by Camden Ford, Dec. 11, 2017

With Giuseppe, Giuliana & Andrea, Owners & Barista at Tomato Dolce & Salato

Tomato Dolce & Salato sits right in the middle of The Level, the bigger of the two cafés boasted by the park (the other, Loving Hut, is on the other side of the play area). Since its renovation in 2013, The Level has exploded back into life. A new water feature has replaced the old swimming pool, the skatepark has been completely revamped, and the southern half of the park has been transformed into a huge new play area.

The latest change the park has seen is the arrival of Tomato Dolce & Salato, formerly the Velo Café. Current owners Giuseppe & Giuliana took over the café in mid-2015, and immediately set to work refurbishing and transforming it into the authentic Italian café/restaurant it is today.

I popped into the café on a busy summer afternoon to chat to them about what makes Tomato Dolce so popular. After an initial bit of trouble finding a common language (Giuseppe is trilingual, speaking Spanish, Italian and French, and is working on English as his fourth, whereas I am a damning indictment of our education system, having barely mastered the one), I sat down with them and barista Andrea, who was on hand to help translate in between dashing off to supply eager kids with ice cream.

Giuseppe & Giuliana moved to Brighton from Italy after visiting their nephew here and liking it so much that they decided to stay. Brighton’s food scene is a place where independent eateries can thrive, and the couple have met many other Italian restaurateurs since moving here. They are an active part of Brighton’s growing southern European community, regularly sharing stories and swapping tips with new residents through Facebook groups and community pages. It was through one of these groups that they met their current pizza chef, a specialist from Naples who they hired to ensure that his pizzas were as authentic as possible.

For Giuseppe, this authenticity is essential. Everything that goes into Tomato Dolce’s dishes, from the pizza sauce to the bread for the paninis, is made on site, and the couple import real Italian ingredients (most importantly their tomatoes and mozzarella) wherever they can. A year into running the café, Giuseppe installed a traditional wood fired, circular pizza oven to further improve the taste and texture of his pizzas; Andrea claims that they are now amongst the most authentically Italian in the whole city.

Alongside the food, the café’s other huge lure is its indoor play area. It serves as a great kid-distractor for weary parents looking for a place to sit down with a drink during an energetic day at the park. This was something that Giuseppe only fully realised when he tested removing it to make room for more seating space, prompting an uproar. The play area is now back, to the relief of both parents and kids. The owners take pride in offering local communities and businesses a place to socialise—birthday parties (for kids and adults alike) are positively encouraged, and the café plays host to an English course on Tuesday evenings.

Tomato Dolce’s location couldn’t be better—the newly renovated building has large, windowed walls, and a skylight running the length of the ceiling. In summer these windows give the space a light, airy feel, making it the perfect place to pick up an iced latte (made using a 100% arabica blend from Brazil & Guatemala). In the colder months, the wood fired pizza oven keeps things warm and cosy, and the café also offers a range of hot drinks. Plus, since it’s fully-licensed, there’s nothing to stop you warming up with a glass of something fancy or picking up a cold beer for a summer picnic in the park.

It’s a great place to simply pull up a chair and people watch on your way into or out of town. Grab a slice of pizza, and spend a moment imagining you could do the things those skateboarders are doing—it doesn’t look that hard—or contemplating having a go on the swings in the playground (though it might get you some odd looks).  Or maybe just sit back with a glass of wine and watch the world go by: it’s a beautiful place to do it.

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