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IT'S POP NOSH!; Stars' favourite restaurant wins top award.

Byline: BY MARTIN SHIPTON

WHEN Toni Venditto first came to Wales as an 18-year-old looking for work, he was so poor he had to sleep rough in the grounds of Cardiff Castle.

Now, around 25 years later, his three restaurants are frequented by stars like the Manic Street Preachers and Cerys Matthews, and one of them is about to be named Welsh Restaurant of the Year.

This latest accolade for Toni and his team is all the more remarkable because the award-winning Da Venditto has only been open since February last year.

Simon Wright, who edits the AA Restaurant Guide, which made the award, said: "There's real ambition at Da Venditto and it is a breath of fresh air for the capital.

"The Welsh Italian connection is well known, but this kind of contemporary Italian cooking hasn't previously been evident in Cardiff.

"In a sense, it's overdue. In our experience they start with the premise that only the best raw materials will do and you can't argue with that."

Already well-known in Cardiff for his long-established city centre restaurant Topo Gigio, Toni has created Da Venditto from a previously derelict basement down the road from the National Museum.

The intimate interior, fashioned from Italian marble and African wood, was designed by Toni's nephew Luciano Palmiero, already making a name for himself in London with his interior designs for the likes of Mick Jagger and Spice Girl Mel C.

Toni speaks with great enthusiasm about the restaurant and its food.

He said: "I wanted Da Venditto to take Italian cuisine beyond what has been seen in Wales before. There's a lot more to it than pasta or pizza.

"It was very important to create a room where people can eat and relax and the combination of wood, marble and water works well, I think.

"I've been to a lot of restaurants in London and Ireland and we've taken some of the best elements from other places and used them here.

"When it comes to the food, I insist on buying the best ingredients available. Why settle for okay when you can do it right?

"Once you've got the best ingredients, you've got to make sure you cook them just right and serve them in imaginative combinations."

Recent visitors to Da Venditto have included James Dean Bradfield from the Manic Street Preachers, Cerys Matthews and the conductor Carlo Rizzi.

Sting was a customer after his July concert in the grounds of Cardiff Castle.

CAPTION(S):

WINNER: Da Venditto and (right) pop queen Cerys
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Sep 9, 2001
Words:421
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