After years of suffering frozen supermarket pizzas, which are about as wholesome as the packaging in which they are housed, I have developed a serious aversion to Italy’s favourite dish.
I have my children’s somewhat limited palate in their early years to thank for that.
So it was with trepidation that I found myself being taken to a pizzeria.
But I suppose, as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. Pizza, it was going to be, like it or lump it!
Élan is French for spirit or zeal. And Peter, the owner of the latest restaurant to open in Seahouses, certainly has both by the bucket-load. He talks about food with a relish that you cannot help but warm to.
While this restaurant in Main Street has obvious style, it is far from pretentious. In fact, you’ll drive past it several times before you’ll even notice it’s there.
But since Élan opened it has been fully booked, with queues often forming outside.
The restaurant is small, with not many more than 20 covers at one sitting, but it is obviously proving popular with holidaymakers and locals alike. Indeed, when we bowled up at 8.30pm last Wednesday, it was still busy, with every table occupied.
My first impression was of a genial place, with uncomplicated yet artistic decor and with the kitchen on full view at the far end.
The menu choice is small – probably a wise move for a new venture.
Starters numbered around half-a-dozen and we managed three different ones between us, two of the oven-roasted mushrooms baked with garlic butter and mozzarella (£3.75), baked dough balls with garlic butter (£2.50) and warm-leaf salad of mackerel (or to be more precise, warm-leaf salad of fresh, locally-caught mackerel baked and flaked over salad leaves with capers and olives drizzled with honey and mustard dressing, £3.75) from the specials board.
And special it was too. I savoured every mouthful. I tried to be critical but failed miserably – everything from the presentation to the exquisite flavour was spot on.
The family also gave their starters the thumbs-up, although I declared my choice the winner.
There were a dozen pizzas from which to choose, including one on the specials board which took my fancy.
Spinach and cheese cannelloni, lasagne and a couple of salads completed the line-up of main courses.
So I went for the cajun prawns (roasted with marinated red pepper, black olives, tobasco, crushed tomato base and mozzarella, £6.95). Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll recall my aversion to pizza. This, however, was as far removed from the supermarket offerings as you could possibly get.
The home-made base was soft, but not too doughy and the topping was distinctive and clearly lacking the preservatives and E-numbers of the frozen versions.
I think my problem with the plastic pizzas of my nightmares is the strong, bitter tomato sauce. Élan’s flavours were more subtle and not drowned out by a chemically-enhanced tomato puree. The tobasco, however, pushed it to the very edge of my limits for hotness.
Son chose the anatra pizza (Peking duck, plum and hoi-sin sauce, spring onions, cucumber and mozzarella, £8.50) and I had to concede first prize to him. This pizza would be enough to make me return to Élan time and again.
No prizes for guessing which dish my wife selected. She was over the moon with her lasagne, repeating the mantra that every ingredient could be picked out and none was over-dominant. It was simple but effective – and also very filling. Daughter’s rather less adventurous tastes led her to ordering a margherita pizza with extra chicken. She also approved.
Desserts were set to be a challenge after such a filling meal but we forced ourselves.
Sundaes are becoming a speciality of Élan and, although I’m not really a sweet-loving person, I had the black forest version (with cherries marinated in masala, crumbled chocolate cake, ice cream, fresh cream and cherry coulis, £3.75).
It certainly was sweet, a little too much for me, but I can think of several people who would lap it up!
Lemon tart (£3.50) was my wife’s choice, while the children shared a warm chocolate fudge cake (£3.95). And everyone was happy.
Élan proved a big hit with the whole family and really restored by faith in pizzas.