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Finding somewhere for a late lunch on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Chichester might not be an easy thing to do. The crowds were out. We decided to try Pizza Express first, as my son and his partner had recently visited the one in Gunwharf Quays and had been giving me ecstatic descriptions of their new ice cream. On entering, however, we were greeted by rubbish on the floor, balloons here and there, and noise everywhere. We made a quick exit and decided to try Prezzo, which a friend had recommended to me.
What a difference. The restaurant is housed in what was formally the White Horse pub, as can be seen from the stained-glass windows and the odd horse's head dotted around. There are oak beams, pillars and shelving, with lighting from spotlights on the beams. I can imagine that it might be a little dingy on a grey day, but that afternoon there was plenty of sunshine streaming through the windows. Arty vases, painted statues of a nun, a chef and a lady in evening dress amongst others jostled alongside huge jars of pickles and a grandfather clock to decorate the shelves.
There were several free tables, and a waitress showed us to one near the front of the restaurant. I did feel that I sank down a little too far into the leather chair, and I noticed later that the seating further back looked a little more modern. We had scarcely been handed our menus when a waiter came to take our drinks order. My son and his partner ordered fresh fruit juice at £2.30 whilst I chose a Fruitiser at £2.05. We were asked if we would like some marinated olives (£2.45), and we decided we would. The drinks were soon served, but the olives took a few minutes more.
Prezzo's menu has the usual sections you would expect to find in an Italian chain restaurant, with starters, pasta, oven pasta dishes, pizza, risotto, specialities and salads. Perhaps the only difference is that Prezzo also has a section for roast chicken dishes, although I understand that in their newer branches this is replaced by a section for calzone, or folded pizzas. On arrival the waitress had shown us the 'specials' board which featured just one main course: fusilli pasta with asparagus, mushrooms, roasted peppers and green pesto at £7.95. It sounded healthy and I hadn't had pesto for a long time, so I made that my choice. My son opted for traditional lasagne at £8.55, and his partner ordered a pizza with prosciutto ham, mushrooms, marinated olives, fresh rosemary, mozzarella and tomato at £7.95. I was pleased to see that a special knife with a serrated edge was brought after the pizza was ordered, as I have often had difficulty cutting through pizza with the usual blunt restaurant knives.
The olives arrived in a small, narrow dish; there were a mixture of black and green. We savoured these whilst awaiting our main courses. Conversation was easy as the music was not too loud. I felt as though Pizza Express was on another planet – for a family with young children it would be the obvious choice, but if you want to relax in a more peaceful atmosphere, Prezzo is the place to go.
We didn't have to wait long for our main courses to be served. The waitress offered us grated parmesan, which I accepted, and also chilli oil for the pizza. My dish of fusilli pasta was huge, and delicious as it was, I was unable to finish it. I made sure I didn't leave any of the peppers, asparagus or generous mushroom slices, but good as the pesto was, it didn't allow me to get through all the pasta. My son was so enthusiastic about the lasagne that it made me think I would have to sample it next time I visit Prezzo. The pizza was good too: not too thick, and the slice of ham had been left whole, folded, and then covered with cheese. We had no complaints.
We asked to see the dessert menu and found that there were two kinds of cheesecake, pannacotta, sticky toffee pudding or fudge cake, all for either £4.25 or £4.50. Then, below these, we noticed ice cream and hazelnut bombe, vanilla ice cream covered in chopped hazelnuts with a meringue centre, for a mere £2.95. Feeling rather full already, we all three opted for the ice cream bombe. It wasn't long before the desserts were brought in frosted glass dishes with long spoons. We all agreed that we had made the right choice. None of us ordered coffee, but I did noticed that all the hot drinks were priced under £2 which I feel is very reasonable compared to most establishments.
Our bill came to £42.40, to which we added a tip, making it just over £15 a head for two courses plus olives and a drink.
The toilets are at the back of the restaurant on the ground floor, so there are no problems for disabled customers. The ladies was certainly very clean.
The service at Prezzo was extremely polite and efficient throughout the time we were there. We have noticed recently in one or two other restaurants that the service is good initially and through the main course but then drops when we are trying to order dessert or ask for the bill. This certainly was not the case at Prezzo, although I should say that we arrived at 2.30pm and I realise things may be different at busier times.
I hope that I will have the opportunity to visit Prezzo again and lament the lack of a branch in Southsea. I don't know if other Prezzo restaurants are in such pleasant surroundings as the one in Chichester, of course. It isn't an atmosphere that will suit young children, but I would definitely recommend Prezzo to adults looking for good Italian food at reasonable prices in a relaxing environment.
Prezzo 61 South Street Chichester West Sussez PO19 1EE
(Note to Ciao members who think I eat out too often: the night before, I had for dinner a tin of Tesco's Tuscan Bean Soup, priced 36p - honest!)