When Sicilian couple Danila Sardo and Antonio Buscemi took the plunge and opened their first restaurant in last February, it was something of a leap of faith... but not something they are altogether unfamiliar with.
“Antonio and I have been together for five years now,” Danila beams.
“He went on holiday and we met in my town. Then after a few months, I came to England with him and we are still together!
“We do like working together... we are a good team. Obviously we don’t always agree - but we always find a solution.”
The fruits of their labours is La Dolce Vita, a charming Italian restaurant on Sandygate Road in Crosspool. Danila welcomes us warmly - Antonio later ventures out of the kitchen to say hello, too - and their origins are all around this 1960s-themed Italian, with a retro record player and reclaimed furniture overlooked by authentic artwork on the walls.
Danila is patience personified as she explains the extensive specials menu, and fields a list of questions with ease and good grace, and had advised us when we booked - under a pseudonym - that the restaurant was a bring your own place, with a small corkage fee.
The pair, it turns out, have worked in plenty of restaurants all over the UK, typically with Danila as a waitress and Antonio as head chef.
“He started to work in a restaurant when he was really young in Italy, and after he came to England,” Danila tells us.
“He’s got a lot of passion, and so he decided to have his own little restaurant where he can do properly Italian and Sicilian food, with fresh ingredients, homemade pasta and desserts.”
To the eternal lover of all things dough, traditional Italian food is always a winner but for the interests of balance, we went as a party of four to cover as many bases as possible. Of the starters, the Portobello mushroom topped with bacon and mushroom was the biggest hit - “of the highest order” was the verdict, in between mouthfuls - and came with a decent-sized side salad with a healthy amount of balsamic vinegar, enveloping a giant mushroom cooked to a high standard by Antonio.
A couple of traditional portions of garlic bread went down well too, literally, with just the right amount of cheese - a common complaint in some places.
“Antonio is traditional, but always with a new touch,” Danila says of her other half.
“He likes to create new dishes, but always Italian/Sicilian... He likes to follow his traditions.”
None more so than when we made a special request for chicken on a delicious pizza, apparently a no-no in Italy. The request was accommodated with a smile, and also a lesson in Italian culture, and the result was excellent; doughy, flavoursome and dripping in olive oil.
One of the many specials, sole, arrived in a delicious sauce and was soft and succulent, with an array of seasoned veg including grilled aubergine, courgette and peppers alongside the usual suspects. The side of skin-on roasted potato slices were a delicious touch.
Another firm favourite was the chicken stuffed with mozzarella, with a white wine sauce adding to the many flavours which made the dish such a delight, and the four cheese pizza was a welcome size, with a freshly-made thin base and a generous amount of cheese, herbs and oil.
Antonio, his interest probably piqued by the pollo plea, emerged from his kitchen for a chat, the Italian Tricolour proudly on his hat.
The couple arrived in Sheffield when he received a good job offer from a restaurant, after working in Leeds, London and Manchester, amongst other UK cities.
“We enjoy it here,” Danila smiles, “which is why we’ve stayed.”
Then, she explains the dessert of the day, a trio of traditional Sicilian cannoli stuffed with chocolate, an authentic Italian cream that Danila compared to English custard and a ricotta and pistachio mix, sprinkled with cinnamon.
Intrigued, a member of the party ordered a portion of three to share but the biggest compliment to pay the dish is that they disappeared before anyone else got a sniff.
The chocolate and almond cake was likened to a moist brownie with a generous mix of almonds, a moderate but satisfying portion to end the meal, and profiteroles also got a thumbs up, the gooey sauce and helping of cream rounding the dish off well.
Including a nominal £2 corkage fee and four soft drinks, our bill for four people came to £92.30. The restaurant doesn’t accept credit or debit cards but offers a gluten and dairy free menu.
n La Dolce Vita, 52a Sandygate Road, S10 5RY. Website: www.ladolcevitasheffield.co.uk. Tel: 0114 2669811. Open Mon-Sat.