Detailed review by koshkha
Northampton, United Kingdom
Our friends Alex and Katya recently moved to the UK so we decided to invite them over on Bank Holiday Monday without really giving enough thought to where we could go and eat. The original plan had been a massive take-away from San San, our local oriental place but I discovered that they never open on a Monday and had to ring round and find an alternative. We narrowed it down to two - a Chinese or an Italian and when we asked Alex which he preferred he instantly demanded the Italian.
My husband and I have been to La Casa Vecchia many times, mostly when we first started looking for property in the area but we've not been in the last year every since hubby realised that he was wearing his pizzas round his tummy and decided to get rid of his belly before it got stuck in place. When we first discovered Sandbach, this little Italian sitting on the town's gorgeous cobbled square was the place we most often went to when we couldn't be bothered to cook. It's not a glamorous or trendy place and it often feels like it's been caught in that bizarre time-warp that's quite typical with some Italian restaurants. However, the food is great and some of the staff are exceptional and we were happy to have an excuse to go back.
Our guests were about an hour late showing up and by the time they'd arrived, hubby and I had polished off a lot of olives and Japanese nibbly things and we'd hit the bottle too. So we set out to the restaurant feeling not as hungry as we probably should have. We parked up in the main town car park on the market square and headed through the non-descript shopping mall to the old square. This is my favourite part of Sandbach - old and cobbled with cute old buildings all round and housing the town's main claim to fame, the two ancient carved Saxon crosses. I need to do my homework as I realised I didn't have a lot to say about them. They're Saxon and they're something religious and I really need to do a bit of googling to find out more.
Casa Vecchia had just a few tables occupied when we entered so they put us at a table near the window - a familiar tactic to make your restaurant look fuller than it is. It's not a big restaurant and there can't be more than about ten or twelve tables. We paused to take in the full glory that is the Casa Vecchia's Venetial mural - a hand painted scene of truly bizarre proportions which never fails to remind me of Coronation Street's Hilda Ogden and her 'muriels'. Other than that, the décor is old, tired and rather dated. It looks like a lot of it hasn't seen a paintbrush since Margaret Thatcher was in her first term.
Our table had paper tablecloths and was set with lots of napkin-filled wine glasses, all the usual silverware and a couple of packets of grissini. It was all a bit cluttered and we were quite pleased that the massive wine glasses were removed after we'd all ordered our drinks.
The menu must have changed since we were last there as my husband's favourite four-cheese pizza was no longer listed. However it only took a quick chat with the waiter to establish that they could probably rustle up 4 different cheeses and do it for him. Alex ordered a calzone and Katya and I both opted for tagliatelle dishes - mine a putanesca and Katya chose one of their speicalities, a king prawn dish with a saffron based sauce. To help pass the time until the main courses would arrive we opted to share two portions of bruschetta.
I have no idea who was in charge of the music selection when we were in La Casa Vecchia but they should probably be fired for crimes against dining. We heard everything from innocuous 'lift' music to Italian favourites and for a good fifteen minutes some bizarre marching band tracks. Ideally you don't really want to notice the music in a restaurant but you really couldn't fail to hear some of this.
The bruschetta portions were a bit on the small side - three small slices of French stick for each portion although they were each well heaped with juicy tomato chunks. Main courses made up for the disappointing starter but highlighted the fact that the table really was just too small. Alex's calzone was about the size of a newborn baby and my husband's pizza was a whopper. Fortunately the pasta dishes were a bit more manageable. My putanesca was not the best I've had but certainly not bad. The tomato base was chunky and juicy and there were more sliced black olives and capers than I'd usually expect. The only slight disappointment was the absence of anchovies. They were on the menu description but if there were any in the sauce they were certainly being shy about speaking up for themselves. The portion was generous but not unmanageable.
Time for desserts and I just didn't have the space to try although everyone else did. I forget precisely who had what but my husband certainly wasn't willing to share his tiramisu which suggests it was pretty good.
Our waitress was small, pretty and very Italian and seemed to be leaping about all over the place with her over-sized pepper grinder and pot of parmesan. On the whole the service was good - not exceptional but there was nothing notably wrong other than the time it took us to get the bill. We were the last diners and by the time we'd finished desserts, most of the staff had packed up and left and the manager had nipped outside for a cigarette. We were half expecting the chef to wander past in his pyjamas and thought we might get locked in after they'd all gone. Eventually we got the bill which came to £83 for a total of about six or seven drinks, two cheap starters, four main courses and three desserts. I guess it was about right for the amount although I couldn't help thinking it was a bit steep for pizzas and pasta.
Now that we know the area a bit better, I think it's relatively unlikely that we'll rush back to La Casa Vecchia. The food's fine, the service was OK this time but has been exceptional in the past, and maybe a bank holiday evening wasn't the best time to test them, but all in all my over impression was one of 'ordinariness'.
La Casa Vecchia