A Mediterranean taste with a twist of British flavours can be found on the menu at Ramsgate’s new Travellers in Italy restaurant.
Housed inside the Grade II listed former NatWest bank building on Harbour Parade, the restaurant is on a grand scale even before you enter, with Italianate style curving façade, four storey tower and the stone columns at the entrance.
The building, which dates back to circa 1893, was last used by Pizza Express and was one of 73 shut down by the chain last year amid the pandemic.
Businessman James Thomas was quick to grasp the opportunity to take on such a character-packed site which boasts stunning views over the harbour, Military Road arches and the Georgian and Victorian homes that overlook Royal Parade.
It took around three weeks from getting the keys to opening the doors of the Travellers in Italy pizzeria and rotisserie, with many of the working features inherited from the former lessees meaning the time could be used to remove the sterile white and blues inside and transform the interior with a Mediterranean warmth.
The venue, which can cater for around 70 customers, is the latest addition to James’s portfolio, joining the Royal Harbour Hotel, the intimate 30-cover Empire Room in Nelson Crescent – currently operating as Hearth pop-up – and the hugely popular Little Ships restaurant just a few steps away on the harbour front.
Inside is impressive, terracotta, oranges and yellows mixed with verdant greenery amid the columns and cornices and an array of personal touches with paintings, books and a straw hat lazing on the corner of a wooden window shutter.
The former bank manager’s office is now a private function area while downstairs four bank safes and the original steel doors remain.
The kitchen is open so diners can see the pizzas coming out of the oven and fresh chicken in Italian herbs and spices turning on the rotisserie.
Craig Mather is executive chef for all three venues. The dad-of-three, who first teamed up with James in 2016 when he took the helm of the Empire Room, has been a vital ingredient in the sustainability of the businesses with his passion for giving customers fresh, local produce presented in a variety of interesting ways.
Craig said: “At the moment we are doing a short menu so we can get a feel for what people want. Pizza Express left us the kitchen and so we have added to that but as a listed building there are some limitations.
“We use good quality ingredients and want to make something a little bit different as there are lots of Italian restaurants in Ramsgate. So, our pizza bases are sourdough, we use British Mozzarella, we are baking straight onto the stones and have the chicken in the rotisserie, we use what we grow at the allotment – such as wild rocket- and what we purchase locally.
“It is different but not alienating. We have bases with tomato or our own pesto or cream, which is used for the Tartiflette with pancetta and Jersey Royals.
“At the moment we have six staff and we will grow as a business and expand our operational hours and what we can offer.”
Travellers in Italy is named after a picture James bought many years ago by late Ramsgate artist Michael Blaker.
Travellers in Italy was incredibly busy for a Tuesday night, tables were taken by holidaying families, couples, a group eating and playing cards and a couple of lone diners.
We were lucky enough to bag a table by one of the huge windows with a fantastic view across the harbour and Military arches.
There was an interesting choice of pizzas. I went with the Gamberi with king prawns, pomodoro (a tomato-based pasta sauce) cherry tomatoes, rocket and parmesan while my partner chose the Salsiccia with the restaurant’s handmade wild boar and fennel sausage, pomodoro, slow cooked onions, confit garlic and parmesan.
The sourdough bases were a good texture and the Gamberi had a decent kick from a scattering of chilli and a nice burst of flavours from the cherry tomatoes and rocket.
The wild boar and fennel sausage pizza looked good but my partner was busy eating it rather than discussing it. They were filling too, I couldn’t quite clear the plate (and I saw someone else have a box brought back to their table which might be handy to know) although I had also ordered olives and skinny fries so had made a respectable effort.
The staff – who are polite but fun and definitely on the ball – gave us a chance to ‘rest’ before bringing over the dessert menu which had a nice mix from gelato to tiramisu.
My partner chose Affogato, which is Madagascan vanilla ice cream topped with double expresso coffee, and I went with zucchini and lime cake with roasted pistachios, mascarpone and a lemon and thyme drizzle.
The partner’s ice cream disappeared pretty fast and the lime cake is something I would definitely recommend. In fact, if you have ever tried Craig’s famous banana cake (previously served at the Empire Room) then this is a contender for that ‘dessert crown.’
It was good to see that a gluten-free pizza base and vegan options are offered on the menu.
Prices range from £14-£18 for the pizzas and rotisserie with a range of prices for starters, sides, desserts and drinks.
Both bookings and walk ins are welcome. Opening hours are currently 5pm-11pm but this Friday to Monday for the Bank Holiday weekend Travellers in Italy will be open 12pm-11pm.
Travellers in Italy – 52 Harbour Parade