San Vicenzo, Bothwell

I once arrived in a remote little hillside village in Piedmont at lunchtime, assuming that we’d easily find somewhere to eat. Big mistake. Not a soul in sight, everything closed, apart from a small warehouse selling wine from local vineyards.

In ropey Italian we asked the man there if he could suggest anywhere to eat. He pointed over the road with great conviction. We crossed, still no sign of a restaurant, only an apparently shut-up building. But then we heard the odd clink of knives and forks, and followed the hum of people dining contentedly. We tentatively pushed open a daunting, probably medieval, door, to find all the citizens missing from the streets sitting at long refectory tables, eating a multi-course, limited choice menu that no-one had bothered to write down.

Lots of rural restaurants in Italy are like this: they operate by word of mouth; they don’t need to advertise. The food was just what we wanted: local ingredients, home cooking.

As we approach the new San Vicenzo in Bothwell, I have a similar experience. It’s at least lit-up, but nobody’s eating at the few empty tables we see from the street. It appears closed. But we find a door to open and walk in, through a Marie Celeste bar, past a kitchen (reassuringly busy), and into the capacious dining room beyond, which is absolutely rammed at this time – early dinner, Sunday – with family parties. Matinee idol waiters, happy families, women cooking in the kitchen, it feels like being in Italy, perhaps in one of those upmarket, seaside restaurants; white linen, oceanic blue, smart cutlery, sparkling glasses, expensive lighting.

We nibble on springy grilled bread that oozes olive oil decisively infused with anchovy, an idea I’ll make at home. Almost the minute I order the tortellini in clear broth, I’m convinced I’ve made a mistake. It’s likely to be stock cube broth and bought-in tortellini, no? But these adroitly twisted fresh egg pasta parcels with cheesy, herby meaty filling strike me as homemade.

Same goes for the lambent brodo: its aroma coaxes the appetite. We’re assured that the courgette flowers, stuffed with lemon ricotta, are fresh, which is possible, if they’re imported from southern Italy. The ricotta is fine, the petals are dwarfed by a soggy batter. For £9.50, this dish is a bit of a flop.

Crab ravioli taste as if they have just been made, fresh egg pasta, al dente, with a mildly crustacean stuffing with a subtle fishiness that’s marginally eclipsed by a creamy, slightly sweet, vaguely tomato sauce, which has enough garlic to be slightly intrusive in this line-up.

Calves liver is bang-on. Two generous slices, like pan-fried velvet, larded up with cubes of smoked pancetta, shallots cooked to soft collapse in a vinegary-sweet ‘agrodolce’ treatment, with buttery mash potatoes to sop up the gravy. Can I feel my iron and vitamin B12 levels soaring? Or is it that this dish is just so pleasurably satiating?

Our waiter looks straight out a Dolce and Gabbana advert. We quiz him on desserts. “Do you make the honey and pine nut tart on the premises?” “We make everything!” he replies, looking slightly wounded. Ah, the tart. It’s a gem, admirably short pastry that tastes like butterscotch, a thick custardy filling fragrant with honey, the sticky crust of nuts, a cool strawberry ice cream and homemade tile on the side. A nest of redundant, violet-hued spun sugar adds to the plate’s Jackson Pollockesque drips and general busyness, but the tart is an eloquent expression of pastry craft.

For my palate, the freshly whisked, warm zabaglione – that ethereally light whip of eggs, Marsala, and sugar – is a little bit too sweet, so it’s lovely to come across the slivers of poached apricots in its frothy depths, and when we dip in the homemade biscotto, crumbly with pistachios and lemon zest, the whole dessert stacks up to make one well-balanced whole.

Can you imagine if most towns in Scotland had hidden gems like San Vincenzo? Bothwell’s secret is out now. The word about a place this good spreads like wildfire.

San Vicenzo, 29-35 Main St, Bothwell 01698 850073

Food: 8 and a half/10

Service: 9/10

Value for money: 8/10

Atmosphere: 8/10

Joanna Blythman is Guild of Food Writers Food Writer of the Year 2018