Heading to Southend’s popular Cliff’s Pavilion Theatre last weekend to enjoy the Russian ballet’s interpretation of Swan Lake, it was only natural that a meal after the show would conclude our evening out successfully. With views across the sunset soaked seafront, Italian family run restaurant Piccolo, founded in 1977, is only a short five minute walk from the theatre, and was the perfect venue for three hungry stomachs.
With ‘piccolo’ being Italian for ‘small’, the restaurant itself isn’t massive, only able to hold a maximum of around 50 people. Despite this, it has a real lively yet comfortable ambience, as if every table were a traditional Italian-style family meal, the tables adorned with hearty meals, generous laughter and playful waiting staff. Dark wood, cream walls and deep red seating were carried throughout the eatery, with a well-stocked bar adjacent to the entrance before you turned right towards the main seating area. Guests could choose between squidgy sofa seating or hard chairs, with a mix of square or circular tables depending on your group size. With three of us, we had our pick of the smaller tables, so we went for a table for four near the window, and I immediately swung into the sofa seating. Simply decked out with side plates, white napkins and condiments, Piccolo was very well put together – I found it stylish, homely and relaxing; perfect for a Sunday evening out.
After ordering bottle of Prosecco, reasonably priced around the £20 mark, we begun to make headway through the tantalising menu, every section producing delicious options I could easily sink my teeth in to, whether I was in the mood for pasta, pizza, fish or a succulent meat dish – some of their steak sauces in particular sounded to die for although they also bore a heftier price tag. Being a sucker for a classic Italian pizza, I couldn’t help but be drawn to this section of the menu. While we were considering our options, we ordered bruschetta topped with Parma Ham to start us off, deciding to share the plate to leave us more space for mains. Topped with juicy topped tomatoes on a thin garlic bread style base, the Parma Ham was curled delicately on top, olive oil and balsamic vinegar decoratively splattered on top. My sister and I had two pieces of the bread each, while her partner tackled three, a nice quick and easy to eat start to the evening.
No matter how much I contemplated, I couldn’t veer away from the pizza, and one in particular caught my eye – an English breakfast themed pizza that was topped with egg, rashers of bacon and wurstel sausage. Struggling to pick between toppings I went for the best of both worlds and chose this pizza with added extras – my favourite Parma Ham and also Bolognese sauce. Little did I realise that my breakfast pizza also came with a plateful of chips! No word of a lie, but I think this pizza was the best pizza I have ever eaten and it definitely ticked all my taste boxes. The base was traditionally thin, yet not over crispy, so it was still easy to cut and the crust had a nice doughy bite to it. The topping were layered on thickly across the entire pizza, so every mouthful was heavenly. The egg was mixed in with the cheese, forming an almost soufflé like texture across the top of the pizza which was really nice and also a bit different. The rashers of bacon were slightly browned and flavourful, cut into small pieces, while the sauce was once again fried and cut into small circles that had been scattered across the pizza. The Bolognese sauce was blobbed efficiently in the gaps, the Parma Ham laid out neatly on top.
The chips reminded me of the chips that you would buy in a fish and chip shop. Nicely soggy yet with a bit of an outer crunch and a damp fluffiness inside. Rather moreish even without ketchup, which wasn’t actually offered oddly enough. Jess also went for a pizza whilst Andrew went for veal escalope with spaghetti in a tomato based sauce. The food really was delicious and I thoroughly loved every mouthful. The components of my pizza toppings really worked well together, even with my additions – that’s probably one of the reasons I love pizza so much, since it can always be customised and is a great way to try all of the flavours that you want in one delicious haven of dough.
Despite being stuffed, I’m always tempted by a dessert menu, although Piccolo’s was less classic Italian and more Indian restaurant, with a set selection of ice cream based choices that I have spotted in various Turkish and Indian venues, that can just be wheeled out of the freezer easily. A bit disappointing, although profiteroles and tiramisu still both featured. I went for a caramel and vanilla ice cream option, and although the dessert was a standard one, the presentation was nice, giving added va va voom with energetic squirts of whipped cream and drizzles of dark chocolate sauce, the ice cream topped with a wafer for added volume. It was a tasty something sweet to finish the meal with.
On the whole, I really enjoyed Piccolo. The staff were very friendly, our waiter patiently explaining what dishes from each section were the best or most popular, although he joked with me about the size of my dinner portion, then acting impressed when I polished it off! Another waiter managed to spray me with Prosecco when he opened our bottle, however Andrew’s coat was worse off so it wasn’t the end of the world. With a varied and homespun menu, there was plenty I liked on there, and since it was also a reasonably priced menu, I would definitely love to return. I have the feeling that it is a bit of a hidden gem, since it was incredibly quiet when we arrived, however it feels like one of those restaurants that builds a solid and loyal following of regulars. Almost wish I was Southend based so I could be one of them!