BB’s Italian is a stand-out among Sheffield restaurants. In these days where a restaurant’s average lifespan seems to be just a few years, it is a rarity for two reasons.
One, it’s run by an Italian family and, two, they’ve run it for the last 18 years.
Antonio and Jill Frusciante – he’s from southern Italy and she’s from north Sheffield – took it over in 1998.
While Jill is front of house, Antonio is head chef downstairs. He has spent his life in restaurants - his first in Sheffield in the early ’80s was the tiny La Taverna in Bailey Lane.
And three seems to be a lucky number for the couple.
Their three daughters are all involved in running their three restaurants, Carla at BB’s, Gabriella in Mansfield and Marianna in Burton on Trent.
And those three daughters have three daughters of their own.
A family dynasty is emerging.
The night we were in BB’s, the latest of many it must be said, the place was packed.
It’s cramped and it’s noisy – but in a good way. The sound of people enjoying themselves.
It’s rustic Italian with small wooden tables and chairs on two floors, pictures and Italian plaques on the walls, specials on blackboards and staff in smart BB’s-branded black and red polo shirts. It’s licensed but you can bring your own wine.
A carafe of chilled tap water arrives at our table without us having to ask for it, and for starters my wife chose Avocado con Gamberetti – a perfectly ripe avocado with a filling of prawns served with a salad garnish and BB’s own Marie Rosa sauce which is nicely understated.
And I had Funghi Diavola – chunky-cut mushrooms and prawns baked in the oven with tomatoes, garlic and chilli and topped with mozzarella cheese. Good ingredients with just an interesting chilli kick. A favourite.
Then for Alison a Crespella Campagnola – a vegetarian pancake dish filled with spinach, onions, mushrooms, ratatouille, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Still bubbling when it arrives at the table and a big hit.
And I forego my usual enormous Calzone to have Pollo Thermidor – breast of chicken with prawns, cream, English mustard, brandy and garlic which comes with a dish of oven-roasted veg – very good sliced potatoes, broccoli, carrots, sweetcorn, peas and courgettes. Splendid.
And for dessert, chocolate orange cheesecake and dime bar crunch which hit the spot as Dean Martin croons the obligatory Volare over the sound system.
Apparently six-times snooker world champion Steve Davis is a BB’s regular and, let’s face it, he can afford to eat where he wants.
And in these days of countless awards – best chef, best student chef, best chef aged 13¾ – there should be some best waitress awards.
I have a candidate.
Sally McLoughlan has been at BB’s for all its 18 years. In fact she pre-dates the Frusciantes because she was waitressing for a year in the restaurant’s previous incarnation.
She’s over 21, chatty, friendly and inclusive. She’s a front of house tour-de-force without being overpowering. Which is quite a knack.
Sally’s a Sheffielder, from Bradway, but arrived at the restaurant the long way round, having learned her craft in America. And, despite her day job, she’s in there three or four nights a week: “I love it – just the atmosphere and the people.”
I have eaten in dining rooms with a dozen tables set immaculately for dinner and an absence of customers, where the only sounds you can hear are the occasional scrape of cutlery on plate and the big clock ticking in the corner. And it’s not for me.
BB’s, on Devonshire Street in the city centre, is the opposite. It’s busy, bustling – sometimes even boisterous – but always friendly.
Clearly, in these troubled times, if BB’s are staying open, and indeed flourishing, for 18 years, and holding on to staff for 18 years, they are doing something very, very right.
For two of us the bill for three courses came to £43.90. Our bring your own wine (no corkage charged) was a very nice sauvignon blanc from that emporium of fine wines, the Peace Gardens Co-Op’s closing down sale.
n BB’s, 119 Devonshire Street, Sheffield S3 7SB. Tel: 0114 2799394