Restaurant review: Amici – Churchill Way, Cardiff

Opened in 2012, Amici is a small, family-run Italian restaurant and bar situated on Cardiff ’s Churchill Way, on the former site of popular restaurant Dizzy Llama. Meaning ‘friends’ in Italian, Amici offers traditional Italian cuisine and a warm welcome.

Amici is owned and run by Toni Venditto, who began his culinary career in Milan at a young age. In the early 1980s, Toni opened a string of Italian restaurants in Cardiff including Il Padrino, Topo Gigio, Fontana Di Trevi and Da Venditto. His restaurants soon grew to success, between them picking up 2 AA Rosettes, voted Best Restaurant in the UK by Martini Magazine and voted one of the UK’s top 10 Italian restaurants by the Sunday Times. After a break travelling Toni returned to the UK and opened Amici, his newest venture.

Upon entering Amici, you walk down a small flight of stairs to the restaurant and bar – it is, in effect, a basement restaurant. Visiting on Black Friday, the restaurant was bustling with diners and had a cosy atmosphere. My guest and I take a seat at the window table, which has kindly been reserved for us. A first glance out of the window doesn’t reveal much except for a stone wall, but peering over the wall to look at the pavement above, our spot turns out to be perfect for people-watching.

The restaurant décor is simple, yet effective. The dining area is well lit and the walls are adorned with photographs, drawings and memorabilia that help to create a rustic, Italian feel, like wine bottles and boxed panettone.

The menu features a selection of authentic Italian dishes including pasta, pizza, risotto and a selection of poultry, meat, game and seafood dishes. You won’t find any of the usual suspects like lasagne or spaghetti Bolognese here, just traditional, rustic dishes made using fresh, flavoursome ingredients.

As we ponder over the menu, we share a basket of freshly baked bread with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic for dipping (£3). To start, I order the antipasto Italiano (£8.95). Served on a wooden plank, the platter includes several slices of Italian cured meats, topped with grilled courgette ribbons, accompanied by sliced mozzarella, tomato and bay leaves. The different flavours of the meats taste great paired with the creamy mozzarella and the grilled courgette.
 

My guest opts for the frittura di calamari (£7.95) to start – a generous portion of deep-fried squid nestled in a large lettuce leaf, paired with a pot of fresh garlic mayonnaise and lime wedges.. I’ve never been fond of the chewy texture of squid so I pass on the offer to try some, although it is presented beautifully and my guest really likes it.

 
Moving on to our main course, I can’t resist the sound of penne Sofia (£13.95) – chicken and penne pasta served in a creamy white wine and garlic sauce. And I’m not disappointed. The sauce tastes rich and creamy, whist the balance of white wine and garlic is just right. The dish contains plenty of chicken, and the fresh parsley garnish makes for an elegant finishing touch.
 
 

Branching out again for her main course, my guest chooses the ravioli con cinghiale (£15.50) – wild boar ravioli in a red wine, juniper berry and wild mushroom broth. Now, this looks good. The sauce is almost gravy-like and the ravioli is filled to the seams, served with leeks and scattered with cress to finish. I’d definitely be tempted to order this if I come to Amici again.

With just enough room left to spare, we take a look at the traditional dessert menu. As I’m dining at an Italian restaurant, I simply have to try the tiramisu (£5.60). A large slab of tiramisu is served in the centre of my plate, scattered with cocoa powder and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The tiramisu consists of perfectly formed horizontal layers, so soft and smooth that my spoon just glides through them. The coffee-soaked sponge tastes superb, even better when it combines with the mascarpone layer.

My guest goes for the vanilla panna cotta with forest fruits (£5.60). We can tell it’s been made fresh because we can see the vanilla seeds, and the berry sauce looks delicious.

 
At the end of our meal we are lucky enough to meet the chef, Walter, who emerges from the kitchen to ask the diners what they think of his food. It’s good to get the opportunity to tell him how much we’ve enjoyed his cooking and it helps to give our experience a personal touch.
 
Amici really does live up to its promise of providing a warm welcome and a friendly dining atmosphere. The service is fantastic – several times throughout our meal the waiting staff popped over to check that everything was okay, and they treated us more like friends than diners. We couldn’t fault the food, it was worlds apart from some of the other Italian restaurants I’ve visited in Cardiff. Expect to pay a little more than what you would at your average, run-of-the-mill Italian restaurant, but then expect to receive the very best of customer service and a truly authentic Italian meal in return.

Amici
24 Churchill Way
Cardiff
CF10 2DY
(029) 2034 3424
www.tonisamici.co.uk/Italianrestaurantcardiff

I was invited to Amici as a guest and our food and drinks were complimentary. However, I was not obliged to write a positive review.

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