Having lived in Chester for some time and eating out once a month or more, my partner and I have virtually exhausted our choice of eateries locally, especially Italian ones as we holiday in Italy regularly. La Cantina was one of the few places we hadn't visited so we went on a Saturday night.
A restaurant needs to tick a few boxes to be successful; food, ambience, choice, service, price are the main criteria.
Food was cooked with skill, clearly fresh and of a good standard, our starters were excellent.
Ambience was a little lacking, the place felt a bit bright and had more of a feel of a really nice cafe than a restaurant but that's easily fixed.
Menu choice, with the exception of the well chosen starters, was a little seafood orientated. The only main dishes containing meat were steak or a pork chop. No lasagna, ragu, bolognese, cannelloni or similar that you'd expect to find if you decided you fancied an Italian meal one night. I know Italians don't just eat pasta but you'd expect at least one meat-based pasta dish in an Italian restaurant.
Service was friendly and perfectly adequate, no real complaints at all.
Pricing was a sticking point because the mains are fixed at £16.90 (plus £3 if you choose the steak) which I believe is a mistake. This fixed amount means a few dishes work out to be well priced but also makes one or two really unrealistically priced which is where I suspect the pricing issue keeps being raised on TA. For instance £16.90 is perfectly reasonable for mussels or the pork but extremely expensive for spaghetti trapanese which is simply spaghetti, cherry tomatoes, rocket, garlic and pine nuts. Realistically the most I'd have been happy to pay is £11-13 for this main. I would usually have brought up the issue of price in person at the time of paying but having seen the way management handles criticism on here and the intimate setting we were in (the restaurant was barely half full), I didn't feel comfortable doing so.
Trip Advisor is an opinion based website and responses such as "XYZ is a matter of opinion" are basically redundant as a response to negative comments. I've tried to make my comments as constructive as possible as the general management response to negative feedback seems to be defensive and dismissive as though they assume there is zero room to improve. Sadly a half empty restaurant on a Saturday night says otherwise, but dimming the lights, maybe a few table cloths, a re-think of using a fixed price menu and a different attitude to paying customer's feedback is all that stands between mediocrity and a top ten TA placing for La Cantina in my opinion. No business is perfect and when nearly 1 in 10 of your TA reviews are 'Average' or below, maybe its not because your customers are wrong or because they are 'Bella Italia or Groupon-type customers' but because they are regular restaurant goers with valid opinions that can be used to move forward and improve. I work in a managerial position in a customer facing environment and I relish complaints, you learn more from defeat than victory.
Apologies for the lengthy review but I wanted to be as honest, accurate and constructive as I could.
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