When you say the word ‘Italy’ what comes to my mind is beautiful weather, gorgeous architecture and of course, delicious carb-heavy food.
Not four tracksuit-wearing boys vaping outside a humorously misspelled 'enternational' convenience store, while it pelts down with rain.
That was my view from the window seat at La Villetta – the number one rated Italian in Maidstone on Tripadvisor.
Despite the dreary outlook of Pudding Lane, and the odd person walking past gawking at my mum and I, the atmosphere inside was pleasant.
Shutting your eyes, you could imagine you were in the Bay of Naples, instead of a rainy Tuesday night in north Kent.
I know where I would rather be.
We arrived at 7pm and were seated straight away – it looked like we were the first ones in.
Italian music filled the room as we stepped inside and were greeted by a bubbly waitress.
It had classic Italian music, large bottles of red wine and panettoni dotted along the windowsill.
And the servers were speaking...French?
'Parlez-vous Français?' mum asked when the lady came over to take our order and looked back at her slightly bewildered and surprised.
She spoke four languages. She was French, like we deduced, but had also learnt English, Spanish and Italian.
My mum then attempted to converse in French using her knowledge of Duolingo, which went as you can expect – short and sweet.
For drinks, I went for the traditional Limonata (£4) and my mum went for 175ml of the Pinot Blush Rosé (£6).
Both arrived within five minutes of ordering.
Mine was very refreshing and I preferred that it wasn't as sharp or intense as a Sanpellegrino.
The label looked to be entirely in Italian – I'm guessing (and hoped) it had been shipped from the country itself.
Next were the mains and the menu was split into three: Antipasti, Primi and Secondi.
All dishes were around the £10 or slightly more.
Our server said they didn't have the Scrigni ai Funghi Porcini (ravioli filled with mushrooms), but said if we really wanted to the chef could rustle up something for us.
We both went for meals in the Primi section. I chose what would have been the Strascinati e polpette, but it was crossed out to be the Cavatelli e polpette (£14) – a different type of pasta.
The dish came out piping hot and within about 20 minutes.
Presented on a terracotta-style bowl (I assume it was 'al forno' – cooked in the oven), it was made up of fresh pasta, beef meatballs, tomato sauce and provolone cheese.
I can assure you there was no shortage of tomatoes at this restaurant, plus they didn't skimp on the amount of cheese used (a particular bugbear of mine).
Mum went for the Risotto Piselli e pomodori secchi (£14), which was creamy rice with peas, sundried tomatoes, burrata and hazelnuts.
She finished with an empty plate and a full belly, which is a rarity!
You could tell both dishes were really made with love.
The only discrepancies I would flag, was on the website it said my dish was £13.50 and my mum's wasn't even online – so don't pick out what you want before you go.
Always having room for dessert, we had to go for the traditional tiramisu (£6.50), which we shared.
Unlike the factory-made puddings you get at the supermarket, where the ladyfingers have barely touched coffee, this one had been properly soaked in the stuff.
The mascarpone was soft and yummy and we managed to inhale the whole thing in under two minutes.
They also had a selection of 'gelati' (ice cream) and 'formaggi' (cheese) to choose from, along with creme brulee, chocolate cake and panna cotta.
After doing a bit of googling, I found out afterwards that La Villetta means The Cottage.
And you really did feel at home, or like you had been invited into someone else's home – as if nonna made your favourite meal especially for you, and wouldn't let you leave until you ate every last meatball or chopped tomato.
Coming to a grand total of £48.95, including a 10% tip, the meal was well received all round.
Out of five:
Food: Nothing can beat home-made, heart-warming Italian nosh. Yum, yum and yum. *****
Drink: A good selection of both alcoholic and soft drinks to choose from. *****
Decor: Apart from the wobbly floorboard here and there, the fitting music and soft candlelight created an inviting atmosphere. Only shame is I had to look out onto dreary Maidstone. ****
Staff: A lovely interaction with a bubbly and attentive server. Bonus points for putting up with my mum's attempt to speak French. *****
Price: With both main meals coming in at £14 each – the same price as Italian chains – you can get a proper authentic meal made with love by passionate people. *****