A second generation of Italian restaurant owners are interpreting the food of their father’s homeland in their own way.
Sister and brother Victoria and Simon Guadagrin are the double act behind Italian Kitchen on Ecclesall Road.
Simon is head chef and Victoria runs front of house.
They have been open for 18 years under different names.
Victoria said: “My dad used to have a restaurant, Paolo’s, where Relish is on Ecclesall Road, more than 30 years ago.
“It wasn’t my profession, then this place came up for sale. It used to be Bilash.”
By changing the name to a bit of a cross between English and Italian, it appealed to more people
Victoria added: “The restaurant used to be called Vittorio’s but we decided to move on with the times.
“We’re near Relish and Graze Inn and we wanted to move on from old-fashioned Italian restaurants.
“We called it Italian Kitchen, which sounds more appealing, especially to students. A traditional restaurant is not what they want.
“By changing the name to a bit of a cross between English and Italian, it appealed to more people.”
“We also changed the menus to include dishes like bowls of mussels, calzones and burgers and we do breakfasts.”
There’s a brunch menu available to 2.30pm and a pronto quick lunch menu, offering pasta and pizza dishes for £5 to £6. The full menu is also available at lunchtime for a more leisurely meal.
They have regular events such as Thursday seafood nights that are popular with regulars, said Victoria.
She said that Simon shops at Sheffield markets most days to keep everything as fresh as possible.
It means they don’t have to buy in bulk and don’t have to worry about stocking vast amounts of ingredients, like sea bass that might not sell on a particular day.
Simon and his kitchen brigade also aim for freshness and consistency.
He’s taken some inspiration from family recipes (dad Paolo was from Venice) and classic Italian recipes like saltimbocca and a calves’ liver dish but comes up with his own ideas, too.
The restaurant was also refurbished last year and has a calm, classy feel with muted, warm colours on the partly panelled walls.
One eye-catching feature is a fish tank built into the wall that links both dining rooms.
We visited on a busy Friday night but there was still a warm welcome from the attentive staff.
Armed with a bottle of pleasant Pinot Grigio (£17), my friend Alice and I perused the menu.
There is also a specials board on one wall.
We asked for water and got a carafe with ice and lemon in, which was refilled when staff noticed it was empty.
I chose a mushroom and spinach starter of fungo con spinaci and Alice went for peeled king prawns in garlic butter.
I followed mine with a belly pork dish, while Alice opted for a calzone with a chicken Kiev-style filling.
Prices for starters range from £5 to £7 and main courses are £8.25 to £20 for a steak.
Vegetarians and fish eaters are well catered for and there’s also the option of burgers or a delicatessen-style sharing platter.
My starter was a tasty plate of two field mushrooms, densely packed with soft spinach and topped with grilled goat’s cheese and a scattering of pine nuts.
The mushrooms sat on a bed of mixed lettuce leaves and looked very pretty, surrounded by a decoration of balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
It tasted as good as it looked.
Alice was well pleased with her prawns, which were in a deep white bowl and had been sautéed with garlic, white wine, lemon and parsley. They were served with warm ciabatta to mop up the juices.
She said they were neither too garlicky nor too oily but just right, sounding a bit like an Italian Goldilocks.
One of the waitresses came over to apologise that the main courses would be a little delayed but we were perfectly happy chatting over the wine and it didn’t seem like a very long wait.
My main course would have been well worth a longer delay.
A perfectly-cooked rectangle of belly pork had just the right amount of chew to it and the crunchy, crackling topping was perfect, sticking a little to the teeth as it crunched satisfyingly.
It was well accompanied by a creamy veloute sauce containing thinly-sliced apple that set off the meat very well, plus buttery mashed potatoes and plain green beans.
I really prefer restaurants that serve vegetables that are chosen to go with the dish, rather than expecting you to buy pricy side dishes or go for the ‘one-size-fits-all’ selection of veg.
Alice very much enjoyed her calzone. It contained chicken, mushrooms and spinach with pizza sauce and mozzarella.
The base was good and the folded pizza was also topped with bolognese sauce. It really worked as a whole,
Alice said, and an accompanying side salad added variety.
The portions are generous enough to challenge the idea of pudding but in the end we thought we’d share an Italian favourite, tiramisu.
It appeared in a glass and was layered, which made it look attractive, and was topped with a few fresh berries.
There were two pieces of shortbread on the side, which we didn’t really need and didn’t add anything.
Biscotti or tuiles might have worked better but I’m really nit-picking here as there was so little to fault in the meal.
Everything we ate was wonderfully balanced and packed with flavour.
With two coffees, our bill came to £65.80, which I thought was also perfectly judged.