For those that remember the days before mobile phones, Royal Exchange Square in Glasgow city centre was a great meeting spot. It’s also been a hub of mainstay bars and restaurants, such as the social (Rogano just off the square sadly remains closed), and new openings such as Glaschu. The square has always been a mix of trendy and high end, with 29 - a private member’s club - a popular venue until it closed in 2022.
The latest addition to Royal Exchange Square is Banca di Roma, the first Scottish restaurant from The Cozzolino brothers, a trio of talented Italian chefs. The restaurant has taken over the site of what was Zizzi’s, the A-listed former Royal Bank of Scotland building (whose steps were often frequented by teens-before-phones).
Antonio, Pasquale, and Simone Cozzolino, who worked for London-based chef Francesco Mazzei, are drawing on the traditions and flavours from their three generation Vesuvian family farm and bringing them to the menu in the new restaurant.
Ahead of opening Antonio said of the brothers heritage: “Food was always part of our life. Then it grew into a passion for ingredients and became what we wanted to do in life.
"We had a big garden and the countryside to explore, we were surrounded by things to taste when we were young; fennel or oranges or mandarins.Our dad would make wine, we would have homemade pickles and make our own tomato sauce as a family.”
The interiors of the restaurant are fabulous, with no trace of the chain restaurant in sight. It’s a vast space with a decorative tree in the centre of the restaurant.
Up a winding staircase there’s a bar with ample seating. The original features of the listed building, such as the intricate cornicework, stands out against a dark blue and cream colour palette.
The kitchen, which is open and visible, is separated from the main room via a large marble clad pass. This set up means that almost all tables feel like chef tables, with diners able to watch the chefs creating their meals.
When it comes to the menu, everything is based around sharing plates, which adds to the buzzy nature of the restaurant -this isn’t a space to sit quietly (the upstairs DJ booth is testament to this).
After a glass of prosecco (it felt rude not to), we kicked our evening off with starters of la buratta, £13, zucchini (courgette) fries, £6, batutta di manza (beef tartare), £13 and la regina (pizza bread), £9.
The burrata arrived in two chunks, topped with fresh broad beans and peas and a drizzle of green olive oil. The additions of the springtime veg add a lightness to the cheese, and some welcome texture. A nice, seasonal start to the meal. The beef tartare, which is hand cut, was sitting in a pool of Jerusalem artichoke fondue and topped with crisp pieces of artichoke.
This dish was rich, with the artichoke adding some smokiness and a touch of bitterness. The tartare was slightly too chunky for us, but it was undoubtedly fresh. The very American sounding zucchini fries are light, crisp and slightly sweet - totally moreish and ideal as a snack with an aperitivo. The small pizza bread, ideal as a taster, was a classic mix of tomato, basil and fior di latte.
On to mains - hummus e gamberi, £12 and roasted seasonal vegetables, £6. Hummus and prawns is a southern Italian dish and draws on the Moorish influence of the region.
Here, three plump king prawns sat atop of sand coloured hummus with tangles of bitter monk’s beard - a well balanced dish that offers something different. The veg was nicely grilled, which released flavour. There’s also a small menu of fresh pasta for those looking for something that’s seen as more traditional.
When it comes to desserts, the big hitters are there - classic tiramisu and profiteroles for example - as well as a vegan pistachio cake. What might catch the eye, and instagram, is the Lingotto, a gold bar (£20) that harks back to the restaurant’s former life as a bank. We were too full to indulge, but look forward to seeing this eye-catching sounding dessert online soon.
Banca di Roma is another stylish addition to this address in Glasgow. It’s nice to see such a beautiful building continue to be used, and dishes that reflect different parts of Italy.
With staff from some of London’s most celebrated restaurants, and an eye on live entertainment, Banca di Roma is clearly setting out to be a destination eatery in the city. Whether it’ll be as long lived as neighbours, only time will tell.
31 Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow G1 3AJ
0141 648 7662