Rome: The pungent aroma of sizzling garlic smacks you in the face the minute you walk into La Fiorentina after dark.
But it’s a different story earlier in the day when this Italian trattoria is a cafe serving traditional English fry up breakfasts and chicken tortilla wraps with hummus and chips.
The transition from daytime cafe to evening restaurant appears to be seamless, helped by the fact the open kitchen also serves its pasta dishes and pizzas throughout the day. The only reminder that this is a caff by day is the slight whiff of fried bacon on the sticky table top.
In the evening, the candles are lit and the room takes on a warm orange glow, the light from the oversized LED Edison bulbs bouncing off the distressed pine cladding and colourful wall murals of Italian scenes – a silhouetted couple under an olive tree in a poppy field on one, Venetian bridges and The Colosseum in Rome on the other.
The only thing to dampen my spirits when I arrive is a sign informing customers that it’s ‘cash only’ – apparently a temporary issue due to the card machine not working but it still means a quick dash down to the ATM across the road first.
When I return, I spot a sign explaining the restaurant operates a BYO (bring your own) policy and, of course, I have turned up without wine, but with bottles at just £12.95 and a glass at £3.45, it’s no biggie.
Well, it wouldn’t be if the red wine isn’t fridge cold. The glass of tap water is several degrees warmer.
‘People around here like their red wine chilled,’ comes the head-scratching reply, but then the waitress is working only her second shift so I don’t probe any further.
If the locals of BS7 like their cheap red plonk served ice cold, that’s their business. I place the candle under my glass in the hope it warms up before the pizza arrives but it doesn’t.
There are only a couple of other tables occupied on a Tuesday evening and my pizza arrives swiftly.
The pizzas are served in 10-inch or 12-inch sizes and there are 24 different options from the £6.45 ten-inch Margherita to £9.95 for a 12-inch ‘classic’ duck (hoisin sauce, mozzarella, roasted duck, spring onions and cucumber), although quite what’s so ‘classic’ about an Asian-style version of an Italian staple is as confusing as the fridge-cold red wine.
I go for the pepperoni a funghi (£9.45) with its well organised carpet of tomato, mozzarella, mushrooms, pepperoni, black olives and fresh green chilli.
Served on what can only be described as a giant table tennis bat, the pizza has an impressively crisp base and a generous topping. OK, a couple of the pepperoni slices are gristly but it’s a pretty decent pizza for under a tenner.
For those who prefer pasta, all dishes are under £7.50 and include garlic bread, which represents excellent value. Choices include Tuscan prawn spaghetti, lasagne and spinach tortellini.
Rather than order one of the cakes in the fridge – kids will like the Angel Sparkling Cake and there’s also a courgette cake for the vegans – I try the ‘homemade’ tiramisu (at £2.95 possibly one of the cheapest versions in Bristol).
It arrives in a goldfish bowl-sized sundae glass with billowing clouds of shaving foam-style whipped cream on top, which is gilding the lily somewhat. Once I scrape it away, there’s a very respectable tiramisu trying to get out with layers of moist, boozy sponge and not overly sweet as it can often be.
As I count out the cash and pay the reasonable bill, a couple of delivery drivers are waiting behind me to collect boxed pizzas ordered online. It’s only 8pm but it feels as if La Fiorentina is still warming up for the night. A bit like my wine.
As well as a bustling daytime cafe and cosy evening restaurant, La Fiorentina is also a busy takeaway service, which makes it something of an all-rounder but in such a competitive market, diversity can only be a healthy thing.