Not many of us get to see our own demise played out on our television screens, but Vito Restiano had that very pleasure, in one of the most successful series in recent years.
“Not many people know but I was the first murdered Italian in Peaky Blinders, in the very first episode,” smiles Vito, whose character is stabbed to death by Danny Whizz-Bang with his own knife.
“My wife was involved with a filming agency, so I got the part that way. It’s the biggest speaking part I’ve had... although I was in Fat Friends with James Corden.
“Was it strange, watching the show back and seeing my own death? It wasn’t, really. It just looked like a home video. But filming the show was a great experience, and good fun – it’s just a shame I got killed off so soon.”
Vito’s Italian character in the hit BBC drama, about a well-known crime family in 1920s Birmingham, owned a cafe and in Fat Friends, he was a chef – a true case of art imitating life, with Vito owning Sheffield establishment Rossi’s in his ‘day job’ alongside wife of 30 years, Karen.
And it’s soon clear that Rossi’s is no average Italian restaurant. While many claim to try and replicate the authenticity of the Mediterranean with their decor, not many can boast a replica of Michelangelo’s David as a centrepiece.
Marble pillars, an impressive chandelier and cherubs on the ceiling add to the taste of Italy in the building, formerly the Midland Bank on Sharrow Lane, just off London Road.
Vito greets us warmly on a freezing night in the Steel City and the restaurant is pretty empty, although it promptly fills up later in the evening. Initial impressions are that this building has a lot of history, and Vito backs it up – the restaurant has been on the site for over 30 years, and he’s owned it for 15.
Hailing from Bella, in the Italian province of Potenza, Vito’s family came to the UK in 1969 and have worked in the restaurant trade ever since, so he knows his stuff – even down to the little details. The excellent Sicilia Shiraz is served in an actual red wine glass, for one – a rarity, in our experience, and it goes down well.
Decoration, with marble effect columns and foliage hanging from the walls, is a big conversation starter for the group, at least until the starters arrive promptly. Calamari was well seasoned and the home-made tartar sauce tangy and delicious; the pate was smooth and flavoursome, with a thumbs up for the pate-to-bread ratio; often overlooked, but crucial.
Funghi all’ aglio contained a substantial amount of mushrooms, all coated generously in garlic butter, with a refreshing side salad that countered the strong garlic taste. So far, so good.
The gap between courses is short, with service very prompt, but does allow more time to explore the interior and it’s difficult to miss the ‘wall of fame’ – a number of framed certificates that Vito, Karen and their staff have picked up in recent years. Rossi’s was named Best Italian at the Westside Restaurant of the Year awards in 2017 and were also nominated for the best Italian in the UK, along with a previous runners-up gong in the English Italian Awards back in 2015.
We ask Vito what the secret is. “Good food, hard work and a great place that looks like you are in Italy,” he says.
“The decor helps to make people feel like they have been out; to feel like they are in Rome! It does create that ambiance.”
By now, the place is beginning to fill up and mains arrive; a meaty and mighty calzone, stuffed full with a selection of meat, mushrooms and onions and filling the entire plate, with thick bolognese sauce and side salad. Tagliatelle pollo was perfectly creamy with good portion sizes, and Vito was accommodating in the removal of mushrooms when requested.
The salmon tagliatelle could perhaps have done with a little more fish but was very filling, and the leftovers were quickly devoured by others, while tortellini bellese – meat-filled pasta parcels with pepperoni sausage in creamy tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella cheese – was a real hit; hailed by the group’s Italian food lover as the best ever tasted from any restaurant.
Some compliment for the dish, with the pepperoni giving the creamy tomato sauce a meaty edge and the melted cheese crust lending that extra-indulgent flavour.
Minor gripes – there are always some – included the length of time our glasses were empty before we were offered refills, although at a fairly expensive price of £2.45 for half a pint of Pepsi or lemonade it’s probably just as well.
The total bill, including starters, mains, drinks and wine for seven people, came to a reasonable enough £26 each.
And it’s not every day you’re served by the star of Peaky Blinders, either.
The talent clearly runs in the family; son Max, a musician, was recently on tour supporting Steps, will appear as a special guest on former Westlife frontman Shane Filan’s Love Always tour this year and has a gig of his own at the O2 Academy in Islington on April 19.
“Karen and I both work in the restaurant along with my sons and daughter,” Vito smiles.
“It’s in the family’s blood.”
n Vito’s, 3 Sharrow Lane, S11 8AE. Tel: 0114 2588164, www.rossisrestaurant.co.uk. Cards accepted.