I’VE held back from reviewing Bella Donna, that sparky little Italian restaurant on Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield, even though I enjoyed it from the first mouthful. I didn’t think I got the best out of it first time round.
It was my fault, not that of the owners, Monica Caravello and Caterina Hammond. I had researched the dishes – and there were many things on this Sicilian menu I was dying to try – and then I didn’t have them.
“Look, there’s fritti misti, you like that” said my wife, and my mind went back to the dish I had at the celebrated Gatto Nero on the shady side of the canal on the Venetian island of Burano . So I had it, nice but Sharrow Vale was never going to win, was it?
So I returned with the same friends and this time had exactly what I wanted to eat. Like the starter melanzane ammuttanate (£5.90), a souped-up Sicilian version of the classic melanzane parmigiano. Baby aubergines come stuffed with mint, pinenuts and anchovies in a sauce of tomatoes and mozzarella and the parmigiano is replaced with pecorino. It was gutsy. It was a belter. It was the sort of dish a member of the Cosa Nostra might order before he went on the night’s business.
Then I had the ravioli (£11.50) which was what I should also have had first time round: stuffed with broad beans and ricotta in a mushroom, pesto and walnut sauce. Presentation can be a bit hasty – this came buried under a mound of rocket – but this was another dish going nearly over the top for flavour. It tasted like it wanted to be eaten with gusto. So it was.
The premises used to house a very standard sort of Italian restaurant and I was slow to notice the place had changed until I stopped one day to look at the menu. Many of the dishes were out of the ordinary. Heavens, they did chick pea fritters and other Italian street food.
I realised I’d first met the owners when they took over the restaurant at Michael Menzel’s eponymous wine bar on Ecclesall Road, Sheffield, in the early 2000s. Monica had come to Sheffield from Sicily by way of Barnsley. Since then they have had a succession of places in the area.
The room is long and thin with a semi open kitchen at the far end and a bar by the door. It fairly buzzes with atmosphere and if you half-close your eyes you could imagine you had discovered some little out of the way gem in Italy itself. It helps when there are Italians also eating there!
On our first visit Caterina was front of house and Monica was cooking and you could tell that here food was taken seriously. She invited me to taste what was cooking in her big pots . On the second visit Monica had left the kitchen to work the floor while Katerina had the night off.
I ate with fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris, who has written so vividly here https://craigscrockpot.wordpress.com/2018/10/14/review-bella-donna-sharrowvale-or-is-it-palermo/ about his first visit. He was with his wife Marie.
This is one of those restaurants where you fancy almost everything off the menu and then you’ve got the blackboard specials to contend with. As the pair have got more confident about their customer base the menu has gradually got more Sicilian and a good thing, too. Even more than France, Italy is a country full of regional cuisines.
So doubtless I shall be going back, if only to try a whole plate of Sicilian street food, mussels with chickpeas or one of those rich stews the kitchen cooks up.
Bella Donna is at 352 Sharrow Vale Road, Sheffield S11 8Z. Tel: 0114 268 5150