AUTHENTIC Italian cuisine in the historic surroundings of ancient architecture are just two of the draws at Sorano’s.
Owners Gaetano Sorano and his partner Michaela Luca have opened a second branch of their eaterie in St John’s Street in the heart of Colchester where the building uniquely incorporates part of the town’s famous Roman walls.
The couple have successfully been running their restaurant, also named Sorano’s, in Thorrington, for the past two and a half years.
And having built a reputation for their food and customer service they jumped at the chance to open another restaurant in Colchester.
Gaetano, who is originally from Naples in Italy, and Michaela met while working within the hospitality industry.
They have a wealth of experience between them, including working in London and Italy.
Michaela says they have built-up a loyal clientele in Thorrington which they hope to emulate in Colchester.
So far the signs are good with bookings steadily building at the newly refurbished venue, which at one point was home to the Lemon Tree restaurant.
The couple have made significant changes inside and refurbished it.
Gaetano says: “We wanted to go for a rustic Italian restaurant feel, not really a trattoria, but something a bit more sophisticated that incorporated a range of cuisines from Italy.
“Each region you go to has a speciality, whether that is Naples or Rome or Turin, and we wanted to try and take a bit from each of of those,” he explains.
Michaela and Gaetano explain fish is among the most popular dishes on their menu with a wide range served up on a daily basis.
“We sell a lot of sea bass and halibut and lobster and octopus along with scallops and langoustines.
“Customers often express surprise at being able to order things like octopus as they say it is not something you get at a lot of restaurants.
“We have cod, swordfish and sardines on every day, that is fixed, and then the others appear on the specials,” says Michaela.
Italian staples from lasagne to cannelloni are also served up using fresh ingredients.
Head chef Gaetano and Michaela, who takes care of the day to day running of the restaurant, split their time between the Colchester restaurant and Thorrington.
This was originally a transport cafe before they took it on, transforming it and building up a solid client base.
Michaela says: “It took about six months but then we really noticed people were returning on a regular basis and they were bringing friends and family too.
“Now we are open in Colchester we really want to try and transfer that over to here and the feedback so far has been really positive.
“We openly welcome families and we have a good children’s menu,” she says.
The menu also caters for vegetarian, vegan and gluten free palates.
Gaetano says: “We have fresh vegan pasta, gnocchi, ravioli and a range of gluten free dishes too, “It is something you really have to do now. It is what customers are asking for time and again.”
Sorano’s is also popular with slimmers - its fresh vegetables, pasta and tomato-based dishes proving particularly popular with Slimming World groups.
“We have had a number of groups come to us for Christmas dinners from Slimming World.
“They say there are actually a lot of healthy choices for them on the menu because the fish is grilled and we can always leave butter off something that might have it,” explains Michaela who has already taken bookings for special events at the new restaurant, including a 40th birthday.
They also hope to be able to help people celebrate weddings and other important occasions.
A launch event for family and friends of the couple and their team of staff, which includes two Italian chefs and trained bar staff, is also set to take place.
The refurbishment has included removing a bar which ran along one wall and completely re-decorating, including the Roman Cellar area which diners can sit in, right next to the ancient wall which stretches along the inside of the main wall within.
“We were thrilled when we heard about the restaurant being available because we had been thinking about coming into town and then we heard from the people who originally opened the Lemon Tree that it was available.
"I knew straight away when I saw it because having the history of the walls is just so unusual and we are in a really good place here for people to come by and see we are here and come in.
“Which we have not had as much out at Thorrington as it is not in a town centre,” he says.
The restaurant also hopes to capitalise on the outside seating area in the coming months as the weather warms up.
“We would like to look at getting new seating and making even more a feature of it but I have already had people sitting out there and having a cup of tea so I think it will be popular in the summer months.
“Everyone likes sitting outside and watching the world go by, that is cafe culture,” adds Michaela.