WE’VE decided to have one farinaceous main course at Locarno to keep down the total cost because the other mains are so expensive: £17.50 to £29.50. I instantly exclude the “rissotto” (sic) at £18.50 and £20.50. Experience tells me that bad spelling often augurs bad cooking.

With just a hint of a shoulder-shrugging “what do you expect me to do about it?” attitude, our waiter breaks the news that all four, yes four, ravioli dishes listed on the menu are not available.

So we alight on cacio e pepe, Rome’s favourite pasta, where the art is to leave just enough cooking water for the pasta to form a sauce when fresh Pecorino and ground black pepper is added.

There’s confusion. Our waiter mishears: he thinks we want the catch of the day (Cajun salmon), so maybe the chef was flustered.

Even so, Locarno’s clueless attempt at this classic would surely be greeted with derision in its home city: over-boiled spaghetti, so dry that it forms a mat, further clumped together by the plasticity of its cheese veneer, and not a speck of black pepper in sight.

Seriously, I could use this sticky mass, Marx Brothers fashion, as a projectile. And £12 for something parents might complain about if served as a school meal? What planet are they on here?

I’d say Locarno trades on its atmosphere, sort of swanky, clubby, with a bit of a Jazz Age vibe, white linen, classy chandeliers, black and white photos.

The menu, like the pricing, is all over the place, a wacky compilation of everything from creamed Jalapeño chive soup and steak tartare to mince and tatties and controversial foie gras. It’s an unhappy hybrid of Italian, French, and 1980s Taste of Tartan.

My first and only satisfactory dish here is caponata. It judges the tricky sweet-sour balance well; the onions, celery and aubergines melt.

Cock-a-leekie (that’ll be quaintly traditional, I naively thought) is disastrous, a murky broth with no chicken taste, mushy leeks cooked to khaki, vapid potatoes, dry chicken breast.

Our waitress takes it away less than half-eaten without asking if everything is all right. That’s telling. Maybe she knows better than to ask for fear of a negative response.

I’m one of relatively few people who actually enjoys calf’s liver, providing it’s properly cooked, but I’m looking at a plateful that even fills me with dread.

The liver is deadly plain, without the crustiness I’d expect from the promised pan-frying in butter. Its sauce, said to be raspberry vinegar and caramelised onions, tastes to me like the smell my oven makes when it needs a good clean.

Mashed potatoes have nothing going for them – too dry, lumpy, no perceptible butteriness, and it would appear that the kitchen’s savoir-faire with kale (the fibrous wintry type) only extends to boiling it.

This is another dish with that something’s-got-burnt-on-to-the-oven- floor whiff. It’s cleared away, largely uneaten. Again, no one seems to want to know why.

I can’t wait to escape home now but a table of 11 – all men, business account, naturally – is slowing down the already struggling front of house that’s trying to serve customers and set new tables.

I’m amazed to see that Locarno is quite busy. For the life of me I can’t see why.

Oh, that spelling. Crème brûlée is described as “devine”. The caramel top is fine, what’s under it isn’t. Stiff with starch, no presence of vanilla grains, no quality that suggests eggs or cream, this might as well be Bird’s custard.

Fruit in the crumble – apple, mango, cranberries, blueberries, pineapple apparently – forms an undifferentiated sweet base for a topping that’s more doughy flour than gritty crumble.

That pervasive smelly oven aroma has impregnated it too. A plastic high gloss shine on its orange custard reminds me of institutional catering again.

Our coffee is on the house as an apology for the communication problem, but we’ve still managed to clock up a tidy bill.

It’s restaurants like the Locarno that allow me to indulge myself momentarily in the otherwise ludicrous belief that restaurant reviewing can be a chore.

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