Italia Manchester

6 Nov

I know absolutely cock-all about Italian food. Much like the rest of my generation, I was bought up on bottle bought spaghetti sauce, more often than not mixed in with greying minced meat and a side of garlic bread as standard. (Shudders). To this day, the smell of Dolmio makes me heave, so needless to say, my early sojourns into Italian food sent me west for life. Understandable, therefore, that I couldn’t tell you how to make a ragu, join a meaningful discussion on the inclusion of milk in a classic Bolognese and whether or not it’s traditional to have cream in your carbonara. I know nothing.

This is all set to change however, with the opening of Italia, the newest venture from Franco Sotgiu of Solita fame. Hot on the heels of his Northern Quarter success, Franco and his team have taken over the restaurant space under the Renaissance Hotel, neatly situated at the top of Deansgate, to draw the hungry masses with their offering of traditional Italian food. With only chains or high-end restaurants currently serving the Manchester Italian restaurant scene, the reasonably priced dishes and desire to draw families with good hearty fare and the most exquisite of Italian flavours should serve them well. It should serve me well too; it’s where I plan on getting my education.

Italia Manchester

The food is a delight, and to my uneducated palate, a revelation. Bold, punchy flavours characterised the starting dish, comprising a smorgasbord of the antipasti menu’s bruschetta-style delights. Gorgonzola and pear doused in honey and the most intense, spicy Njuda sausage were heaven, the latter being soft and yielding to bite followed by a mule-like kick. Being so ballsy, I was concerned the dish would overwhelm, but equally strong in flavour, each generously portioned bite stood up well. The only minor disappointment was the mozzarella topped with anchovy. Overpowered by the pungent and salty fish, the cheese also delivered a (not-unexpected) rubbery mouth feel which sat uncomfortably with the rest of the platter.

Bruschetta Sharing Platter

An all-star line-up of pasta dishes followed; the much lauded wild boar ragu with papparadelle, a bowl of Italian sausage with malloredus (a traditional Sardinian conch-shaped pasta) and an oxtail gnocchi topped with pecorino that near broke my heart for its beauty. All were trotted out and duly polished off, though not without much quaffing of fine red wine, notably a Tanca Farra Alghero 2007 from Sardinia, providing the perfect foil for the meaty dishes. The revelation was the pumpkin risotto, however. Initially peeved at a protein-less dish, I was bowled over by the rich, earthy rice dish thick with fontina cheese. If they can do this with a vegetable, just imagine the magic they achieved with the meat.

Papparadelle Ragu di Cinghiale: Wild Boar Ragu Papparadelle

Gnocchi Coda di Bue Brasata: Baked Gnocchi with Braised Oxtail and Pecorino

Dessert was a free-for-all at the gelato bar, all made freshly on the premises and promising flavours as diverse as bubblegum and Oreo cookie. There is also a space-age dessert trolley to go at, filled with brandy-based cannoli and other such delights, but having overloaded on pasta, we went tactical and enjoyed a few scoops of the ice cream. My friend Aoife plumped for a scoop of chocolate accompanied by hazelnut, whilst I hit up the all-Italian tiramisu, with a side of coffee gelato for kicks. Creamy, smooth and dense gelato, washed down with an aperitif of Amaretto, it was the perfect way to end (and digest) an indulgent and belly-busting meal.

Italia Manchester, Gelato Bar

Coffee and Tiramisu Gelato

Now, much has been made of the 1970’s décor and history of the restaurant, changing hands many a time over the last few decades with limited success, though in its hey-day was quite the thing in its first rendering as Pizzaria Italia. Despite Franco’s overhaul, the wood-panelled walls and mirrored columns of yesteryear are still in situ, but in no way is this to the detriment of the place. Bright lights, busy tables and bustling staff, the place feels like home, where loud laughter and loud groans (my apologies) on account of the delicious food are easily accommodated by the cavernous dining room and merry-making of fellow diners, (many of them Italian, I might add).*

Still in its soft launch phase, finalising dishes and pulling together the right team, (headed up by the incomparable Piero – worth the trip alone), I’d recommend you get down there quick-smart before they become too slick. There’s great charm in the rough around the edges service and food, delivered with a large side of Italian charisma that instantly puts you at ease and allows you to comfortably enjoy the company you’re keeping. The food helps, no doubt; comfort food at its very best, it kicks the arse out of a roast dinner or a burger on flavour and finesse. I can see myself now, spending long, leisurely Sunday evenings with a large group of friends, working my way happily round the menu and sinking into the mother of all carb comas. Such dreams.

All this has still to come, as do the pizza and grill dishes that I have yet to try, but for now, grazie Italia, for kick-starting my love affair with Italian food.

*Always a good sign.


One Response to “Italia Manchester”

  1. . November 20, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    Pizzeria Italia was only ever under one ownership until 2008 when it closed. It then became Rustica. I object to this new re-incarnation being called ‘Italia since 1977’ when it has nothing to do with original Pizzeria Italia which opened in 1977. Trading in on past glories which aren’t its own!

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