Restaurant Profile February 2019: Castello Italia, Carrickfergus
Fisnik Ujkaj, general manager, talks to HRNI
WHEN DID YOUR RESTAURANT OPEN?
Castello Italia officially opened its doors in September 2017. The ground floor café which serves breakfasts, lunch and the most amazing gelato you will ever taste, began trading in July 2017.
Our passion for food was nurtured in our family home. We grew up with Mediterranean cuisine and in particular Italian food. We wanted to share our love of food with others and decided to do that through opening our own cafe and restaurant. We conducted extensive market research, which indicated that Carrickfergus was the best location for an Italian restaurant.
TELL US ABOUT THE SPACE YOU HAVE
We have a café on the ground floor, which is fantastic for a casual lunch or a leisurely coffee. We also offer an extensive range of sweet treats to suit all tastes, and of course there’s our amazing, authentic Italian gelato which is made in house, using the best Italian products.
Our restaurant on the first floor is a modern, contemporary space which offers diners stunning views over Belfast Lough and, according to our customers, the menu is even more amazing.
WHAT’S ON YOUR MENU?
The inspiration comes from classic Italian dishes – simple ingredients, freshly prepared and cooked well. The dishes are bursting with flavour so irrespective of age, if you love good food, you’ll love Castello Italia.
DOES YOUR MENU CHANGE OFTEN?
Our menu is seasonal, so it changes every four months. This means we can incorporate different seasonal produce into our dishes. Our daily specials also provide an opportunity for our chefs to showcase their talent and experiment.
WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO TO IMPROVE AND DRIVE YOUR MENU?
We review current trends and add our own personal touch to these. Customer feedback is also really important to us. We ask for people’s views and seek to introduce suggested dishes or incorporate new produce into dishes in line with demand. Continuous menu tastings also drive our menu. Our talented chefs are always creating new dishes.
WHAT IS YOUR FOOD SOURCING POLICY?
We always source local produce where possible. We believe it is important to support local farmers and producers. We are part of the local community and we value the fact that we can be a channel to bring high quality local produce to customers.
WHO ARE YOUR CUSTOMERS?
Food lovers. That could be couples, families, groups of friends or individuals – we have an open-door policy. Our menu aims to cater for a wide range of tastes. We do have a private dining room on our top floor which is regularly used for business lunches, dinners, birthday parties and weddings. We also host events; for example, there is an upcoming fashion event where lunch and bubbles will be served so we have a diverse customer base.
HAVE YOU FACED ANY PARTICULAR CHALLENGES TO DATE?
We offer a great variety of seafood and various meat dishes on our menu in addition to traditional, authentic pizzas and pastas. One of our initial challenges was increasing awareness of our menu options. Another challenge is that everyone wants to eat at 7.30pm. In the Belfast restaurant scene, a 9pm sitting is normal, whereas here that’s not the norm, but we are working on changing that perception and already noticing some change.
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR RESTAURANT DEVELOPING THIS YEAR?
We will continue to treat our customers well and serve them fine food. We have quickly established a loyal customer base, which provides repeat custom and we intend to build on this. We haven’t undertaken significant levels of marketing as we just wanted to get our doors open, but the response to our offering has been brilliant and hopefully this will only grow, and all three floors will continue to buzz with excitement.
28 Scotch Quarter, Carrickfergus, BT38 7UP
Tel: 028 9332 1377
Tuesday-Thursday & Sun: 9am-9pm
Friday & Saturday: 9am-10pm