Peeking in through the window on a Saturday evening, it may have looked a little like a living room circa 1990 (modern and minimalist La Galleria is not), but it was a living room packed with guests. Opened by Sardinian Lucio in the 1990s (perhaps explaining the decor), the restaurant is popular with both locals and visitors to Woodstock. Taking our seat at the last available table, we took in our surroundings: intimate and smart yet relaxed. The size of La Galleria helps to create a convivial atmosphere, with conversations starting up between diners at different tables as the evening progressed.
Nibbling on hunks of warm bread and sipping a far-too-drinkable glass of Sardinian Sauvignon Blanc, N and I perused our dining options. The menu begins with a selection of classic appetizers, from £5.95 for a soup to £9.50 for the calamari fritti, served with an intriguing-sounding tomato, garlic and avocado salsa. In true Italian style, the pasta and risotto selections are available both as smaller portions (£8.95) for those who want to continue their meal with some meat or fish, and in main course portions (£2 extra). All tastes are covered by the pastas, with a number of vegetarian options, as well as a nod to the owner's roots with the Sardinian malloredos pasta served with spicy sausage, broccoli, tomato and pecorino. I was pleased to note that risotto is made from scratch, but this unfortunately means that at least 2 diners must order it to make the preparation worthwhile. Next up are a selection of fish and meat options, with the latter particularly well represented: carnivores will have trouble choosing between dishes such as pollo alla salvia (boneless chicken cooked in white wine and wrapped in bacon and sage, £13.50) and spiedini di manzo kashis (baked slices of beef tenderloin skewered with onions, mushroom and peppers in a garlic sauce, £16.95).
N and I opted to begin with a crab linguine, and were impressed by both the size of the portion and the dramatic presentation: strands of pasta spilling from a crab shell. The taste didn't disappoint either: packed with fresh crab meat, it was unexpectedly spicy, with a slightly sweet aftertaste. The generosity of the serving made us a little concerned that we'd be pushing our stomachs to the limit with 3 courses: less hardy (or hungry) diners would probably cope with a portion this size for their main course.
|Fresh flounder. There's just no way of making whole fish look as appealing as it tastes, sadly.|
Fortunately N and I had brought our appetites. Our mains of fresh flounder with lemon and capers turned out to be served whole, but the flaky fish proved light enough for us to tackle. As a slightly squeamish pescetarian, I don't find the eyes 'n' all look that appealing on a fish, but my time in Spain taught me to toughen up, so I got stuck in. The fresh taste of the fish was my reward: it was simply but beautifully cooked, the light flesh well complemented by the lemon and caper butter.
We also tucked into the accompanying vegetables: mixed broccoli, carrot and green beans; courgette fries; potatoes with rosemary and cauliflower topped with cheese. The fries were an authentically Italian touch, the potatoes delicious and the cauliflower moved lifelong avoider N to state 'that's the first time I've enjoyed cauliflower'. Apparently her mother will be proud.
Flagging slightly at the thought of dessert, we rallied when we saw the tiramisu the couple next to us were tucking into. Their rave review spurred us on, but sadly they had bagged the last serving. Our very apologetic waitress returned with samples of two other sweets for us to try, and N opted for a portion of the chocolate mousse cake while I chose the amaretto one. My dessert featured layers of sponge and cream, with an amaretto syrup providing a subtle almond flavour. N's cake had a light consistency on top, with more substance provided by the cake based. We stretched our appetites and our waistbands to the limit, but it was worth it.
|Chocolate mousse cake|
Lingering over coffee, we watched Lucio work the room, checking that diners were enjoying their evenings and joking with regulars. With excellent traditional cooking, a strong wine list and good service on offer, it was no surprise to observe that La Galleria has such a loyal following. If you want an authentic Italian experience that doesn't involve a pizza oven, consider a trip to Woodstock. It may be a little more pricey than a pizzeria, but it's well worth the extra spend.
La Galleria is at 2 Market Place, Woodstock OX20 1TA. Tel: 01993 813381. Reservations recommended at weekends.