It must be one of the best-situated city-centre restaurants in Britain.
From the massive plate-glass frontage of Piccolino’s the vista stretches from Jones the bootmaker on Pinstone Street past the Peace Garden fountains to Millennium Square via the Town Hall and magnificent Winter Garden.
Decked out in its twinkling Christmas finery there can’t be many more picturesque places to eat anywhere - and there are plans to make more of its glorious setting next year by extending the recently added all-weather dining terrace at the side of the building to the front.
Impressive, and an ideal place from which to see the ‘new Sheffield’ in all its glory.
Stop waffling and get to the food, you may be thinking.
Let’s not be too hasty.
Piccolino’s is more about ambience, setting and atmosphere than it is about fine food.
The bright, modern and airy space is beautifully lit with polished floorboards, hardwood or hardwood- effect furniture and red leather upholstery on admirably generous booths and banquettes. They complete the profile of the modern eatery with giant yet elegant wine glasses, huge plates and bowls and classy looking cutlery - although the walls in the cavernous room are adorned with disappointingly predictable Italian foodie pictures screwed in place.
You know you’re in a chain restaurant but first impressions are very good, somewhere between All Bar One and Thyme Cafe.
First impressions of service were very good too.
We arrived without reservations on a ridiculously busy Tuesday night - the place is extremely popular - and were greeted warmly in a reassuringly authentic Italian accent, shown to a table and brought complimentary breads and olive oil. Great start, though a dash of balsamic wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Parties of what look like workmates, couples on dates and families with kids arrive as the place starts to buzz, and all before 7pm.
We decline the Christmas menu and go for a shared starter of Bruschetta con granchio e finocchio - toasted ciabatta, crabmeat bruschetta with fennel and parsley.
The crabmeat was good and plentiful, mostly shredded but with hunks of meat and chunks of fennel on a slightly disappointing base - seemed like the ciabatta had been prepared earlier and not freshened up, though the Thousand Island-style sauce was tasty and made a difference.
For main courses we chose braised beef cooked in Barolo wine with mustard fruits, though I had no idea what mustard fruits were, and my companion chose Penne alla Norma with Aubergine, tomato, chilli, basil and ricotta salata.
The ricotta came salted and sprinkled on top, rather like parmesan might be, and with much the same flavour. Mustard fruits are apparently made from unripe fruit preserved in syrup combined with mustard oil and are a traditional garnish for slow cooked Italian meat dishes.
I can’t say they added a lot but they were interesting in a candied peel kind of way.
The waitress recommended that I order veg with the dish as none came with it - which for £17 felt a bit stingy. She suggested rosemary roast potatoes and I agreed.
When it came the generously-sized piece of meat arrived on a bed of beautifully rich and creamy mashed potatoes - not mentioned on the menu - floating in a deep and powerful gravy.
No veg with the meat but potatoes recommended as a side dish to meat and potatoes?
The pasta dish was a bit bland. A one-taste sauce with hunks of aubergine with an appropriate texture but little else. The pasta was firm but overall the dish was as dull as it looked.
The meat and mashed potatoes on the other hand were both excellent.
The beef broke up with a fork and was melt-in-the mouth delicious, as was the gravy. Full marks there.
I had a glass of muscular and very slurpable Nero D’avalo red wine which went perfectly with the beef.
Service throughout was attentive and helpful but the potatoes with potatoes suggestion rankled.
For desserts we went for Tortino al cioccolato - warm chocolate fondant & caramel ice cream and panettone al cioccolato - chocolate panettone, bread & butter pudding with custard.
The fondant was intense and gorgeous with a soft spongy exterior and a warm liquid centre with plenty of dark chocolate kick with it. So much so that it overpowered the subtle and delicious flavours of the homemade caramel ice cream. This is not a complaint, they just need to be eaten in the right order.
The bread and butter pannetone pudding was not so great. With a good custard the spongy layers had chocolate and fruit but were a bit chewy and uninspired.
More custard would have helped – a good maxim for life generally.
I had a decent americano with the desserts and overall the impression was good but with a few reservations.
One of 21 Piccolino restaurants from Mayfair to Clitheroe in Lancashire Sheffield’s version is a great-looking venue in a popular and beautiful city-scape but only some of the food is as good as the place looks.
With coffee and a glass of red the bill came to £56.50.
4 Millennium Square, Sheffield S1 2JJ
0114 275 2698