There are very few restaurants in Scotland who can claim so many awards for pizzas, but Oro, the former Bella Napoli on Kilmarnock Road in the south side of the city is one such establishment.
Located on the outskirts of the city, it’s easily reached by public transport, and although there is off-street parking available if you’re driving, be aware most of it is metered and patrolled by the council’s wardens to great effect.
There’s excellent disabled access from the street, however, the restaurant is on two levels, the lower one being down a staircase. There are plenty of tables at ground level, but these also have a couple of steps. In saying that I have no doubt, that staff will readily step in to assist those who may need a little more help.
From the outside, the re-branded Italian restaurant looks the business, using golds and blacks to great effect. There are even a few outdoor pavement tables for those two days we get in Scotland which qualify as summer when it gets above 14 degrees Celsius, and you can enjoy a coffee and cake after removing four layers – and not getting hypothermia!
I’d eaten here some years ago while reviewing it for a newspaper I worked with, and distinctly remember giving it top marks. Long gone is the Tromp L Oeil vineyard effect in the lower dining room for what can only be described as a very modern contemporary feel. It’s certainly a lot lighter than it used to be and is a pleasant open-plan space with a raised deck still allowing for a more private booth style dining experience. The light wood of the tables and flooring offset by a green, brown and grey colour scheme including the faux marble worked well with plenty of wall mirrors helping bounce the light around the room.
We were met at the door by the maître d who showed us to our table. Menus were delivered and a drinks order taken. We were ably looked after by Giuseppe, who simply exuded a long-forgotten style of old-fashioned service – helpful, friendly and attentive but not intrusive. Many other restaurants could take a leaf out of his book.
The menu is, as you might expect, traditionally Italian and is fairly extensive with a good selection of meat, poultry, fish, pasta, and pizza. However, where Oro stands out is via proprietor Domenico Crolla’s insistence on not only using locally sourced ingredients but who travels to Europe to choose his own hams, salamis, cheeses and wines. Now that’s serious dedication to the art of being a restaurateur.
We started the sojourn into our dining experience with my former visit tweaking my spidey senses and hoping I wouldn’t be disappointed. So, our chosen starters were: Meatballs al Forno – oven-baked Italian meatballs in a white wine and tomato sauce, served with a slice of garlic bread. The well-seasoned pork and beef mix created a succulent and tender melt-in-the-mouth morsel, of which there were four in a tasty piquant sauce. The slice of garlic bread came in extremely handy at mopping up what sauce remained, albeit there wasn’t a lot.
Mrs Mac opted for the Burrata with pear. This is a super creamy mozzarella which was served with a red wine poached pear. She oohed and ahhed over the cheese, which to be fair, the description was spot on as ‘super creamy’. The red wine infused, and dark velvety burgundy coloured poached pear was soft, sweet, and quite lush, with just enough of a hit of alcohol remaining. The presentation was up there with the pansy flowers set on a black plate to show off the pristine whiteness of that ball of mozzarella.
I opted for the king prawns in a crispy Italian batter served on a peach and tomato sauce. The prawns were cooked perfectly, which made for a pleasant change to the rubber bullets many other restaurants serve up. They were succulent, sweet, tender, and best of all, there was four of them. The batter was indeed light and crispy, almost a tempura-like consistency. The peach and tomato sauce definitely needed more of the peach to come through, and to be honest, came across as being mostly a tomato-based sauce. However, the sweetness of the prawn against the tanginess of the tomato worked well as a dish. The pea shoots, well they provided an extra colour I suppose, if nothing much else!
We moved onto the main courses. I had opted for the carbonara the last time I was here and remember seeing the pizzas being cooked in the oven downstairs. So, this time around, I opted for a DIY design for my chosen doughy delight. On went onions, wild mushrooms, Parma ham, chicken, salami and parmesan cheese, all proudly sitting atop a 12” thin-crust base smothered in San Marzano tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Did I happen to mention the restaurant has won no less than six UK gold awards for best pizzeria and two UK gold awards for a best Italian restaurant?
This was quite arguably, the finest flame-fired pizza outside of Italy, and in fact, better than many I have been served in the homeland of Pizza. The crust was cooked and showed some charring or, as it’s known in the trade apparently, as ‘leapording’ around the edges, which, in my meagre opinion on such matters is an absolutely essential part of the overall flavour. I even watched someone at a table next to mine cutting the crust off their pizza. That type of foolhardiness is almost going to get you thrown out! The base was perfectly thin, and with the toppings had softened slightly so it was chewy. Every single bite was a mouth-watering delight. The saltiness of the Parma ham, the acid of the onion, the earthiness of the mushrooms and the soft, sweetness of the San Marzano base was a marriage made in heaven.
Two of my gang also opted for the pizzas – Mrs Grub and Travel Guides, the steak version. Described on the menu as sirloin beef strips, sautéed mushrooms, caramelised onions and roast potatoes served on a bed of mozzarella with a peppercorn sauce and finished off with toasted sesame seeds. I didn’t manage to get a taste of this one, but if it’s as good as it looked, this is my next choice.
Son number one chose the tagliatelle bolognese, a mince, or for my USA readers, ground beef simmered in a rich tomato and red wine sauce. Served enrobed around tagliatelle pasta ribbons. As with all the dishes served, Giuseppe was at the table with a black pepper grinder the size of which, had he ventured outside with it, he’d have been arrested for having a dangerous weapon. Freshly grated parmesan cheese is also offered at the table. This again was a cracking dish, and it appears that very little had changed from my previous visit three years ago in terms of the kitchen brigade, the ingredients and how they are crafted together to produce some exquisitely good dishes with a multitude of flavours that simply tantalise the taste buds.
And finally, pizza number three arrived – a pepperoni, spicy chicken, with peppers and…wait for it, yes, you’re ahead of me, that single little item that can cause such a pizza fight – pineapple! Spicy she wanted and spicy she got. And, like the other two, simply masterful.
Onward and upward we went. And out appeared Giuseppe with the menus again for desserts. I’m really beginning to feel a personal affinity to this man, who is a bit like that kindly old grandfather you remember as a child. (Sorry Giuseppe, I’m sure you’re not that old).
Now at this point, I’ll happily admit my dessert was a wee bit of a let-down. I chose the ‘Oro doughnuts’ described as ‘light and fluffy’ served hot and sticky with a trio of sauces. Well, light and fluffy they were not, try tough and chewy instead, and at best, they were lukewarm. They certainly were not freshly cooked. Which was a disappointment, as the rest of the meal was so good. If these were being marked on my school report card they would definitely have been a “could do better.”
On the other side of the table, a selection of delicate, light and crispy macarons was the order of the day. Served with a dressing of fresh seasonal fruit and whipped cream – needless to say another plate was licked clean – well not literally, that would’ve been plain wrong, but there was no complaint from Mrs M. Daughter number one chose something she’d first seen mentioned on an American TV programme about a bake shop – a Sicilian cannoli: A crisp pastry shell filled with sweet ricotta and chocolate chips.
The lunch bill, with four soft drinks, came to £123.30 slightly more than £32 per head, which, for the quality of food, level of service and overall ambience provided was, to my mind, excellent value for money. What a shame about the doughnuts though, I had visions of freshly cooked Blackpool Promenade doughnuts, so light and soft they break taking them out of the bag!
For further information and to book a table at Oro, see their website here.