Posted: 18 January '12 by Kelly
It was the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day: We’d already had enough turkey, ham and cranberry sauce to last us a lifetime and our spirits were pretty low.. We were sick of the sight of the Quality Street tin and and if I heard another version of ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’ on the radio, I’d go insane. We also had a big New Year’s Eve party planned, so I needed a little pick-me-up – and hoped a visit to Il Pirata on the Newtownards Road would do the trick.
Arriving at 7.30pm, the restaurant was already buzzing with the sounds of people enjoying themselves and, more importantly, enjoying the food! It was so busy that the friendly member of staff who greeted us explained there’d be a twenty minute wait for a table. Fear not though, we managed to get a seat at the bar and ordered a drink and some nibbles – a good compromise, and a great way to start the night. To get us going we ordered some incredible olives and a bottle of the Montepulciano – the dark cherry flavours are perfect with hearty Italian food, and at £17.50 it’s fairly easy on the pocket.
The bar area itself is pretty cool, actually – you can see all the action at ‘the pass’ as the chefs put the final touches to their dishes, and then sit back and look around at the fantastic space that has been created. It reminds me of a very cool London or New York loft-space, with its bare floorboards, white walls and dim lighting.
The wait also gave us the chance to really get to grips with the menu as we tried to decide what to order. Now when I said ‘tried’ to decide, I really do mean it – there are SO many mouth-watering dishes on the menu that it took us some time, with lots of the usual “if you get this, then I’ll get that”.
The menu at Il Pirata divided up into “small plates”, “larger plates”, “pasta and risotto” and “sides”, and we tackled the small plates first..
The ‘small plates’ are like Italian tapas, and we decided to order a mixture of them – because we’re greedy like that:
- Spiced pork slider
- Crispy whitebait
- Stuffed portobello mushroom
Our favourite was definitely the Spiced Pork slider – the slow-cooked pork belly was held in a little floury bun and was packed with flavour and delivered a proper chilli kick! Honestly, I could have eaten about 10 of these and actually have a re-occurring dream where chef Tony O’Neil makes me a MASSIVE version of it, just for me!! I can tell you now think I am odd, but try it and I bet you’ll be having the same dream!
The Portabello Mushrooms were another favourite of ours: stuffed with pine nuts, pesto and with a parmesan crust, they were very simple but full of flavour with different textures.
I think Niall would say his favourite was the whitebait – small silvery-white fish dredged in flavour and deep-fried whole – which were served with lemon aioli to cut through the fishy flavours. They were crisp, light and I could tell by the way Niall devoured them that they were really more-ish.
Hardly pausing to catch our breath, we moved onto the main dishes:
- Italian spiced sausage
- Spaghetti carbonara
- Side order of Potato gnocchi and herb butter
- Side order of garlic and rosemary potatoes
The Italian spiced sausage was excellent, with the dense, meaty sausage full of aniseed flavour from the fennel, and covered in a rich tomato sauce. It was a real hit with Niall, and from the one measly mouthful he let me try, a hit with me too!
I went for Spaghetti Carbonara, an old favourite of mine. Now, I normally wouldn’t order this in an Italian, the same way I would never order lasagne – I’ve been disappointed far too many times! But once I saw it on the menu I developed a real craving for it and, with the ‘good feeling’ we now had about our dining experience in the restaurant, I put my faith in chefs Tony O’Neil and Jonny Davidson and went for it – and I wasn’t disappointed! The sauce was very rich, the pancetta was salty, and my plate licked clean.
Stuffed as we were, we didn’t think that it’d be fair not to squeeze a dessert in, and we ordered the Lemon Posset and the Tiramisu.
I am a huge fan of anything with Lemon in it and the Posset was just what I look for in a lemon dessert – sharp, zingy and really light – and the thin layer of sweet raspberry jelly on top complemented the tart lemon perfectly. The presentation was gorgeous too, served in a small Mason jar with some home-made biscotti biscuits on the side to scoop up all that delicious creamy pudding.
As you may know by now, Niall doesn’t have a sweet tooth but he can’t resist a Tiramisu when it’s on the menu. He found this one a bit too creamy and thought it needed more marsala wine in the zabaglione to deliver more of a punch – but I noticed that he cleared his dish without much persuasion!
|Spiced pork slider||£3.50|
|Stuffed Portobello mushroom||£3.50|
|Italian sausage ragu||£8.00|
|Potato gnocchi in herb butter||£2.50|
|Roast potato with rosemary||£2.50|
|Agriverde Montepulciano d’Abruzzo||£17.50|
The food in Il Pirata is excellent, with lots of choice and lots of flavour – as you’d expect from good rustic Italian cooking.
The wine list is small but well chosen, and they’re all Italian – my favourite wines. There’s also a cocktail list, which is just about big enough to guarantee a fun night out!
The atmosphere is casual, fun and relaxing – everything you’d want from a restaurant.
You can’t phone ahead and book a table, which means that you might be faced with a bit of a wait, particularly at the weekends – but the bar is a nice enough place to hang out and work on what you’re going to order over a few nibbles.
So, if you haven’t already been to Il Pirata, what are you waiting for??
Contact Il Pirata
279-281 Newtownards Road,
You can also find Il Pirata on Google Maps.
Categories: Restaurant Reviews