Non molto tempo ormai... not long now… chan fhada a-nis
La Balena – which is Italian for whale - is located in the former Whaler’s Rest on Francis Street or, if you go back far enough, the Carlton Tavern.
When the Gazette first reported on plans for the restaurant back in February, Matteo Giovanazzi was hoping to be in business in time for the busy summer season but all good things take a little longer.
A lengthy wait for a three-phase electricity supply meter, and some other equipment delays, pushed the opening plans back, but have also given Matteo – whose wife Laura is from Lewis – more time to iron out teething problems and assemble a 15-strong team of staff, including five chefs.
There have already been some samplings of what the new La Balena will offer its customers. Last week, there was a “dry run” in the restaurant for a few family members and friends, in the hope of being open by the weekend. However, the building warrant had not arrived.
There was enough dough left over on the Friday to make 45 takeaway pizzas and these were quickly snapped up by an eager public on a first-come, first-served basis via a message on social media.
In advance of opening, La Balena has almost 3000 Facebook followers, most of them poised to book once that’s possible.
This week, Matteo thanked everyone for their support and asked for “a little more patience”.
He added: “We would hate to disappoint by taking bookings and then not being able to honour them”. So keep an eye on Facebook!"
The decision to move to the island and open up a new restaurant was prompted by the “crazy hours” that Matteo was working during Covid and a desire, shared with Laura, to bring up their young family in a less hectic environment.
He is therefore more than happy to adapt to a five-day week and La Balena will not open on Sundays and Mondays.
Expectations surrounding a new Italian dining experience on the island are all the stronger because of Matteo’s family pedigree in the business and his connections to Glasgow restaurants with which many islanders will have been familiar.
Until the Stornoway move, he was head chef at his uncle’s restaurant, Café Parma. His family is best known for its 50 year ownership of La Parmigiana in Great Western Road, one of the city’s earliest and best-loved Italian restaurants which was sold byin 2018. They also owned the Philadelphia fish and chip shops.
The family comes from the small town of Borgator, near Parma, on his father’s side and the well-known source of Scottish migrants, Barga, on his mother’s.
Matteo’s great-grandfather came to Scotland in 1913 and opened the first chip shop at St George’s Cross in 1936. This history is reflected in some of the pictures on the walls of La Balena.
Matteo trained in La Parmigiana and graduated in hospitality management at Strathclyde University.
He was short-listed in 2021 as Italian chef of the year in the Scottish Italian Awards. So no pressure then!