Restaurant review - La Famiglia, Hale
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 March 2017
Yes, there are brilliant big chain 'Italian' restaurants on our doorstep, writes Ray King, but don't forget about the small independents like La Famiglia in Hale.
It’s a fair bet that the UK’s most fashionable and popular dining-out style is Italian. It’s also pretty obvious that many of us get our regular fix of pasta, pizza and more elaborate examples of Italian cucina in branches of large restaurant groups.
Nothing wrong with that: the best, like the San Carlo group and Piccolino that expanded nationwide from their roots in the north west, deserve their success. But if all of this seems to have made the concept of the independent, family-run, neighbourhood ristorante appear just a little bit old school, it shouldn’t. Not in Hale, anyway.
The village was home to Marcello’s, for years the favourite of pop singers, TV actors and footballers. Sadly Marcello Giannini, dubbed ‘restaurateur to the stars’, died in 2013 aged only 59 after a long illness. But his tradition has a worthy successor: La Famiglia - ‘the family’ - run by ebullient Calabrian Pilione ‘Pino’ Malena, who after a lifetime in the business has encountered his fair share of celebrities too...not least Prince Charles and the late Queen Mother, during his spell at Claridges.
The Victoria Road venue is a smart but cosy place with an attractive bar sporting white marble and stripped brick. There are two dining areas, one at the front by the open kitchen, the other beneath an atrium leading to a secluded courtyard at the back. In both, seating is a mix of freestanding chairs and comfy banquettes in red and yellow leather around dark wood tables; walls boast plenty of mirrors and several striking, if slightly risqué artworks.
We dined at a Friday lunchtime when the á la carte menu, packed with Italian favourites, is available alongside a lunch menu...but it was the specials’ board that caught our eye. From it Mrs K chose baked goats’ cheese with roasted vegetables and raspberry coulis (£7.95) offering delightful colours and flavours. The cheese was beautifully mild and creamy and worked well with the roasted peppers and sharpness of the coulis. I dithered over the special octopus ‘Isola Bella’ but instead had a starter portion of linguine alla vongole veraci (£5.95); perfect pasta generously endowed with clams, sweet cherry tomatoes and a racy, fresh garlic sauce. Simple and delicious.
We both opted for specials’ board main courses: hake with a pistachio crust for me (£20.95) and a showstopper of a veal chop (£25.95) for herself. Hake is one of my most favourite fish and this thick, moist, creamy-textured fillet didn’t disappoint under its dusting of slightly sweet crushed pistachios. Timing (overcooking hake can turn it to mush) was spot on and the pairing with a subtly mustardy aioli-type sauce was excellent. Mrs K’s veal chop, rose pink, juicy, meltingly tender and full of flavour, was the star turn in a pretty impressive cast and the saucing was just so. We added sides of pretty good zucchini fritte (£3.95) and fairly ordinary sauté potatoes (£3.45).
We rounded off by sharing a sumptuous Tia Maria cheesecake topped off ‘diplomatically’ by a Ferrero Rocher chocolate. From a comprehensive Italian wine list - soon to be complemented by an ‘exclusive’ list of some of Italy’s finest wines and featuring examples from Pino’s home region of Calabria, the toe of Italy - we chose a crisp, citrus and nutty Verdicchio for £21 with enough oomph to partner both the fish and the veal. Molto bene.
La Famiglia, 12-14 Victoria Road, Hale, WA15 9AD. Tel: 0161 929 9626. www.lafamigliahale.co.uk