Shaftesbury’s newest restaurant opens in a few days. San Tonino will operate from the premises of Amore, which closed recently. The venue is under new ownership and features different menus and an interior makeover.
Keri Jones from Alfred chatted with the experienced chef who will manage this new business.
So far, 2019 has introduced some international tastes to Shaftesbury’s choice of dining options. Greek food is now served up at Ye Olde Two Brewers and Spanish-style tapas is a weekend option at King Alfred’s Kitchen. From next month, Italian cuisine is back on the menu in Mustons Lane.
As I walked up to San Tonino’s new base, the sun was shining on the imposing Corinthian-style columns of Bath stone that front the former congregational chapel. Director Antonio Mate was standing outside, tending to two olive trees, bought by one of his fellow directors.
“Vinny brought this here. It is ideal for this big, old building. It looks very good,” Antonio said, adding that the bush has another function. “It is a good luck charm because olives are one of the trees that live forever.”
Even with the sunshine, it might take a while before Antonio starts making his own olive oil from these bushes, but he won’t really need to. His business partner owns an Italian food and drinks supplier down in Wimborne. “I was looking for a business with my friend Vinny,” said Antonio, who explained that his colleague was aware of this restaurant’s potential. “He supplies businesses with wine. He used to supply this place. This is a great place.”
Antonio has a track record of cooking Italian food, most recently as chef at Verona restaurant in Trowbridge. He started in the restaurant trade in this country in 1997. “I came 22 years ago to Bristol and worked with a family from Napoli in an Italian restaurant there. I started as a waiter. Those guys asked me to join them in kitchen.”
The third San Tonino director also has Italian food credentials. He’s recently opened a restaurant in Marlborough to positive social media reviews. And Antonio is confident about the quality of his own cooking. “I’m good at all of the things – pizzas, pastas, risottos, fish, meats. Fifteen years ago I was one of the best pizza chefs in the Bristol area,” he said with pride.
Antonio says that he was once approached to take part in a national pizza making contest but he had to turn down the opportunity because he would have had to meet his own costs. “I wanted to take part in the London competition but I had to back out because I had to take two weeks off work and all of the expenses would have been from my pocket,” he said.
Antonio promises that Shaftesbury diners will notice the difference between his restaurant’s meals and the High Street chain Italian restaurants in larger towns. “The chains have got all the Italians dishes but the pizzas, for example, come in frozen. They are already made. We’re going to make a fresh dough base here every day. You will see the difference between fresh and frozen. Everything here will to be cooked from scratch, a proper cooked meal. We will not be warming up packet ready meals.”
He won’t be cooking all of the time. Antonio will be managing operations, when this 7-day-a-week business opens in two weeks. He’s expecting to drive each day from Bristol. An experienced colleague has been hired for the kitchen duties. “One of my friends came from the cooking school, where he did five years,” said Antonio.
We walked into the large dining space inside the old chapel. The room’s appearance had been transformed with new furnishings. Some of the chairs were still covered in their protective delivery wrapping. “Everything is brand new. New tables, new chairs, new kitchen equipment, new pizza oven and all the fridges. The bar is brand new,” said Antonio.
The central fountain and wall murals of Italian street scenes and toga-clad Romans remain but the more muted colour scheme gives the restaurant a contemporary appearance. “The painting is brand new. Before it was yellow and now it is a blue and grey. The ceiling was cloudy before, but now it is proper – one colour,” said Antonio.
As we spoke, our voices echoed in the vast space, originally designed for 500 worshippers back in1858. “We are used to working in big places before. The challenge was that I had never done any building works or painting and decoration myself. We have had no problem. We are going to make the atmosphere a happy environment,” said Antonio.
He has no plans to create a separate venue, as Ciel had recently done with her cocktail bar at the back of the chapel. “We are not going to have a bar as before. We’re going to use it to welcome people if they have to wait for their table. It won’t be used like a nightclub. We are going to be a proper restaurant serving food with drinks at the table,” said Antonio.
Overall, Antonio says he believes that good food and customer service will ensure success. “If you communicate with people, do what people like, serve them nicely and serve them fresh food, that is what people expect.”
Even with two decades in the restaurant trade, Antonio has experienced a range of emotions when he contemplates his 4th September launch. “I’m a bit nervous, but also I’m excited,” he says. And he hopes that locals will support the venture. “Shaftesbury doesn’t have any other Italian restaurant. We’ll help them, they’ll help us and it will be ideal,” he smiled.
You can contact the restaurant at email@example.com.