After discussing my love for all things Italian, one of my colleagues started raving about a restaurant in Jesmond: Francesca's. He couldn't have been more emphatic about the large, homely meals and the amazing value for money. If the mountain won't come to Mohammed (or if Italy won't come to The Fox...) then it seemed like a viable option to cure my nostalgic longing.
I have finished my work down in Newcastle, so decided that Francesca's would be a great place to say farewell to my Geordie compadre Adele. I sat in the front of the restaurant's lobby waiting for her, with a nice chilled glass of rose.
Stepping into Francesca's is literally like being transported to one of the kitsch restaurants you find dotted about the back streets of Rome. Entering the foyer, the tiles are rustic and the wooden interior added to that cosy feel. They also had a stunning big mural on the wall above a mosaic fireplace - the whole atmosphere was comfortable, homely and provincially Italian.
You can't book a table at Francesca's, so I would recommend getting there as early as 5pm to get seated. We were lucky to waltz straight in and be seated. When we were leaving, the queue was all the way round and at the front door, however I can assure you it's worth the wait! The waiters are all native to Italy so it really adds to the authenticity of the place. It was time to peruse the menu, and please be assured that this was no mean feat...
There are screeds and screeds of options to choose from. Hot and cold starters, pasta, pizza, fish, chicken, beef and salads. It was incredibly difficult to choose, especially as they all sounded wonderful, and the dishes passing us to other tables were giving off the most wonderful smells. After much deliberation, we had made our choices. Whilst waiting for our starters, they provide you with some complimentary crusted bread.
As Francesca's don't have an online menu, I haven't been able to get the exact name of my starter, although I shall hazard a guess. I believe it was king prawn piccanti...
I will put my hands up right now and say that this has to be one of the tastiest dishes I have ever eaten. EVER. The sauce was a blend of garlic, peppers, tomatoes and chillies; each mouthful was so fresh and packed full of so many tastes. The sauce was rich and the perfect consistency. The prawns were juicy and meaty - probably the best prawns I have ever had. The small portion of rice made it look like a little curry, and it was just enough to satisfy me, but also leaving me eager for my main. I strongly urge you to try this, even if you're not a big prawn fan. It's not a fishy dish, and I guarantee you will want more.
Adele played it safe, and went for some good old fashioned bruschetta...
Adele said that this was delicious, but there was just a bit too much tomato on it for her. Can you get too much tomato with bruschetta? I can be a bit funny with them myself, so I would be inclined to agree!
The friendly waiter came to check how we were enjoying our meal, and cleared away the dishes. The service was pretty quick considering how busy they were (the waiters were always on the go, although it wasn't a rushed environment. A great plateau to reach!) and our main meals appeared.
I chose the meat cannelloni...
This dish was about the size of my head (not that I have a particularly large head. but you get the jist!) and was bathed in molten cheese. Three large rolls of pasta were stuffed full of mince and herbs, drowned in a rich tomato sauce and a thick layer of bechamel sauce. I couldn't finish this, as much as I tried. The portion was huge and each mouthful was so damn tasty. I could tell that it was proper, home made grub, hand prepared and cooked to perfection - I have no doubt that this was a family recipe that has been tried and tested throughout the years.
Adele went for a bit of flare and ordered the diavolo chicken, with a side of chips...
Two juicy chicken fillets were nestled in a bed of tangy, spicy tomato sauce. The smell of this chicken was amazing, although I don't know if I could order anything apart from the cannelloni now that I'm caught under it's spell. The chips looked like they came from a chip shop, but tasted like they were freshly baked.
Once our dishes were cleared away, we asked to get our bill. I was amazed and speechless that for three glasses of wine, two starters and two main courses, our bill was £25. That's £12.50 a head for all of that food and drink.
I'm actually rather annoyed that I've waited this whole time to go to Francesca's, and no longer reside in Newcastle. I suppose it gives me another reason to visit everyone for a catch up! Have you ever been to Francesca's, or do you think you know somewhere that could rival it? Let me know!
Manor House Road
Tel: 0191 281 6586
Wheelchair access: Yes