon -2.30pm; 5.30pm - 11.30pm; Sat - Sun: Noon - 11.30pm.
Food: Healthy, tasty, generously proportioned, home-made fare. Child friendly: Very.
Decor: Classic Italian pizzeria in England, right down to authentic plastic flowers.
Vegetarian : Full vegetarian menu is provided.
Disabled access : Awkward but not impossible; three steps down into basement from street. However, it's up hill and down dale to the (albeit clean) toilets.
M E N U
Garlic bread ......................... £1.50
Spaghetti Carbonara ............. £6.70
Penne Amatriciana ............... £6.70
Pizza Marguerita .................. £5.80
Pizza Mafia .......................... £6.60
Pizza Romano ..................... £7.50
French fries (x2 @£1.40) ..... £2.80
Avocado salad .................... £2.50
Fresh orange (x4 @£1.20) ... £3.60
Coke (x2 @£1.20) .............. £1.20
Glass house red (x2 @£2..65). £5.30
Mineral water ........................£1.50
Total .................................. £54.10