Born in Rotherham, forged in Italy

Livio and Ashleigh

NOT every ristorante or trattoria you see is “Cento per cento italiano” – totally authentic.

So many nationalities have seen the lucrative potential of pizza and pasta and jumped on the bandwagon. But it takes more than a tin of tomatoes and shake of oregano to produce food a momma or a nonna would cook.

So catch the chef at Nonna’s in Stag, Rotherham, hear an accent as broad as the dual carriageway outside the restaurant and you might not expect that much.

But pensa di nuovo, as they say in Italian, think again.

That chef, Livio Maccio, aged 29, has an Italian name but was born in Rotherham, third generation of a family which emigrated here over half a century ago.

Chilli squid with ciabatta

He speaks fluent Italian, lived for a while and trained at cookery school in his family’s homeland, and has been cooking since 14 in his father’s numerous restaurants.

Any doubts and just try a slice of the home baked ciabatta bread served up as garnish on your starter or main.

With its spongy open crumb it looks and tastes just like the real thing – which it is.

Livio and his charming fiance Ashleigh Mills had been running the place with his father Dino until his dad backed out a few months ago in a sort of semi-retirement from the hospitality business.

So now they’re on their own: a rather young “mamma and papa operation.

It had been a former Cooplands sandwich shop until they turned it into cafe and deli then a restaurant – until Covid struck.

Bistecca Livio: Sirloin and scallops

“We were selling pizzas from a van on the front,” says Livio in Nonna’s compact kitchen.

There’s a pizza oven in place but because Nonna’s is very much a one man band, at least in the kitchen, you won’t find them on the menu. ” We just do them once a month.”

Pizzas apart, the menu is pretty much what you would expect to see in any Italian restaurant. There are specials but Livio and Ashleigh, knowing their market, have not yet gone down the new wave Italian route.

I’d been invited as a guest and took along with me fellow blogger and Italophile Craig Harris.

While I opted for one of the specials, a lively and tender squid in chilli as a starter, he went for the meatballs, a sure test of any self-respecting Italian restaurant. They were beefy, meaty and firm-textured with a herby lilt in a rich tomato sauce.

Livio’s honest and thoughtful cooking paid off in my ultra-trad main, a melanzane parmigiana, with plenty of aubergine, plenty of sauce and plenty of taste. I liked the parmesan tuille garnish and more of that ciabatta.

Across the table Craig relished his accurately cooked rare sirloin steak with scallops, the Italian version of surf n turf

Melanzane Parmigiana

Livio clearly loves cooking. “It’s been my dream from a young lad. It’s all I ever wanted you do,” he says.

His grandfather moved from Caserta, midway between Rome and Naples in the Fifties, originally to find jobs in the steel works. Livio’s father Dino has had several restaurants including E Lupo in Rotherham, which I favourably reviewed three decades ago.

Livio is lucky to have found Ashleigh – or maybe she found him. She first visited the family restaurant at 17, then heard they were looking for waitresses and has stayed ever since. That was 11 years ago.

They make a great team. It’s a cosy little restaurant with a pleasant, easy-going menu and well worth giving a spin.

Nonna’s is at 342B Herringthorpe Valley Road, Rotherham S60 4HA. Tel: 01709 837 881. Open Wed-Sat eve.

Nonna’s at night