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Il Meglio del Meglio! Osteria Chef Alessandro Degiorgio
14 Dec 2023

An authentic Italian restaurant on Mardol in Shrewsbury is making big waves nationally, winning prizes for its specialty dishes. Katy Rink speaks to Osteria’s ambitious chef patron Alessandro Degiorgio

It’s one thing to win best chef in a UK-wide competition - but quite another to be awarded il meglio del meglio - the best of the best - by fellow countryman, the celebrity Italian chef Aldo Zilli. 

For 34-year-old Alessandro Degiorgio, taking top prize of Best Chef 2023 in Angelo Poretti Italian Awards Final, was the culmination of 22 years’ hard work and amazing tenacity; he has stuck by his vision to bring authentic Italian cuisine to Shrewsbury and customers have spoken!

“It meant a lot to me to be recognised for something you are doing. When I asked Aldo how my dish tasted, he leant into my ear and said ‘*** Unbelievable!”

The Osteria team

Alessandro's team, off to the Italian Awards ceremony

Degiorgio’s winning dish ‘50 Shades of Pork’ (50 sfumatore di porco), which beat off competition from 36 other restaurants, is an example of his refusal to compromise, or cut corners; it’s a principle that underpins everything he allows to leave the kitchen at his Mardol-based restaurant Osteria. 

It uses all parts of a pig - pork belly, cheek, neck and ribs - with a sauce made of bone marrow and pork and crispy crackling on the side. 

“This is classic food porn,” says Degiorgio, explaining the dish title. 

“There’s a lot of processes - it’s slow-cooked for nearly 50 hours too and so it has to be cooked at least two days in advance.”

Cooking, according to Degiorgio, is ‘all about the prep’. He works with and adapts the tastiest Italian recipes, written with love and passed down through generations of Italian ‘cucina povera’ or ‘peasant-style’ cooks. And his mise en place is second to none to allow the best possible service. 

Osteria was also awarded ‘The Best of the Best 2023’ in the Tripadvisor Travellers’ Choice awards, based on customers’ reviews of the restaurant; it’s an accolade given to just 8% of restaurants worldwide.

One of the restaurant’s most popular dishes is the ‘Pollo Champagne + Tartufo’, chicken infused in champagne, skin-seared and then cooked very slowly in the oven: “The taste is gorgeous,” Degiorgio assures me. Another top seller is a crostini-style polenta dish with porcini mushrooms. He was just releasing his new menu, when we met, and explained each dish with obvious passion and pride. 

“We’ve changed every single dish. All of our pasta is handmade. The only thing I’m not doing myself is ice cream and chips!”

one of Alessandro's dishes
With Aldo Zilli

 Degiorgio pictured with Italian-born Aldo Zilli, celebrity chef and restaurateur

Also on the menu, alongside stuffed, fresh ravioli and baked gnocchi from Sorrento, is ‘Cozz gnure a Tarandin’, a mussels dish with cherry tomatoes, chilli and parsley, derived from Taranto, a city in southern Italy and ‘Vitello Tonnato’, a classic slow-cooked veal dish served chilled with a creamy tuna mayo. For vegetarians there’s a delicious baked aubergine dish served on toasted homemade bread ‘Parmigiana di Melanzane’, along with the baked gnocchi and heritage tomato ‘bruschettone’ with burrata. 

Degiorgio opened his restaurant in Shrewsbury in August 2022, employing largely Italian staff; the boss himself is from Florence, his pizza chef is from Naples, the sous-chef from Bari, another chef and front of house staff, from Sicily and the bar staff are Neapolitan and Sardinian.

“We’re a team - we support one another. They feel like they are around family,” Degiorgio says. “What I wanted to do is just offer some genuine Italian food,” he says. “I’m not compromising my recipes by making Carbonara with cream and bacon! NEVER!” (the traditional pasta dish is made with eggs, pecorino, Parmesan, cured pork cheek and black pepper)

There’s a note on his website that advises diners that everything is cooked to order; pasta here is definitely ‘al dente’ and you might be advised to order some Cicchetti (Italian nibbles) while you wait. Nothing here is ‘dumbed down’. Authentic is the byword for Degiorgio’s cooking: “I would love people to understand the difference between real Italian food and other dishes that claim to be ‘Italian’ but are not. You cannot compare what I’m doing here with that.”

Produce comes either directly from Italy or is sourced locally from Shrewsbury’s Market Hall: “My suppliers deliver to me six days a week,” he adds.  As we chatted, he showed me an email relating to the imminent delivery of 500g of black truffle. 

Degiorgio, who has lived in Shrewsbury for 13 years now and has previously worked as head chef at Istanbul, in Frankwell and at Romolo on the riverside, remembers hunting for mushrooms on the hillside near Florence as a boy. He began working in restaurants aged 12 and has never looked back. He completed his culinary training at Aurelio Saffi in Florence.

“When I started in kitchens, I did every job - kitchen porter, scrubbing pans, cleaning the toilets, chopping potatoes - then I moved on to starters, then pasta. It’s how you work your way up.”

He loves to experiment with new products, techniques and styles: “I’ll happily mess about in the kitchen until 2am,” he laughs. His ‘50 Shades’ dish took him six months to perfect.  

He’s always been determined to open his own restaurant and in 2018, he bought Osteria Da Paolo on Hill’s Lane. In 2021, he lost everything: “We had four feet of water all over the restaurant, due to a burst pipe. The water company admitted liability, but I had to wait 18 months before I could open again.”

During that time he worked several jobs ‘to keep the roof on’ his closed restaurant, shifting elsewhere. He’s a grafter: “I’ve always understood that if I want something, I must work for it.”

In August 2022, he opened Osteria v2 on Mardol, after accepting a loan from a friend: “I didn’t pay myself a salary, I wanted to get it back to him as quickly as possible. I’m a man of my word.”

Thanks to the restaurant’s success - and stellar reputation - the loan has been paid back and Degiorgio is now cooking with gas! 

“We’ve had amazing feedback from our customers,” he said. “We have plenty of regulars - the restaurant was already doing good and then since October when I won the award, it’s been going crazy! I want to create a relaxed atmosphere where people can come and spend quality time together (no phones!) as a family and talk.

"For Italian people, the meal is one of the most important parts of the day. The family gathers at the table after a long day. My own father was a soldier and I didn’t see him for months, but when he came back, we would sit around the table and catch up on lost time. Food was a big part of the atmosphere. And at Christmas and Easter, my grandma would start cooking two days in advance and the whole family would gather around her table.”

Osteria will be offering its new menu on Christmas Day from 12pm to 3pm (with no price inflation!). And Degiorgio has one important New Year’s Resolution: “Next year I’m going to win all the awards! My pizza chef deserves one, also all my other staff who are working hard with me. There are different categories, from starters to pasta, main courses to dessert, best team, management, wine list, best family restaurant, best Italian and so on. My dream is to one day achieve all of them!”

  • Osteria Italian Restaurant is at 58-59 Mardol, Shrewsbury, SY1 1PP open from 12pm to 3pm and 5pm to 10pm, Monday to Sunday. Contact (01743) 360944 or visit www.osteriashrewsbury.co.uk