STUNNING. That is the only way to describe the experience of dining out at La Margherita.

It is good to see top restaurants in Hampshire forging ahead and creating dishes and an atmosphere that will delight locals and attract foodies from outside the area.

The eatery has been part of Southampton for almost 40-years and many remember it from the days it enjoyed a thriving trade opposite the Mayflower theatre in the heart of town.

Now it occupies a prime location at Town Quay with views over the water, still only a short walk from the city. A recent stylish refurbishment allows more of a separation between the lively bar and the relaxing atmosphere of the restaurant.

The selection of olives and garlic bread with mozzarella were delicious and a positive signs of things to come. The starters were immediately impressive in appearance, diversity and, I was pleased to see, quantity.

I went for the antipasta – a plate of cured meats and fine cheese, salami, mortadela and Parma ham with baby mozzarella and parmesan accompanied by olives and roast peppers.

My companions seemed to be loving their meals so I insisted on trying them. The formaggi di capra was delicious with the strong grilled goats cheese set off with caramelised onions on a bread base with green leaves.

My other friend was sampling the rich and flavoursome fungi di bosco, wild mushrooms in a creamy white wine and garlic sauce.

For the main dish we all went for steak, two fillets and a rump. Asking for no sauces to accompany them, any imperfections in quality or preparation would have been easy to spot.

However, I was pleased to find these were among the finest steaks I have had in the city.

To accompany these impressive slabs of meat we had perfectly cooked spaghetti, sauteed potatoes, sauteed spinach and courgette and garlic mushrooms – some of these dishes arising from the menu’s pledge that if you can’t find what you want the restaurant will make it for you if possible.

Another sign of the restaurant’s quality was the seared and seasoned spinach leaves which were tasty and had not been reduced to green mush as it often the case.

Following the main I was barely able to lift my fork but my two companions did both have a desert from the extensive collection on offer.

I satisfied myself with a few glasses of fine red wine, another aspect the restaurant evidently prides itself on.

With a few drinks each the three- person feast I have just mentioned would set you back about £100.

However, with some of the less expensive options on the menu La Margherita does not have to be rare treat and it is possible to get a starter and a main for under £15.