WHERE do Italian restaurants get that atmosphere?
Forget the po-faced posh ones, turning their noses up at children and refusing to do pizza. I mean the child-friendly, welcoming ones - the restaurants that seem to reflect the irrepressible nature of the Italian people themselves.
The Indians have piped sitar music, the Greeks bouzouki. But the Italians just buzz. They somehow create an amazing noise level that raises every-body's voice a few octaves. It should be irritating but it is charming.
Take Est Est Est for example. The mention of the name brings back fond family memories, particularly for Oliver, now 12.
Paper tablecloths with a supply of crayons, do-it-yourself pizzas and honorary chef's hats all helped to make it his favourite venue from the time he was little more than a toddler. When we were in town McDonald's never got a look-in, thankfully.
So after a gap of a few years it was time to pay another visit.
We decided to do things correctly and we even borrowed another 12-year-old, Aidan, for the day.
The Est Est Est we remember was best enjoyed after a Saturday afternoon spent in town, so we planned our approach.
After an inquiry a few days earlier I had been told that the restaurant does not take Saturday night bookings for parties of less than six people. I was advised we may face a wait.
No matter. We spent a happy hour wandering around Chester and then enjoyed the new Wallace and Gromit film.
Without wishing to give too much of the plot away, the story revolves around Wallace's (or is it Gromit's?) cheese fixation. He is not the only one.
'Do you remember the Est Est Est cheeseboard?' came a whisper from the darkness. It was Beverley, no doubt all misty-eyed at the thought of past glories.
We arrived at the restaurant at 6.20pm and guess what? No tables.
But how long would we have to wait? About 45 minutes, we were told.
OK. We knew there would be a wait and there was a welcoming bar to enjoy. I'm sure the no booking policy helps Est Est Est to maintain maximum efficiency and that there are tried and tested business reasons for it. I am not quite so sure it is in the best interests of the humble paying customer.
But the bar it was - and something I had been looking forward to all day...a bottle of Peroni (£2.75). There is something very special about Peroni. Just as parkin should be eaten only on November 5, Peroni should be reserved for hot summer nights or visits to Italian restaurants.
Beverley had a large glass of Pinot Grigiot (£5.50). She found it slightly disappointing at the price. The verdict on the boys' lemonade and coke was delivered with cheesy grins and upraised thumbs.
We had barely been served when we were directed to our tables - the 45 minutes had somehow been whittled down to 20. Things were looking up again.
As 12-year-olds will be, the boys were interested in everything. And they were curious to know what Est Est Est means. My O level-standard French suggested it might translate as Is Is Is, but that hardly made sense, and my Italian is virtually non-existent.
Now it was time to reconnoitre the menus and bask in that atmosphere. Maybe time lends distortion to memories, but it didn't seem quite the same. It was busy and it was buzzy, but it didn't seem to have quite the verve of the old Est Est Est.
Not a crayon in sight at the time we settled down, but plenty of happy families and, to be fair, smiling faces and laughter.
Another fond memory of Est Est Est was the quality and value of the house red, so we plumped for that at £11.50. Described on the bottle as Merlot Cabernet, it was enjoyably chocolate - flavoured.
My starter came from the specials board - crab with parmesan and rocket salad with avocado and sun-dried tomato salsa. Even though I say so myself, it was an excellent choice. Lashings of delicate crab, and not too heavy on the salsa.
Beverley and the boys shared a thoroughly enjoyable pizza-based garlic bread.
The boys also had pizza for their main course, Oliver went for margerita (£5.95), Aidan took the additional options of chicken and ham toppings (£8.05).
Their eyes popped when the pizzas arrived - these were huge 13-inch affairs. But they were so thin and deliciously crispy the lads came courageously close to eating the lot.
I chose penne funghi al forno (£7.50) for my main course. Described on the menu as wild mushrooms and peas in a creamy tomato and garlic sauce topped with grano padano, mozzarello and breadcrumbs then baked in the oven, it sounded a real mouthful. Believe me, it was.
Rich and rewarding, I was thoroughly enjoying it - until I tried a mouthful of Beverley's meal.
She had gone for pappardelle pesto (£7.50) - Italian tomatoes, nut pesto, pine nuts, rocket leaves and grano padano, switching the papardelle for her beloved spaghetti.
It was very special. For once it was me who had ordered the wrong thing. Good as the penne was, jealousy spoiled my enjoyment.
The pappardelle also has the option of chicken, but I suspect that would be one good thing too many.
Time for desserts, and the only real disappointment of the evening...no cheeseboard. Wallace would have been inconsolable and Beverley was not much better.
She sulkily opted out of dessert and finished off with a cappuccino which she described as too cool - a slightly downbeat end to her evening.
Oliver also dropped out at this stage, but Aidan and I were still going strong in our own private little competition.
I had cappuccino cheesecake (£3.95) - a crunchy little number with a very enjoyable toffee sauce.
Aidan ordered a choux bombe (£3.75), which he found impossible to eat in the traditional manner. Once speared, the choux sat stolidly on the spoon and refused to budge. Being the well-mannered boy that he is, he had to be ordered to use his fingers.
If you have ever wondered why a bombe is called a bombe I can now tell you... because by now Aidan looked like he had been involved in a particularly nasty explosion over at Willy Wonka's place.
We had to send him for a wash, and if Est Est Est had a shower facility we would have sent him there. Like all boys his age, he enjoyed the mess as much as he enjoyed the dessert.
And it was this last little episode that made me suddenly realise the real translation of Est Est Est. It clearly means Fun Fun Fun - but not quite as much fun as it used to be.
Location: Est Est Est, Pepper Street, Chester.
Price: £72.85 (including drinks at the bar, wine, starters, main courses, desserts and coffees for two adults and two children)
Would suit: Families, especially after a day in town.
Best thing: Great atmosphere.
Worst thing: Not being able to book a table.