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It is all a little bite too famiglia.

La Famiglia, St Mary's Chare, Hexham

Hexham has a range of good restaurants, each with its own character.

At one end of the spectrum is the luxurious RouA, where classical and modern sit comfortably together: a wonderful experience. Then there's The Green Room: a great, bistro-style restaurant where the chef's imagination and skill produces a contemporary cuisine, slightly less haute than RouA, but just as good.

As if that wasn't enough, in the market place, Valley Connection brings the spice trail to the heart of Hexham and, on the other side of town, Daniella's adds a touch of rustic Italian to the mix. All good stuff and, with such competition, you have to be good to keep going ( or so you'd think.

La Famiglia challenges that assumption. Yes, it's been going a long time, has a fan base of regulars and carries all the usual Italian dishes but, dig a little deeper and all that glisters here is definitely not gold. Something has happened to take the shine off this restaurant and, sadly, it shows.

We skated past the tepid welcome to our table. The well-thumbed menus were as lacklustre as the reams of dishes they described.

No surprises here. The menu was so predictable I could have written it in the dark.

We asked for the wine list. It was plonked on the table in a perfunctory manner. A few minutes later the waiter came to take our order and declared, without apology, that the mussels were finito and I'd have to pick something else.

He stood, pencil poised. I was clearly expected to make a swift decision and chose vegetali arrosto. It turned out to be a passable selection of lightly roasted, seasonal vegetables with a disc of toasted goats' cheese. My companion's smoked salmon was an unprepossessing mound of lettuce covered by slices of fish, with the promise of "drizzled lemon oil" almost forgotten.

The bread was soft, crusty and helped stop the rumbling and grumbling, a little.

My main course of chicken stuffed with Stilton in a peppercorn sauce started the grumbling off again and her veal with lemon and white wine didn't help matters. The side dish of vegetables that came with mine was a parody of what roast potatoes could be, but her salad wasn't bad.

The laminated sheet of MUvenpick desserts was the last straw. We paid and left.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 2, 2006
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