Passione at Punto Italian Kitchen

The recent Covid lockdowns were a challenge for us all. People found amazing ways to cope. My friends variously took up knitting, learned Latin, decided to breed Llamas, or simply descended into the sink of Netflix. We decided to open an Italian restaurant. When hospitality was in total lockdown and restaurants were going bump faster than nine-year-olds on a free trampoline. Well, banana bread did not strike me as much of a challenge.

Our first Punto Italian Kitchen is in a venue with family history. Way back when television was black and white, my parents opened the restaurant in Heaton. They called it “Out of Town” as it was the first restaurant in Newcastle to be ‘out of town’. The family business did well, particularly since my brother Damiano, sister Lidia and I were waiting tables as children dressed as proper camerieri (Italian waiters). We were so cute; I do not like to look back at photographs. The years have caught up with us.

As we made our way in life, Arlecchino, as it was then known, continued to thrive. When our parents retired, they leased the restaurant to an independent operator. In 2021 the operator closed the business. We had an empty restaurant with few improvements since nineteen-canteen at a time when restaurants were closing left, right and centre. We had a lightbulb moment and thought “Wouldn’t it be great to get back into an industry on its knees”.

So, it began. Major structural reform, new everything, everywhere, planning permission, building regulations and a relentless architect who really pushed the contractors abilities. I won’t repeat her nickname in print. Then recruiting the best team in parallel with the building work. This was key. In Italy, the pizzaioli and camerieri are not servants. They are highly respected and the key to happiness.

In Italy, passion equates to happiness. Italians are passionate about all sorts. Maybe opera, fashion, football, Ferrari, or breeding Llamas. But we are all united about one passion. Fresh, quality food. So, to call Punto an ‘Italian restaurant’ gave me a slight problem. Where my family comes from, in the mountains of Lazio, two old ladies in the farmers market can spend an hour, nose to nose, debating the correct mix of herbs for a particular pasta dish. And they will be at it again next week.

So, I decided to base our venue on our family history. Fantastic meals at my grandparents’ vineyard and farm in the mountains. Sourdough pizza and bread baked in a stone woodfired oven Grandad built with his own hands. Not because a wood fired oven or sourdough was the latest hip Italian restaurant must-have. Simply because with no electricity or gas, it was the only game in town. The freshest ingredients, fine cooking, and good company. It is not rocket science.

Now we have been open a few months. Five-star reviews on TripAdvisor with dozens and dozens ‘Excellent’ reviews. I have managed to avoid divorce. The days when my husband would ask “Why are you waking up at 4.00am screaming about fire safety regulations?” are in the past. Our general manager, Andrew, is well in his stride and our amazing team are doing what they love – making happy customers.

It has been a tortuous few months, refurbishing and opening Punto Italian Kitchen’s first venue during a pandemic. Would I do it all again? Hell, yes! As Michael Schumacher once said, ‘once something is a passion, the motivation is there.’

Zeno Meynell-Rea. Operations Director. Punto Italian Kitchen

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