Norwich: Trattoria Rustica

Nestled in a 16th century, grade II listed building, Trattoria Rustica offers some fine classic Italian food with the occasional adventurous twist. SAM WILLIAMS paid a visit.

Nestled behind a church near Norwich Cathedral, Trattoria Rustica is in an impressive setting in a 16th century, grade II listed building.

Opened in 1995, the restaurant is larger than it appears from the outside, with wooden beams spanning the ceilings, with the walls in parts brick, flint and wood-panelled.

Simply but elegantly laid out, with wooden chairs and tables and checked tablecloths, the restaurant is nearly full when we arrive at about 7pm on a busy Saturday.

Shown to our table, we decide on a bottle of house red (about �16), a slightly sharp but not unpleasant Sangiovese.

While the architecture is clearly English, the beams and rustic design do give the interior a very Italian feel, aided of course by the handsome paintings on the walls depicting typical Italian scenes.

As is often the case in Italian restaurants, the choice is large - pizzas, pastas, risotto, antipasti and meat and fish dishes.

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For starters, I opt for an Italian staple, minestrone alla Genovese and my partner the asparagi al forno, oven cooked asparagus with cheese.

The minestrone soup is simplicity itself - a delicate stock with chunks of carrot, beans, potato and greens, perhaps with a little pesto in there too.

Not over seasoned, the flavour of the vegetables takes pride of place. A great piece of understated home cooking.

The asparagus is well cooked and delicious with a generous helping of hot, molten and slightly stringy cheese - but we both feel it could do with a little extra salt.

A short while later our mains arrive.

My partner's fusilli Tarantina, pasta spirals with wild boar salami, comes with peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic, and a generous helping of olives.

The tang of the tomatoes with the meaty, salty salami and the added salt kick from the olives is delicious with the sweet peppers - and it complements our wine too.

I choose the tagliatelli Botticelli, a sauce of parma ham, chicken, peas, tomatoes, onions and chilli. The ham gives the whole dish a lovely smoky backdrop, coupled with the tomatoes and touch of heat, the whole thing is very enjoyable, with sweetness from the pea and good meaty strips of chicken.

The mains are priced at �12 or �13, and the portions are a decent size, and we choose an insalata mista (mixed salad) as a side, for an extra �4.

The waiting staff are friendly without being overbearing, and they appear pretty well organised in a busy evening.

Perhaps a little on the slow side, there are short pauses between arriving and ordering and between courses, but no more than you would expect given the popularity on the night, and fine for a relaxed, romantic meal.

We are both pleasantly full, and after polishing off the wine we decide to share a dessert.

Fortunately we agree immediately on the wild berry panna cotta. When it arrives it is clear someone has been having some fun in the kitchen.

Wobbling dangerously on the plate, the dessert comes in a dome of delicious fruity jelly on top of a rich coconut cream, with berries and a red fruit sauce.

Although the visual effect is something close to a silicon implant, the dessert is just the ticket, the richness of the coconut lifted by the lightness of the fruit jelly above and the acidity of the berries.

So where does Trattoria Rustica come in the league table of Norwich's rich seam of Italian restaurants? The food, when we go, is up there with the best, simple and authentic at times and more adventurous at others.

Coming in at about �63 for a bottle of wine, starters, mains, a side salad and dessert, the prices are reasonable but not cheap.

But it is worth paying an extra few pounds for the setting alone.

Trattoria Rustica

Princes Street


01603 621043

Open: Mon-Sat 6pm-12am (Sun 6pm-10pm from Easter)

Prices: Mains approx �12.

Vegetarian option: Plenty, greater than average number of both starters and main courses.

Wheelchair access: Yes