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REVIEW - Italian is real family operation

Dino's Food Review  Dale, Adel
Dino's Food Review Dale, Adel

If there’s one type of restaurant that Sheffield is not short of, it is surely the Italian kind.

From old neighbourhood favourites to modern newcomers, as well as the national chains, there are simply scores of them.
We passed three on our way to Dino’s, which opened on Ecclesall Road past Endcliffe Park about a year ago and was a beacon of light on a chilly winter’s night.

But there is a difference here, as the chef running the show actually hails from the other side of the Mediterranean Sea.
Tunisian Adel Riahi offers all you would expect from any trattoria, although the flavours of his homeland are evident in a spicy chicken sauce and the many seafood specialities.
His smiling son Dale - just 19 - is manager and it is he who warmly welcomes us in, along with wife Jeanette.

They show us to a table, knowing by the time which booking it is, and moments later we have complimentary olives and bread, menus to peruse and choices to make.
They work together to serve customers as a well-oiled machine.

It is a good start and service compared to many we’ve had - with no lingering awkwardly at the door here.
Being inside Dino’s felt rather like being on a miniature holiday.

There were flowers on every table, warm lighting and the place was busy but not too rammed to enjoy
The house red - which came as standard as a gigantic one litre bottle - didn’t hurt either.

Customers can bring their own drinks from Sundays to Thursdays, and this is unsuprisingly proving to be quite a hit.
Dale, who cut his teeth at nearby Morrocan Otto’s on Ecclesall Road before coming to work for the family, reveals the place is fully booked on three settings over the following night, which is a Sunday.

“It’s been going very well and we are very busy throughout the week as well as weekends - people love the bring your own”, says Dale.

“We try to appeal to everyone with a varied menu, there are a few regulars now ho come in every week so we want to give them something different.”

Diners with a good memory may remember Adel, as he formerly worked at Dino’s on London Road and briefly ran an Italian cafe-bar on Church Street under a very similar name.

The family launched the latest venture in a long thin unit that was previously Kitchen and also Burgers Inc , away from the main drag of ‘restaurant row.’

But why stick with the Italian theme when Tunisian cuisine would be more novel for Sheffield?

Dale, added: “It’s what dad did when he started out and it has always been Italian, he came here in around 1990.

“In some ways the food is similar to Tunisian cuisine as well - there’s plenty of fish and we get ours from local suppliers so it is very good.”

To be fair the sign on the door does say Italian and Mediterranean.

Adel himself also pops out of the kitchen and past the tiny bar for a word, once payment and the big reveal is done.

He said: “There are a lot of people who come in because they like the pizza and the pasta - one couple tonight have been in for weeks in a row - but we just do what customers want.

“If they want lobster they can have that if they let us know in advance!”

Sadly we were unaware of the lobster availability - or the Tunisian angle - before booking or I would have challenged Adel to whip up his national dish of cous cous.

As it is, I go for the duck salad from the specials board to start.

I’d expected thin slices of duck breast laid atop leaves in terms of presentation.

What arrived was bite-size pieces of warm, tender duck, hidden among many layers of cucumber, lettuce and celery.

It’s a pleasant combination, the flavour accented by a crunchy topping of pine nuts with drizzles of sweet-sour balsamic glaze, and light to boot.

He had been recommended the funghi dolce latte, from the standard menu, by a BYO regular friend.

It was a plate brimming with large garlic mushrooms drenched in the soft ‘sweet milk’ cheese, piquant and strong although the sauce would have been better if thicker, for mopping up purposes.

As it was quite a bit got left behind.

For mains I toyed with a special sea bass but decided to test the basic menu, opting for the aptly named pollo inferno.

Super-soft chicken breasts were covered with a silky tomato sauce showcasing real depth of flavour. There were abundant spices and pepper in that sauce, transforming it from quite a simple, unassuming in appearance, dish.

I love proper chilli - and it can be massively underutilised in Italian restaurants - so this was just to my taste. The dish came with oven-baked potato and vegetables, all topped with cheese.

He had desperately hoped to be allowed one of the seven different kinds of steak.

For review purposes he had to go for a calzone carne instead.

Too often these pizzas are just a ball of too-thick dough. He found it packed with chicken and ham, a chunky tomato sauce and fresh salad on the side

Fresh courgette, pistachio and lime cakes tasted guilt-free - doubtful though - and scored extra marks for good presentation with a zig-zag of lime coulis.

We paid £60.25. Dino’s, 762 Ecclesall Road

0114 2667702