Charming, charismatic, and absolutely hilarious. Gino D’Acampo chats to savour’s georga spottiswood about his Newcastle restaurant, work life, family life and how daughter mia’s new puppy, Snoop, is getting more attention than him!
“I’m so sorry, I’m just having a cheeky nibble,” says Gino as I walk into the ‘interview room’ inside Gino D’Acampo’s Quayside restaurant.
Dressed in black jeans, a black T-shirt and his hair slicked back, he looks super chilled. He’s on a two-day visit to the city, hosting an ‘evening with Gino’ with 110 guests each night who have paid for the pleasure of his food and company.
The atmosphere downstairs is electric; the female DJ pumping out a house remix of Sister Sledge’s Thinking of You; the photography wall set up ready for everyone to get their iPhones at the ready for their pics with the star; and staff and guests all buzzing that the main man himself is here.
And Gino’s full of energy too. He walks over, greets me with open arms and a peck on the cheek and I can see the glint in his eyes, the sheer passion and love for his restaurants and food.
You opened your restaurant in Newcastle in October 2021, how has it been so far?
This is probably the best restaurant that I have. The number of guests here kicks everywhere else’s a**. It’s one of those things that has been popular from day one. I think the people in Newcastle got what I was doing; they trust the brand; they’re happy, they’re telling everybody, and everyone keeps coming back.
Are you sure they don’t just love you, Gino?
It’s not only me. If they have a nice meal, the atmosphere, the music is good, they get nice drinks (in the winter we had the chalet outside and soon we are building a beautiful terrace looking across the river) they see that the whole package works.
The dishes on the menu reflect the soul and character of Italy’s many different regions and you’ve included lots of favourites from your books and TV programme. Do you design the menu for each of the restaurants, or do your head chefs – and their teams – get involved too?
All of them are my favourites because all of them are recipes that come from my family, then from my family they go into the books, then from the books into my restaurant – there is a link to all my recipes.
In fact, the menus tell you which book it’s from, which page – because it’s cool for people when they visit to say I can eat this in the restaurant, or I can also cook it at home.
I do everything by myself with a huge team behind me. I decide the recipes, test them, we do what is called ‘how to document’ so the chefs can follow. There’s a lot of work behind it, people don’t understand to create a menu that everybody likes is 50% the work in the restaurant.
We have so many amazing restaurants in the City and the wider North East, with our own Michelin-starred chefs and other venues which are constantly innovating, what makes Gino’s special and why should people visit?
I think because a lot of people like Italian food. People know it will be a reliable restaurant, they know they are going to get a traditional Italian dish. Something that is going to taste good, whenever they come it’s going to always taste the same, and they’ll get a great atmosphere. Everybody is happy, you get cool drinks. It’s the consistency. People know it will be good.
For those who have not yet visited Italy, what would you recommended off your menu (food and drink) and why?
Look, that question is like asking me: ‘which one is your favourite child?’ I can answer to that easier than which one is my favourite dish.
Ok, which one is your favourite child? I’m joking, of course!
My little girl is my favourite child! It’s an impossible question because it also depends on how you feel on the day. Right now, I fancy fish, because yesterday I had meat. But tomorrow, I don’t fancy fish I fancy meat.
I tell you what I’m going to have tonight, I’m going to have the arancine, the rice balls with a beautiful dip because I like to nibble. Then I’m going to have a lovely linguine with clams and seafood, and seabass. We do a beautiful Neapolitan sea bass with a crispy skin in an Italian salsa which is just insane. Very simple buy very tasty. I’ll probably finish that off with an affogato, vanilla ice cream that we make with an espresso coffee and amaretti biscuit crumb on top.
What do you think of the City and have you managed to experience it yet?
No, because when I come here, I stay here. I stay in this hotel, because I love the hotel and I stay in my restaurant because I love the people who work in my restaurant – so I give them all my time. It happens from time to time, when I finish, I get completely smashed and they take me to a club – but at that point I could be on the moon.
Speaking of your staff, Amy your restaurant manager is keen to develop relationships with regional producers – hence why I’ve bought you a bottle of Triple Six Gin from Newcastle. What are your thoughts on mixing your Italian charm with a bit of Geordie heritage?
Give me an example.
Hepple Gin which distills their gin on the hills of Hepple in Northumberland and who have a juniper conservation site. Triple Six from Newcastle, which has just been awarded Silver in the World Gin Awards. Would you stock them behind the bar?
We do have restaurants where we source local. Generally, we do that with fish, meat, vegetables. Things we need on the everyday menu as there’s no point in getting fish that comes from Brighton when we can get it closer to here and support the local businesses.
The thing is, you need to be careful, as when you have more than one restaurant you have to be consistent on the menu because people that come to Newcastle want the same Gin and Tonic when they go to Manchester. We try our best to support the local, but we have to be careful to not confuse the brand.
Your restaurant business is growing rapidly, what other cities do you plan to open in?
I am opening a very big restaurant in Birmingham which I am super excited about. I am about to open the biggest Italian restaurant in Manchester then there is one in Glasgow and one in Leeds. So, four this year. No more because I am getting old. What happens is I put too much effort into my restaurants. I have to visit my restaurants all the time and I am realising that as you get old my back starts to hurt, my feet hurt. 10 years ago, I could have gone up and down like a yoyo, no problem whatsoever, but we are getting old. I think, flipping heck, can I experience this for another 20 years. The answer is YES.
The hospitality industry has certainly had its setbacks: covid smashed it pieces, it’s been through so many ups and downs in the last couple of years – but you’ve got expansion plans, four new restaurants – why do you love it so much?
First of all, we had a really tough time with this covid. We lost a hell of a lot of money, business money, personal money, loads of money. But I always think positive because I know like everything else in life, it’s going to have to have an end.
‘What do you do?’ There’s no point in crying. No point. I have always said to my team, we are going to come back, and we will come back stronger.
We need to be ready for our guests to come. They’re going to have money in their pockets, we’re going to have the restaurants to make sure that they have the best time.
So, my point was, now is the time to invest. When everybody took the money away from their restaurants, I was the one to put money in.
Big terraces, big bars, redo the kitchen, re do the tables, redo this, redo that. People at some point thought that I had won the lottery, or I was going completely crazy!
At one point someone actually said to me, ‘did you win 200-300 million or are you just f*g mad’.
I was like, no, no, no. We need to invest now because we need to be ready to open.
In terms of work/life balance, that’s a lot going on.
I have three children. The reason why I make children is two reasons. Number one: it’s very pleasurable to make children. Number two: because at some point, one would wish that the children will take over your vision, your dreams.
I have been very lucky, my son Luciano, which I have restaurants named after, is already into my business. He is already going round on my behalf. My son Rocco is 17, he finishes school next year and I managed to convince him not to go to university.
‘You’re the only dad who’s telling me not to go to university, all my other friends, the parents encourage them,’ he says.
I said, ‘look, if you really want to go to university, go. But for me, it’s a waste of time. You have no idea what you want to do with your life, go to work the way I did, the way your brother did and then if you don’t like work you can always go to university when you’re 24, 25, 26.’
I managed to convince him. So, I have my right arm and my left arm [Luciano and Rocco].
And Mia? [Gino’s nine-year-old daughter with wife Jessica].
Mia is my princess. She doesn’t need to work. She doesn’t need to do anything; she only needs to tell me what she wants, and I shall make sure that she gets it.
How is the puppy? [Gino revealed a brand-new puppy, called Snoop, to Mia on his Insta account in January]
The puppy is awesome although it has p****d me off a little bit as when I am out with him, all the people that stop me do so because of the dog. Not because they want to talk to me or have a picture with me anymore!
I’m like, ‘wait a second, I’m here in all my glory and you go in and talk to the flipping dog which doesn’t answer you back’. The dog is talking over big time!
Tell me three things that you just could not live without.
I love spending time with my family. I really like that, so much so I only work six months of the year, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that before? For six months I take holidays with my family, because my kids, my wife and I, we have a really cool life together. We all do our own things but then we all mix together, we talk all the time, it’s a very strong unit.
So much so I asked Luciano, my son, would you like to go and buy yourself a flat? Live in London. I can afford that; I can do that for you.
He said, ‘no, I want to stay here.’
He’s 20, I left home when I was 16. That makes me really proud, that he’s happy to stay with me and the family.
Number two is something that I hate but it’s very necessary to have: my mobile phone. If I could click my finger and all the mobile phones in the world would disappear, I would not hesitate to click them.
I hate my phone but know how important it is. I hate the fact that people think they have sent you something and because you have a mobile phone you should automatically reply, there’s not a time limit.
Number three, is oxygen, ok? Holidays. I am at a stage in my life where finally, I can afford to do that, and I am extremely grateful for that. You need to have the courage to do that, to go on holiday for six months of the year – and I have been doing that for 10 years.
People hate that, they call me selfish, but I don’t care I like it and I can afford it, so I will carry on doing that. It’s the ultimate balance, you work 50% of your life, and you take holidays 50% of your life. 50/50 that’s what it’s all about. I don’t have to do something extravagant, just sit in silence, look at the sea, play the guitar, switch off. The balance is very important.