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“Disappointing, but not a lost cause.”
Review of La Cantina - CLOSED

La Cantina
Cuisines: Italian
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Restaurant details
Good for: Large groups, Business meetings
Dining options: Late Night, Lunch, Dinner, Breakfast, Delivery, Reservations
Reviewed October 22, 2012 via mobile

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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5  Thank HollowLegz
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
marcoroma15, Owner at La Cantina, responded to this reviewResponded October 25, 2012

We are a small family restaurant with the level of business at the level we currently want- sometimes busyish sometimes quiet but over course of a month tends to even out, including fairly good incidence of family and private/friends and corporate group bookings and events. We find most diners wanta civilized and discerning environment where they can eat, drink, chat unhurried and hear themselves speak- perhpas you prefer city centre glitzy, bustling and noisy places - plenty of those around where packaged well/sounds good but the food and wine is pretty poor-if that is your perception as to ambience .

We have around 6,000 customer contact details including many on a database and a reasonably large element of repaet business and word of mouth recommendation. We speak to many customers ( but not all due to time etc ) with general consensus putting that at around 99% very safisfied/excellent - that is also based on formal feedback we take and record across a fairly wide customer base dining, at events etc not just gut feel so a bit more scientific and broad based than 90 comments on TA over a period of 3 years. Similar on customer feedback as to key local sites like thebestofchester and Onionring.

The Times newspaper review of Chester earlier this summer lists the restaurant standout in Chester top 4 - consistent to the above direct feedback.

The TA feedback is helpful but not really ; there are around 10 more negative comments out of over 90 ie 30 per annum out of around 3,000 diners per annum , TA is a very small proportion generally and in relation to the above feedback figures. It also in our view attracts what we would call quite a mixed community of amateur critics who want to stamp their own personal expectations often on something that may simply be different to those rather than poor in its own right.

Note your 'layout' comments; we are a small family business happy with what we do and feedback but continually doing small changes including thinking from time to time about some of the layout matters you comment on. The covers, level of turnover etc are what we can handle pending if we want to have a broader resource involved so no always full but not frenetic, glitzy, rushed and poor standards of food & wine as is our perception of many Chester restaurants. We are not looking for growth other than if we extend the business model and people involved in the business.

We are happy with pricing including the dish you referred to- you should have spoken if you were concerned, or chosen something else as it was clearly described and many customers have enjoyed it and given very good feedback without any worry about the cost - the prices incidentally are generally around 10-15% below other similar establishments in Chester and wines available at £11-95 as well as at higher levels so plenty of choice for all. At the price point you refer to you are in the branded chain and group pub bracket- if you had advised that view on arrival we could have pointed you elsewhere if that was a key issue for you- as we did recently for a couple who arrived at the weekend , said it was not in their budget ( around £25/27 for two full courses incl vegetable/salad/bread etc ) and they sensibly booked to come in the following midweek on the £10-95 2 course midweek menu. We helped them find somewhere nice at that level for their weekend meal but they sensibly talked to us about it beforehand.

On the menu, we do have by far the widest fish selection in Chester most weekends- especially when we have higher reservation levels- as well as a good range of farm meats and vegetarian foods- on the menu you commented on there was by the way also quail and partridge which you overlooked in commeting about 'meats' as to beef/pork etc That is partly why we were lsted as one of the few best in Chester by a leading national newspaper.

La Cantina

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65 - 69 of 155 reviews

Reviewed September 16, 2012

We, as a family, have been going to La Cantina for a few years now and have never had a bad meal, in fact, the opposite, with excellent food prepared with flair and a passion for fresh produce. With this in mind we decided to have my Mum's 70th birthday here with a small gathering of 9 people here and what a good decision it was. The owners agreed a menu with us beforehand of food they woud put on the table that we liked without us having to look at menus and spoil the flow of the evening and everything they brought to us was fantastic and very varied so there was something for everyone. Nothing was too much trouble and I would highly recommend this restaurant for a get together for something a bit special or just to pop in for dinner. As for service, always friendly, never too fast and served as it would be in Italy - more slowly, so you can savour the food, chat and have time to digest before the next course.... not something that we are noted for in the UK sadly.

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1  Thank hillym20
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 6, 2012 via mobile

We poppEd in for a family meal recently and the food was good. It came out a little slowly but the waiting staff were very nice and friendly so the time that passed didn't matter too much! We would pop in again

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1  Thank Sunshine1811
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Reviewed September 4, 2012

Where to begin.

18 months ago I lived in Chester and La Cantina was by far, not only the best Italian food I have eaten outside of the country itself but came top of the list for homeliness and service.

The team there have a rifined understanding of what makes a great evening for their loyal customers who all comment on the place like it was a second home.

From an evenIng of education with their food and wine experts, talking through the essence of each dish, it's pairing to a particular region and indeed a taste of some really wonderfull wines, to getting myself mucky in the kitchen on the cookery school nights..
It is a place which holds dear in both myself and my partners memory.

Keep up the good work, Liz and the team and never ,ever ,lose that flair and special welcome that always greeted all who seek out your wonderfull restaurant.

Graham and Monika x

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1  Thank GeeFrc
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
marcoroma15, Owner at La Cantina, responded to this reviewResponded September 5, 2012

Thanks Graham and Monika - great to see you back from Bali and Slovakia this week and well done with baby Theo!! As an example of customer service we recall we delivered his food to him for a week when he broke his nose and was homebound for a week- the good old days!!

On a more serious note, we hope this captures from an independent third party after Graham popped by on a short passing visit yesterday, the ethos we have tried to reflect ( with frustration sometimes ) in our recent management responses.

Our approach is not price driven, as some reflect on - we welcome small spends as well as high spends and are totally flexible with people choosing a little to eat off say a week end menu ( last Sat 8 girls, an hour late!! but we forgave them!!, half had just a main course, half had starters as a main course only- we were totally relaxed with that and they were very nice people who appreciated the food and service, which is where we begin and finish).

'Colour of someone's money' is not important to us; we occasionally have very wealthy customers we know who eat always very modestly, other customers who just eat a little ( example an older couple who always share a mains as they can't eat too much ) but the key thing is they come because they are welcomed warmly, it is a two way flow of welcome/discussion and they appreciate we do the best we can as a small family business.

Most people don't want or expect to see a huge menu, as others have referred to, and understand is not the Italian way generally ( nor in better British cuisine ) and if you have a choice of 7-8 starters, 6-8 mains incl several fish options & incl meat, vegetarian, & 4-5 desserts, and can in fact just select starters as mains etc ( plus have 2 course £10-95 option all midweek and at weekend sometimes other offers ) any expectation beyond that is perhaps drifting into consumer greed rather than a limitation of the restaurant.

We think customer differentiation is important but we are very broad in that outlook, and not snobby about it as someone suggested- we have lots of young couples, single diners, people/families from local Chester districts and surrounding villages from all walks of life, regular groups who know each other from church like from Christleton St James, the Lache, and The Roman Catholic church nearby, all sorts of clubs, theatre groups, rowing clubs etc and some lovely, discerning visitors to Chester. The common theme is not them expecting low price, nor us trying to get as much out of them as quickly as possible etc etc but just nice rapport, relaxed eating and drinking, and professional, helpful but friendly interface and service in a 'family' communal dining sense. The differentiation is that no matter how large the volumes nor how much money they bring, we don't want and won't encourage drunks, aggressive or overtly negative customers, although always happy to expalin what and why we do it our way.

All customers - new and old- who adhere to & welcome that warm and friendly rapport approach, & perhaps slightly less stuffy, informal approach to dining, where all comers in sofar as families, kids/babies, larger groups where they can be accomodated, single diners , young couples, same sex couples etc etc, are most welcome - what we don't want are the multiple 'drunks' drifting in from nearby Foregate Streeet, that largish element of drunks from the races (altho we do have a few very decent groups from there as well but stress he words few/decent as going together ) and similar ( often people who book then don't even bother to come or phon o cancel half an hour after the booked time ) and people who are stuffy, up themselves or who are generally negative and spoil things for the vast bulk of customers.

Saluti La Cantina Liz and Marco

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Reviewed September 3, 2012

The food here was good, freshly cooked and authentic italian food - although in my humble opinion perhaps a little overpriced. I can see that the owners are suggesting that their prices include all veg, salads, breads - but that's assuming I want that included. If I'm having 2-3 courses then I don't particularly want all the trimmings. Unfortunately the management responses on TA are reflecting poorly on the management, who I'm sure are meaning well, but are coming across badly.

I'm an online marketing professional, and I find the management responses to be overly personal, defensive and sometimes even quite snobbish. Your response on TA is viewed by hundreds of prospective customers and it would deter me from coming back. I'm amazed that you would say things like "we are not really too concerned whether you want to come back again" to a reviewer who was giving an honest opinion. Why not? Is their money not good enough for you? Would you respond this way if someone gave you their honest opinion in person?

My advice would be to get some advice. Look online for articles recommending how to respond to reviews on TA and perhaps consider responding on here as you would in person.

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3  Thank simplethings321
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
marcoroma15, Owner at La Cantina, responded to this reviewResponded September 3, 2012

Thanks, noted.

Clearly, price is a matter of opinion, expressed also by last 3 TA scribes. Tonight we had 9 high quality customers paying £36 per head and additional extras for a small cookery school incl a meal ( they cooked under our direction),. All nice people, interactive, appreciative, we gave something back as to places to go to in their forthcoming visits to London and Italy etc, and arranged a language school intro for one, places to visit in Rome for another.

We had a call from Italy for 15 people to come on Friday and also another for a word of outh recommendation of 8 on Thursday.

This evening, we received a proposal for involvement/support to the business from a group of leading north west chefs, supported themselves by one of the wealthiest northwest household name Merseyside families.

The point we are trying to make- politely- is that we too have to make choices; as to the customer you refer to is not that her money is not good enough but if we fill trhe restaurant with people of that outlook ( low price driven, happier with the traditional angloItalian restaurant model she referred tp as a preference ) then we would not have enough oxygen to deal with the customers we have and who are coming via word of mouth who match and have views/expectations same as ours.

My friend De Felici ran a traditiional Rome restaurant,basic but very tasty home made foods - didn't even let in anyone he didn't like the look of, especially foreign tourists ( in our case we would equate that to perhaps the discount price , expectation of 60 item menu as in 70s 80s anglo italian merchants ), kept the door locked to keep out unwanted customers but was full every night with queues of locals and others he saw as on common ground/outlook.

If you are a 'marketing professional' we suggest you examine the area of customer differentiation and segmentation - it does not appear to be reflected in your ''we should grab whatever cash comes through the door' outlook as expressed in the comments.

As a general point we are open to face to face discussion and are surprised at those few people who seem only to be able to articulate their views in a more anonymous way rather than first discussing them face to face.

La Cantina

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