If you want to try authentic Italian food, Liverpool's Italian Quarter is the place to go.
Nestled on a corner of Williamson Square, the Italian Quarter is home to several businesses ran by the Cillo family, offering up a variety of in-house made Italian foods from pizzettas and pasta to gelato, and mouth watering pastries and cakes.
We make everything fresh in house, and we're always improving our menu and bringing new items to keep our customers coming back
The Italian Quarter has been slowly growing for the past 12 years, and now encompasses seven Italian businesses including Paolo and Donato's (P&D) Gran Caffe, P&D Bakery, P&D Catering, Antoinetta Wholesale Cake and Gelato, Creamy Creations, Brunchin' and newest arrival, Hey Farina.
With new venture Hey Farina, only opening in January, I decided to pop in to speak with part owner Antonella Bovino, and head chef Julianmo on the new business, all things focaccia and the future forecast for the Italian Quarter.
When I visited there were lots of smiling faces and the offer of coffee. I went for a creamy cappuccino that I savoured till the last drop (I'm a fiend for caffeine).
Hey Farina's interior is simple but bright, with Italian influences dotted throughout, from displayed freshly baked breads, and a deli-counter full of baked goods, meats and cheeses.
There's even bags of pasta on display, and a flat screen tv hung on the wall showing off amazing Italian landscapes, and the nice addition of a map of Italy, which shows where the influence for a variety of dishes has come from.
After moving from Potenza, Italy, over nine years ago, Antonella spent a few years working as a waitress in restaurants around Liverpool, before creating a cleaning business. But when husband, Carmine Cillo, decided to open up Hey Farina this past January, she jumped on board to bring true Italian foods to Scousers.
Antonella said: "We created this business together to build upon the Italian Quarter as well as giving customers an authentic Italian restaurant experience. I focus on the front of house staff, whilst Carmine runs the kitchen.
"While the cafe, bakery and Brunchin' offer a variety of things, Hey Farina focuses on big main dishes like pasta, salads, savoury baked goods, and Italian street food bites."
Hey Farina has already been immensely popular with local workers, which was obvious from the constant stream of customers popping in to grab sandwiches and paninis to eat on the go, during our interview.
Romanian head chef, Julianmo, excitedly explained how service works at Hey Farina, and how some of his favourite dishes are created.
"We serve everything from breakfast to dinner here at Hey Farina, we're always busy in the afternoons as there are a lot of offices around here which means workers like to pop in on their lunch break for focaccia, paninis, and smaller items like our Italian sausage rolls."
"I love making our pasta dishes in the evening, especially the carbonara, as that's a customer favourite."
Uniquely, Hey Farina creates all of their signature dishes out of a milled wheat flour from which is gained its moniker, farina.
Julianmo adds: "We make everything fresh in house, and we're always improving our menu and bringing new items to keep our customers coming back. We've actually just added a seafood linguini and a broccoli pasta dish too."
As well as creating all of their dishes from Farina flour (hence the restaurant name), the place has a weekly offering of different dishes each Thursday that focus on a specific Italian location, with their most recent being or risotto alla Milanese with Zofran and parmesan cheese, hailing from the city of Milan.
Antonella goes on to explain the inspiration behind the different weekly meals.
"We want to really give range to our meals and explore influences from each city and town in Italy, and by having a weekly plan of fresh dishes each Thursday, we're able to do just that. We also make sure to pair it with different wines and cocktails so customers can enjoy the full experience."
Julianmo continues: "If you want authentic Italian, you come to the Italian Quarter."
After finishing up with our interview, Julianmo and Antonella gave me a tour around their restaurant, and other venues across their version of Little Italy, including their 'laboratory' where chefs were hard at work creating ice cream, cakes, chocolates and pastries with the freshest ingredients by hand.
In fact, all of the Cillo owned businesses strive to make everything fresh by hand, to keep true to their Italian roots.
As we walked through the venues, I had running commentary on what each place sold, the first being P&D bakery and the Grand Caffe.
Guided by traditonal Italian recipes and ingredients, the Gran Caffe sells espresso, Caffe macchiato, cappuccinos, tea, homemade baked goods and desserts and over 20 different flavours of the best gelato Liverpool has to offer, including pistachio and simpler flavours such as vanilla.
The smell of fresh bread, to paninis, pizza, and focaccia is truly something to embrace over at the bakery, which the Cillo family are hoping to expand in their new premises by the Albert Dock.
Brunchin' is located upstairs, which serves up healthy breakfasts, freshly made smoothies, refreshing juices and afternoon light bites. Slightly different from the decor in the other Italian Quarter venues, Brunchin opted for a more stylish and chic look, complete with tall stools and tables, to a faux grass covered wall with the logo in the middle.
The Italian Quarter has really built a name for itself over the past few years, and has grown even bigger with the arrival of Hey Farina. This is a great option for ice creams, focaccias and everything else Italiano.
You can find Hey Farina here: 30 Richmond St, Liverpool L1 1EF
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