Sunday, 21 October 2012

Italia Manchester (Preview - Part ‘Due’)

PLEASE NOTE: Since writing this post, Franco Sotgiu has severed ties with the restaurant and the chef that cooked this food has 'moved on' - the same experience can no longer be 'guaranteed'.

Earlier in the month, I brought you a preview post about Manchester’s newest (and oldest) Italian restaurant - Italia (see here). 

As the restaurant is still in its ‘soft opening’ period, part ‘Uno’ of the preview focussed mainly on the pasta dishes.

The soft opening means that they are in a transition between the former restaurant ‘Rustica’ and what will be ‘Italia’. They are fully open to the public but are still trialling menus, staff and decorating. As such, Franco invited me along once again to offer my opinions on the latest menu developments and a couple of the specials. They are set to launch officially later in the month.

On my last visit I had the Bruschetta with Gorgonzola, pears and honey and know that due to my feedback and that of others they have tweaked the type and amount of honey; this is what is great about the soft opening… knowing they can’t complete with the profile of Jamie’s Italian or the £700k refits of the likes of San Carlo, Italia are determined to get the food spot on!

Hopefully they will listen to me again when I say that as delicious as the Fresh home baked Bruschetta with Lardo di Colonnata (with tomatoes & rosemary) was, I’d like the Lardo to be cut a little thicker or melted less – the flavour was sublime but I’d like a little more texture.  

One of the specials that Franco was most keen for me to try was their Risotto Imperiale. A wonderfully indulgent dish that I haven’t stopped thinking about!

I have had sea urchin on a number of occasions, most memorably, fresh from the shell in New York’s Grant Central Station Oyster Bar; in sushi places in Singapore and at the Michelin starred Comerç 24 in Barcelona and the two-starred Joël Robuchon in London – it was therefore a real treat to get some at home here in Manchester.  

It was an even bigger treat that the urchin came served on top of a perfectly cooked risotto and accompanied by another premium ingredient… the excellent Ebéne caviar from Fine French Caviar (see here). Again, I have had this caviar before: on the dish that Aiden Byrne got 10 out of 10 for on the Great British Menu and in the Michelin starred restaurants Simon Radley at The Chester Grosvenor and Marc Wilkinson’s Fraiche.

Although not as famously indulgent as the urchin and caviar, Franco was keen for me to try the Spaghetti alla Bottarga. In fact, so keen was Franco to serve me this dish, the ‘national dish’ of his family’s homeland of Sardinia that he went into the kitchen himself to rustle it up (hence the dodgy presentation)!

Sometimes called ‘poor man’s caviar’ Bottarga is the salted, pressed and air-dried roe of (traditionally) tuna or mullet. I tasted some before it was grated on this the spaghetti – as expected, it was both fishy and salty but nothing special…  but when it had been grated on the hot strings of spaghetti it released a wonderful pungent aroma and deep, punchy briny flavour with a hint of bitterness. (It’s allegedly an ‘acquired’ taste but obviously one I have already acquired; perhaps I was Sardinian in a previous life?)

Stone Baked Pizza: Nduja – tomato, mozzarella, spicy Calabrian Nduja sausage and sweet red peppers. Made from all the ‘best parts’ of a pig with spices and roasted hot red peppers, the ‘nduja’ (Pronounced: “En-Do-Ya”) has a well rounded fiery heat that seems to naturally permeate but does not present too harshly.

I am relatively new to its joys, previously enjoying it in sauces and spread ‘raw’ onto warm bruschetta but this was the first time I have had it on a pizza… forget pepperoni… forget Peter Kay and his “Garlic Bread?”… I tell you, Nduja is a taste revelation… “It's the future!”

Gnocchi are an ‘ingredient’ that I love and regularly order them in Italian restaurants but the dishes they are used in often a disappointment. This Gnocchi coda di bue brasata (baked with braised oxtail and pecorino) was an exception. Definitely the best dish I have eaten at Italia on either of my visits - fabulously rich and hearty… a real winter warmer.

My wife seemed to love the Baked fennel with Parmesan and cream as much as I loved the gnocchi. Very well cooked and seasoned.

Cooked on the Inka Grill, we also shared an 8oz Sirloin with rocket, pecorino and aged balsamic – WH Frost meat and an Inka Grill… need I say more?

I’ve always been a ‘savoury person’ but I feel the desserts (fantastic Cabrelli ice creams aside), despite being an improvement on my last visit, are still the ‘weakest’ part of the menu. I don’t know how much of this stems from the fact that the pasta dishes are so strong but I’d say this is the area they need to continue to develop through out the soft opening period. I’m certain others with more of a sweet tooth will advise and they’ll soon be up to scratch – the showpiece ‘retro’ Tomorrow’s World-eqsue space age dessert gizmo still impresses!

Of course, I was given this meal without charge (although I did leave a generous tip for the new staff team) but I was under no obligation to say all these nice things… go and taste for yourself! 

Italia on Urbanspoon


  1. Oh my good god that gnocchi looks incredible. My favourite Italian dish if you think it's that good I am getting on a train and coming up to try it!!

  2. I am so excited to try this restaurant! It has had amazing reviews all round.

  3. We ate here on Friday afer reading about it on your excellent blog. I have to say we were all really disappointed with the food. The Bruschetta with Lardo and Bruschetta with Nduja were ok - but you only get just one small piece of Bruschetta.
    The Risotto Imperiale wasn't on. The Parparadelle ragu di cinghiale was inedible - it was incredibly vinegary, (and I rarely leave food!) the mushroom ravioli was gritty and not very tasty, the Gnocchi coda di bue brasata was good though. The dessert of Chocolate cake was dry.
    Hopefully these were just teething problems for them.

  4. Another great writeup Mr Hoss!

    I'm so excited to finally be eating at Italia tonight, I'm not used to going to a restaurant where I haven't studied the menu in advance so I've been doing some research and taking notes from your review. I just hope most of the dishes are still on the menu.


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