What have they done with Maria? La Pergola in Northampton

Goose is back from her travels (and has promised to post some articles soon!) so last night (Hallowe’en) we went out to celebrate. We opted for for La Pergola, one of two Italian restaurants on Wellingborough Road (we reviewed the  other one here).

When we came here before we had enjoyed a wonderful meal (after jumping out of an airplane) but it was the atmosphere and the staff that made our evening. Maria, the more than eccentric waitress, had entertained us with the sheer force of her personality and her sparring with the elderly proprietor added something unique to the experience. Goose met the chef and we had one of the best (homemade) tiramisus you could imagine.

Last night though things were quite different. When we arrived there was a massive pizza oven in the entrance way – rather like having a mini sauna at the front of the restaurant. This had cost them covers (they now seat 38 people and not 42) and throughout the two hours we were there we only saw two pizzas go out; the dedicated pizza chef was mostly stood twiddling his thumbs.

Some alarm bells began to ring when our waiter appeared. He was very nice but clearly very new to the place (and indeed to waiting!). He didn’t really have  a clue about serving wine and we didn’t ask his opinion on any of the food – no worries, he’ll get better.

The wine was excellent anyway so we needn’t have worried, a good robust Malbec bursting with berries.

FullSizeRender(8)We both had exactly the same food for a change but it had the advantage that we could swop notes easily. On the specials menu there was a starter of bacon and blue cheese tortellini with sage. This arrived promptly (as all the food did despite them being busy) and was nicely presented. They might have fried the sage leaves, that would have added some crunch, overall this was a tasty beginning. The flavours were strong and well balanced but the pasta was too thick. It compared badly with shop bought fresh pasta and hopefully this is just one of several teething problems for La Pergola, which is, we later discovered, three weeks into new management.

The interior had changed since our last visit with deep red walls replacing the cream. I commented that if Maria (a diehard Chelsea fan was there she’d never had sanctioned that! So the mystery of Maria continued…

FullSizeRender(7)After the (slight) disappointment of the starters we moved on to the mains, which was the restaurant’s signature meat dish: fillet steak, wrapped in pancetta and served in a red wine sauce. We ordered it rare (I had to because the waiter didn’t ask us).

The steak came resting on a superfluous piece of bread and smothered in sauce. At first it was hard to make out the meat at all but a bit of digging revealed a large filet that was indeed, cooked rare (phew!)

The sauce was tasty, the meat properly cooked, the pancetta a tad unnecessary and the vegetables that accompanied it were fine. But why pour a load of sauce over such a decent steak? A small jug on the side or just slightly less sauce, carefully positioned around it would have been so much better. The sauce had split too, it wasn’t the unctuous delight it might have been. Good marks for flavour chef but attention to detail and presentation let’s you down!

FullSizeRender(6)(the steak in red wine…where are you?)

So finally we came to dessert, and obviously we went for the tiramisu because it was still advertised as ‘homemade’ and it had been so good here before. Sadly it wasn’t. It was nice, and there was lots of it but rather too much sweet cream and not enough body elsewhere. Not as nice as before and not as good as Gianbiaz either.

FullSizeRender(10)When we came to pay the bill was £76 which is not cheap but not outrageous either. We had a decent meal in a nice environment but it was nothing special. We spoke to the waitress who took the payment and she told us that the older owner had retired and they had taken the opportunity to buy the place. Maria has been retained but she now works in the kitchen. What a shame, she is wasted in there. Before La Pergola had something special, something different, at the moment it is just a perfectly good Italian eatery on a Northampton street where there are many other alternative places to eat.

They need time to bed in, to cultivate their own atmosphere and to rediscover the magic. I’d have a word with the kitchen – an Italian needs to serve soft and delicate pasta not lumps of chewy dough – and if you want to be a pizza place well, trade on that. To be honest in the summer an oven at the front of house is going to render half your covers unbearable. Bit most of all they need to get Maria back, and soon!


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