Italian Admirale Capone helping bring new life back to one of Sheffield’s oldest areas.
Between Sheffield Magistrates and the old Crown Court lies Castle Street in the city centre.
Snig Hill police station is around the corner, the old Castle Market was just across the road.
Not an area anyone could accuse of lacking in character. Quite the opposite.
For 100 years it seethed daily with lawyers, villains and the falsely accused as they made their way between shoppers and traders to court in the old Town Hall building, boarded up now for the best part of 20 years.
The Cannon pub was one of the most ‘colourful’ in the city and the scene of one of the best worst Christmas present stories you’ll hear.
More of that later.
Into this area between bookies and an excellent fish and chip shop (the Trawlers’ Catch) came Caffe Roma, formerly run by Sardinian Mario Masia, until earlier this year, when a certain A. Capone – no relation – took the place over.
“I was a bit worried about coming to this area but since I moved in I have a different view of the place,” said 35-year-old Admirale who came to Sheffield after he met his partner Lara from Stocksbridge when he was an 18-year-old at University in Coburg, Germany.
“I get customers from the police station, the courts, Howells solicitors and the Home office building, there are a lot of professional people in this area.
“I think the council needs to help out, it looks like they have forgotten about the place but we’re hoping it will get looked after when they develop the old market area.”
In the meantime Admirale – who previously worked at Cafe Piazza in Church Street and Pizza Volante on Glossop Road – is carving out a living and bringing an Italian café feel with his pavement tables and vocal presence in the cafe’s open plan kitchen.
We arrive on a chilly November evening and are greeted by a smiling waitress.
The place has a group of Italian men chatting over coffee and couples eating pizza.
Admirale is a force of Italian nature, shouting and laughing with customers, advising his waitress and calling orders.
I go for stuffed red peppers and my wife for funghi pancetta – mushrooms and bacon with chilli in a tomato sauce. The very attentive waitress smiles indulgently at my pronunciation as I ask for a Moretti beer.
The peppers are good, meltingly stuffed with goat’s cheese and spinach. They come with a salad and drizzled liberally with balsamic vinegar.
Karen’s mushrooms and bacon come in rich tomato sauce with a hint of heat and both arrive with some excellent home-made ciabatta bread.
For my main course I’m torn between pizza and pasta and in the end go for both.
The deal between noon and 8pm is pizza or pasta for £5. That has to be the best value pizza in the city.
Light, with thin, crisp crust our pepperoni and mushroom looks perfect and tastes great – five-star stuff.
The beef meatballs have good flavour but are a little tough though the sauce is tasty and spicy and the tagliatelli nicely al dente.
Karen has the vegetarian pancake filed with spinach, mushrooms and ricotta and baked in a cheese sauce. She loved it. Lots of spinach, rich cheese in a light savoury pancake.
Admirale makes his own cheesecake and tiramisu but is out of both on the night we were there. He gets other sweets from Deli Italia. I have an excellent baked cheesecake and Karen a very chocolatey torte, both with cream and dusted with cocoa. Very good.
The Christmas story mentioned is about a friend and former colleague who was not best at Christmas shopping and usually found himself wandering department stores on Christmas Eve looking for something for his mum. This time he left it even later and in desperation he went, drink taken, into the Cannon pub on Castle Street late on Christmas Eve thinking he’d be able to pick up something in there…
But all he could get was a pair of curtains. The wrong size and wrong colour for any window in his mother’s house but he had to get something.
“I don’t think they ever made it out of the bag they came in,” said the guilty man.
After a string of unsavoury events it was curtains for the Cannon in 2007 when the pub’s licence was revoked.
Now with Castle Market also gone Caffe Roma boss Admirale Capone is working up to 80 hours a week to make sure his new venture takes off.
“It was difficult at first but things are picking up now and we’re taking Christmas party bookings,” says Admirale.
“One day the pizzas are very popular the next day it’s pasta. The council allowed me to put tables outside and next summer I’m hoping to be able offer ice cream. I have plans for the place.”
Admirale’s efforts are making a difference in Castle Street and civic help for that area is long overdue and hopefully on the way.
But what about that surname? Is he sure there’s no connection?
Admirale looks me in the eye and says: “If I was related to the other Capone do you think I would be working 80 hours a week?”
For three courses, beer and a pizza we paid £35.24.
Star rating out of five:
Category: Cafe, Caffe Roma, 9-1 Castle Street, Sheffield S38LT, Tel:0114 2755445
Open 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday