Heeley’s little Sicily

La Cucinera restaurant, London Road, Sheffield.
La Cucinera restaurant, London Road, Sheffield.

The staff at Il Cuciniere, a new Italian restaurant in Heeley, all have one thing in common: they’re all from Palermo in Sicily.

Front of house manager Dalio says it’s the first time it’s happened to him in 16 years in the business.

Owner-chef Stefano Cusenza was actually away there when we visited, sourcing cheeses in his home city.

He opened the restaurant two weeks ago in the former Portofino on London Road and business has been pretty steady, says Dalio.

Stefano used to work at Cotto a Legna, which Dalio says is a famous Palermo restaurant whose name refers to cooking in a traditional wood-fired oven.

Over here, he worked as a chef at Lombardi’s in Chesterfield and Il Cuciniere is the first place he’s owned.

Anyone who has been to Portofino’s will be familiar with the look of the place.

They had problems with the electrics in the main dining room, so had placed tables in the bar area, usually home to a couple of leather settees and a giant TV.

It made for a cosy eating area which I think is a much better use of the space.

The menu is pretty much what you’d expect in a Sheffield Italian restaurant with a few Sicilian tweaks, such as putting chilli in some of the tomato sauces. They also use guanciale instead of pancetta bacon.

As it was a school night, we didn’t go for a whole bottle but tried glasses of the pleasant house wines (£3.25). Many bottles cost around £15 and they have a wine specials board.

We went for two starters off the choice of food specials but there’s quite a range on the menu to cater for meat and fish lovers and vegetarians.

Prices start at £3.50 for garlic bread with tomato or chilli and go up to £7.75 for king prawns sauteed in garlic, white wine and parsley.

I tried the salsiccia, a lovely, dense Italian sausage in a great fresh tomato and chilli sauce (£5.95), and my friend Linda chose smoked salmon and mushrooms, also in a tomato sauce (£6.25).

I wasn’t sure that combination would work but it did, with the strong flavour of the salmon, which I think must have been hot smoked, bursting through the sauce.

Main course choices include pasta, risotto and gnocchi, pizzas cotto a legna, plus chicken, steak, veal and fish. Prices range from £7.25 for a pizza Margherita to £21.95 for a larger portion of the king prawns.

Dalio told us that Linda’s meal, grilled swordfish (£16.95), was a typical Sicilian dish. The fish was thinly sliced and served simply with lemon juice and salad and she enjoyed its meaty taste.

I opted for bistecca pizzaiola (£17.95), a generously-sized piece of sirloin beautifully cooked and topped with a delicious tomato, garlic, chilli, caper, black olive and oregano sauce.

All main dishes come with potatoes and vegetables and we each got a dish of great sauteed potatoes, crispy topped cauliflower and carrots in garlic butter.

We couldn’t face pudding but did have two good cappuccinos.

Everyone gets offered a small glass of limoncello lemon liqueur to finish.

Service is attentive but not overly fussy and we were well looked after by Simone Vitrano.

Our bill came to £57.60 but sticking to pizza or pasta would cut that down a bit.

All in all, a solid performance from a welcome newcomer.

Il Cuciniere is open seven days at 617-19 London Road. Call 0114 255 5655.