Culinario gatti

Calling all you culinary cats… Giovanni’s has been established on The Hayes in the centre of Cardiff since 1983; but in 2013 a second branch opened on Park Place, conveniently opposite the New Theatre. But, don’t expect any Godfather III operatic grandstanding here… for a start, you may be greeted by a less than appetising facade of scaffolding, as painting is in progress.

Front [1]

It is worth getting past your penchant for deciding the quality of a restaurant based on the external appearance (particularly as this will change sometime soon). After all, you should be in food critic, not architectural critic mode, if your aim is to satisfy gastronomic urges. I know, I’m a hypocrite, as I am often critical of sloppy architecture, including that of modern restaurants.

On a recent post rugby match visit, there were plenty of persone che mangiano di ristoranti, with everyone engrossed in the menu under the expert tutelage of the resident maestro…

Giovanni's [1]

It is worth lingering over the menu, as this is no run-of-the-mill Italian chain. We are talking a family-run restaurant with plenty of amore put into the whole experience as well as the culinary produce. For the visiting young one it was Scallops Al Limone for a starter, which received glowing praise from someone who knows his scallops. I opted for the Gamberoni all Marchesa (roasted king prawns in garlic, white wine and parsley)…

Giovanni's [2]

Yes, I know it should be white wine with any seafood; but my inner Lecter couldn’t resist a nice Chianti! As for main courses, the visiting ‘Son of Cool’ went for the traditional option of a good home cooked Lasagne Emiliana Fatta in Casa, and yours truly was in the mood for a main that would live up to the red wine accompaniment. So, what better than a Penne Spezzatino (fillet steak in garlic, wine and tomato sauce)…

Giovanni's [3]

Some of you might be licking your lips with anticipation of what quintessential Italian desserts are about to be laid out before you. Well, tough… this is early evening, and space needs to be left for a few beers elsewhere (you can only have so much of a good Italian thing before reverting to what the British do better!). But, before I leave you, and in the continuing spirit of hydration, I did indulge in a double espresso and Sambucca on the side. There are some liquids that only the Italians really know how to make!

Giovanni's [4]

We both left full of culinario contentezza, as we transitioned from Italian delicato to the bustle of a Saturday night in a British pub. Until we speak again, may all of your cornetto’s be less than vanilla. And Bella says ciao.

Farewell

Grazie mille

St John's ChurchItaly is known for many things but churches and food seem to occupy a generous amount of their culture. Juno always managed to recognise the food and religion combination, and as for most cats it usually took the form of a food-food combo!

Understandably, the Italian community in Cardiff would like to reflect the centuries of home-grown cultural significance, and Cafe Citta is a classic example of achieving that very same vibe. Located on Church Street, and in the shadows of the historic St. John’s Church, this is everything you would expect of a family-run Italian restaurant (and more).

Cafe Citta [1]

Forget everything you know about the many Italian chain restaurants that litter our high streets. If it’s authentic you are looking for then this tiny little corner of Cardiff can offer almost everything that any corner in Italy can. The menu is reasonably brief and unfussy, which I have always found to be a good reflection of quality… focus on what you are really good at, don’t try to offer everything to everyone! If it’s not to your liking then you can always go trip over a ‘chain’ around the nearest corner.

This place is both small and extremely popular, so booking is almost always going to be essential…

Cafe Citta [2]

With an open kitchen and wood-burning pizza oven the choice of main meals, after the olives and warm bread entre, wasn’t going to be a difficult choice. The specials board held many a temptation, but I had booked weeks in advance with the promise to my eating compatriot that Wales was going to come up with the superb pizza that our recent visit to Palermo had not! One Diavalo and one Quattro Stagioni for sharing between us were promptly ordered. A great combination of ham, spicy salami, artichokes, olives, peppers, mushrooms and some fiery chilli addition was just right as the Pinot Grigio was sliding down nicely.

Cafe Citta [3]

The dough is expertly thrown in the open kitchen, and comes thin and crispy, but just right as a base for the cheese & tomato essentials topped off with the required fabulous array of ingredients. Pizza heaven had been ascended into!

Neither of us food protagonists have a sweet tooth, so desserts are not normally the order of the day. But this was the quintessential family owned and run restaurant, and they tempted us with the promise that everything they serve is home made. Italian trademark Tiramisu is something I have occasionally indulged in, so the decision was made…

Cafe Citta [4]

… and yes, it was certainly home made and interestingly served up in a coffee cup. It proved to be a delicate and perfectly balanced end to a fabulous meal. Sambucca and an Italian Brandy were a natural compliment to the dessert, leaving two diners completely satisfied with a top class experience.

Until we speak again may all of your dining experiences be culturally crafted to the highest of standards.

Cats in search of fish

Trinidad cat and Welsh cat converge on unfamiliar Italian terrain, and with noses pointed skywards there was nothing better to do than search out the local catch. But why make this a challenge, when the best starting point is milk-based beverages of choice? The guide tells us that Antico Caffe Spinnato is one of the better pavement-side cafes for the best in cappuccino’s or a caffe ginseng… accompanied by a 7-layered chocolate in-house design, and a wild strawberry tart.

Antico Caffe Spinnato [1]Antico Caffe Spinnato [2]

Suitably refreshed, it was time to go in search of the elusive scaly edibles. This place is known for its local fishing fleet and characterful street markets, but where is a street market when you need one? Down back streets and through piazza’s we  meander…

Albergheria streetPiazza Bologni [2]

 

 

 

 

Perhaps these guy’s might provide a clue as to the whereabouts of the local fish, after all they seemed as uninterested in strenuous activity as any self-respecting cat…

Piazza Belini [1]As we turn one corner after another the clues are hard to find, but as for Garibaldi (Teatro Politeama, that is)… that’s got to be taking the biscuit!

Teatro Politeama Garibaldi

So, we might need to resort to a hope and a prayer at this stage. Never fear, if it’s a prayer you’re after this place is over-run with prayer shops of all shapes, sizes and states of decor…

Cattedrale di Palermo [exterior 1]

 

Cattedrale di Palermo [interior 3]

 

 

 

 

 

From cathedral-sized praying venues to piazza-edged confessional sheds, or the simple street vending of pious niceties, this place has you covered…

Chiesa di San Giovanni Degli Eremiti [church]

Chiesa Del Gesu [church dome]

 

Church interior on Via Maqueda

 

As we were seemingly running out of the right kind of prayers a sight of a couple of locals emerges, as if to give us a message… ‘keep going’, was the clear  instruction, but where to?

 

 

Piazza San Domenico Via Argenteria (Keep Going)

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how cool a cat you are, you just need a matter of the luck to fall your way; and so it was to be, as two cats retreat to the accommodation of choice…

Quattro Canti [1]

Centrale Palace HotelThe statues of the Quattro Canti were smiling down on us as they shaped up to herd tired cats in the direction of fish-focused culinary delicacies. The Centrale Palace Hotel might not have projected the most promising of entrances, but the invitation to a top floor roof garden restaurant was always a throw of the dice worth taking. A mouth-watering starter of melon and locally-sourced ham or the prawn salad was eagerly supplemented by a Sicilian red wine of clear nomenclature ~ the Etna Rosso:

Hotel starters

Then, the journey was complete, as the elusive catch gets caught! A swordfish and capers affair, delicately dressed with cranberries and aubergine, or a finely prepared sea bream were laid out for our magnificent consumption.

Fish main in hotel

Successfully replete, what do you do after such a feast? Well there is always the home of the operatic and balletic cats… the Teatro Massimo provided the venue for the final scenes of the Godfather trilogy:

Teatro Massimo by night [1]

As Juno would say, until we speak again ‘that’s Palermo for you’! Grazie, arrivederci.

Fellini appeal

Forgive me for confusing Fellini for being something cat-like… particularly sensual and emotive, sleek in movement and extravagant in taste. As my resident ‘cultural imposter‘ watches a DVD of La Dolce Vita I am left wondering whether the title is meant to be an advert for a healthy ice-cream. But then, so many things in Italian just sound like they should be eaten, whether you know what they are or not.

Anita Ekberg

Anita Ekberg in La Dolce Vita

I am reminded of a recent sojourn into what passes as Little Italy, Cardiff-style. No, not the clusters of ersatz pizza chains designed to remind the casual holidaymaker of something they used mainly to soak up the excess alcohol. I am reflecting on something with a little more authenticity and panache. For those in the know, I am talking a gentle sashay down The Hayes to Giovanni’s joint.

Giovanni's [3]

Original since 1983, here you will be greeted by truly melodic Italian accents, and a clash of cultural images as something a little more sinister bids you ‘buon appetito’.

Giovanni's [1]I strongly advise you to check out the menu before you go, because there is so much to tempt the taste buds, and all sounding like they should be devoured with relish (no, not the American stuff for covering up bad tasting food!). Just for starters you can indulge a Carpaccio di Manzo (marinated raw fillet of beef), Gamberoni alla Marchesa (roasted large king prawns); or if you are strictly vegetarian they even throw in some humourous offers: Funghi alla Mimi e Coco’ (sort that one out for yourself). And then there is the inevitable Zuppa Giorno ( because life is a minestrone!).

As for the main course, this cat couldn’t resist the Penne Spezzatino (fillet steak pieces tossed in garlic, wine and traditional Italian tomato sauce). I am still tasting it as I write.

Giovanni's [2]

As for liquid refreshment, there is nothing like a bowl of Peroni Nastro Azzurro to whet a cat’s whiskers before the main course. And it was a certain Hannibal Lecter who once advised the choice of a nice Chianti, but just be careful what the meat is if you are taking this source of advice!!!

Until we speak again I have been Don Juno wishing you buon appetito.

[With thanks to Arte.TV blog for posting the still image I borrowed of Anita Ekberg].