Catch ups with my friends aren’t what they used to be.
Long gone are the days when we could waltz into a restaurant with our biggest worry being how extensive the wine list is. Nowadays, there’s more practical elements, like baby change facilities, kids’ menus and whether there’s breakables in the restaurant, to consider.
With a five-year-old and nine-year-old in tow for a Saturday catch up, a place with its own pool tables and plenty of free parking seemed a safe bet, so we booked a table at Martino’s.
I remember when this was an arcade and it still has an informal, fun atmosphere with a bar named Portobello Shore at the front, which has its own menu but no table service, a pool hall to the side with its own booths and the restaurant to the rear.
Although the building still has that distinctive curved rectangular shape of an arcade, much has been done inside the restaurant to give it a rustic Italian feel with faux ivy festooned over archways and frescoes of Italian landscapes on the walls. It’s a capacious site too, so handy if you’re a large family group.
Despite the restaurant being empty at 5pm, we were tucked away behind an alcove that didn’t help service-wise, which was fairly slow. A case of out of sight, out of mind maybe.
On the plus side, prices are incredibly cheap during happy hour, which runs until 6pm on Saturdays, when you can pick up selected two courses for £5.95. The kids menu is also purse-pleasing with prices starting from £2.95 for a pasta dish, and my friend’s kids were satisfied with their good-size portions of fish and chips (£3.95) and sausage, mash and gravy (£3.95).
For the grown ups, the menu has all the classics you’d expect of an Italian restaurant. I chose the buffalo mozzarella in Parma ham to start (£4.95 during happy hour). It’s a difficult one to get wrong but with two small chunks of baked mozzarella, I’ve certainly had more for my pounds elsewhere in the city.
My main of Caesar salad (£6.95 for a main) was a better-sized portion. There was plenty of shredded chicken and the sauce satisfactory, but there were no anchovies as is often tradition – though the pungent ingredient is the Marmite of the fish world to be fair, so I imagine most people prefer it without. It filled a hole and you can’t argue with the price, but again was a dish I’ve had better executed at other Italian restaurants.
The staff were friendly enough but after around 20 minutes waiting to pay our, albeit cheap, bill we got up and paid at the counter instead.
The adjacent Portobello Shore proved more popular early doors on a Saturday and the staff behind the bar were swift at serving our well-priced drinks while the kids enjoyed potting balls in the American-style pool area.
Martino’s is good for inexpensive, fuss-free family dining, but for a special occasion there’s other Italians in the area that are more like Mama makes.