Chance wedding meeting leads Aurelio Ceka’s family to London Road restaurant
Aurelio Ceka is a young man of considerable abilities.
At 16 he was in the youth team of Italian Serie A football club Atalanta.
At 17 he strode the fashion catwalks of Milan as a Dolce and Gabbana model.
At 21 he graduated from the University of Bergamo with a degree in building surveying.
Then he met and fell for Sara from Sheffield at the Italian wedding of mutual friends.
Now he’s living in Park Hill flats in the city and running the recently-opened San Remo Italian restaurant on London Road.
That’s quite a leap - but there’s more.
When Aurelio moved to England he brought his mum and dad Rrahim and Lucia and 15-year-old sister Serena with him.
Now they all work in the San Remo and are gathering glowing customer reviews for the quality of their food.
“We are a really close Italian family and they were calling me every day and crying saying the distance was too much so they moved over here with me,” said 22-year old Aurelia.
“We had someone in from the restaurant Pure on Raw and someone from Marco at Milano’s and they both said they liked the food.
“That’s what we wanted. If we get the food right people will come. We can adjust other things as we go.”
For starters I went for Cozze San Remo – mussels cooked in garlic, white wine and cream sauce served with toasted bread. It’s lots of mussels in a rich and well-seasoned sauce. So good that an extra piece of bread to mop up would have gone down well.
My friend Julia chose the Polpette Di Carne - Italian style meatballs cooked in a tomato and garlic sauce and served with salad.
The meatballs are excellent – a blend of pork and beef with a good coarse texture and nicely herby. The tomato-based sauce is thick and aromatic.
This is hearty Italian comfort food, nothing too adventurous but very well done.
San Remo has its own wood-fired pizza oven and though an authentic Italian pizza is always tempting Julia chose the risotto Milano – with chicken, porcini mushrooms, onions, dolcelata cheese, cream and a touch of Napoli sauce.
A good risotto is a rare thing and a fair indicator of the skills of a restaurant kitchen. If they can get that right they can probably get everything right.
And they do, or rather Rrahim does.
The rice is tender but firm, the risotto is rippled with flavours, carries hunks of chicken and mushrooms and is generally a delight.
I have a sirloin steak San Remo style cooked with Sambuca, mushrooms, fresh chilli, tomato sauce and finished with brandy. The steak was cooked beautifully - a little thin in places - but enhanced by the sauce - though it was hard to pinpoint Sambuca or Brandy.
The steak comes with roasted vegetables that arrive with melted cheese on top and I have some Italian French-fry-style crispy chips as a side dish.
Dessert at San Remo is cake made by Aurelio’s mum Lucia. He teases us with tales of her famous Tri-latte - three milks - sponge cake but he is out of that one.
So I try her tiramisu and Julia has the coffee cake.
‘Mamma Mia’ is the expression to sum them up.
The coffee sponge is light but substantial, flavoured with espresso and with lots of buttercream filling and topping. The Tiramisu is the lightest fluffiest thing you’ve ever tasted and easier on the booze than most.
Both excellent, and washed down well with a couple of good espressos.
There is a lot to commend at San Remo. You don’t get the feeling that the chef is cooking by numbers and churning out a soul-less pastiche of 1960s Italy. The food is traditional Italian, the dishes well prepared and tasty. The house red wine, Jole Moltepulciano, is exceptionally good and £2.80 for a good-sized glass. Soft and full it shames most restaurant reds at twice the price.
San Remo has been open two months and Aurelio realises adjustments will be needed as they progress.
“I am thinking of offering a few specials from the Bergamo region but it’s hard to know what people will like in a city I have only just moved to.
“We like it here but I would have the Italian weather!”
So would we, mate.
The San Remo can improve in terms of service and atmosphere and the decor could be more welcoming - but it has two great things in its favour - three if you count Aurelio.
The food is very good and it’s excellent value.
Football fan Aurelio - he’s an Inter Milan supporter - has already taken sides in Sheffield.
“My restaurant is 200 metres away from Bramall Lane, who do you think is my team in Sheffield?”
Likeable though he undoubtedly is, Aurelio might take himself a little bit more seriously as front of house person and add a little formality and presentation style to his wit and charm.
But he is a great host and for hearty, home-made Italian food and terrific wine at a great price.
San Remo is well worth a visit. And we have to go back to try mum’s Tri-latte cake…
For three courses each, four glasses of wine and two espressos our bill came to £50.30.
Star rating out of five:
* San Remo, 276-278 London Road, Sheffield. S2 4NA
* Tel: 0114 3272800