Down in a basement beneath the 16th century buildings of Old Swan Yard in the heart of Devizes, used to lie a little but delightful taste of Italy.
Known as Franco’s Ristorante, for over twenty-seven years it was a renowned haven of quality Italian food and drink; locally the prime romantic location, from first date to wedding anniversary, I’d wager many a relationship started, blossomed or rekindled at those authentically Mediterranean tables.
However, last time the wife and I endeavoured to re-enact our first date, disappointment was all we found after descending those steps to Francos. Although the staff were still friendly, there was an underlying desperation in their tone, echoing through the vacant dank cellar. The food didn’t live up to its prior reputation, the atmosphere misplaced, but with price-tag the same, we felt gloomy and a tad ripped off.
Turned out its kingpin, head chef Massimo Pipitone had left. But now he’s returned, and he’s not messing around. With wife Shanai they’ve signed the lease, reopened it as Massimos, and word on the street is that it’s back to its former glory, if not better.
Dedicated to fulfilling a dream to own his own restaurant, Sicilian born Massimo repairs the broken repute by reintroducing the dishes he created at Francos, based on authentic recipes he’d have eaten back in Sicily. I’d be crazy not to try it again.
First impressions last, particularly in restaurants; I crave the anticipation of a good meal upon entering a premises. With Asian restaurants it’s the manners and warm hospitality, opening the door to a good English pub to hear the sounds of clinking glasses and jollity, but with Italian it has to be the fresh aroma of basil, garlic and red wine escaping from the kitchen. From the very moment of swinging that heavy black door to Massimo’s it’s noticeable, the musky smell replaced with said wonderful fragrances; just as it should be.
It’s busy, on a Thursday, but with a fond smile we are seated. A quick Facebook message confirmed our table and the welcoming was warm. Massimo’s is charmingly diminutive, booking is advisable. We chatted prior to being seated, Shania enthusiastic about the relaunch and positive about the feedback thus far.
Immediately it feels as if nothing has changed, like the last few months was just a nightmare. The traditional decor remains, but a tidy-up and fresh aromas breathe new life into this wonderful haven. The wine list caters for all tastes and wallets, the menu invites, be it a pasta dish or pizza, or full Italian courses from antipasti to an attractive selection of Dolce or Caffè.
With tomato and red onion salad, I ordered my longstanding favourite, lasagna, which sizzled at me from its dish and coiling the strings of mozzarella, it tasted sublime. Meanwhile the pizza of kings arrived at the other side of the table which couldn’t be finished along the side-order of sweet potato fries; I had to take a bite purely from the scent of that freshly baked dough.
Throughout the meal we were catered for with warmth, with no stone left unturned to insure the experience was everything we dreamed and that we were contented. Darn right we were; fantastico!
Massimo and Shanai are proudly declaring all dietary requirements are catered for; vegetarian, gluten-free, and a kid’s menu has been added. There’s now a takeaway service and talk of Massimo creating his own burger.
If you can get booked in Sunday, take your Mum for the set Mother’s Day menu, (see event here,) if not, be sure to try it out asap; you’ll not be disappointed.