Nonna is the Italian word for grandmother, you know.
And rightly or wrongly, I’d assumed you’d have to sell your own grannie to be able to afford to eat regularly at what is arguably the city’s best Italian restaurant.
Hence we don’t dine there often and we could never be described as part of the Nonna’s crowd – those posh and glamorous folk who gather in the Nonna’s bar of an evening.
Good for them as do and are, though.
The long-established restaurant on the corners of Ecclesall Road and Hickmott Road is renowned for the quality and authenticity of its fine food and wines.
But owners Gian Bohan and Maurizio Mori have decided to make Sunday nights different.
One day a week from 5pm, everything goes back to basics. It’s family pizza night.
“We’re stripping everything back and paring things down to serve up a new, simple menu of authentic, family-sized pizzas. And they’re made for sharing. It’s informal, it’s friendly,” it says on the website.
Here we are and yes it is. So informal that we are asked to choose from whichever free table takes our fancy by the affable restaurant manager who seems incredibly laid-back, despite being rushed off his feet.
He also makes us feel we are friends he’s looking after rather than customers he’s being paid to wait on.
That, I reckon, must be the true art of good service.
Deciding what we want to eat couldn’t be easier. Walk through the door and the first thing you see are two huge wooden platters laden with the most delectable-looking food; one groans with a pizza the size of a pavement slab, the other is piled high with Italian cured meats and glistening, oil-drizzled grilled vegetables.
We’ll have that to start,” we tell Mr Affable. It’s the Antipasto Casa, £14, one of the three sharing platters that dominate the starter list. Your only other choice is olives, £3.50, or Schiacciata, £5, flatbread drizzled with flavoured oils. But that’s absolutely fine, because pizza is so filling and those antipasti boards are spectacular.
There were just the two of us sharing, so it was £7 a head, but there was easily enough for three, possibly four at a squeeze.
Rapidly, we scoffed through some of the nicest salamis I’ve had in a long time, spicy smoked speck, shavings of quality Parma ham, grilled courgette and aubergine slices and huge, soft, skinless red and yellow peppers. It came with two thick slices of Italian bread, cleverly only toasted on one side, thereby retaining its mopping up abilities.
We needed to mop; the whole thing had been lightly drizzled with truffle oil; delicious.
The menu has a range of pizza-friendly wines (£17-£29 a bottle or £5 to £6.70 a small glass). But I’d seen 5-7pm two-for-one cocktail offer as we’d walked in.
Turned out it was only on the lesser-known ones, but the two berry-toned Brambles I managed to quaff for just £6.50 were very good indeed. Hic.
The driver wisely went for a low-alcohol Peroni Rossa, £3.60, from the range of Italian artisan beers.
Then our pizza arrived. Immense, it was, though not as gargantuan as the one posing on the promotional table – that was a £30, two-foot (60cm) famigliare, meant to be shared by an entire family of four.
Pizzas for two are 40cm long and cost from £15 to the £20 Mezzo E Mezzo we had opted for.
You choose a different topping for its two halves. We’d gone for speck ham with Gorgonzola and mozzarella cheese, tomato and walnut pesto, plus the Melanzane, tomato, mozzarella and Asiago cheese, grilled aubergines and chilli.
It was two of the best pizzas I’ve had in a long time.
We agreed the base, made with authentic Neapolitan dough, was great; fine and crisp, not too heavy.
Husband’s favourite topping was the Melanzane, with its dense, hand-made tomato sauce, mine the winning combination of walnut and Gorgonzola.
That pesto – I have to have some. Apparently Nonna’s sell it at their Saturday morning mercato in the bar. It was so good, I ditched my knife and fork and used my hands.
All around us, I noticed, families were doing the same.
It was at this point I also realised there were children quietly noshing away to our leftand right.
They were perfectly behaved – and no unlimited helpings of ice cream factory dessert to bribe them with either.
We were too full to finish our pizza, never mind have dessert (tiramisu, home-made ice cream or cake of the day, all £5.50).
It could easily have fed three, which meant our £49.40 bill would have worked out at a reasonable £16.45 a head instead of an almost as reasonable £24.70.
Happily, Mr Affable didn’t bat an eye when we hesitantly asked if we could take the remaining four slices home.
Apparently, customers do it all the time.
So much for me reckoning the Nonna’s crowd are posh and rich.
Though, maybe they’re taking it home for grandma?