Words By Angelica Marengo
On the 14th of March, a friend of mine and I had the pleasure of tasting some of Ciliegino’s specialities.
Ciliegino is an Italian restaurant located inside Cardiff Saint David’s Centre and opened its doors to the city in 2017. After finding out that the chef, Tonino, is the owner of five other restaurants in Sicily, I could not wait to confirm that this place is a small corner of Italy in Wales.
The restaurant offers a wide menu filled with Italian dishes and typical recipes, ranging from starters such as the classic “bruschetta”, to mains like pasta “alla carbonara”, “Bolognese” or “pesto”. Needless to say, this place welcomes both the Italian living abroad and feeling homesick, and the English who wants to deeply live a one-night Italian culinary experience.
As we all know, one of the most attracting Italian dishes is pizza.
And Ciliegino’s one has the right to be called a real Italian pizza. The pizza is cooked in a traditional bakestone which, as I found out later on during the evening, is partially made from the lava of the Sicilian vulcan, Etna. The oven and the 48 hours of leavening make the dough particularly light and crunchy. We ordered the chef’s favourite: Ciliegino; topped with Parma ham, cherry tomatoes and grated parmesan cheese. On the first bite an explosion of flavours freed in my mouth. It was only at that moment that I realized the quality of the ingredients – especially the Parma Ham – and wondered where they could have come from. I had my answer: straight from Sicily.
After the pizza, Tonino kindly asked if we would have liked to taste a chef’s special, and two different kinds of pasta arrived: “tagliatelle allo scoglio” (seafood pasta) and “spaghetti al pesto con gamberi” (pesto and prawns pasta). The mains were both presented with an artistic touch and we could not stop ourselves from taking pictures when we received the plates. Even though the fish was not fresh, as Tonino told us with (rare) honesty, both dishes had such an intense flavour and smell that even before tasting them I thought: “This is Italy!”. Not to mention the pesto sauce, which is hard to find that good even in Italy. To conclude, we had a selection of desserts recommended by the chef including two chocolate and two pistachio (typical Sicilian ingredient) “profiteroles” and a slice of cake usually made in Naples, called “baked pastiera”, made with ricotta cheese and baked amaretto base.
Not only the food is excellent and the prices are affordable for a student’s pocket, but all the staff members are lovely as well; they welcomed us with open arms and were really kind and very friendly throughout the whole evening. Indeed, from the moment we stepped in, we had the impression of feeling at home (especially because, yes, both my friend and I happen to be Italian!). Also, as I mentioned before, we had the pleasure to talk to the chef, Tonino, a lovely person, who puts all his love into his dishes and he is eager to make his cuisine known outside his country. I believe that this is probably what makes Ciliegino so special: the delicious cuisine, which takes you on a brief journey to Italy, the friendliness and warmth of the staff and of Tonino, who make you feel the need to come back.
However, if there is something I think they should give more value to, that would be the location. In some parts is a little too touristy, and the table setting, which might seem a bit overlooked, undermines the real potential the restaurant has. I truly believe Ciliegino is worth a more elegant and eye-catching atmosphere since it could easily stand out from other restaurants in the city, which in many cases are not lucky enough to offer the exquisite cuisine and the friendly ambience owned by Ciliegino.