Memorable Italian welcome makes a Sheffield summer shimmer with Italian style.
First, a confession. VeroGusto has been my favourite Sheffield Restaurant since 2010, but it’s nothing to do with the food, excellent though that is.
Here’s why. It was Christmas of that year and on the way to The Star’s Christmas party I stopped at VeroGusto to wish them good luck after their October move across town – up-market from their old place on Church Street to Norfolk Row.
I had been introduced to owners and life partners Bruno Saverio and Esterina Calve by then Star food writer Martin Dawes months before, but wasn’t sure they’d remember.
They did. I was greeted like Bob Cratchit coming home with the Christmas goose. Every member of staff shook my hand, there were hugs and offers of drinks. They barely knew me but showed such warmth they felt like Italian family. Unforgettable.
This time the visit was on a warm, breezy evening but again a warm greeting, this time for my daughter Ellen and I as we entered the classy-looking restaurant that’s had a new bar area added since I was last there.
We are seated by co-proprietor Bruno in smart leather seats amid pictures of Italian coastal scenes on aqua blue walls. To step into VeroGusto is to be on holiday.
The restaurant has a national reputation, spread by theatre and concert goers, visiting snooker stars and notable entertainer customers like Michael Bublé and Ian McKellen.
We start our meal by sharing mixed olives, ‘ciccio’ flatbread and calamari. The bread is warm and light, aromatic with garlic and drizzled in the sweetest, stickiest balsamic vinegar. We fight over the last piece.
Alongside is calamari, tempura battered baby squid served with lemon mayonnaise. The batter – traditionally made from corn flour, plain flour, baking powder and iced water - is delicate and crisp, the squid sweet and tender.
I had an early Peroni Gran Riserva beer and ordered a glass of house white wine with the main course, a San Vincenzo, an intensely floral and aromatic white, Italian of course. Glorious.
For main course I chose linguine with perfectly cooked and moist monkfish and prawns, and a rich and subtle almond pesto and tomato sauce. Simple but flawless.
Ellen had the pan-fried duck breast with mixed berries and wild mushrooms, shallots and watercress salad. The duck is sensational, vacuum-packed and cooked slowly in a water bath then pan fried for a crisp and caramelised skin, Bruno explained later.
The pink flesh melts in the mouth and the berries and their jus are a perfect foil for the rich meat. The wild mushrooms add a woody depth, shallots give sweetness and the water cress a fresh and bitter edge. It all works beautifully.
The accompanying roast potato is crunchy and the other veg vivid and crisp with a sheen of butter.
Ester, as the co-owner is known, and Bruno live in the city centre and have a son and daughter, Francesco aged six and two-year-old Vittoria. Ester is from Naples and Bruno from Puglia on the Adriatic coast. Both areas specialise in seafood.
“It was a good move for us and this is very different from the old place,” said 39-year-old Bruno on their shift from café to quality restaurant. “It’s been hard too, longer hours, but after a while you realise that this is your life now. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s difficult. It makes you stronger.
“But now every day is as busy as Saturday. Now we are happy with a certain number of customers per night so they have time to enjoy their food and the experience.
“Ester learned to cook from her parents and grandparents in Napoli and then took it to another level. Ester makes everything and adds her own twist. She is the leader in the kitchen. I lead in the restaurant. We train our own people – we like to lead by example.”
It shows. Bruno is first to clear an empty bottle or dirty plate and has a sixth sense for a half-full water glass. Other staff follow his expert lead. It makes for immaculate service.
For dessert I had profiteroles and Ellen went for the chocolate ricotta cake.
The profiteroles came in a chocolate mousse-like cocoon rather than a sauce. It works. The richness of the chocolate goes classically well with the light choux pastry and the creamy centre within. What’s not to like?
Ellen’s Ricotta and chocolate cake is equally stunning. With a chocolate and mille feuille base and a sweet and creamy ricotta centre, it’s a delight.
So are there any changes planned for VeroGusto?
“We change the menu seasonally and it’s working well. We’re going to stick at it for a while and see what the future brings. Sheffield is a friendly place with nice people, like a big village. We like it here.”
And Sheffield likes them here too – they bring culinary class to the city centre.
We say goodbye to Bruno and under an infinity of summer-blue sky we drive the long way home past hedgerows and fields of ripening wheat as a surrealist sunset of whisps and swirls glows on the horizon. We could have been in Campania or Puglia rather than just off the A57.
A memorable end to a five-star experience.
With a diet coke, a beer and a glass of house white our bill came to £87.15
Star rating out of five:
* Food: 5
* Atmosphere: 5
* Service: 5
* Value: 5
* VeroGusto, 12 Norfolk Row, Sheffield S1 2PA
* Tel: 0114 276 0004
* Open Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 11pm, last booking 10pm