WE visited La Toscana shortly after moving to Billericay two years ago and were impressed by its tasty contemporary Italian food, stylish decor and excellent service.

So when we had friends visiting recently, we decided it was the perfect venue for an upmarket evening out.

After enjoying an aperitif in the bar while we perused the menu, we were shown to our table in the elegantly furnished dining room.

It was a Friday evening and so, unsurprisingly for an established restaurant with a good reputation, it was full of diners.

I chose the caprino mousse to start and was not disappointed with the classic combination of light goat’s cheese and earthy beetroot.

The other starters were a bit more hit and miss. My partner described her garlic bread with mozzarella as “greasy”, and the aubergine in the special our friends both chose was a little underdone and rubbery.

Encouragingly, as both myself and my partner are vegetarian, and one of our friends is a pescatarian, there were several meat-free mains on the menu to choose from.

Once again, the quality of the dishes was somewhat variable. My girlfriend described her cannelloni as “very average”, but our other friend’s bass was “perfectly cooked”.

I opted for the tagliolini giardino – thin strands of pasta tossed with pan-fried mushrooms, onions, garden peas and sun-dried tomatoes.

The pasta was cooked nicely al dente and the tomatoes added a delicious sweetness, but the overcooked, soggy peas were a less welcome addition. The creamy sauce meant the dish was very filling, despite the portion being on the small side.

It contrast, our friend’s spaghetti marinara was a mountain of pasta, clams, prawns, mussels and squid.

Judging by the way he managed to devour it all, I’d say it was a success.

We were all full, but for the purposes of this review, while the others enjoyed coffee, I made room for dessert.

I opted for that timeless Italian classic, tiramisu, and this was a good example, with a rich, but not overpowering coffee flavour.

The food had, on the whole, been pretty good, although nothing to get particularly excited about, but unfortunately the service didn’t match up to our previous visit. Although the young waiting staff were polite and pleasant enough, there was a lack of attentiveness.

Twice we asked for water for the table, but it never materialised, and after asking to pay the bill three times in half an hour, we gave up and went to the door to pay.

After our friend complained, we weren’t charged for my dessert or our coffees.

Although this was welcome, an apology from the head waiter would not have gone amiss.

It was a shame as our previous meal at La Toscana had been such a success, but maybe we just visited on an off-night.