Imagine your favourite Italian dishes cooked with ingredients plucked from your own doorstep.
Then you have the best of both worlds – the fabulous flavours of the Mediterranean coupled with the freshness and individuality of the produce of Northumberland.
Now that sound like a recipe for success if ever I heard one.
So we went along to La Famiglia, appropriately enough with our son (La Famiglia is Italian for family), who was fresh back from college. Even better, he volunteered to drive, so we could enjoy a couple of glasses of wine each.
La Famiglia is part of the Old Boat House stable and, with that and the Fish Shack, both in Amble, being two of our favourite restaurants, we went with great expectations. Our visit had been prompted by the appointment of a new chef.
Even from the outside, the restaurant has the same hallmarks as the other stablemates – classy, rustic and quirky.
Inside, the theme continues – large dressers teeming with pasta jars, herbs , jugs of potions and wicker baskets. Stick fencing and exposed brick walls bring a hint of the outside in. The wooden tables are surrounded by an eclectic mix of chairs and cushions with variously patterned covers.
I loved the window through to the chefs working, a take on the open kitchen.
It has a relaxed Mediterranean café-like ambience, particularly fitting on this relatively balmy Saturday evening. Quite how it works on a snowy winter’s night, I’m not sure, but it’s certainly intimate.
We were early enough to hear some unintrusive background music, but before long, the restaurant was full, buzzing and loud!
The wine list presented our first dilemma, but we wasted no time in selecting a Chilean Merlot, Tierra Del Ray, which was very smooth, mildly fruity and just the right temperature – a good choice to accompany a meal.
The food menu was a lot more tricky and it took a lot longer to decide. There was a great variety, with thin and crispy pizzas, all under £10, pasta dishes, risotto and even a smattering of British cuisine for those who prefer a steak, lamb shoulder or slow-cooked pork belly.
The classic section was particularly good value, with pizzas from£7.75 to £8.25, and pastas, including lasagne at£7.95.
As the menu reminds us, all pasta is made on the premises with very fresh, local egg yolk, semolina and durum wheat – and there is a choice of rigatoni, linguine or tagliatelle.
To start, we all turned to the specials board. Mrs L went for baked provolone cheese, topped with chorizo and accompanied by thyme bread sticks (£6.95), son had the salmon and pesto fishcakes, with pine nut salad and basil dressing (£6.95); and I plumped for Amble cod arancini, with a spicy arrabbiata sauce and rocket salad (£6.95), which was very fine indeed.
The cod and rice balls, coated in crunchy breadcrumbs were so moreish I almost ordered another lot. The freshness of the fish shone through. The arrabbiata sauce too was delicious, subtly spicy and sharp, with tomato and garlic flavours to the fore – a lovely contrast to the cod. The rocket and grated parmesan salad was a great accompaniment.
The salmon fishcakes were equally tasty and had disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Mrs L’s cheesy dip, with warm, herby bread sticks was indeed special.
Our main courses also went down very well. Mrs L’s king prawns in garlic butter (£15.95) was from the regular menu. It was very rich and needed some bread to soak up oceans of butter, but was delicious, the twice-cooked, handcut chips particularly fine.
My seafood linguine with a tomato, chilli and samphire (£14.95) was great. An extremely generous and filling portion, with the soft and tasty squid being the highlight of a seafood cocktail.
Son’s ragu of beef brisket, with mushrooms, red wine, garlic, tomatoes and Parmesan (£10.25) was polished off with one word uttered – ‘bari’!
The homemade pasta was worth the visit alone.
LITTLE THINGS MAKE BIG DIFFERENCE
Often small things during a meal make a big difference – the ice and lemon in our glasses of tapwater at La Famiglia is an example. Not all restaurants are as thoughtful.
There were only three desserts on the menu, so we sampled two of them. The raspberry and lemon tart and the Eton mess (both £5.25) were both palatable.
Our meals at La Famiglia were well cooked and classy, the service was friendly, attentive and efficient.
Children’s meals cost £4.95, including drink: Pizza, penne carbonara, penne tomato, homemade fish fingers or homemade chicken strips.
SELECTION FROM THE MENU
Prawn & crayfish cocktail......£5.95
Pork/chicken liver pâté......£5.95
Slow-cooked sticky ribs......£6.75
Antipasto La Famiglia (for 2)......£13.95
Fillet steak Rossini......£22
Seared tuna steak......£15.95
Risotto with Swallows of Seahouses smoked salmon......£10.25
Potato gnocchi in cream sauce......£9.50
Primavera pizza (v)......£9.50
Vanilla panna cotta......£5.25
Raspberry and lemon tart......£5.25
STAR RATINGS (out of 10)
Quality of food......8½
Use of local food......9
Value for money......8
Access for disabled......9
Toilet for disabled......Yes
Verdict: A great, relaxing experience, with super food.
Contact: 01665 711862