Glasgow is not short of Italian-run restaurants, from gelaterias and fish and chip shops to family-owned and family-friendly establishments.
Scotland has long enjoyed an affiliation with Italians since the first immigrants arrived in the late 1800s, with many settling in Glasgow.
By 1914, the Italians dominated the café trade in the West of Scotland – and were at the forefront of popularising the fish supper.
Now these much-loved Italian restaurants and businesses are celebrated in annual awards, including the Scottish Italian Awards, mentions in the Michelin Guide and, more recently, at the 2022 Food Awards.
It was at these awards that family-run Ristorante Pieno was named Glasgow Restaurant of the Year, after just a year in business.
Run by the husband and wife team, Annie and Roshi Kanushi, the business took home the award for their ‘impeccable service and authentic Italian food.’
The restaurant opened its doors in March of 2020 in a unit opposite the Theatre Royal, but, along with all other hospitality, has only recently been able to run without covid restrictions.
Annie Kanushi, who heads the back-end of the restaurant while her husband and nephew take on front-of-house, spoke to us about winning the award at the end of last year.
She said: “We really can’t believe that we got the honour of winning the award. We didn’t go into it thinking we would win anything, we just wanted to take some of our staff for a night out to celebrate getting nominated.
“There were some really big names nominated, and in our heads we looked like the odd ones out - so we’re over the moon to be named best restaurant in Glasgow. I still can’t really believe it!
"We opened in March of 2020, which obviously wasn’t ideal, but we did what we could to come out of the other end of it - our proper opening was a year later in May of 2021, and we’ve been growing steadily since then.
"Six members of our family are working together to make the restaurant what it is, and we know all our staff from our time in the hospitality industry.
"We’ve still had some difficult times like everyone else of course, but we’re focused on building what we’ve got and living up to people’s expectations by keeping up our old school service, and getting our heads down and back to work. We’re certainly not taking any of our success for granted.”
With the award win in mind, and a show to see at the theatre, we went along for a pre-theatre meal in late December.
Being the weird time between Christmas and New Year, the restaurant was decorated with lights, wreaths and the table laden with crackers. It was busy, with a nice atmosphere, as families and groups and friends caught up on a cold and dreich Friday night.
We took in the menu, and considered pulling the crackers, over a spicy and warming glass of montepulciano d'abruzzo.
There’s a choice of a pre-theatre set menu of three courses, or a la carte. We decided to go for the (still reasonably priced) a la carte menu, although there were some specials on the set menu. I started with some bread and olives (£5.95).
Four slices of pillow soft white bread were served alongside sticky, sweet and tart balsamic oil and a bowl of salty, briney black and green olives.
Across the table, a large plate of arancini formaggio (£7.45) was served. They were described as tasty and delicately flavoured and larger than expected.The accompanied tomato dip was delicious and the remainder was lovely to dip the bread in.
For mains we both went for pasta, although there’s a fantastic selection of pizza, rice and meat dishes.
They also have a vegan menu. My spaghetti gamberoni (£15.95) had a very light yet flavoursome buttery sauce, a good mix of large succulent prawns, with a slight kick of chilli to enliven the dish, which was finished with softly cooked, sweet plum tomatoes.
Too often this type of dish can be very heavy, with the addition of cream, but not here where the flavours are allowed to do the talking.
My sister also went for a pasta dish, a classic - spaghetti polpette - spaghetti and meatballs (£13.95).
They were seasoned well and the tomato sauce was rich and nicely flavoured with basil. This dish was described as very enjoyable and not too much either.
We also shared my absolute favourite from an Italian - focaccia with sea salt and rosemary (£5.95), which was delightfully crispy at the centre but with a soft crust, and perfectly seasoned with fragrant rosemary and salt.
While we were full, it seemed rude not to have a classic dessert so we shared an affogato (£6.45), which, much like the starter, was a large portion of snow white vanilla ice cream, accompanied by a small shot of fresh, steaming hot espresso.
The mix of sweet creaminess from the ice cream and deeply fragrant coffee is a winner every time. We upped the caffeine level with coffee, which came with a biscoff biscuit.
While there’s alot of competition for good Italians in Glasgow, Ristorante Pieno is a real gem from the staff to the variety and quality of food.
It’s also good value for money in an ideal location, making it easy to see why it’s well deserving of its most recent award. Just make sure you go hungry, as some portion sizes are huge.
311 Hope St, Glasgow G2 3PT
0141 332 7728