A taste of the city in sunny Tuscany

Beating the Italians at their own game: Sheffield chef Jayne Bryson in the kitchen of her Tuscan restaurant in Bagni Di Lucca
Beating the Italians at their own game: Sheffield chef Jayne Bryson in the kitchen of her Tuscan restaurant in Bagni Di Lucca
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I walk in Martin Dawes’ shadow, even in rural Tuscany.

When I found out last week the best restaurant in my holiday town was run by a Sheffield woman, I had to book a table – and arrange an interview.

But Martin Dawes had beaten me to it. Several years ago he penned two stories on Granville College-trained Jayne Bryson, who for the last 10 years has been beating the Italians at their own game and receiving rave reviews for her food.

The Star articles took pride of place in the window of her restaurant, Antico Cafe Del Sonno in Bagni Di Lucca, an hour from Lucca. Only, Jayne’s husband Ilario Cassai, the man who wooed her to Italy 30 years ago, had to take them down; they were scaring off the tourists. “They didn’t want to eat English food while they were in Tuscany,” shrugs Jayne, from Stannington.

She feared the same reaction from the locals when she took over the 150-year-old restaurant and kept her nationality secret for months.

“Only after customers had spread word of how much they enjoyed the food did we tell them. They were amazed,” giggles the former Bradfield School pupil. “I took it as a huge compliment. I’m delighted to be overturning the myth that the English have no culinary expertise – something which really annoys me.”

I do have one up on Mr Dawes, though; he interviewed Jayne as she visited brother John and sister-in-law Kath Worrall in Sheffield – he never got to taste her tagliata with porcini.

Slices of tender T-bone steak sauteed with wild mushrooms fresh from the surrounding hills, it’s speciality of the house - along with her pizzas.

A recent article in The Times penned by a journo now living the Tuscan dream proclaimed them the finest in Italy, if not the world.

Her pizza secret? “Roll the dough ultra-thin and be sparing with the toppings; less is definitely more,” says Jayne.