I haven't been to a neighbourhood Italian for a long time. Our high streets are dominated by Prezzo, Zizis, Nandos, and other equally tedious, predictable pizza and pasta joints, so it was with considerable relish that I looked up Italian restaurants in Paignton and found some outstanding reviews for The Italian Job. I promptly booked a table. Let me first get out of the way the things that you won't know if you've never been. First, it is not licensed. However, there is a Tesco Metro five minutes walk away where we picked up a very serviceable Cotes de Gasgoine out of the chiller after the waitress pointed out that we were going to to have to buy our own. Second, paying by card isn't straightforward. The restaurant doesn't have its own card reader, so you have to phone a number and… who know what happens next. I don't want to have to ring a call centre in [insert distant global city] and give my card number out and… you know, I'm full, I've had a glass of the wine I ran to the supermarket for and… oh just here's my cash. While I was trying to pay, someone banged loudly on the window in a drunken sort of way and the owner went after them down the street like a terrier down a rabbit hole. Then he came back and got his rolling pin and went after them again. Crikey! Are we going to be ok walking back to our hotel??? This is Paignton, not flippin' South Central LA! What's going on??? Ok, back the review… when we arrive, we are shown to a table in the window. I squeeze round to the window side but bumped against a very inconveniently placed lantern with a tea light in it (hanging at shoulder height, and I'm 5ft 3in) and it spilt wax all down my coat. Sigh. This small neighbourhood Italian has about 20 covers and was ticking over (it's 8pm on a Saturday night. Any self-respecting neighbourhood Italian should be heaving). There was one waitress and, even though the place wasn't full, she wasn't coping well. After a while some menus showed up. Then we had to run out for some wine. Soft drinks arrived - a can of Fanta delivered lodged it its glass, plastic pint glasses with a jug of water. Classy. When our starters arrived, the mushroom bruchetta had a load of bacon in it (we don't eat meat). That wasn't mentioned on the menu but ok, our fault, should have asked. When we eventually managed to flag down the waitress, we asked her to take it away but we didn't make a fuss. I wouldn't have expected chunks of ham in a mushroom bruchetta but we probably should have asked if it had meat in it. She came back two minutes later and asked if we would like one without meat. That was a very kind thing to do and we accepted. That gets a big tick. The owner also came out and checked in with us to see if the new dish was ok. Another big tick there. I had the mozzarella and tomato salad and it was fine, not great but fine. My daughter had the bread and olives but the bread turned out to be groaning with garlic butter. Again, this was not described as such on the menu. I'm starting to think that the menu descriptions need an overhaul. On to the mains. Our friend had a smoked salmon penne and it seemed rather good if salty. There was certainly plenty of it. I had the spaghetti with clam sauce. I've had this dozens of times in the US and it's usually amazing. This time it was very bland. My daughter had spaghetti with a tomato sauce that may or may not have come out of a tin and was very, very sweet. My husband had a tagliatelle with prawns and mushrooms. It was ok. In fact the whole thing was just… ok. It was cheap - £60 for four starters, four mains, three teas and a coffee. But given the plethora of five star reviews, we were expecting better than ok. It was, to be honest, pretty disappointing. The waitress was sweet but totally overwhelmed. She didn't know the menu and she was rushed off her feet on what looked like a fairly quiet night. The food was not any better than I can do at home and is certainly eclipsed by the amazing Italian food I have enjoyed elsewhere. This place could be great, but it's not at the moment. Back to Pizza Express I go, with a heavy heart.
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