Restaurant gets smart new look without its history being lost

RESIDENTS of Wells will have noticed a smart new frontage at Rugantino in Sadler Street. Owners Jonathan and Nick Rossi, who run the hotel and restaurant business, have undertaken a major refurbishment. Lasting six months, the renovations will provide a contemporary feel whilst retaining the history of what was once a Gatehouse to the City of Wells.

Work has taken place throughout the entire building and includes the conversion of the Cathedral Lounge to a small restaurant which can provide private dining for up to 20 people. The bar area has been completely redesigned and replaced whilst the back garden, main restaurant, stairs and loos have all received facelifts. Attention has been given to every last detail with radiators, lights and switches selected to fit in with the new look.

The brothers gave the business a refresher themselves during lockdown and then decided that the building really deserved the attention of professional designers.

Somerset-based, award-winning design team Simon Ledsom and Jane Peck have taken great care to give the Grade II* listed building a modern, lively ambiance whilst conserving its historical integrity: guests can dine next to part of the original city wall; an old stained-glass window above the entrance to the dining room has been uncovered and restored.

This is a building that is bursting with character. Nick says: “There is a bricked-up opening in the cellar. Rumour has it that there is an underground passage-way which leads to the Cathedral. And we also discovered a priest’s hole upstairs.”  

“We don’t want to take ourselves too seriously,” explains Head Chef Jonathan. “We don’t want to appear too posh or stuffy so there’s a bit of fun in the design. Guests will notice the bright pink of the entrance hall as soon as they arrive as well as the ‘circus-style’ letter ‘R’. It’s really important to us that our customers feel relaxed and that they have a good time.”

Franco Rossi, originally from Assisi in Umbria, opened The Ancient Gatehouse Hotel and restaurant in 1974 with his wife Heather. Franco came to London in 1966 and worked at The Dorchester Hotel before moving to Wells where he met Heather, from Dulcote. They married in 1968 and celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary on January 20, the night that Rugantino was reopening.

It is too early to talk about the next generation, however, the brothers have five children between them and Jonathan’s son, Max, joins the staff from time to time. Nick says: “We’re very excited about reopening and we are already fully booked.” Jonathan adds: “I’m itching to get back. I just want to get cooking!”