I didn't order the karaoke

LA SPIGHETTA; 43 Blandford Street, London W1H 3AE. Tel: 0171 486 7340. Open Monday to Saturday from noon to 2.30pm, Sunday from 12.30 to 3.30pm and Monday to Sunday from 6.30 to 10.30pm Average price for a three course meal, not including wine, pounds 18 per person. Credit cards accepted
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The Independent Culture
WHEN I began reviewing restaurants for this column back in May I swiftly discovered two major reviewers' faux pas: the first that you should never review a specific meal at a favourite restaurant - the chosen meal is bound to be uncharacteristically lousy, then you are caught between honesty and never being able to darken their doors again, or being economical with the truth. The second faux pas is that it is grossly unfair to review a restaurant within a couple of days of its opening, while they are still sorting out teething problems. I have now discovered a third. Don't ever review a restaurant, unless they can guarantee an office-party-free-zone. If you want a quiet meal out with a few friends in the run up to Christmas you'd be wise to check this anyway - unless you are prepared to fall in with a crowd of revelling strangers - but the hen night or birthday party can strike at any time.

There is, of course, one single strong contra-argument to these reviewers' no-go situations. A restaurant has a duty to maintain a good standard of service and food whatever the situation. If they are to open to diners, and their prices remain unchanged, then anyone who eats there, including the odd reviewer, has a right to expect the quality to be unaffected by other circumstances.

So there I was, pushing open the door of La Spighetta, heading for a rendezvous with two girlfriends, all set for a jolly couple of hours of gossip and giggles, bolstered up by good, simple Italian food. La Spighetta's pizzas are cooked in a wood burning oven, dragged all the way here from Italy and the short menu changes monthly. Definitely a cut above a Pizza Hut.

The main dining room is downstairs in the dark bowels of the earth, or so it seemed. Upstairs, the overflow area is light and airy (with a very fine red chilli wreath, that I rather fancied carrying home with me) and set like a staging post with a handful of tables set for two. The only member of staff to be seen was looking distinctly distracted and took not a blind bit of notice of me. I trekked down to Hades, where a large office outing was under way. A subsequent spot of eavesdropping on the perilous path to the loo suggested that the revellers may have been from the nearby headquarters of Marks and Spencer. Eventually, I found a harassed front-of-house person who directed me to a waiter, who sent me back upstairs. Up on street level, the waiters conducted a heated exchange in Italian as they argued over my booking. Had I not been on a mission to review, I might have left there and then. I didn't, and eventually the sparring staff cobbled together a draughty table for three.

The hellish din of the netherworld rose up towards us, intensifying as time wore on until the outbreak of the karaoke coincided with the arrival of our puddings. As it happens they proved to be the highlight of the meal. Of particular note was the fabulous bread- and-butter pudding made with oodles of cream and light, sweet-honey coloured panettone. La Spighetta's version of tiramisu nestles in a tuile cup and consists largely of the gooey rich marscarpone and booze part and has relatively little crumb. Pretty good if you are partial to this Black Forest gateau of Italian restaurants, though unorthodox enough to upset a few. As it was, we downed puddings and coffees with desperate haste, to the beat of the cacophonous drums and sozzled screams of laughter and ran for the peace and quiet of London streets.

But I'm ahead of myself, for starters and pizzas and pasta have yet to be consumed. My meal was launched with slices of smoked swordfish wrapped around little square cushions of pizza base, embellished with the muted aniseed of blanched fennel. Most of the swordfish was fine - moist and lightly smoked - but one plumped up slice was teetering barely on the right side of being off. To my left, Annabel was tucking into an artichoke salad. She pronounced it just the ticket, with its sprightly green leaves and nicely balanced but unambitious dressing. To her left Henrietta was dissecting her starter of bresaola. "Where's the celeriac?" she worried, until it was revealed, hidden coyly beneath the squares of cured beef. A good combination we thought of vegetable and salty meat, that could have taken a little more in the way of invigorating lemon juice.

Henrietta's next course attempted no trickery. Before her was laid a dish of pasta quills, bathed in a bland cream sauce, given a breath of life by crisp undulating pieces of cooked pancetta. A pleasant enough dish for a quick homely supper, she concluded but fundamentally unremarkable. My pizza promised greater pizzazz with spokes of Treviso chicory - you don't get that at Pizza Express - radiating out from the centre. The promise of the chicory upheld, with its tender chewy texture, and bitter sweet flavour, but the blandness of the pizza beneath was disappointing. It needed pepping up; some pecorino or Parmesan, or a drop of chilli oil and tomato. The grass is always greener on the other side. Annabel was gleefully demolishing a glorious looking pizza topped with chunks of deep red raw tomato, and dotted with emerald pools of pesto. A very fine creation that married hot and cool, fresh and cooked, zip and soothing qualities all in one. We envied her.

To be fair, La Spighetta does not set itself up as some grand gastronomic destination, but aspires to a more work-a-day honesty with interesting, affordable pizzas, and a genuine (I think) enthusiasm for enjoyable eating and interesting ingredients. It's the kind of place that we need far more of on high streets right across the country. Our meal may not have been a whirlwind success, but I imagine that on a normal day, without the frenetic goings-on, we might have emerged in an altogether cheerier frame of mind.

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