Review: NonnasPosted by: Richard Abbey
Crisis? What crisis? Nonnas is back – and still buzzing.
Having been allowed to re-open from the start of July, the biggest challenge facing many pubs, bars and restaurants has been encouraging customers to step back through their doors.
For months, the idea of sitting in a restaurant and enjoying a meal seemed to be nothing more than a pipe dream and after getting used to cooking and eating at home, maybe with the odd takeaway or delivery thrown in for good measure, now it’s more a question of will people eat out rather than can they?
There seems to be no such crisis of confidence for Nonnas’ customers whom looked happy and comfortable in their surroundings on a surprisingly busy Monday night. It may look a little different – there are less tables to conform with social distancing measures – but it still felt like the Nonnas we know and love.
The restaurant is an Ecclesall Road institution and has been since it opened in 1996. Proprietor Maurizio Mori puts its success down to a mixture of tradition, innovation and consistent quality of service. He said: “We have always strived to do something different and serve traditional Tuscan flavours with a Nonnas twist. It’s something our customers truly appreciate and our chefs are always looking for new and innovative ideas. We are lucky to have a truly fantastic team of staff and a fantastic manager in the shape of Stefano Buralli.”
Indeed, it was a masked Stefano who greeted us on arrival and showed us to our table. Other staff members were also masked and hand sanitiser was available to use on the way in and out. With less tables the restaurant looked much bigger but felt ‘safe’, if that’s the right word; all staff and diners seemed to be respectful of social distancing measures where possible and it seemed to have that same restaurant buzz.
Nonnas is only operating an a la carte menu at present – there are no pasta offers or chef’s specials – but it had a familiar feel to it, namely good quality ingredients cooked well.
A glass of cold Menabrea beer (£5.25, pint), for me, and a glass of cabernet sauvignon Mezzacoraona (£9.95, 250ml), for her, quickly got us in the mood. We’d brought the whole family so started with focaccia all’aglio (£4.95), fritto misto (£8) and, recommended by Stefano, asparagi fritti (£7.95). My two children, relishing the change in scenery, wolfed the mozzarella and tomato-topped toasted focaccia strips down with particular praise given to the ‘stringiness’ of the cheese.
The excellent tempura battered seafood, which consisted of cod, prawns and squid, in my wife’s fritto misto was quickly mopped up with the accompanying lemon mayo.
I’m taking bragging rights, though, as my asparagus – also tempura batterered – was the star of the show. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside it was deliciously moreish and well complemented by the accompanying onion pureé, crispy shallots, micro sorrel and harissa.
My daughter and I both chose pasta for main course – rigatoni for her (£7.50), tagliatelle for me (£13.50). All pasta at Nonnas is homemade using only eggs and flour and, on this occasion, both examples were top drawer. Served with their well known and much-loved ragu of eight-hour slow cooked Italian sausage, tomato, bay leaf and chilli I could have eaten more and more. The chilli gave it a real kick too. For me, too many restaurants overcomplicate their pasta dishes but Nonnas have got it just right – simple and delicious.
Across the table, my wife followed her seafood starter with more fish, on this occasion the merluzzo (£19), a huge piece of cod cooked skin-on with cavolo nero, pea and mint puree, sundried tomato dressing and pea shoots. The flavours were delicately balanced, nothing was too overpowering, and the fish was cooked to perfection. My son enjoyed a chargrilled chicken breast and vegetables (£10) from the ‘bambini’ menu.
No-one quite does ice-cream like the Italians and my children savoured every mouthful of the shared bowl of gelati misti (£6), on this occasion scoops of vanilla, chocolate, strawberry and, my personal favourite, nocciola (hazelnut). I couldn’t resist the tiramisu (£7) – I’ve had it before but couldn’t help having it again – while my wife tucked into the pannacotta (£7.50), which was served with a mixed berry compote and vanilla shortbread.
Nonnas has added a state-of-the-art Cimbali M100 Attiva coffee machine, newly arrived from Milan, to its offering, paired with Café New York coffee imported direct from Montecatini. A single espresso was the perfect example and a fitting end to a delicious meal.
Any fears we had previously held about eating out had quickly vanished over the space of a couple of hours. Nonnas was safe, busy and, more importantly, still some of the best Italian food you’ll find this side of the English Channel.