One of my dear late father's favourite aphorisms - which I always thought of, fondly, as his statements of the bleeding obvious - was to say to anyone who complained that they couldn't find something, "You always find it in the last place you look!" It never occurred to him that this was the case because having found something you cease to look for it, but I loved him too much to point this out.
Now, as my brace of regular readers will know, my pal Michael Ford and I have had a few hits and misses in our search for a restaurant that caters just as well to his vegetarian lacto-free diet as to my 'if it baas, moos or oinks, kill it, heat it, sauce it and serve it' approach to eating. But would you believe it, my dear old dad was right after all because it looks like we've found it in the last place we looked - right on newly-moved-to-London Michael's doorstep.
I spotted Ida, on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Kilburn Lane in Queen's Park, en route to Michael's flat-warming party and was instantly attracted by its turquoise masonry and the candle-lit glow emanating from inside. A glance at the menu revealed the food on offer to be traditional Italian, with an emphasis on the home-made and plenty of meat-free options for Mr Ford, and we resolved to try Ida out at a later date.
On the night of said date things got off to an unreassuring start when Michael arrived on the dot of our booking time only to find Ida in darkness and looking distinctly closed. Fortunately this turned out to not be the case; doors were soon unlocked and candles lit, but for the duration of the meal I couldn't quite shake the feeling that had they not had bookings, Ida would have remained shut for the night.
Inside, it's a cute little space, the walls covered in a mix of film posters, paintings, cartoons and signs, all with an Italian theme in keeping with the cuisine. It's the kind of look that chains pay designers good money to emulate but which here has evolved organically. An open kitchen overlooks the candelit room, casting the only additional light; it's crepuscular to say the least, and while some will find it romantic, daters and non-couples alike will struggle to read the menu.
Of said menu, a number of dishes were either unavailable or had substitutions, including to my great disappointment the rabbit ragu I'd had my eye on which had become chicken for the night. Nonetheless, plenty of what was available appealed, and my starter of molinata - a coarse puree of broad beans, Swiss chard and spinach on a garlic bruschetta - was delicious, especially once some black pepper had been added to balance out slight over-saltedness. Michael's thick, rustic lentil soup was a little watery, and very tomatoey, but still tasty and nourishing and a generous portion for a starter.
Although there's a short list of meat, fish and vegetarian secondi on offer, the real interest in the menu lies in the hand-made pasta dishes, and as all are offered in primo or main course-sizes we followed with these. Michael's tagliatelle - a mix of spinach and egg varieties - with an intense, wild mushroom sauce was superficially simple but notable for excellent pasta and the deeply-flavoured velvety sauce. Best by far though was my agnolini, little flat parcels filled with a blend of three meats (I didn't ask which, but from the sweetness of the filling I'd guess at veal, with perhaps some beef and chicken) and bathed in a beautiful buttery sauce. The pasta was just on the hard side of al dente, but not so much as to find any fault with.
We skipped desserts, partly due to being quite full from the large portions and partly because neither of the two options - tiramisu and raspberry sponge - appealed. This lack of choice was representative of a wider issue at Ida, namely that the menu should be viewed more as a guide to what might be available on any given visit, not to what will be.
Service, too, verged on the haphazard; two plates would be brought over only for one to be whisked away to another diner (of which there were only very few) and our hand-written bill was hilariously over-calculated, but the overall effect was more charming than irritating. With a nice-enough bottle of Primitivo from the short, all-Italian list, a Limoncello, an espresso (not great, it must be said) and 12.5% service - an addition which whilst not unusual in itself seemed oddly grabby for a quiet neighbourhood restaurant - our bill came to £71.00, placing Ida firmly in the 'affordable' bracket and definitely meriting a re-visit.
It's far from perfect - the name Ida means 'work', and it needs some - but I'd wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone lucky enough to live nearby, as of course Michael now does. I rather think I'll be seeing a lot more of both of them.
Ida, 167 Fifth Avenue, London W10 4DT Tel: 020 8969 9853 http://www.idarestaurant.co.uk