REVIEW: Villa Vinci

Some of you may know that I love all things Italian. The country, the art, Rome and of course the food. It started as a child when, at school, we produced a project on the art and architecture of Rome. Then Mama Mia's pizzeria on the Lisburn Road, which sadly is no longer there. Then came my first visit to Rome and I was hooked on Italy.

I love Italian cuisine so much and yet I still have so much of it to experience. That's why, on a recent road trip to Newcastle, I had to try Villa Vinci, top of the town on the Main Street.

On arrival we were met by our host, Bekim. This man was a food fanatic and an absolute gentleman. Bekim was charming and settled us in straight away. But, it wasn’t just us. Bekim moved from guest to guest insuring everyone was catered for and were helped with the menu when required.

Villa Vinci is stylishly modern. Two tone walls of Cornflour blue and white porcelain tiles. One of these walls has full size wall-art of various Vespa mopeds. It reminded me of a seafood restaurant at the edge of the harbour on the Amalfi coast.

The menu was full of the Italian classics. Everything that should be there was there. We began our gastronomic quest with Formaggi Fritti and the best Cozze I have ever tasted.

The Formaggi Fritti; deep fried breaded Brie with the sweetest balsamic vinegar and onion dip. The golden crisp breaded coat was beautifully draped around a pearl coloured creamy Brie. This was indulgence of a different kind. The rich deep creamy caress of the Brie awaited once the thin veil of crust was broken.

Cozze, succulent mussels steamed with leeks, garlic in a touch of cream and adorned with parsley dusting. You expect a restaurant on the coast to produce great seafood, but the chef at Villa Vinci was exceptional in his execution of this dish. Just the right amount of cream, just the perfect hues of garlic once the mouthful passed and the sharp cut of leak all played the supporting cast to the star of the dish the mussel. It was like I had inhaled the coast and dined on the spray of the ocean. Just wonderful.

Miriam, my wife used to think she knew what good Spaghetti Carbonara was until we went to Rome. At home we are plagued with over-thickened white sauces which can only be described as garlic wallpaper paste. In Rome we found simplicity was key. Three ingredients; bacon, parmesan and the egg yoke. When you have tasted it, nothing else will do, unless you go to Villa Vinci. Believe me when I say, their Spaghetti Carbonara is worth the drive. Each ingredient individually present yet combined in such a way it produced a terrific taste trinity of its own. Wonderful. It made me happy just to see how happy she was.

But for me the evening was all about my main course. That Branzino! This is how I will refer to the dish from now until the day I pass. That Branzino!

Fillet of Sea Bass cooked with lemon and herbs and served with Parma ham, green beans and new potatoes. Never has a dish inspired me so much to try and cook it myself. I love Sea Bass, the crisp skin and meaty flesh is so refreshing and light yet filling. But That Branzino! The fish was presented in perfect condition within a velvet jacket of Parma ham and enhanced by the lemon and the herbs. What a marvel, how perfectly simple yet tasted so amazingly complex. The green beans and new potatoes were just that, green beans and new potatoes, no messing about with butter or oil just the natural earthy flavours served with the fish. This will be a dish for the nostalgic scrapbook, I will never forget it.

I ordered the Tiramisu to finish, Miriam didn’t order a dessert, but Bekim just knew. He brought two spoons. What a way to finish the evening. So light, creamy, sweet and bitter. It’s Tiramisu I hear you say, yeah I know, but it’s Villa Vinci Tiramisu. Bekim brought the curtain down on a truly spectacular evening with a dose of Italian medicine, Limoncello. Again, a new Italian experience for me, thank you Bekim.

I have enjoyed most of the reviews I have done. I never compare them because there are too many variables. The setting, the company, the dishes and so on even how I feel on the night. But, if I really had to, if my life depended on the telling … That Branzino!

Paul McMath

Villa Vinci can be found at 31 Main Street, Newcastle, Co Down. For more information go to and keep up-to-date at @villavincinewcastle on Facebook.

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