Sadia Pineda Hameed checks out Italian restaurant Toni’s Amici.
Amidst the mass of Italian chain restaurants that litter Cardiff city centre, finding ‘a proper Italian’ seems near impossible. Bella Italia, Jamie’s Italian and the like have pizza crusts not quite thin enough, a sense of being overcharged and a notable lack of warmth in the atmosphere. The family-run Toni’s Amici, however, is what one might call ‘a proper Italian’.
Situated on Churchill Way, Toni’s Amici takes you below street level as you descend the stairs before reaching the quaint alcove-like restaurant. The decorations are what chain restaurant Frankie and Benny’s attempts (but fails) to emulate: a real sense of authenticity. Photographs of famous faces with staff members and touching newspaper cuttings from decades ago about an Italian who opened a restaurant and was now ‘living the dream in Cardiff’ hang on the walls, illuminated in warm lighting. On my visit, my friend and I was greeted by the same man in the newspaper cutting, the owner, and were very genuinely made me to feel quite welcome.
Once seated, the point arrived when we were shown the wine list. It was extensive, and slightly daunting to a clueless person such as myself, but eventually we decided on a red that was described as the most ‘fruity’. The prices ranged from affordable to ‘no thanks, I’ll just have a tap water please’, but even the relatively cheaper wine we had (Primitivo di Mandura Colle al Vento at £6 for a small glass) was notably good and I had to stop myself from drinking it too quickly.
My friend and I started with the bruschetta pomodoro fresco (£4.95) and calamari fritti (£6.50), both beautifully presented and in decent portions. It was a nice change to be eating calamari that wasn’t absolutely smothered in batter or tainted by herbs and spices, just seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper as it ought to be. For his main, my friend ordered the pizza fiorentina – topped with mozzarella, spinach and egg. I stole a bit, and it did indeed taste amazing. Not that I had much pizza when I last visited Italy, but it definitely reminded me of the fiorentina I had there with the perfectly crisp crust and plentiful amount of cheese and toppings.
My main was the cannelloni ripieni (£12.95) – pasta filled with ricotta and spinach before then being slightly baked. The portion was relatively decent size for me but, for those with larger stomachs than mine, perhaps it would be slightly overpriced for the amount given . However the taste is absolutely worth it. You can really notice the difference when there are fresh ingredients, the pasta is freshly made and real effort has gone into the cooking of a dish.
We were already full at that point, having not been able to even finish our mains despite how lovely they were, but did not want to leave yet. It was honestly just too nice and comfortable sitting there in the corner, looking up at the street-level window watching people go by. So we ordered a cheese board. There isn’t much to say about the cheese board. It was nice, with a fair variety of cheeses although the square chunk of parmesan we were given humoured and slightly confused us. Our bill came to be just about £50, which I personally feel is well priced considering this included three beautiful courses and wine for two. I would recommend dining here for dinner with close friends or family who will appreciate both wonderfully prepared food and the overall experience, and for special occasions such as Valentine’s Day.
Good customer service makes you feel truly welcome. It’s such a simple thing, but many restaurants forget customer service does not consist of just saying please and thank you. At Toni’s Amici, the owner and several members of staff were lovely, all coming out to wish us a good evening as we left – and this reminded me of some of the best restaurant visits I’ve had. Coincidentally, all of these nice experiences were at restaurants hidden in the alleyways of Paris, Barcelona, and Rome, much like Toni’s Amici and its underground location. Like most cities oversaturated with chain restaurants attempting to simulate the feelings and tastes of authentic ethnic cuisine, there are always a few genuine and understated gems like Toni’s Amici waiting to be found.
– Sadia Pineda Hameed