Owned by Sherold Limited, the newly renovated Royal Reef hotel in Greenwood, Trelawny, now has a restaurant. Ristorante Corallo ("corallo" meaning coral in Italian) is managed by Ugo Cerri, who moved to Jamaica in August 2011. After being introduced to this enchanting country by his sister Manuela Goren and her husband James some five years ago, and establishing a business relationship selling marble to an architect, it didn't take long for this Milano to meet his soulmate Barbara, another Italian who worked for the forwarding agent who was shipping his marble to Jamaica.
The pair married in 2008 at Tryall Club, where Manuela and James Goren have lived for a long time, and when Europe suffered the terrible financial fall, the Gorens encouraged the Cerris to ponder the idea of opening a restaurant in Kingston. After going back and forth, and finding nothing suitable in the capital, Ugo Cerri met the owner of Royal Reef about two years ago. The hotel was "abandoned and fallen apart", Cerri tells Thursday Food. "The lights were broken, floors and air conditioners in bad shape. As for the wardrobes...." his wife says, laughing. "There was no restaurant. The only thing working was the pool," Cerri goes on.
So what exactly did the Cerris know about hotels and restaurants? Not an awful lot, but Barbara is a travel agent and her uncle has owned a restaurant in Bergamo, North Italy, for 30 years. As for Ugo? Well, he always cooked as a child at home; his grandparents having taught him to flick the homemade gnocchi with a fork. "It's part of a tradition, part of our culture," he boasts, "to participate in the making of all food, and sit down to every meal together. Even as a grown man, I would leave work to have lunch with my father, then head back. It is simply part of the day, a way of sharing." And so when the idea of the restaurant in Jamaica came up, he went for a crash immersion course in his uncle-in-law's restaurant, and trained under Antonino "Toni" Miduri, a young and superb Milano chef. Things ran so smoothly that they persuaded Miduri to move to Jamaica with them.
Miduri and Cerri worked on a menu together. "I wanted to do something extremely simple and true Italian," says Cerri. "We have never met Alfredo," he says, chuckling. Indeed, Italians are appalled by the dish. "Also, Italians are the ones who invented pizza, for Queen Margherita. It is not American," he declares. Cerri expects them to be serving pizza out of their outdoor brick pizza oven by next month (May), when he is hoping its construction will be completed. "In the kitchen, we have only home-made things, and I make the gnocchi because I make it better than him (Miduri)." Sure enough, that gnocchi, thinly coated in the most celestial aromatic cheese sauce, sweetly settles on the tongue just long enough for one to savour every bite.
That being said, Chef Toni blew our party's taste buds out of the pot with every other dish he prepared for us on Easter Saturday. The bruschetta with tomatoes and basil, extra-virgin olive oil, and garlic-rubbed toasted bread burst with fresh flavours. Accompanied by a glass of Italian wine (very reasonably priced, by the way), it was a fabulous beginning to a culinary tour of the country shaped like a boot. Cerri then presented us with a trio of Chef Toni's signature starters: Beggar's Purse — a crispy filo parcel with a contrasting tender and toothsome filling of eggplant, mozzarella and tomatoes; Terrina — a tantalising ricotta and spinach terrine; and Eggplant flan — an absolute delight of fluffiness, almost like a soufflé. This was followed by an enormous bowl of mussels in tomato, basil, white wine and garlic sauce, that exploded with succulent juiciness every time we each sucked the molluscs out of their shells.
We tried desperately to pace ourselves, knowing that there were a couple courses left to come. But, alas, we were not very successful! When food is this delightful, one can always make room for even more! That gnocchi arrived, accompanied by first-class handmade ravioli with Grana (basically excellent-quality Parmesan), Butter and Bacon. Oh I have no doubt I should have stopped, but it was like an addiction. Somehow, the clusters of nerve endings on my tongue, and in the lining of my mouth, managed to persuade my stomach that I was still hungry. On I went until the very last evidence of food on my plate was gone. No need for washing up, I'd guess!!
Miduri and Cerri, who insist upon using local produce, fish and meats, as much as possible (they have established relationships with local farmers and fishermen), will take something off the menu if they cannot stick to the integrity of their recipes and philosophy of 'simple and fresh'. "We try not to freeze things," Cerri informs us. "If we don't have it, then we don't offer it."
The Ristorante Corallo experience extends to equally exquisite desserts. We each had three: Papaya Cake — it is like a shortbread pie topped with pastry cream and local papaya; Dark Chocolate Mousse — creamy and not too sweet; and Tiramisu — without doubt the lightest and best I have ever eaten in my life. Miduri even makes his own Savoiardi 'ladyfingers'! "It's the best because it is the original recipe, without alcohol or whipped cream, which is an American thing," Cerri concludes.
— Emma Sharp Dalton Brown
Royal Reef Hotel & Restaurant (Ristorante Corallo) is located in Greenwood, Trelawny. E-mail: or call: 953-1700.