Beeston’s new Compa Sicilian cafe is run with “passion and love”

A new cafe brings something different to Beeston with a menu of Sicilian street food and pastries served with “passion and love”. Compa will open its doors on Saturday May 21 after transforming the former Renaissance fashion agency.

The tight-knit group of family and friends behind the cafe say it’s the real deal – from their accents to the authentic Sicilian delights on the menu such as cornetto, arancina, cannolo and cassatina. Beeston has its fair share of Italian restaurants — lively Amores, the intimate L’Oliva and the new 150-seat Ottimo — but there’s nothing else quite like it.

Compa – pronounced with an emphasis on the “pa” – is the brainchild of best friends Angela Aiello and Manola Perez, who have known each other for 25 years. The duo first met while working at high-end Italian department store Rinascente in their hometown Palmero.

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Angela, who says Manola is like a sister, said: “Compa, you can translate it in English as mate or bro but for us it’s a bit different. For us it’s ‘I’ll take care of you “. We call each other compa.”

Signing a lease wasn’t enough to show their commitment to the company — the duo had matching tattoos inked on their forearms. Angela said: “We’re excited, nervous and crazy but very happy. We got tattoos because we believe in what we’re doing.

LR: Massimo Bellavista, Rebecca Romano, Manola Perez, Angela Aiello and Andrea Ledda at Compa

“We would like to bring a bit of Sicily here in the heart of Beeston, our home away from home. If people want to taste the authentic flavors of Sicily, come here.”

Sicily, the island at the southern tip of Italy’s foot, has its own regional specialties. Angela’s son, Andrea Ledda, 23, explained that Sicily does not have the same wealth as the north of the country. Generations of cooks have therefore learned to prepare simple and inexpensive ingredients, such as arancina dumplings filled with rice, served at the café with ham and bechal, stew, mushrooms and spinach.

Andrea said: “In northern Italy they tend to use expensive ingredients. In southern Italy, especially in Sicily, because we have been poor for generations, our grandmothers used to cook very cheap dishes, but the amazing thing is that even though it was cheap food, it is so good because the way we prepare it makes it enjoyable.

Caponata, a Sicilian vegetarian dish, at Compa
Caponata, a Sicilian vegetarian dish, at Compa

“It’s not as expensive as in northern Italy, where you’ll find more steaks and more meat. I think that’s why Sicilian food is better – making steak taste great is easy. Making rice good is not so easy, which is why there is a very big difference between Sicilian cuisine and the rest of Italy.

“Everything on the menu is mostly Sicilian street food, so all the arancina, rotisserie, paninis – it’s something you can’t find anywhere else. If you go to an Italian restaurant, you won’t find any none and if you do it will be adapted British recipes.”

The reasonably priced menu, with most items costing between £3.50 and £6, also includes slices of pizzetta, with tomato sauce, mozzarella and oregano, cooked and fried calzone and rollo, stuffed with pork or chicken. The paninis are topped with mortadella sausage, stracciatella cheese and flaked pistachios or porchetta, wild arugula and grana.

Lasagna can be bought per portion at £5 or a box of six portions at £25. The same goes for the Sicilian-style cooked pasta, which consists of rigatoni, beef stew, bechal, eggplant, ham and mozzarella.

Needless to say, the cannolo, brimming at both ends with creamy ricotta and chocolate drippings, is part of the pastry section. Other sweet treats include the green cassatina, a sponge cake made from homemade marzipan, topped with a cherry.

In addition to Italian coffee, tea and hot chocolate, the range of cold drinks includes Tomarchio Bio imported from Sicily, in flavors such as lemon and chinotto. It looks like cola but doesn’t taste like it, instead having a bittersweet orange taste.

Open Monday through Saturday in time for breakfast, guests can start the day with cornetto — not the ice cream — but the croissant-like pastry. Plain, apricot, chocolate and hazelnut and almond flavors are available. Customers can also buy take-out Italian products such as crisps, fruit drinks, cookies and pesto.

Large windows, overlooking Wollaton Road, allow light to flood the 20-seat cafe, with its simple black-topped tables, colorful artwork by Manola and a Palmero football shirt on the wall. A traditional Sicilian cart, or carretto, was made by Angela’s husband, Massimo Bellavisita, and decorated by Manola, who also created the cafe’s logo of the mustachioed, winking man carrying a traditional Sicilian coppola .

Angela moved to Beeston five years ago with Massimo and their three children and has dreamed of opening a café ever since. But she said a new country, new people and a new language first held her back, so in the meantime she helped run her husband’s electricity business.

She said: “I had basic English when I moved five years ago and went to MagiKats school in Beeston to learn English, but then Covid came along so I had to stop my classes and everything I’ve learned since then I’ve learned about TV shows and movies with English subtitles to link the words.”

Manola, who followed her friend to the UK three years ago with her two daughters, runs the kitchen. Eldest daughter Rebecca, 18, also works at Compa.

Customers can eat in, take out or have it delivered via Deliveroo, starting Monday. There is also a click and collect option on the Compa website. Compa will open at 11 a.m. on its first day, and regular hours will be 9:10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement