The Italian job: friends set up Cork city restaurant

Italian foodies Eugenio Nobile and Lorenzo Barba tell CHRIS DUNNE about their joint venture - an Italian vegetarian and vegan restaurant which also puts the accent on sustainability
The Italian job: friends set up Cork city restaurant

Eugenio Nobile (left), from Turin, and Lorenzo Barba, from Rome, who met while working in Milano’s restaurant and decided to open their own, Sonflour, in Castle Street, that offers Italian, vegetarian, and vegan street food.

ITALIAN pals Eugenio Nobile and Lorenzo Barba have more than their nationality, friendship and business in common.

They both worked as chefs in Milano’s before opening Sonflour on Castle Street; they are both 36; they are neighbours in Blarney Street’ and they both have dogs!

“It is true we share a lot of interests,” says Lorenzo, from Turin.

A girlfriend lured them to Ireland.

“Not the same girlfriend, though!” says Lorenzo laughing.

“I left Turin 15 years ago and worked as a chef while travelling to Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Germany and Italy. My girlfriend, Julia, got a job in Apple and I got a job in Milano’s, where I met Eugenio.

“We became friends and planned to open a restaurant together.”

Eugenio is from Rome, where he worked in the hospitality industry for many years.

“I used to cook with my mother at home,” he says.

Now the pair have crafted a unique Italian street food menu that is full of local Irish ingredients with their own Italian twists. They cater for vegans and for vegetarians.

“We had been working in Milanos’s in 2019 before lockdown hit, and since then we planned to open our own place in Cork,” says Lorenzo.

They had time to plan a successful business on Castle Street.

“We used the timing of the pandemic to plan opening our business with a focus on sustainability,” says Lorenzo. “The pandemic gave us good time to plan Sonflour, the menu took us seven months to perfect.”

Why Cork?

“We fell in love with Cork,” says Lorenzo. 

“I grew up in a big city and when I came here, I found the city wasn’t huge and it was easy to get around. It felt like the right balance. We are surrounded by nature and we can escape to the sea or to the forest which aren’t far away.”

The lads were made feel welcome.

“We loved the kindness of people compared to some other countries,” says Lorenzo.

Did they love the Cork accent?

“We got to understand it fine,” says Eugenio. “I learned to speak English here. My first experience abroad was working in Milano’s in Cork. I got along with everyone here and I like the lifestyle.”

Sonflour took off from the word go.

“We thought we would ease into the business slowly, but from the very start a couple of weeks ago, we were getting bookings and we were very busy,” says Eugenio.

“It was a great start. We found the perfect spot here in Castle Street.”

The lads are kept busy.

“We open seven days a week and our days start at 7.30am to begin prepping. Everything is freshly made. When people order, we make the dishes from scratch. The dishes are from Italian cuisine and all the ingredients, except the tomatoes, are from local food suppliers. We aim to keep food waste to a minimum as well.”

Italian film star, Sophie Loren, is famously a pasta lover. She said ‘Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti!” What delicious pasta dishes do the lads dish up?

“We have artisanal pizzas, focaccia vinyl, while the ravioli and the linguine are very popular.”

What is the most popular dish for pasta lovers like Sophia Loren?

“We thought it might be our pizza,” says Eugenio. “Our pizza Al Taguo is an Italian recipe, it is very Roman, very crunchy and nice and thick. It is not round but rectangular. But so far we have found it’s the ravioli that comes in a truffle oil and mushroom cream.”

The chefs use Irish produce to create their unique dishes like the George Costanza salad and the Socca Farinata bites.

“The buffalo mozzarella is from Macroom, the Mossfield mature cheese is from an organic farm in Co. Offaly, our flour is from Kilkenny, while all our vegetables are grown locally,” says Eugenio, who is brewing me a rich Italian coffee.

“Our food is inspired by Italy but grown in Ireland. We’re big on Irish suppliers. We order our tomatoes and other bits from Italy. Our goal was to create Italian street food in a sustainable way that tastes good. Our organic wine is from Italy but our supplier is Irish.”

The chefs are both vegetarian.

“We wanted Sonflour to have a focus on veg and vegan and yet appeal to everyone,” says Eugenio.

“Many people who eat meat and fish two or three times a week might look for a vegetarian option every so often and they can come here to us for that option.” The chefs thought of everything.

“We worked in different restaurants around the world and we saw the amount of food waste can be huge, so we took a look at that when we planned the menu.”

After the prep, says Lorenzo: “We make the fresh homemade pasta for lunch and we make it again in the afternoon for dinners.”

He and Eugenio did tastings for the extensive menu.

“We did a lot of home trials, finding the perfect balance between crispiness and mixing our flavours to compliment with opposites.”

The restaurant on 9, Castle Street has a continental flavour to it. The windows look onto the bustling street outside while inside has a cosy intimate feel to it. The lighting compliments the wood furniture and the kitchen is in full view of the customers.

There is an added bonus.

“There’s a record player in the corner and people are welcome to browse through the collection of vinyl records and they can choose a record they’d like to hear,” says Eugenio.

The duo have achieved their goal.

“I never saw myself as an entrepreneur,” says Eugenio. “Here, I found the energy and the inspiration to go into business. The good energy inspired me. Before, I would have seen obstacles and difficulties, but not here.

“The people are so encouraging. The response from the public has been wonderful. We thought we’d start slowly but we did not - the first week we were booked out.”

What do the lads do in any spare time they have? “We walk our dogs, Loki and Lille,” says Lorenzo.

The two lads are happy with their lifestyle and with their new successful business.

“Sonflour is our baby and we are happy to work hard,” says Lorenzo. “We love meeting the people and talking to them.

“We are super-happy!”

Sonflour, 9, Castle Street, Cork, is open Monday to Wednesday, 3pm-9pm, and Thursday to Sunday, 1pm to 10pm.

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