As a self-confessed foodie I love nothing more than trying all the new weird and wonderful eateries that pop up in my local area and beyond.

But there’s one traditional restaurant that I keep going back to time and time again, because it hits the spot like nowhere else. It’s Stefano's at Romilly Crescent in Pontcanna, which has served the community for decades.

First opened by Stefano’s parents Marilyn and Piero in the 1980s, the eatery was originally called Piccolo Castello according to its website. Some 20 years later in 2002 - after learning all the ropes from his family and embarking on further training in Florence - Stefano became its owner along with his wife Linda.

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And now 20 more years on from that, the fairy light clad eatery still seems to be going strong. It just goes to show that at the end of the day nothing really beats a good old Italian restaurant. It's even rated by former Wales rugby wing and new NFL signing Louis Rees-Zammit, who is pictured on the venue's Facebook page after enjoying a meal out with his family.

Over the years Stefano's has collected a number of awards and accolades including the Pizza Restaurant of the Year at the Welsh Restaurant Awards 2023; Trip Advisor Travellers Choice Award 2022; and best Italian at the Echo Food and Drink Awards 2015.

Stefano's restaurant in Pontcanna lit up at night with fairy lights
Stefano's restaurant in Pontcanna, Cardiff

Something that really struck me while I looked all this up was that its prices seem to have frozen in time for more than a decade. I found this to be a pleasant surprise considering it is located in what has been dubbed Cardiff’s “trendiest neighbourhood”, while it also navigates the current cost-of-living crisis - all after having already survived the pandemic. You couldn’t really blame it if it did hike its prices up, as many other restaurants across the UK have.

In a 2013 WalesOnline review - when it won our Italian restaurant of that year - we reported how its starters ranged from around £8 or £9, its pizzas and pastas from around £10 and its specials at around £15 to £18. Looking at its menu today, it is more or less the same. Desserts may have slightly gone up from around £4.50 in 2013 to £6.50 today, but considering it has been 11 years I think it’s still pretty good going.

The menu recommends ordering four to five dishes per two people. I have been to the restaurant a handful of times before, and usually stick to the menu and share two pasta dishes, a starter (or “pane”) and dessert. My favourites include the bruschetta nduja to start (£8.95), followed by the tagliatelle nduja with aubergine (£9.95) or penne ortolana (£8.95) for main, and either the torta della nona (£6.50) or homemade sticky toffee pudding (£6.50).

Each day the restaurant also offers specials, which friendly staff talk you through at your table. I went along on Friday night and in the name of offering a complete and wide-ranging review courtesy of WalesOnline I decided I should push the boat out and try something a bit different.

With this in mind we went for a healthy mix of menu favourites as well as daily specials. As we took our seats at the back of the charming split-level room with beamed high ceilings we were served by a jolly, friendly and attentive member of staff who lit us a candle and took our drink orders. We later realised this was Stefano himself. Each staff member we engaged with that evening was equally as engaging and helpful.

Two glasses of bellinis inside Stefano's
Bellinis to start the evening off

To drink we ordered a Bellini each for £8.50, it’s not something I would usually order but I enjoyed it. After all you can’t go far wrong with peach juice and prosecco.

For our starters we decided to share two: a classic bruschetta pomodoro (£6.95) and sausage and cannellini bean dish (£9.50).

I think the quality of bruschetta can reveal a lot about an Italian restaurant, and this really, really was good. The warm and crusty bread was topped with a well-seasoned rainbow of red, green and yellow chopped tomatoes. The sausage dish was unlike anything I have ever tried at an Italian restaurant before and included two types of flavoursome sausages on a bed of what I can only think to describe as a “yummy and warming bean stew”. The portion sizes were plentiful..

bruschetta at tefano's
The bruschetta
The sausage dish with cannellini beans
The sausage dish with cannellini beans

Next up for our main we shared a classic pizza, which I have never tried at Stefano’s before. Margherita pizzas start at £9.50 and then, if you wish, you can choose to add your favourite toppings for various prices. We went for parma ham (£4.50) and rocket (£2.50).

Our off-menu special choice was veal saltimbocca with a sage sauce - basically veal wrapped in prosciutto ham with sage (£15.50). It is recommended that we ordered at least one potato or vegetable side with the dish so we chose oven baked saute potatoes (£4.50).

The pizza was a generous 12 inches and not shy of toppings. The base was so bountifully full of tomatoey cheesy goo that there was only a thin crust left around the edge, which meant cutlery was necessary. It was the perfect pizza for anyone who avoids eating their crusts and is usually left feeling hungry.

rocket and parma ham pizza at Stefano's
Our rocket and parma ham pizza
veal saltimbocca with a sage sauce at Stefano's
Veal saltimbocca with a sage sauce

Again I had never tried veal saltimbocca before, which is a classic dish from Rome. However, I enjoyed it and was assured by my partner that it was a “really good” version of a veal saltimbocca with a “lovely and rich sauce”. I couldn’t argue with that as it was very flavoursome indeed. The potatoes were cooked with garlic and chunky bites of onion. They were well-seasoned with some parts fluffy and some parts crispy.

The portion sizes were certainly not lacking and I have to admit that by this point I was well and truly stuffed. However, turning down dessert is against my core values and I wasn’t about to give up now.

We chose two specials to share: chocolate fondue with strawberries and an apple and rhubarb crumble topped with ice cream for £6.50 each. The chocolate fondue was simple and quite a lot smaller than other desserts I have tried there, which was quite welcomed at this point to be honest. It had a dark chocolate bitterness which wasn’t as much to my taste, but my partner loved it and polished it off.

The chocolate fondue with strawberries and apple and rhubarb crumble
The chocolate fondue with strawberries and apple and rhubarb crumble

The crumble was dreamy and possibly one of my favourite desserts at Stefano’s - or at least on a par with the sticky toffee pudding. We were told it was made with fruit picked freshly from the chef’s garden which was a nice touch. I begrudged sharing it.

We left Stefano’s feeling very full and content. I will always recommend it to anyone who visits the area, whether it’s for a fancy occasion working your way through the specials on offer that day, or a casual weeknight catch-up with friends.

Although I did really enjoy exploring the specials menu for journalistic research on this occasion, you really don’t need to go all out to have a very satisfying night of eating at Stefano’s. When considering its quality, value and portion sizes, I personally can’t fault it and will definitely be back again soon.