Italian Restaurant on Welsh Farm Captures Heart of Locals

[caption id="attachment_249" align="aligncenter" width="550"]From right, Grace Vasami, Gino Vasami, Tony Vasami and his partner Maja Rzeczycka and daughter Maria From right, Grace Vasami, Gino Vasami, Tony Vasami and his partner Maja Rzeczycka and daughter Maria[/caption]

A passion for good food and a love of the Welsh countryside and its people are the driving force behind an Italian family-run restaurant on the outskirts of Ffostrasol, near Llandysul in Ceredigion.

Gino Vasami, who farms 110 acres at Rhydgoch farm, Ffostrasol, converted the old milking parlour and set up the La Calabria restaurant for his son Tony in November 2003.

Gino's father Antonio was captured by the British in the siege of Tobruk, North Africa, and brought to prisoner-of-war camp near Ffostrasol at Henllan. While in captivity Antonio worked on farms in Ceredigion, falling in love with the land and its people.

On his release he went back to Italy for one year but returned to Ceredigion with his family to farm in 1946. Antonio purchased Hill View farm for £1,000 and started off with just 18 acres and four milking cows. Over the generations the family has gone from strength to strength and expanded the family business to three holdings.

Tony and Gino farm in partnership with Tony Hack and his wife Arlene, of nearby Glasfryn farm and, using their own milk, the family produce ice cream following an old Italian family recipe for the restaurant. They have established over 20 flavours by now.

All of the produce from the farm is used in the restaurant with the animals being taken for slaughter in Tregaron. Gino's great nephew, Steffan Hack, has also purchased some Charollais sheep whose lambs will be on the restaurant menu by Easter next year.

In the Summer months the family also grow herbs and vegetables in the garden that are used in the restaurant. They include chilli peppers and artichokes.

"When my son Tony came back to live in Wales after working for big chain hotels in London, he helped me on the farm but I could tell that farming was not really in his heart so I asked him what he wanted to do and he really wanted his own restaurant," said Gino.

"So we sold Hill View farm in 2000 and invested the money in the restaurant. I converted the old parlour on my own and only sought help with the roof.

"It took me about three years to finish the job. It is the best thing we ever did and we have just celebrated our fifth anniversary."

Gino was four years old when he came to live in Ceredigion and had to return to Italy for his military service. It was during this time that he learnt how restaurants were being run in Calabria, a southern region of Italy, and this is how he runs the restaurant together with his wife Grace, 55, and son Tony.

"The way things grow in Calabria, it is with sun. You can taste it, you can smell it. The food is just great. I wanted to bring this passion and the flavours of Italy to Wales for a long time," said Gino.

"The restaurant is going from strength to strength but if it weren't for the local people here in Wales we would not be able to keep the place going. Their support since we opened the restaurant has just been fantastic.

"I go back to Italy once a year as my wife Grace still has family over there but my heart and way of life is here in Wales. Wales is just fantastic, apart from the weather."

Tony Vasami previously worked at the Regents Park Marriott Hotel in Swiss Cottage in London prior to 2003 for four years as food and beverage manager looking after the bar, restaurant, room service and banqueting departments.

He said: "It was a busy 305-bedroom hotel in the heart of London. As it was close to the Emirates Stadium we had many football teams staying there like Man Utd, Blackburn, Newcastle Utd and also the England cricket team when they played their test matches at Lords. it was an amazing experience but I wanted to come back to Wales.

"Before we opened the restaurant I had help from Farming Connect to prepare a business plan and obtain valuable information about the tourist economy in West Wales.

"The interesting thing for me at the time was that, although the standard of tourist accommodation in West Wales was high, places to eat were very poor and the first choice of restaurant to visit more than any other was an Italian.

"As there were none in West Wales at the time, I thought I had definitely found a little niche in the market. With my knowledge of the industry and my mother's cooking skills I thought we would do well."

Gino added: "My wife Grace is the driving force in the kitchen and she does all of the cooking. The restaurant can now seat 70 people and it is because of her cooking people come here.

"The sauce is the most important thing when it comes to cooking Italian food. My mum did the sauce the old-fashioned way and she taught my wife. And this is how Grace still cooks in the restaurant