Table grabs, don’t you just hate them?
It wouldn’t be so bad if they told you in a nice way but to have it thrust in your face before you’ve even got your coat off, without so much as a fawning rhetorical ‘Hello, sir and how are we tonight?’ or an equally patronising ‘Sir is looking very debonair tonight, may I take your coat?’, is just, well, slightly off-putting.
This is how I was greeted at Il Forno last week. The man muttered something beforehand possibly about phonecalls but I missed what he said and before I knew it he’d disappeared and I wasn’t minded to chase after him and pinch him on the shoulder to launch an inquiry.
I completely understand the need for smaller restaurants like Il Forno, which has about 40 covers, to make each chair worth its money but at the same time there has to be some kind of trade-off in terms of treading lightly around the issue.
Yes the cut-off time was indicated when my wife made the booking online. However, must you then be confronted with it immediately, as soon as you walk in the door? All I am suggesting is that perhaps it could be dealt with in a more delicate way, perhaps slipped into conversation and as less of a strict reminder and more of a ‘are you okay with this…?’
The question being begged is this: what happens if we’re not finished in the allotted time? Do they physically throw us out? Do they swiftly ‘unserve’ the food we still have left? Or deny us desserts?
It all felt a bit ‘bahh, humbug’, especially when you arrive, cold and wet from outside, happy for the most part and full of seasonal mirth. The other negative thing about table grabs, because rather than me chatting genially about the food, the ambience, the way the cheese from the giant 20-inch pizzas they do here forms long strings which resemble lianas from the rainforest, I’m still talking about it. Why? Because it irks me. And it (like obligatory service charges) should not happen.
So, now I’ve got that off my chest, let’s do the review. One thing you have to concede to Il Forno right from the off is, whatever day of the week it is, they are usually rammed. This means (all aforementioned grumbles aside), they must be doing something right. And they are.
Il Forno is compact and very neat. It puts me in mind of either of a snow-bound log cabin way up in the Italian hills (I’m using my imagination here) or one of those quirky Nordic kitchens you sometimes find yourselves wandering into in Ikea. One wall glistens with shiny shallow stone bricks and there are several vertical floor-to-ceiling ‘stands’ made of real log piles. Chrsitmas decor in the window: check. At the back is the piece de resistance: the wood fired pizza oven, which looks like a tiny igloo.
Water is brought and poured, menus are dispensed. We order sharpish, already keenly aware of the ticking clock. We are here with the children, so I am also conscious that things sometimes take a little longer when the little ones are involved as they are bound to a) go to the toilet at least three times during the meal and b) knock at least one glass over.
Quick as you like we’ve ordered minestrone soup (£5.30 per portion): full of silky, chunky winter veg, served with delightful little ‘bones’ of fresh-made bread. Scrummy. We also had bruschetta Napoli (£4.95), which came with what seemed like a whole punnet of baby tomatoes to the point it was possibly too much.
This being Il Forno (and they do a range of other Italian dishes involving chicken, pork, sausages, pasta, etc) but the draw here is the humongous 20-inch pizzas, which can be designed half-n-half with toppings of your choice.
We ordered two (£16.90 for the margarita and £18.35 for one which was half ham (£9.05) and half ham and mushroom (£9.30), along with some potato wedges (£3.10), and a salad (£3.10).
The pizzas are great, what can I say. They tick every box and they are not let down by size, apart from perhaps exposing the lack of space on the tables themselves. The dressing for the salad was a balsamic reduction but was far too thick and sweet for me.
We ended the night with scoops of ice cream for the kids (two scoops costs £4), tiramisu (£6) for me (gorgeous) and lemon cheesecake for the missus (£5.70, also verging on perfection). All told, with drinks, the final bill rolled in at a reasonable £103 and when I asked for it we were within two minutes of our official cut-off time, although we skipped the coffee course.
In conclusion, Il Forno has struck gold with its formula of giant pizzas and almost faultless Italian cuisine, service was also polite. One only wished they had a bit more room, which would surely help ease the preoccupation with time-limited dining.
TRATTORIA IL FORNO, HORSFORTH
Address: 85 Town St, Horsforth, Leeds LS18 5BP
Telephone: 0113 345 0150
Opening times: Closed Mondays, Tues-Sat noon-10pm, Sunnoon-9pm (note: they are closed Jan 1-16)