YOUR starter for dieci?

It’s early days yet but four-square Veeno lacks the character and vivacity of a casual rival  like Salvis over at the Corn Exchange.

What have Caruso and Iron Maiden got in common – apart from making beautiful music, obviously? The answer lies, a touch randomly, in a new Italian wine cafe at the top of Brazennose Street. 

Veeno is run by two Italian guys called Andrea and Francesco. The latter’s family vineyard, going back five generations in Marsala, Sicily, provides the wine range for this attractive but basic bistro challenging the latest batch of casual Italian joints around the city. 



Veenos is just a little stark

The great tenor Enrico springs to mind when encountering Caruso and Minini Vineyards, but there appears to be no family link. Still Bruce Dickinson did cherry-pick (or should that be grape pick?) two of their wines as house selection for Maiden’s latest tour – head-bangingly named Blood Red and Holy White. I presume the hugely successful Trooper, which Bruce helped craft with Robinson’s brewery, will be the tour ale to cleanse the jaded palate.  



Super trooper Bruce Dickinson likes his red

Neither of the above vinos features on the list at Veeno (sic), a destination more rocket ‘n’ rosso than rock ‘n’ roll, which may be well the problem. It’s a crowded market in the small plates from the Mezzogiorno-to-the-Veneto market and even the strong emphasis here on like-Mama-used-to-make in Old Sicily may not be enough for success. 

Which is shame because the wine options are well-priced and uniformly delicious and will certainly be the main draw for me. 

Bruce’s red and white come respectively from indigenous Sicilian grape varieties Nero d’Avola and Inzolia and these are at the heart of a list based around four 'strata' of wines from the stellar premium range, Le Selezioni, through the signature traditional I Sicani and Terre di Giumara from the family’s own country estate, down to the entry level Tasari.


Nero D'avole and piadine

Prices range from £3.50 for 175ml of a Tasari to £25.90 for a whole bottle of a Selezioni. Oh and subverting the entire concept, for the special occasion, let’s be having a 'Delia', a velvety, vanilla-tinged, spice-laden Syrah at £44.90 a bottle. 

On this occasion, my companion Ruth and I contented ourselves with sampling the four levels of Nero d’Avola. The Tasari was a fragrant cherryish quencher; herbs and prunes featured on the nose of the Terre di Giumara followed by dense cherry fruit and refreshing acidity on the palate; the I Sicani version Cote de Ferro was again herbily aromatic, its initial sweetness cut through again with food-friendly acidity; but the obvious star was the Selzioni called Cutaja, inky in colour, all silk and heightened cassis fruit on the palate with complex scents and a lingering aftertaste. 

Earlier lovely bar lass Elisa (pictured at the top of the page), just over from Turin, poured us two whites, both Terre di Giumara (you are getting this now?). The blossom-scented, minerally Grecanico fell away a touch but the fuller-bodied Inzolia – one of three classic varietals that go into making the fortified Marsala – demonstrated its table wine pedigree, too. Honeysuckle on the nose, lushly fruity and intense.  

It would be a great seafood wine.


A glass of Inzolia with special glue-together cork feature

Alas, nothing fishy features on the snacky, quite restricted menu (well, perhaps a stray anchovy). Of the initial three plates (£4 to £4.50 apiece) we ordered, the veg version of Arancine (rice balls) was dry and unappealing, the Parmegiana (baked aubergine layered with cheese and tomato sauce and parmesan) pleasant enough and the Caponata Sicilana (more aubergines in a sweet-sour mush) not as caper and onion sharp as I would have liked it. 

Their Piadine flatbreads with fillings are the obvious nibbles when wine is the main thing. The Parma featuring Parma ham, Robiola cheese, sun dried tomato, and olive patè just pipped the less ample Trentino (Speck and Taleggio cheese). At £5.50 each, these glorified toasties hardly seem value set against a pizza alternative (Veenos doesn’t do pizzas). 



Cheese with musica bread

If you go to sample the Nero d’Avolas and Inzolia – and you must – I’d recommend the Misto Formaggi cheese course with musica bread (£5.50/£8.50), grapes, nuts and the likes of parmesan, burrata and pecorino. Wine-friendly stuff. 

It’s early days yet but four-square Veeno lacks the character and vivacity of a casual rival  like Salvis over at the Corn Exchange. Perhaps that will come. It is good to welcome family establishments to the heart of the city. Even though, the family in question are mostly over in the western reaches of Sicily. 

You can follow Neil Sowerby on Twitter @AntonEgoManc 


Veenos, Brazennose Street ( address states 2 Albert Square but that's misleading), City centre. M2 6LW

Rating: 13.5/20 (remember venues are rated against the best examples of their type - see yellow box below)

Food: 2.5/5

Wine: 4/5 

Service: 4/5 

Ambience: 3/5

PLEASE NOTE: Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20, we get carried away.


View to Brazennose Street

Wine_Rules_Here[1]Wine rules

Arancine,_Parmigiana_And_Caponata[1]Arancine, parmigiana and caponata

More_Corks_And_Bottles[1]Cork love