Due to a last minute change of plan we decided to visit Roberto’s Italian restaurant in Batley, booking our table online - confirmation came back within a few minutes.
Until 2008, Roberto’s was based in neighbouring Dewsbury. It was located on one of the upper floors of the Pinoeer building, with unfathomably high ceilings and gradndiose stone window arches, looking down upon the Dewsbury ring road and the vaiduct. It had a loyal following too and rightly so, serving up decent food and with service to match. It was forced to leave its former home following the controversial redevelopment of that building by developers. And so the owners upped-stick and moved to neighbouring Batley, taking over the equally grand old Post Office building, which stands right in the centre of town.
It’s easy to find and there is plenty of nearby free parking, either on the cobbled square or one of the adjoining streets.
It was a filthy night with a howling gale and lashing rain and we had to negotiate a set of roadworks right outside the restaurant before entering. The main door is up a flight of stairs and we were all set to push it open and go in when we noticed a hand-written sign on the door informing customers that the phone line powering the card machine was down and all transactions had to be in cash.
After a hurried inventory we decided we could just about scrape together enough cash and anyway, we’d spotted a cash machine not too far away if we needed more, so we went in after all.
Inside, the decor surprised me - I’d expected rough-hewn stone and ornate decoration, a relic from its this building’s former life. We were instead faced with gleaming white walls. Although spotlessly clean, there was a distinct lack of ambience, exacerbated by the harsh bright lighting, it was also quite noisy - the stone floor probably adding to the poor acoustics.
We were told there might be a 10 minute wait but in fact we were shown to our table almost straight away. Drinks orders were taken and we were handed a couple of very dog-eared menus badly in need of replacing. We were waited on by two young lads who were enthusiastic and very polite.
There’s plenty of choice on the menu with a good selection of fish, seafood and meat dishes and the usual pasta and pizzas and the waiters were able to describe each dish in detail.
I decided to go for the fishcakes from the specials board (£6.95) as my starter, my dining companion went for the deep fried squid in batter (£5.95).
As we waited for the food to arrive we were presented with a plate of small, very tasty ciabatta rolls and a dish of fluffy garlic butter - both, we were assured, made in-house. I enjoyed the fishcakes, despite being a little apprehensive of the day-glo orange sauce which accompanied them. Thankfully it tasted far better than it looked and complemented the fish beautifully. The fried squid dish was not so rapturously received. The batter was too thick and overwhelmed the squid and so didn’t allow the flavour to come through.
For the main event I decided to stick to fish and went for tuna pizzalola (£13.80). A grilled tuna steak with tomato, olive, caper, garlic and white wine sauce.
It came beautifully presented and was accompanied by a dish of fresh vegetables.
The tuna was cooked exactly as I’d requested and the vegetables were piping hot and just on the right side of al dente.
My companion ordered filet Stroganoff Diana (£13.50), strips of fillet steak cooked in a sauce of French mustard, brandy, red wine and mushrooms and served with rice.
The steak was tender and the sauce tasty, although the accompanying plate of French fries were limp and not all crisp - home-cooked chunky chips would have made all the difference.
Surprisingly, it was the owner’s nine-year-old daughter brought the dessert board for us to choose from before skipping off to bring someone else their coffee - a real little charmer (but more on that later). We decided on the hot chocolate fudge cake and cheesecake with strawberry sauce (£4.10 each), which were both served with a small squirt of cream (my pet hate) and a drizzle of custard.
The fudge cake was rich and filling and the cheesecake light and fluffy but the sauce was two sweet.
A couple of cappuccinos rounded off the meal (£2.20 each) and the final bill, including drinks, came to a reasonable £57.30. Over attentive waiters can sometimes be a pest but the opposite is also frustrating and I think there was some room for improvement in this area at Roberto’s. For example, no-one came to ask if our meal was okay and we had to ask more than once for the bill.
There were plenty of staff on duty on the night we visited but a bit more customer attention would have been welcome and I’m not sure what to make of the young girl taking part in the service - on the one hand it’s almost quaint and is something you might imagine happening in some of the more out of the way tavernas on the Continent but on the other hand, one wonders whether it crosses the health and safety line.
Roberto’s has a lot going for it - the food, in general, is good and there’s a sense of history and passion, reflected by its central location. Batley town centre has taken a few knocks in recent years. With a few minor changes, this could be one of its star attractions.
Address: The Old Post Office, 14 Market Place, Batley, WF17 5DA
Tel: 01924 422423
Opening times: Mon-Thurs 4-10.30pm; Fri-Sun noon to 11.30pm