IT’S BEEN an institution serving pizza and pasta to Southampton for some 30 years.

Lupa Restaurant on Below Bar is among the city’s long standing Italian restaurants and although it’s changed hands it retains an independent flavour.

With chain restaurants an ever increasing presence, it’s simply a delight to dine in a place where the menu is not exactly replicated in some identikit eatery up and down the UK.

Inside the design is contemporary and modern, with no hackneyed attempts at recreating a potted version of Italy.

The lively and amiable Lorenzo, who has been in the business for decades, and his team of friendly waiting staff ensure everyone has a warm welcome.

And crucially for somewhere attracting large parties and family gatherings, smaller groups or couples are not ignored, creating a happy and buzzing mix of clientele as you survey the menu.

Antipasti can sometimes flag a little in British Italian restaurants. But Lupa proved itself an exception with its magnificent and mountainous Antipasto Primi – a platter overflowing with king prawns, bursting with bruschetta, crammed with scallops and calamari plus heaps of sumptuous risotto balls oozing fabulous cheese.

Sampling the house wine can be an indicator of a good wine cellar. The dry white was a crisp and pleasant accompaniment, but if you want to spoil yourself then Lupa’s offer a fine wine menu, a collection which the owners pride themselves on. And then there is the cocktail menu.

After this, accompanied by my food loving but never weight gaining partner, whose background has meant she has been spoiled by good Italian cooking, we tried a pizza and two pasta dishes.

I plumped for the Calagbrese pizza, which was a little light on the buffalo mozzarella but a good balance of garlic and fresh chilli plus a fiery spicy salami.

We also sampled an Italian staple, potato gnocchi with spinach, which was soft and fresh and filled with a generous smearing of dolcelatte cheese.

Then there was the veal saltimbocca, perfectly seared veal escalope with Parma ham and touch of sage.

It was struggle after all that. But I managed to make room for an adequate ice cream which crucially came with a shot of expresso and a parting shot of Amaretto liqueur. Delizioso.

With the festive season round the corner this place is definitely recommended for any size of group, and for those wanting to eat in town before the cinema, theatre or night on the tiles.

Equally it is a good spot for a quick lunch – or an extended one should feel you deserve whiling away an afternoon.

123-124 High Street,
Below Bar
SO14 2AA
023 8033 1849