La Vecchia Banca | Restaurant Review | Bishops Cleeve Italian nr Cheltenham
I was very much looking forward to reviewing La Vecchia Banca, Bishops Cleeve’ first Italian restaurant. I was expecting a relaxed suburban family run dining experience for families, the demographic of Bishops Cleeve. Somewhere where local people could causally dine and hangout, which in a village as fast growing as Bishops Cleeve, would work really well. My fear would be that it might try to be a central Cheltenham finer dining experience, contemporary and formal – I’d argue, it’s somewhere in between.
First Impressions of La Vecchia Banca in Bishops Cleeve nr Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
As soon as I walked in, with my family, I remarked “I hope this isn’t too expensive”, merely because, if La Vecchia Banca becomes a treat I fear the footfall will not be sustainable – it was packed, which one could expect in the first week, and I know, Bishops Cleeve wants this restaurant to work.
La Vecchia Banca translates as ‘The Old Bank’, and that’s where it is – the now closed NatWest Bank on Church Road in Bishops Cleeve just north of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. As soon as it closed, everyone said “restaurant”.
The building is beautiful and they have done it justice internally, my only bug bear was the lighting – so bright, why, where is the mood lighting all restaurants should enjoy? The grey walls, dotted with art and shelving accompanied by contemporary and low lit wall lights were blasted by a gazillion lumens from the plethora of lights dangling from the ceiling – it was like National Lampoons Christmas Vacation – their poor smart meter only making the power company happy.
We were greeted and seated quickly in the backroom, walking past the floral bar situated in the front – it looks good, almost Ivy like. The tables are packed together, but there is plenty of room.
The Bar and Wine at La Vecchia Banca
One test we like to apply to any restaurant is the time it takes from being seated to getting a drink, it’s a basic fundamental, it wasn’t swift but well within the boundary.
The wine list isn’t a wine list at all, it doesn’t mention vineyards or brands, just grapes and appellation. There is no way to know what you’re going to get, you can’t research it. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc – from where dude? When ordering a Chianti Classico, which is a legally protected appellation in Tuscany, Italy, I would absolutely need to know more than that.
This only means that those who like to pay attention to the wine will need to ask, and those that go for the grape (like that Malbec crap they make in Argentina) won’t even notice. Nit-picking right? I don’t think so, it’s a good signal as to how La Vecchia Banca will operate – this will give them a chance to price the wine, and buy for margin.
You may notice, I am concerned about the prices and value – we all want this to be a success, but if it’s charging more than Montpellier, is it sustainable?
The Food at La Vecchia Banca
The menu is massive, which I often find to be an instant worry – how fresh is the food, it usually suggests lots of pre-made and defrosting, but in an Italian you have lots of Pasta, Risotto, Pizza – so a little deceptive – the proof will be in the eating.
Two adults and two kids, we ordered Calamari Fritti to start at £8.95 compared to TripAdvisors’ number one Italian restaurant in Cheltenham Zitto E Mangia (which is actually in Tewkesbury) £7.50 – which sadly, never arrived. I saw a couple of times the waiting staff not writing down the order. There were a few teething problems, we will return and try again.
A pizza was ordered, Margherita (£12.00 v £11.25 ASK). The base was soft and floppy, I wasn’t sure about the type of oven it was cooked in to be honest, but when you have Casa Gee (which I have only ever had a left over slice of) in the area, renowned for their stone baked pizza bases, you have to be sure. The top was crispy and looked great, but the toppings themselves also had a funny taste to it, like it was distinctly flavoured in some way, I cannot explain it though, almost sour. I’m giving a thumbs down for the pizza.
Things start to improve from this point on – the lasagne was good, looked great, good fun to eat, had an underlying sweetness to it, thumbs up.
We also ordered a risotto, this’ll be a good test, Risotto con Branzino (£17.95) – king prawns, some chilli, saffron and a filet of sea bass. The Arborio rice was al dente, the sauce thick and saffron coloured served in nice crockery that came hot. Thumbs up.
Last up, Linguine Pescatore £16.95 – king prawns, mussels, calamari, chill, garlic, butter – this was gorgeous, and had plenty of seafood in it. I felt this was good value, brilliantly cooked and I had to slow myself from walloping it down. I should have ordered some garlic bread for mop-ups and I wouldn’t have cared who saw me – a bib would have been required. One downside, my bowl was cold, the food was ok though. Had to wait a teeny bit for all four dishes to arrive.
I did look at other diners, and what I saw looked very good indeed.
In summary, I would be worried that it is a little expensive, it’s not Montpellier, it’s opposite a Tesco car park in Bishops Cleeve. Yes, one should try to be amazing, but equally, you want your covers booked. Would people from the wider area make the pilgrimage to Bishops Cleeve to eat in a high end Italian with poor pizza? I hope so, local people that I have spoken to, want this place to work.
The staff are wonderful, there are just a few teething problems, that’s permitted for a new restaurant surely. We’ll be back, and will find out. Work in progress and there is more good than bad.
Atmosphere Food Drink Staff Value Overall
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