Restaurant review: Dino's in Dover
PUBLISHED: 14:15 19 March 2016 | UPDATED: 14:15 19 March 2016
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
A stalwart of Dover for nearly 40 years, Dino may no longer be with us but his restaurant is as welcoming and the food as tasty as ever.
Let’s face it – everyone loves ‘their’ local. The sense that you discovered it, you alone appreciate its true worth, that you are the most-treasured customer of them all.
So when My Double-Barrelled Friend insisted I visit ‘the best Italian in Kent’ – which just happens to be close to his Dover house – it was with some trepidation that I set off on a rainy Friday night to check out the recommendation.
I was feeling even more concerned after I’d just found out via the restaurant’s Facebook page that the eponymous owner of Dino’s had sadly passed away just the week before. How was this going to work out?
Fortunately, my fears subsided as soon as I entered the cosy, colourful eaterie on Castle Street and was warmly greeted by Angelo, Dino’s son and partner in this family business. “We are sad, of course, but my father would have wanted us to carry on,” he told me as he shook my hand.
Diminutive Mama Clara went one better and embraced me with two kisses, Italian style, and held my hands as she welcomed me and accepted my condolences, explaining that she and Dino had been married for 60 years and had come to view Dover as home since opening their restaurant here in 1977.
The story actually begins in 1960, when Dino and Clara Borrello left Malvito, a small village in the Calabria region of southern Italy. They first settled in Jersey with their young children, Angelo and Maria Paola, moving London in 1962 and working together in an Italian restaurant in Soho. However, the couple felt it wasn’t the right place to bring up their son and daughter, so in 1963 the family moved down to Folkestone.
In 1976 an opportunity arose for Dino and Clara to buy their own small (32 covers) place in Dover just seven miles away, and on 5 May 1977 Dino’s Restaurant opened its doors.
Today Mama Clara is still very much in command of the kitchen, where the passion for home cooking which began when she was a little girl in Calabria shines out from every dish. As she says: “I want to cook for as long as I can because it’s always been my heart.”
So if you are a fan of rustic, flavoursome home cooking that is true to its origins (Mama’s own favourite dish is a simple pasta e fagioli – “peasant food” she laughs), you’ll be happy here.
Yes, it’s stuck in the eighties – the ceiling is festooned with empty Chianti bottles in those wicker baskets you won’t have seen in a while and when you ask for seasoning, lovely waiter Lorenzo appears wielding a giant black pepper mill over your shoulder – but sometimes a bit of nostalgia doesn’t do any harm at all.
And the food is great, with all the emphasis on taste rather than presentation (“the opposite case to so many restaurants I’ve eaten in,” says MDBF, a tad sniffily). Dover-based O’Brien Butchers supplies the meat, the fishmonger in New Romney delivers every day, they grow their own chillies (the seeds from sun-baked Calabria) and make their own sausages as well as tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes slow-baked in jars in the oven. “That sees us through the winter”, says Angelo, with a big smile.
I’d been recommended the peerless pasta, so opted to have a starter-sized portion of the house speciality, cannelloni alla Fiorentina. Served straight from the oven in a simple white oval dish, this classic combination of pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese and spinach then baked in a tomato sauce was piping hot and very, very tasty.
Across the table MDBF was showing off how well he manipulates those scissor-like tongs used to extract escargots from their shells and clearly enjoying the garlic butter, parsley and wine sauce they came in, enhanced by those home-grown and dried spicy Calabrian chillies, crushed and lightly sprinkled.
I was promised a taste, but they disappeared too fast – as did his main course of spaghetti alle vongole, which also got a liberal sprinkling of the magic chilli.
We’d enjoyed a full-bodied Negroamaro with our starters, a red wine grape variety native to southern Italy, which seemed only in keeping for an evening remembering Dino and the family’s origins from that region.
A full-bodied, crisp white wine from the Naples region, Fiano di Avellino, went well with my favourite dish of the night, which also happened to be the catch of the day: sea bream in a smoked garlic, lemon, parsley, wine and butter sauce. Simple, cooked to perfection this was sea-fresh fish at its best.
As we’d enjoyed such a ‘retro’ evening, MDBF insisted we ended with the ‘theatre’ of that classic Italian dessert zabaglione, patiently whisked before our eyes by Angelo over a low heat until it turned light and foamy. Haven’t seen a trolley-based spectacle like that in decades.
We were also tempted to try a bit of torta mousse de banana, which seemed to come with an awful lot of chocolate and cream and while yummy in an ultra-calorific way, defeated our full tummies.
A coffee, introduction to some of the other customers (it’s that kind of place), fond farewells and promises to return for pasta as my main course next time and out into the night, replete, happy and feeling yes, there’s nothing wrong with loving your local. Especially when it’s this good (and ridiculously affordable).
Where: Dino’s Italian Restaurant
58 Castle Street
Dover CT16 1PJ
01304 204678 or firstname.lastname@example.org
What: Small, family-run Italian restaurant
When: Open Tue to Sun for lunch (12pm-2pm) and dinner (6pm-10pm). Closed all day Mon
How much: Escargot in garlic butter £5.95, Mama’s traditional recipe lasagne £8.45, Dover sole in a white wine and prawn herb sauce, £19.95