IN need of some refreshment I dropped into Veeno, the new Italian ‘wine bar café’ on Ecclesall Road Sheffield. Make a note of the address or you might find yourself at Veeno’s mini mart on London Road where an involtini may be hard to come by.
Veeno is near Berkeley Precinct (I refuse to call it the renamed Berkeley Centre) in what used to be Carluccio’s, a place some local people called pants although my main grouse was the giant pepper pot they wanted to grind on to your meal before you’d checked the seasoning or flag one down if it turned out you did need pepper. Just leave the condiments on the table!
Veeno is not pants. In fact, it is very good if a tad, no, a soupcon, expensive.
I was alerted to it by fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris and his wife Marie who had enjoyed a visit to the Nottingham branch of the 15-strong chain and got me a ticket to the opening night. Like me, the best thing about their Italian holidays is finding a cosy little enoteca (the Italian for wine bar) with good wines and boards of meat and cheese. I always remember one on Lake Como where I upset the owner by querying the bill until I told him I thought he’d made a mistake because it seemed too cheap.
Reader, you won’t be thinking it comes cheap at Veeno although it does food, drink and atmosphere pretty well. Fitted out with tables, sofas, alcoves, walls lined with wine racks, and a bar, plus a tasting room, it serves up some very decent wines with top quality meats and cheese, plus a smattering of bruschettas and spuntini, nibbles, the Italian equivalent of tapas or dim sum.
That way you don’t need a chef, just someone adept at putting good quality ingredients together. It seems simple but then the best ideas are. The two young men who came up with translating the enoteca to Britain are Andrea Zecchino and Nino Caruso, whose family just happens to have a vineyard in Sicily.
We’d found a table and were sipping our complementary glasses of house wine when I flagged down a chap who looked like he was Andrea or Nino. He wasn’t. He was Mike from Hungary but he was the owner as he had the franchise, his second after York.
Magyar Mike must have been in an expansive mood because he generously told us to order some food on the house. Perhaps he thought we were influential: Style setters. We liked Mike. The evening’s photographer didn’t hold the same opinion because he never pointed his camera at us once.
Craig promptly ordered the most expensive board in the house, the Italia, at £24.50. And he did it with a straight face. It was lovely and included some Formaggella al Tartufo, a northern Italian cheese with truffles and some runaway gorgonzola with walnuts, speck, the best fennel salami I’ve had, breads, oil, honey with truffle and plenty more. The price could have been worse. In Bristol the same menu item is £26 while in Kingston upon Thames it is £26.50. Magyar Mike is obviously pitching his prices at what he thinks Sheffield will stand. I thought that top whack for the same thing on Lake Como would have been 15 euros but then you’ve got to factor in the air fare.
The house wine at £4 for 175ml was pretty decent, from the Caruso e Minini vineyard. The same glass is £4.20 in Bristol and another 20p more in Kingston. But as Craig had gone large on the free food he felt it only right to go large on the paid-for wine so he ordered us a bottle of Greco di Tufo at a stunning £28 (a quid less than in Bristol). It had lovely honeyed appley flavours.
So there you have it, a little pricy but a very well put together exercise, which is why the chain is doing well. I cavil a bit at the name, Veeno for Vino, and the clunking ‘wine bar café’ self-description instead of enoteca but that’s just me. It won’t stop me going, though!