Italia is quite new on the Manchester scene, but my God if you haven’t heard about it (yes even you Sheffield) then you must have been hiding under a rock over the past few months. Just about every Manchester blogger (and his/her dog) has been to some form of soft opening event here and the internet is littered with reviews (all of which are full of praise). I guess you could say that the owners have got some good marketing heads on their shoulders as they haven’t just covered the blogger scene they are all over Twitter like a rash (albeit a rather nice, friendly and tasty rash).
With this is mind, I’m gonna keep this one short and sweet. If you want to know more just Google Italia Manchester and once you’ve worked your way through all the references to Bella Italia (that chain thing that serves up ‘Italian’ food) you’ll find all those blog reviews which cover everything from the history of the restaurant to the menu and the owners.
So, we were in Manchester because A) I fancied a day trip and B) I have been to Manchester a few times (we have family and friends over there) but don’t really know the city that well. And being a lover of Italian food, and after hearing all the hype (and noting that the menu was not going to bankrupt us) I booked us in for a late lunch/early tea.
We arrived and we were welcomed by the manager who enthusiastically pulled out menus for us and showed us to our table. This was all with such speed that I didn’t even have chance to confirm our booking, but it was in such a way that suggested he was expecting us (of course this couldn’t have been the case as we had never met); such a welcome!
Thanks to all the reviews I’d read, I already knew what I wanted; suppli al telefono to start and carbonara for main, dishes which, quelle surprise, are Roman classics. We added some calamari and some tomato bruschetta to the starter course and Gav had papparadelle with wild boar for his main.
Suppli al telefono (balls of rice stuffed with mozzarella which creates a telephone cord string of cheese on biting – hence the name) were tasty, but to live up to its name the cheese could have been a bit stringier (something I never thought I would say…). The suppli also came with a super rich tomato sauce which was simple, but stunning.
Calamari was well cooked with a light batter and served with a strong garlic mayo which was good. Bruschetta was fresh and light but I do wish we’d gone for one of the more exciting combinations such as Grilled spicy Nduja sausage or Gorgonzola, grilled pears and honey, but, tomato was Gav’s choice and nowt to do with me!
On to the mains and I liked what I saw on my plate. No cream, no onion, no parsley; it looked like a carbonara. It was, however, a lighter version which just meant that there was less of the rich egg yolk coating. The pasta was really well cooked; I believe that it’s one thing to get penne (and the like) al dente, but another to manage the same with spaghetti so I was impressed. Gav’s papparadelle was gorgeous with plenty of rich and tasty slow cooked meat in there.
Thanks to the lighter carbonara I had room for dessert and we both took individual trips to the dessert counter to make our choices. I went for a portion of black forest gateaux. It was encased in a thick layer of chocolate and looked stunning, thanks especially to the addition of a little gold leaf. Gav went for the cannelloni which are rolls of brandy snaps stuffed with cream. He enjoyed, but I don’t think anything could have pulled me away from my gateaux (I greatly amused the manager by telling him I thought it was f**king brilliant).
We had shared a bottle of Nero d’Avola; one of our favourite reds and I’d also managed to sneak in a cheeky frascati (a wine I had really enjoyed last time we went to Rome) and I can’t remember exactly how much the bill was, but it was certainly under £80.
Italia genuinely reminded me of eating in Italy and not just because of the food. It was informal dining at its best with people from all walks of life enjoying; from groups of blokes filling up on pizzas before the pub to families out celebrating with the full three courses. Waiting staff were rushing around, all on their own individual missions and there was a nice level of noise; enough to relax and feel that we could converse in comfort without being drowned out by others. It’s just easy, approachable, affordable Italian food.