Restaurant review

Great Italian food at Ciao Sorrento in Dundee

Every town needs a good reliable Italian restaurant and I had high hopes that Ciao Sorrento might fill that role for Dundee.

The fact that it does to some extent will probably be enough for people who have frequented this Union Street institution for decades. However, for those of us rediscovering this mainstay of dining in Dundee, it might prove a slightly frustrating experience, given that eating here proves to be such a time warp.

Depending on your expectations, Ciao Sorrento is either just Italian enough to turn the corner when you crave a bowl of pasta on a Monday night, or it needs a bit of reinvention.

I imagine the real picture is somewhere in the middle.

Readers of a certain vintage will remember this place as T-Bone, a steak house my mom loved so much she just called it Milly’s (Milly owned it). Mom used to go there often but only took me once, even though it was a memorable night – and not just because of the food.

Even though it was many years ago, I remember that meal with mom and her partner like it was yesterday – mostly because it started a night of such bacchanalian revelry that my mom ended up verbally attacking his local councilor at the casino.

The cause of his drink-fueled anger was a disabled parking space that had been set up near his home on Brantwood Avenue. I then took pity on that poor councilman and only now, decades later, can I walk through the doors of Ciao Sorrento at 19 Union Street and not feel ashamed, like walking back to a crime scene , hoping that there is no cup pulled on the wall.

It’s funny because coming back to Ciao Sorrento is a bit like walking through a time tunnel anyway, a happy land where the recent discovery of a 1973 advertisement for 19 Union Street promised an elegant and sophisticated atmosphere. and what was called a “Business Men’s Lunch” for 55p.

Outside of Ciao Sorrento.

I don’t know if businesswomen paid more.

Today, 50 years later, 55p for a T-Bone steak may seem unfathomable in an age when the democratization of food has taken us to Nando’s and McDonalds, but back then it was largely steakhouses and the Italian restaurants that propelled the UK out of the culinary slump.

British diners’ penchant for Italian cuisine gained traction in the 1960s and it’s probably true to say that we still look to Italian cuisine for reliable comfort today.

A recent study by YouGov named Italian cuisine the most popular in the world, with British consumers regularly voting pasta dishes among their top 10 favourites. According to a report published on the Specialty Food website (, the spring 2020 lockdown saw many supermarket shelves empty of Italian products like pasta and canned tomatoes, many consumers panicking and buying such products basic.

There’s still little to beat a plate of pasta for budget eating and the markup on pasta dishes in restaurants makes it an attractive proposition for trattorias to offer across the UK.

Italian cuisine has a long history with the UK.

However, what the past few decades have taught us about Italian cuisine is that Italian country cooking – cucina rustica – is something quite easy to replicate at home, as most of it comes from anyway from a home environment.
As Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers wrote in their introduction to their flagship cookbook River Cafe – “we believe our recipes are accessible to anyone who cooks at home. We have brought our knowledge and Italian recipes from the home cooking in the restaurant – our book is coming back now
The low”.

The new style of Italian cooking introduced to the UK in 1987 by the River Cafe was to influence much of what was to follow, but this came at a price as some of the quality ingredients so intrinsic to this new Italian cooking were not cheap. .

However, my own regular Monday night supper is often just a simple pasta with a sauce made with Mutti canned Italian tomatoes, garlic, balsamic vinegar and Parmesan cheese.

Drizzled with Capezzana olive oil and sprinkled with basil, it’s a simple dish that relies on good ingredients and a long, patient cooking of the sauce to succeed.
Sometimes, however, you want a little more than that when the cupboards are bare and so Ciao Sorrento was where we went on a recent Monday evening, relieved to find it open on a weekday when many other restaurants in Dundee are closed .

Ciao Sorrento

When I told friends I was writing about this place, several said they had never been there, even though they had walked past it several times. I wonder if it could be because you can’t really see into space when you walk past it – the bottom part of the window is frosted and the menu is displayed above, so you have little sense of inside from the street.

The red pillar-box facade is certainly eye-catching and the words “pizzeria ristorante” won’t see anyone prosecuted under the Trades Descriptions Act.

Inside is a charming, dated space of the type that would probably be rediscovered by cool kids, if it were only located in Bethnal Green or Bow in London.

Inside the room.

I can totally understand why my mum loved this place, as much of the interior reflects her own design tastes of the 1970s, often labeled as the decade that taste forgot – the textured wallpaper on the walls and ceiling, the plates hanging on the wall, the plastic flower and fruit garlands, the cheerful yellow paintwork…it all sounds very much like a time when parmesan was ready to be grated and pepper was a gray powder in a pot.

Despite all these memories of my youth, I can’t remember that we ever had a condom machine in our bathroom that offered two exotic colored condoms for £1, as it does in the very 1970s toilet here in Ciao Sorrento.

A decorative plate lines the wall of the restaurant.

The food

This is a traditional menu that won’t scare anyone even with a cursory knowledge of Italian cuisine that has been served in the UK for decades. In fact, I recently found a very similar menu in a Manchester trattoria, giving hope against the inexorable march of progress fueled by bottles of £30 extra virgin olive oil.

There’s prosciutto e melone (£7.95) which isn’t the only souvenir from Abigail’s Party here; funghi ripieni (£7.95) is fried breaded mushrooms with mozzarella or chicken pate, while smoked salmon (£8.90) comes with prawns and Marie Rose sauce.

Insalata Caprese.

David started with insalata caprese (£7.95) which was mozzarella with tomato, extra virgin olive oil, oregano and fresh basil.

The portion was hearty – eight slices of cheese sandwiched between chunks of tomato – but the dish suffered from the quality of the ingredients, especially the tomatoes which were quite tasteless.

I had a stracciatella alla romana (£4.50), and it was quite good, the broth quite light and the mixture of eggs and parmesan cheese quite pleasant.

Stracciatella Alla Romana and garlic bread.

I think this soup would be enhanced by the addition of lemon – or more lemon – as described in the Italian cooking bible which is The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan but, nonetheless, this was a good example of the lightness and delicacy of the Romagna region. By the way, don’t order this soup if you’re worried that things won’t look the way they are – because it’s not a soup that looks appealing in any way! Good taste though.

The service here is friendly and well practiced. Our server looked straight out of Central Casting in that he was dressed in a white shirt, tight black pants and chest hair. If he had only appeared with a huge pepper mill, we could have perfectly reenacted that classic Victoria Wood sketch where Wood and Julie Walters are perplexed by an Italian waiter wielding a mill of such gargantuan proportions that it suggested an intimacy that doesn’t exist. is not normally offered in front of a large amaretto.

Melanzane Al Parmigiana.

David’s main course, melanzane al parmigiana (£12.95), was delicious, but wasn’t layered enough to do justice to a dish that helped define Italian cuisine for a generation. Served piping hot in a Le Creuset casserole dish, it was good classic cooking but felt a bit like an express version rather than the traditional multi-layered classic.

My pasta dish of Tagliatelle Romana (£12.95) was also good, the perfectly cooked pasta and Bolognese sauce, peas, mushrooms, pepperoni and Parmesan all coming together to create a harmonious plate of goodness.

Tagliatelle Romana and Isalata Verde in the background.

A green salad (£3.95) was good, as was garlic bread which we shared (£3.50).
All the desserts are £5.95 and we both chose the semifreddo menta bianco e cioccolato, a delicious white mint ice cream with chocolate at its heart, boosted hugely by a dash of Glayva liqueur. As far as I can tell, most desserts seem to come with spilled alcohol, which I’m fine with.

The verdict

Ciao Sorrento is definitely a place to treasure and I have to say I coveted the delicious pizzas the couple ordered on the next table. All pizzas are £11.95 and a fiorucci is what I will order next time.

I love that this place still exists, and I love that it doesn’t seem to have changed much. A trip to the bathroom is as much a trip back in time as poring over photos and cards pinned to a board, all memories of happy customers over the years.

Offset lighting.

As such, this place defines the idea of ​​family and food that is central to Italian cuisine. It’s a classic of the genre and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

However, I think a few tweaks to the menu would go a long way in preparing this Dundee classic for the future, although I’m sure the owners and their happy customers would say they’re doing just fine as they are.

If you like old school, you’ll love it here, a place with history and an integral part of the city’s culinary tradition.


Address: Ciao Sorrento, 19 Union Street, Dundee DD1 4BN

P: 01382 221760


Prices: Starters from £4.50, mains from £12.95; desserts from £5.95


  • Food: 4/5
  • Performance: 5/5
  • Surroundings: 4/5

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[Great Italian cooking at Ciao Sorrento in Dundee]