A warm welcome at a Walkley institution
It would seem perverse to lavish praise on a restaurant and in the same breath say the food wasn't the best bit. If a friend started telling you about the great eatery they went to last night, your first question would be “What did you eat?” And if they replied “No, no – everything else was what was great”, you'd consider them a lunatic. It's a restaurant – the food is all that matters, right?
Well, break out the straitjacket, because I'm going to tell you about the great eatery I went to last night, and why the food wasn't the best bit. I went to Vito's, and had one of the best dining-out experiences of my life, and it had diddly-squat to do with what I ate.
Don't get me wrong – the food was a delight. Truly delicious, authentic Italian cuisine of the highest order. My wild boar was hearty and robust, packed with flavours of the Old Country and accompanied by al dente egg pappardelle. Before that I'd had scallops, delicately seasoned and fresh as they come. Across the table, my carnivore pal enjoyed polpette e salsiccia – meatballs and sausage, succulent and flavoursome – and a tasty fillet steak cooked to perfection.
But as good, as memorable, as that grub was, it wasn't what we went out into the night talking about afterwards. We talked about our waiter Paolo (more about him in a minute). We talked about how the rustic décor of this place, on a street corner in Walkley, makes it feel like a family home in some corner of Italy. And we talked about how the whole room erupted into a chorus of “Buon compleanno a te” (that's “Happy birthday to you” to you) when the bar staff brought out a flaming shot of grappa for the birthday girl on table five.
Vito Ciaraolo has been plying his trade on South Road for over 20 years now, and in that time his eponymous restaurant has become a haven of Italian hospitality. Helped by a wine list that caters to all tastes and pockets, there's a warm atmosphere here that makes it feel completely normal for a bunch of strangers to burst into song together on a Thursday evening, like on our visit. And while Vito's name may be over the door, he doesn't take a back seat – he's in the kitchen, slaving over the restaurant's varied menu of dishes from across Italy.
With Vito at the stove, front-of-house duties are in the hands of the waitering team – and what a team it is. On our visit, Claudio was friendly, professional and efficient, but his colleague Paolo stole the show. Animated and larger-than-life without being overbearing, over the course of our meal he talked us through, variously: the specific cooking techniques of each dish we chose; the different grape varieties of Italian wine; and how his hyperactive young children are running rings around him at home. If they're as full of beans as their jolly old man, no wonder.
Stuffed and satisfied at the end of the night, we asked Paolo to order us a taxi, and when it arrived he walked us outside, opened the car door and saw us off into the evening with a smile and a wave. And that about sums it up: at Vito's, you come for the food, but stay for everything else.
284 South Road, Walkley, S6 3TE. Tel: 0114 233 3574