Restaurant review: Ciao, Corinium! Salve, Fratello's!
PUBLISHED: 13:17 11 March 2014 | UPDATED: 13:17 11 March 2014
Flood the streets of Cirencester, chuck in a plethora of dishonest gondoliers, and the town's new restaurant Fratello's could transport you straight to Venice - says Katie Jarvis
Italy: Rome; the Colosseum; Pompeii; Caligula; stallions oddly elevated to positions of supreme power... But enough of modern politics. What a country!
(…Hang on. Hang on. Before you misunderstand, I’m not actually in Italy. I’m not AA Gill or anything, for goodness sake, reviewing elBulli or ice hotels in Jukkasjärvi (“Ice Hotel. Vice Hotel. Spice Hotel. A Cornetto on the face of Sweden. The David Starkey of solid di-hydrogen oxide.”) (Hey! I think I could do this, Sunday Times, if you’re listening.) The furthest I go for my restaurant reviews is Stow-on-the-Wold; venture any more northerly than that and you fall off, so I’ve heard.)
I’ve been to Italy just once, early on in my married life, shortly after we’d accidentally acquired Sally, the slightly thick spaniel, who loved pointy stones and deeply mistrusted tall strangers. She was Ian’s dog, really. He’d get up early, lovingly to walk her – half-asleep – round the half-mile block before he went to work. Many-a-time he failed to twig she’d put herself back to bed, leaving him to do the circuit by himself. No one enlightened him. Both were satisfied with the arrangement.
He missed her so much on that Italian holiday that he toured the ancient sights while emitting a homing signal as he went. “Meep.” It was an instinctive sound, soulfully expressing the heartrending despair and guttural ache of a human psyche temporarily ripped from the side of a slightly thick spaniel with a love of pointy stones. “Do you ever miss me this much?” I asked, suspiciously. “Meep,” he replied, enigmatically.
It was in Venice that my innocence was rent from me. It started badly, when we were forced to leave the car in a soulless multi-storey, somewhat distant from the City of Bridges – though, to be fair, I’d heard it could be tricky to park in the streets. As we left its concrete vastness, yearning for the sight of canals, lagoons, and dishonest bankers (a novelty, way back then), we were approached by the sort of Italian whose good looks mirrored the purity of heart only previously encountered in Little Nell. He was clearly devastated for us. “I am so sad to have to tell you that today, when you come to visit our lovely city, the vaporetti are not running,” he said, sing-song, brown eyes brimming with empathy and generosity. This was upsetting: the cheap water-taxis on strike? “But, luckily for you, I have my gondola here.”
How kind! I thought, skipping to the gondola’s cushioned depths. Ian – forever suspicious – stopped meeping for a second. “We’ll swim,” he said.
Imagine my astonishment then, when, on arriving at the vaporetti stop, the little water-taxis were trundling up and down the canals as regularly as clockwork. “How odd!” we said, as we watched two dead rats floating past, “that somewhere so beautiful could harbour such dishonesty.” And then we went off to spend around £1,475.90 on two small ice creams in a nearby café.
But I’m always ready to give countries a second chance, and so it is that we journey to the canalless, lagoonless, Santi Giovanni e Paololess Venice of the GL7 area, Cirencester. To Fratello’s, a new fine-dining Italian restaurant (though the Swindon branch opened back in 2005). Ian is instinctively wary of Italian restaurants – maybe Venice; maybe his mother was scared by a pizza during a crucial development stage. Who knows? “It’s because I can’t pronounce the dishes,” he explains.
In fact, our waiter is a sheer delight, recommending dishes, such as the ravioli con ripieno di pesce: “Very popular,” he says. It’s fresh pasta filled with crab, prawns and lobster, in a seafood sauce. Ian doesn’t do shells, and I am suspicious of anything with tentacles (Octopus’s Garden is one of the few Beatles songs I don’t play), so, instead, he has a tagliatelle with Italian smoked ham, Taleggio cheese, mushrooms, walnuts and Italian chicory (beautiful homemade pasta but, personally, I’d have recommended a side with it, both for variety and a bit more bulk). I choose a fresh tuna steak with salad. To be frank, this also really cried out for a side, despite the £19.95 price. The starters, on the other hand, were simple but delightful: a Caprese tower of plum tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella with homemade pesto, and a trio of (once again homemade) bread, topped with (respectively) chicken, vegetables and tomatoes and mozzarella.
It’s quiet inside – though we are early – but eminently pleasant; even when a (perfectly nice) waitress makes a surprise appearance and tries to force my mains on another guest. At a table next to us, an Italian-looking chap – possibly the owner? – chats animatedly with a dining couple, taking just a glass of wine for himself. It’s a big space, and the only other guests are out of sight; hard to know whether that’s a good policy or not. Sometimes, it’s nice to have company.
The desserts are just gorgeous; indulgent; a trillion calories – a tiramisu with amoretti ice cream, and an Italian sponge cake, soaked in liqueurs, with cream and ice cream.
It’s good, overall. A little pricey, I have to say. But good. Pleasantly serviced. Nice atmosphere. If you like Italian restaurants, this is a cut above most. A fitting edition to the Cotswolds’ almost-Venice. Flood the streets, add a few rats and a plethora of dishonest gondoliers, and bingo; you could be there.
• Ambience 7
• Service 7
• Food 7
• Value for money 7
Fratello’s, 29 Sheep Street, Cirencester GL7 1QW, 01285 642777; www.fratellos.co.uk
This article by Katie Jarvis is from the March 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.
For more from Katie Jarvis, follow her on Twitter: @KatieJarvis