La Famiglia - Saltford, Nr Bristol
We love to spot a quirky spot to eat, so when driving around the South West and you spot a swish looking Italian restaurant hiding behind a car wash... well come on the car park is rammed so gotta be worth a go.
La Famiglia is a funny place it reminded us of one of those incredible truckers stops in Italy that on first glance looks like its part of a service station...
Italian food is without any doubt some of the most sort after and loved on the planet, and with good reason, fresh ingredients and a huge array of different variations on a theme mean that it can sometimes be hit or miss, even in Italy it‘s not always perfect because everyone has different ideas on what a good bolognese sauce is or if you should use cream in a Carbonara... even Italians will argue the toss over it!
La famiglia is a funny place it reminded us of one of those incredible truckers stops in Italy that on first glance looks like it’s part of a service station, only to find out that actually it is a proper restaurant, serving big Italian lorry drivers who do not accept anything less that proper hearty grub, believe me some of these places in Italy serve food that are utterly astonishing.
This restaurant sits oddly behind a car washing station, I mean that doesn’t matter, in fact it‘s really a car park being used to the max. The front of the place is smart and adorned with tables out front under Peroni umbrellas, and at this time of year it has the warm glow of Christmas lights, that make it look very inviting. Parking is easy and we go in quite early. Apart from two other customers we are alone, the space is big, yet cosy and very Italian, tastefully decorated with a spectacular Christmas tree giving way to a small bar and an open food pass, beyond which you can see the chefs busy getting ready for service.
Our table is clean and not sticky and the overall first impression is: very nice and inviting, hopes are high.
...we are just starting to think is this gonna take ages when our starters arrive, and first glance impression is good the tomatoes look fresh enough although they also look like off the shelf at Tesco salad tomatoes...
A polite lady sits us down and leaves us to peruse the menu, before returning for a drinks order. If you read any of the reviews here you'll know that we are always looking for those early signs of what a place is like, and our first impressions are good. The drinks arrive and we are asked if we would like to order, we ask for a few more minutes... just a few... not many... a few... as in not 10… or 15... just... a few! The menu is large, with all the favourite dishes you'd want, there is heavy emphasis on "fresh" ingredients and "family" recipes, as you'd expect. Pasta with shell fish, pizza of various kinds and also a nice selection of traditional meat based dishes, sides and starters. Do not be fooled by the misleading pictures, they do not have a wood fired oven here to cook the pizza even though the photos suggest otherwise. Hmmm not sure we agree with that but OK.
... just a few minutes... There are four customers and two waitress' in the place, the lady that has served us so far is stood at the bar... tapping away at a touch screen till, we suspect she is running or at least managing this restaurant, the other waitress is stood watching the room... that includes us... just a few minutes... we sit and wait, and wait. Despite various attempts to catch the eye of the other waitress, the glances go unnoticed and that feeling of 'uh oh' begins to well inside.
The thing is great food is nothing without great service, and given the restaurant is empty and the manger is busy it seems to us odd that the other waitress almost flatly refused to make eye contact or serve us because it wasn‘t her table or responsibility to do so, and that just niggles.
So after not 'just a few minutes' the other lady does return to take our order "phew!" didn‘t think that would happen, but all good we have an order in. We decide to go for a small selection of starters: an Octopus/Squid dish , some deep fried Mozzarella and also some Neapolitan style Bruschetta, and then pasta for mains, because let‘s face it regardless of the variations, any Italian restaurant should be able to serve good pasta.
The restaurant begins to fill up and has a good atmosphere about it, there is a reason people are coming here we hope.
Linguine soup isn’t something you see often, but to be fair it all tastes OK
Time wise I guess we are just starting to think “is this gonna take ages“ when our starters arrive, and first glance impression is good the tomatoes look fresh enough, although they also look like off the shelf at Tesco salad tomatoes. The Squid is neatly delivered in a tower of lightly crusted batter, the deep fried mozzarella is hidden under the sauce with no bread and the salad does look like an after thought. It's fine, it is not gonna blow you away, the squid is just about tender not sure there is any Octopus on the plate as per the menu, two more seconds in the fryer and it would have been rubber, the Bruschetta lacks seasoning to make those rather bland tomatoes go pop and the deep fried cheese is kinda zapped... it‘s like a burger patty, very odd! I was expecting fingers of cheese lightly fried with a dipping sauce but sadly it was an over cooked thick layer of 'Panko' breadcrumbs and hardly any cheese at all, hidden by an all be it tasty sauce. It was just a bit of a meh! starter.
Mains arrive, neatly presented but in cold bowls! However, that is just as well because the pasta itself is absolutely boiling hot, so be careful. We have one bowl of Tagliatelle con Polpettie (pasta with meat balls) and a Linguini dish with fresh prawns, (Linguine Sorrentina). Pleased to say the mains are tasty, hot, well seasoned and hearty food. Again, not gonna blow you away, the meatballs are a little watery and the sauce for the Linguine is more like a soup or even a bisque which is a little odd because Linguine soup isn’t something you see often, but to be fair it all tastes OK. I am a big fan of a good sauce and don't like to leave any so it‘s a shame that unlike in Italy there is no chance of any scarpetta (or sopping up the left over sauce) with fresh bread, just a detail, but in Italy bread is a way of life which is why they put it on every table as a given, you don't ask for it and don't often pay extra for it, especially when it was promised with the starter and never arrived. We ordered bread and got a nearly empty basket of small stale off cuts of poorly baked bread... not great and then charged £1.50 for it.
Do not be fooled by the misleading pictures, they do not have a wood fired oven here to cook the Pizza even though the photos suggest otherwise
So we decided not to have any deserts, I guess that is because we just felt a little under whelmed by it all. We were really hoping to be hit with some amazing fresh ingredients, some meatballs made from wild boar or some incredible Sourdough bread with stunning fresh Marzano tomatoes that burst with flavour, otherwise what, exactly, is it that made the Bruschetta Neapolitan? We wanted soft creamy melted Mozzarella fried with a dipping sauce where the cheese is all stringy and sumptuous, sadly it just wasn't. Yes, the pasta was well cooked and tasted fine but just fine. It was much like the opening experience when we asked for a few minutes only to be left for nearly 15 minutes, it was just kinda OK! You'll put up with it but it is a bit frustrating, you want to stand up and scream "WILL YOU PLEASE SERVE ME... YOU'RE STOOD DOING NOTHING!"
All that said the place was busy, for a mid week service, so the locals clearly like it and that’s good to see and as with all these reviews this is just a one off experience, but hey, you gotta be on your game all the time if you want to stand out.
La Famiglia is great for accessibility, wheelchair or baby buggy could get in and out easily enough and the bathrooms are also on the same floor, so that’s great to see. Although we don't think the cleaning is up to much in the bathrooms they had a hint of not been looked at all day to us, no photos but you can just tell when you look at a toilet if someone's been keeping an eye on it or not, shame cuz they are well fitted out.
With a few tweaks this could be a great Italian rather than just another generic one ticking over. Sort the menu out, have a handful of killer dishes or a specials board. I have a feeling the chefs here have the knowledge and ability to do this and create amazing food. Details... real Sourdough baked on site on every table, how about a Gozney Dome to cook your pizza for a bit of wow factor, especially seeing as there is another 'not Italian' restaurant up the road with a huge wood fired oven.
We really wanted this place to match how it looks, they really have made a very nice environment, its big well decorated it feels Italian in every way and we feel sad that its just a little off the mark. In the future lets hope they can tweak it just a little bit and make it stand out from the well populated Italian restaurant crowd in the South West.
HOW WE SCORED IT - OVERALL 6.25/10
Food score 5/10
Service score 5/10
Comms score 5/10
Disability access 8/10
Sticky table 8/10
Value for money 7/10
What is cost £56.00 2 courses with drinks (Shandy)
What it’s worth £40.00
Will we go back? Probably not.