NEVER drink in a pub with a flat roof, so the saying goes. Now that is, of course, something of a generalisation.
Oliver is sure there are plenty of flat-roofed pubs across the land that offer more than a pint with a chaser of flinty-eyed stares.
The old Coopers Arms in Birstall, sadly, appeared – at least partly – to live down to the stereotype.
On what was admittedly Oliver’s one and only visit some years ago, even the most observant customer would have been hard pressed to spot a friendly welcome.
The Coopers, it is this reviewer’s unhappy duty to report, is no longer with us.
The flat-roofed exterior remains, a hard-to-miss sight at Birstall Smithies crossroads.
Inside, though, the pub is gone and in its place has come Luigi’s Pizzeria Ristorante.
The culinary Sherlocks among you will have deduced that there’s really only one game in town here, and that game is Italian and Mediterranean food.
Owner Luigi Dabundo has three decades of experience in the restaurant trade, previously owning eateries in Liversedge and Horsforth.
So, has he worked similar magic in his transformation of this one-time boozer?
I’m delighted to say – in English, my efforts at learning Italian have never got past pizza, pasta and Peroni – that he has. He definitely has.
The bar itself is perhaps the one remaining relic of its former life and, while there is no mistaking that the building used to be a hostelry, the rest of the interior has undergone quite a makeover. There are now ample tables adorned with red gingham checked tablecloths, a great open kitchen – perfect for watching the pizza chefs in action – Welsh (or should that be Italian?) dressers, stylish standard lamps and pretty vases of flowers. It’s all very homely – and rather a far cry from what went before.
But enough of the past. What about its future? Well, if our visit is anything to go by, it seems to be very bright indeed. Places like this are, sadly, few and far between these days – good ‘neighbourhood’ restaurants serving up reliably good cuisine at reasonable prices.
On our visit on a Monday evening, it could hardly be said to be heaving but the clientele who were in there seemed to be well known to the staff, indicating that Luigi’s is already building a loyal fanbase.
The aforementioned staff are attentive without being overbearing and help reinforce the friendly and laid back atmosphere. We were shown to a window table, and while the views of Birstall Smithies crossroads aren’t much to write home about, it makes a nice change not to be corralled with the other diners just to make life easier for the waiting staff.
While we perused the menu, we selected a bottle of Orvieto (£16.95) from the short but perfectly serviceable wine list.
Luigi’s specialises in pizzas and pastas and there’s plenty of traditional dishes – some with a twist to tempt the tastebuds. But there’s also a good offering for the most dedicated of carnivores and an exciting specials board featuring fish and seafood dishes.
For starters, we went all 1970s and opted for the garlic bread with cheese (£5) and the ‘hot shrimps’ (£7.50). The garlic bread – served pizza style – was delicious, with just the right balance of garlic to mozzarella cheese. The dough was light and crispy and more than lived up to the restaurant’s pizzeria title. It was a huge serving, but between us we all but demolished it. The shrimps were another success story and came swathed in a cream and mushroom sauce spiked with chilli. Again, there was no skimping on portion size – or, for that matter, quality.
Other starter choices included garlic mushrooms, chicken liver pate and mozzarella in carrozza (that’s deep fried cheese in breadcrumbs to me and you) all priced at £5.50. The specials board offered up a number of other seafood and speciality bruschetta dishes, all priced similarly.
For our main courses, we chose a lasagne, keenly priced at £7.95, and a grilled sirloin steak with the classic combination of mushrooms, tomato and onion rings. At £15.95 it was one of the most expensive dishes on the menu, but was also served with mini roast potatoes and a selection of fresh veg. The lasagne was a huge helping (there’s a theme here) of tomato-flavoured, meaty goodness draped in perfectly-cooked pasta and topped with so much cheese you could almost hear your arteries hardening. It was worth it, though. And in Oliver’s humble opinion, you’d struggle to find a better plate of food anywhere in West Yorkshire for under £8.
The steak was, perhaps, less sensational, but perfectly fine nonetheless. It was cooked well and was a decent, tender piece of meat. The accompanying vegetables were entirely serviceable, too, but I could not help but look longingly at my partner’s lasagne. As it was, I managed to snaffle some of it before both of us had to bow out.
Other main course options include, as you would expect, a good variety of pizzas priced from £6.95 to £9.95 and pastas at about the same. Again, the specials board offered a range of other tempting fish and meat dishes – plenty to keep you coming back again and again.
We mused for quite some time over the short dessert list, which featured items like profiteroles, tiramisu, cheesecake and gelatos, yet in the end we had to admit defeat. But no matter, for we will be back. And we’ll know to leave room next time.
The bill for two courses each, including the bottle of wine (staff were happy to also provide a carafe of tap water) came to just over £53. A snip when you consider how easy it is today to clock up a cheque nudging £100 without breaking a sweat.
The moral of the story, then? It may sometimes pay to avoid flat-roofed pubs – but the same cannot be said of restaurants.
Address: Bradford Road, Birstall, WF17 9NL.
Opening times: Mon to Thurs 5pm to 10pm; Fri and Sat 1pm to 10.30pm; Sun 1pm to 9pm.
Tel: 01924 470777