SOMETIMES with food, the more you look the more things seem the same. Take a roast pork sarnie, for example.
What could be more Sheffieldish than one of these to warm a winter’s lunchtime, the crackling splintering between your teeth and the juices from the slices of meat trickling down your chin?
But hang on a minute. What’s this being sold 1,300 miles away from vans outside the Stadio Olimpico in Rome to the fans streaming up for a Roma or Lazio home game?
Could that be a roast pork sarnie? It is, only the Italians call it a rosetta alla porchetta.
Of course, there’s a difference. The Italians don’t do Paxo, it’s more likely pine nuts and sultanas. And they’ve never heard of an oven bottom breadcake, poor loves, the rosetta is a bread roll with bumps.
I am having these porky thoughts after a first class Sunday lunch in Taste, on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, the Italian café run by Marco Zerboni. No prizes for guessing what I had: porchetta.
Marco is locally famous for his pork so if you haven’t got time for a Sunday lunch you can have it any day of the week (except Mondays when he’s closed) as a main course or stuffed inside a panini.
“When I started I didn’t sell many, now I sell it all the time,” he says.
It’s easy to see, or taste, why. The pork, crossbred large white and landrace from Moss Valley Fine Meats, is rubbed with fennel, rosemary and garlic and cooked long and slow. The crackling crunches satisfyingly, there is a welcome amount of sweet fat and the meat itself, carved into two slices, is moist, tender and full of flavour.
The recipe, says Marco, is typical of Rome, on the northern side of Lazio. Italians are known for their grilled and roast meats. What’s different about this one. “It’s the fennel. Tuscans only use rosemary.”
Sunday lunch is £10.95 for a main course, two courses for £14.50 and £17 for three.
We’re sitting upstairs among people who have just dropped in for a coffee and perhaps a piece of cake, a sandwich or an all-day breakfast, the Full Italian, including Italian-style sausages to Marco’s own recipe, Tuscan beans and a clove of garlic on a cocktail stick.
My pork is served with those rosemary and garlic-flavoured roast potatoes which Italians do so well and piselli, peas with ham. Granted, the peas are tinned but the ham lifts them to another level.
I’m offered apple sauce but I reckon that’s not Italian and pass. There’s also some plated salad and an olive or two, incongruous to an English pork chomper.
The vegetarian alternative is grilled tomino, an Italian goat’s or cow’s milk cheese from Piedmont, firmer than a Brie, and slightly acidic. Its looks – the White Blob from Outer Space – belie its taste. There’s more cheese on the plate as the vegetable is spinach with taleggio, an ultra-luxurious combination we’ve not had before. And some of those roast potatoes and salad. Marco, from Rome, came to Sheffield in 2005, originally to work for Nonna’s, further down the road. He took over Taste, more accurately called Zerboni Taste, from Jamie Bosworth two years later.
It’s on two floors, downstairs has a counter seats, upstairs has tables with room for 30. The décor is in mustard and cream with an Italian flag painted on one wall with the legend “Nun sento ragioni se magna da Zeboni.
Apparently it’s a bit naughty so if you have an Italian maiden aunt in the family don’t ask her to translate. A cleaned up version would be “I won’t listen to reason, I’ll always eat at Zerboni’s.” Roman slang is not the most polite, says Marco.
We’d begun with a belter of a minestrone soup, the vegetables finely diced and combined with chickpeas, served with a warmed granary breadcake, not Italian bread. With a pat of butter the combination works well.
My wife had a pasta starter, rigatoni in a lovely gutsy, smokey aubergine sauce, so good, in fact, that this will be a regular at home from now on.
On Sundays Taste is usually full throughout the day but perhaps only a dozen orders will be for the full Italian Sunday lunch. I’m surprised. It’s as good as a traditional English Sunday lunch, provided you want pork.
For dessert, we shared a plate of pentaquatris. It sounds like an inscription on a Roman statue but actually means a plate bite-sized of five homemade cakes drizzled with chocolate sauce.
Interestingly, I Googled, Yahooed and Binged this word and the only other references, apart from Marco’s menu, are learned scientific documents about solid-state thermal decomposition behaviour of a substance with 59 letters, which I won’t trouble you with here.
They’re pretty good, particularly a carrot, coconut and orange cake and a chocolate Pandora pudding, that’s Panettone without the fruit.
With pleasant, cheerful service our lunch has cost us £31.50 for food.
First class coffees added another £3.30. If you want to bring along your own vino, there’s a £2.75 charge.
The Dawes Verdict
655 Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, S11 8PT.
Tel: 0114 2687356.
Open Tues-Sat 8.30am-4pm, Sun 10-3pm.
Vegetarian and gluten-free foods. Music. Website www.zerbonitaste.co,uk
Sunday Lunch 5