Have you ever been seized by the urge to tell diners not to eat somewhere where you've eaten? I do it for a living, of course, but that's usually a few weeks after the event, by way of 700 well-chosen words.
At times, though, I see people peering into a restaurant as I'm leaving, trying to decide whether to give it a shot. As often as not I'll encourage them to proceed, but when necessary I may say something inscrutably subtle, such as: "For pity's sake, don't make the same mistake we did. Keep walking."
It's a different matter when you're still at the table and you hear someone nearby ordering a dish that you've just pushed away. So it was for the Professor.
She had just finished with (although had not finished) a bowl of mussels, or - to give them their official name - cozze alla Siciliana. This contained, according to the menu description, "fresh mussels steamed".
I can attest to the accuracy of only one of those words: they were mussels. If they had been steamed it must have been for a week, because they had dissolved. All that remained of some was a rubbery rind, and the flesh of those that had survived was the consistency of chicken liver pate.I could not express an opinion about their freshness, but if someone had suggested to me that they were not very fresh I could not, on the evidence of my senses of smell and taste, have argued the point.
The "Napoletana" sauce seemed a rather odd choice for a dish cooked "alla Siciliana" but perhaps I'm being picky now. In any event, it didn't matter much since no Neapolitan would have recognised a broth that tasted like Wattie's tomato soup with a dash of cream.
It was, in short, a frightful experience and when the Professor heard someone at an adjoining table cheerfully ordering a plate of the same, she blanched. "I have to tell them they're making a bad mistake," she said.
"Never mind their mistake; look at mine," I said, pointing at my chicken livers. There were four of them, ominously large and as dr as chalk. They were billed as being "topped" with bacon but in fact came on a bed - a sea, almost - of cheap and very salty shredded bacon.
They purported to have been "flamed in sherry wine". (Can you flame something with such a low alcohol content?) But I detected no trace of that. If there is an Italian who would call this fegatini di pollo I sincerely hope he never cooks for me.
This suburban restaurant's name means something like "for seven cents" and recalls the Italian idiom "da quattro soldi" which means "two-bit" or "cheap and nasty". Quite why a restaurant would choose such a name is beyond me. Perhaps it's an Epsom thing - an Italian place along the road has a name that means "I don't care".
Da Sette Soldi is not expensive, though it's not exactly cheap - mains are $29 to $34, pasta and risotto $22 to $25. But on the strength of the dishes we tried it could certainly lay claim to being nasty. We steered away from the meat dishes because neither the chicken nor the pork is free-range, and lamb shanks and filet mignon just don't sing of Italy to me. I ordered the special of spinach and ricotta ravioli, which were bought from a supplier, not house-made, and swamped with a cupful of featureless tomato sauce. The filling was almost completely tasteless. The Professor's lasagne was different from the one in your supermarket freezer only to the extent that it was about 350C. We lacked the nerve for dessert.
To be fair, I should mention that the place was busy (with mainly middle-aged and older folk in cardigans). To be fairer, I suspect that few of them know what good Italian food tastes like. In that, they have something in common with the chef.
The boss very cheerfully removed the cost of the mussels from the bill, for which relief I award the place one star. The other half is for the food.
Need to know
$ = $20-$40; $$ = 40-60; $$$ = $60+.
(Price guide reflects three courses for one person without drinks.)
Me Ne Frego along the road at 301 (ph 09 630 6141) is notable for its conscientiously grumpy proprietor, but his food is far better than this.