There’s a new Italian restaurant in Richmond. Which, as a statement of bald fact, is not exactly knock-me-down-with-a-feather news. Isn’t there a new Italian in Richmond/Darlington/Northallerton/Ripon/Thirsk almost all the time?

Maybe not, but the comings and goings of Italian eateries seems to rival the turnover of Indian restaurants. Here today and gone, if not tomorrow, but often in a matter of months.

The new Italian is on the upper floor of 2-3 Trinity Church Square – that’s the grouping of listed buildings in the centre of Richmond’s handsome Market Place which includes the former Trinity Church, now the Green Howards Museum.

The easiest way of locating it is to find Mocha the Chocolate Shop. Steps and a passageway to the right of Mocha led to Rafael’o. It is not the most inviting of entrance spaces but persevere.

The Northern Echo: Eating Out review at Rafael’o in Richmond Market Place

It has been a restaurant for years. When we last the premises visited, ten years or more ago, it was an Italian (can’t remember what it was called) but most recently it was an Indian restaurant – the Taj Mahal – which was wasn’t there very long. The chopping and changing here proves my point. I rest my case m’lud.

Rafael’o opened about seven weeks ago now and it faces some stiff competition in town. There’s La Piazza in Dundas Street (a version of which might have been in the 2-3 Trinity Church Square building at some point). There’s Capri in what I think was Alessandro’s in Queen’s Road and, finally, the new-ish Elixir Ristorante across the cobbles at the top of the Market Place.

Clearly, Richmond’s appetite for carb-heavy meals is a big one.

Which is one of the things we immediately liked about Rafael’o. Yes, there is a good selection of pizza and pasta dishes but there’s also six risottos, the same number of seafood dishes plus a decent choice of chicken breasts with various sauces and red meat options that include venison. There was also calves’ liver which is a bit of rarity on restaurant menus these days.

The Northern Echo: Eating Out review at Rafael’o in Richmond Market Place

Normally, a menu this long would set alarm bells ringing, along with the dinging microwave in the kitchen.

But everything is very obviously cooked fresh to order and our party (there were four of us) thought very favourably of everything we ate.

There was an historic plateful of sea bass vongole (£17.95) – three sea bass fillets grilled to a crispy, soft-fleshed perfection perched on pile of al dente spaghetti with king prawns, sweet clams, garlic and tomato. Fantastic.

The caprese salad (£6.95) I had as a starter was not so memorable but perfectly serviceable.

The Northern Echo: Eating Out review at Rafael’o in Richmond Market Place

Sylvia has chowed down on a few prawn cocktails over the years and she rated the Rafael’o version (£8.95) one of the best. Maybe it was the brandy in the Marie Rose sauce that did it.

She also rated her Pollo Rafael’o (£16.50) – grilled chicken breast with tiger and baby prawns in a white wine and garlic sauce, served with mixed roasted vegetables and diced potato.

In short order, Mark demolished his belly pork starter (£8.95) which was oven baked with white wine, cider and rosemary and served on bruschetta with apple sauce and was similarly enthusiastic about his main course penne al forno (£11.95), a bubbling, cheesy-topped bowl of pasta, chicken, onion, garlic, chilli, and tomato sauce.

Arline’s approval of her mussels (£9.95) – sweet and juicy and classically prepared in cream and white wine with lots of parsley – extended to more of those well-cooked sea bass fillets (£19.95) but this time paired with bouncy scallops, king prawns and a samphire, garlic, white wine and prawn bisque.

Rafael’o describes itself as a family-run establishment and it certainly has that feel. We were well looked after by a young waiting-on team and we must have been a difficult bunch to deal with, to be frank. Catching up with friends you haven’t seen for a while does mean perusing menus gets forgotten about.

I think we must have sent our young waiter away around three times because we hadn’t yet looked at the menu let alone decided what we were going to eat. So, apologies to the Rafael’o team for that.

When we did manage to still the chat long enough to make our desires clear, the food emerged from the kitchen in good time. And well done to them for sensing we were a bunch of natterers best left to themselves with the minimum of interventions/fuss.

Our bill, sans booze (four glasses of house wine and three bottles of no-alcohol Peroni), was just over £100 for the four of us.

Rafael’o may be plying its trade in a crowded marketplace – and its rather hidden-away premises is definitely a handicap – but it deserves to survive. It’s worth climbing those steps.


2-3 Trinity Church Square, Market Place, Richmond DL10 4HY

Tel: 01748 518615


Open: noon-10pm seven days a week

Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 10 Service 9 Surroundings 8 Value 9