REVIEW: Eat cheese, drink wine and live longer at Sheffield's first Sardinian
Eat cheese, drink wine and live longer - now that is an offer that few people would ever turn down.
It’s also the extremely inviting premise of Akentannos, which has opened in what used to be Sharrowvale Road’s Pasta Bar.
The name - manager Mario Masia tells me - means ‘100 year life’.
And a good section of the menu is dedicated to describing how Italian island Sardinia is one of the world’s ‘blue zones’, where many people live to and past the age of 100.
The secret is said to be in part down to the island’s famous pecorino cheese and distinctive Cannonau wine. ‘
It’s a tip that certainly made picking our drinks and starters easier...
“Sardinian people live a very long time and people say its because of the food that they have and the wine”, said Mario, who has worked in restaurants across the country, including Sheffield, Chesterfield and Bawtry before, as well as prestigious restaurants abroad.
“It’s the Mediterranean diet and we also cook things very slowly, you have to wait 12 hours for some of our dishes.
“The old people say that one glass of wine a day makes you a long life.”
Even the restaurant’s business card bears the message, ‘eat smarter, live longer.’
The tiny spot, run by Mario with wife Giavanna Casiddo, has had a bit of a makeover and was unveiled just last Saturday.
Inside is clean and bright, with a simple decor and views of the bustling road outside.
It is Sheffield’s only wholly Sardinian restaurant, with many ingredients such as sheep prosciutto, shipped overseas in the name of authenticity.
Mario said: “It was a great opportunity to come here - everyone says this area is very nice.
“I wanted to focus on Sardinian food, because there are plenty of Italian restaurants so almost every one that you to is very similar, apart from a few like Gusto in the city centre.
“This is a little bit different - you can go anywhere and get Italian food.
“I think now a lot of Sheffield people will know Sardinian food because a lot of them go to the island for their holidays - it is a paradise.
“If I get in Parma ham it is like any other restaurant in Sheffield, we use Sardinian ham which has more of sweeter taste.
“Perhaps it is because I am from Sardinia but the taste is very different!”
As a chef Mario specialises in fish, a fact unknown until after the big reveal, and there are various seafood options on the menu.
Choosing is the problem here, as all the dishes sound equally tempting - not often the case.
For health and longevity reasons alone, however, I decided to go for a cheese starter, formaggio arrosto.
It’s hard to imagine a bowl of melted pecorino being such a highlight but it was.
The swirl of hot, salty, gooey goodness had a sharpness to it from the sheep’s milk.
It was topped with Sardinian flat bread - somewhat like a poppodom in shape, size, and texture - to dip in and a chilli oil. If that’s the kind of thing that leads to longevity - I am sold.
He had insisted on the antipasta plate, which sounded like it was for sharing, both by the name and the price at £8.90. But it was in another league.
Presented beautifully, it had the thickest, hand cut and spicy chorizo, sticks of salty cheeses, tiny, oily black olives and wild boar prosciutto - a lean, flavour-packed Sardinian speciality - with a crowning glory of artichoke on top. His main was also envy enducing.
Four fine pieces of on the bone lamb were dark and tender, positioned on top of vegetables and a fresh, vibrant rosemary pesto that was an explosion of colour on the plate.
I’d hovered over pasta, but when Mario said there were two portions of suckling pig (the most expensive dish at £21.95) left, it had to be that.
It’s a commonly used meat in Sardinia but usually only available on Sundays on Sharrowvale, so it felt like fate had intervened.
What arrived was a good heap of slowly roasted pork - including a leg and trotter, rather a striking reminder of where our food really does come from.
The flesh was alternately crisp on the outside then soft, juicy, melting with fat underneath.
There were soft rosemary potatoes and more of the crisp bread too.
I would have preferred a little sauce and some vegetables, but that would not have been traditional.
Mario had provided friendly service with evident passion for the food of his homeland - and especially when it came to puddings.
His dessert had the digestive mirto inside, and was altogether a lighter,creamier affair. I was talked into sadeas, a perfectly crimped fritter filled with yet more salty cheese, with contrasting sweetness from drizzled honey plus tart lemon zest.
It was, just like Akentannos, wonderfully different from anything I’d ever had before.
We finished with shots of herbal mirto digestive. ‘And now you will be able to eat all over again’, joked Mario...
The bill was £84 including a bottle of longevity-boosting red.
Akentannos, 270 Sharrowvale Road