New Italian is a little thank you to Puglia in Sheffield city centre
Grazie is the dream-come-true of newly weds Vito and Alena Vernia. It replaces the Caffe Leopold prosecco lounge, on Leopold Street, and offers four different types of freshly homemade pastas, including meat and vegetarian options and brunches.
Having opened one month ago Grazie - which means thank you in Italian - is still a very young restaurant but Vito said its already exceeded expectations.
“It’s going very good, it’s been much better than we were expecting for a first time business without big advertising. People need to know what you’re doing before they come and try it out. Luckily the location is quite good, so a lot of people are stopping by.”
Vito, 29, was born in Puglia, southern Italy, where his family runs a restaurant and two bed and breakfast establishments.
After moving to Sheffield he became a manager at Piccolinos on Millennium Square, where he worked for five years before deciding to fulfill his dream of opening his own restaurant. He said: “It was time to do something for myself and I really like Sheffield.
“It’s happened very quickly. I set myself a few targets - to get married, buy a house, have a baby and open a restaurant so I did all four of them in one year so I’m very happy about it. It’s been hard, it’s not easy but if you don’t try you will never know.
Much of the inspiration for the menu comes from his hometown. Vito said it stands apart from other Italian restaurants in the city because of its authenticity. He said: “The menu is going really well because it’s something different from the normal Italian, when you go to a chain you find all the classics like carbonara, bolognese and pizza. Here we really focus on the Puglia region and we’ve had a lot of really nice feedback. People are travelling more than before so they know what’s from Puglia or Sicily so when they come here and they’ve been there as well they really see it’s authentic and that’s what we focus on.
“Most of the dishes are things we cook at home in Puglia, I always go there in my mind because it reminds me of when I was there. I put it on the menu because I know it’s good and we do it properly. It’s simple food but good quality, it’s what you need to make a good plate of pasta. If you want to feel in Italy, just come here. It’s missing the seaside but you can feel the same when you are on holiday in Italy with the smell of food.”
The restaurant is open from 10am-9.30pm Monday to Thursday and half an hour later into the evening on Thursday and Friday.
As well as serving fresh homemade pastas and sauces Grazie has delicious-sounding brunches including mouth-watering paninis and toasted and topped English muffins. They also have a Christmas menu ready for the festive season.
Vito tells me the best sellers are sapore di mare (a mixed seafood pasta) and agnello lento (pulled lamb orecchiette).
We visited on a rainy Friday night and after a busy week it was the perfect place to relax, forget everything and get lost in the ambience and food.
The interior was stylish, relaxed and charming and Italian music playing in the background added to the mood. It was quite quiet when we arrived but more diners filled the room as the evening went on. There really was no bad place to sit, the furniture was cosy and the big picture windows gave a great view of the bustling city outside.
Vito said the staff are ‘one big family’ which in some cases is literal - as well as him and his wife running the operation, his brother Pierpaolo takes charge of the cocktail menu and a woman also from Puglia makes the pasta fresh everyday.
We ordered a selection of bread served with pesto to start which included homemade focaccia, Apulian bread from Altamura and taralli. For mains, I went for a special of the day and got tagliatelle salmon while my friend got agnello lento - homemade orecchiette with slow cooked pulled lamb, Grazie’s own special sugo (traditional tomato sauce) and pecorino cheese.
While we waited it was wonderful to see a member of the team sitting making bread which reminded us just how fresh it was.
The starter came and almost in unison, we said “this is amazing” as we took bites into the homemade focaccia. It is my favourite kind of bread and this was the best version I have ever had.
We were just as impressed with our mains. The salmon tagliatelle was creamy and fresh and the agnello lento got a huge thumbs up too.
Altogether it came to an affordable £34.50 for two mains, two drinks and a shared starter. I loved it so much I’m already planning my next visit.