I find it hard to find “proper” Italian food in the north west. And, by “proper”, I mean top quality ingredients, cooked simply to allow the natural flavours to shine through. Even in the good places, the menu seems to read more of Carnforth than Calabria. So it was with some surprise that I saw this little place scoring a 5 in the Good Food Guide. I was even more surprised to read the online menu and see hardly a nod towards the usual run-of-the-mill Anglo Italian trattoria stuff. It just had to go on the list to be visited.
And it is a tiny place – just 14 covers, although they are about to expand into the shop next door to take them up to 32. Piero runs the kitchen upstairs with a couple of helpers; his wife, Dawn, is a very welcoming front-of-house. Although she missed a trick in not offering an aperitif.
The menu is a mix of Sicilian and Northern Italian dishes, with a few more generic items thrown in. Caponata is about as Sicilian as it gets and, although not the world’s greatest fan of fried aubergines, I ordered it. And was really glad I had. It was a lovely silky soft stew of aubergine, celery, pine nuts and olives – sweet and vinegary at the same time and served warm – not hot or cold - warm. The other starter was more of an assembly job – bowl of rocket, handful of crayfish tails, dressing of oil, lemon and garlic. A pleasant enough light beginning.
We then shared a plate of linguine with lemon sauce. Perfect “al dente” pasta. A clingy dressing that had a faint taste of lemon. Perhaps too faint in our view.
For mains, a beef dish which, in the Sicilian dialect, is “canni cunzata”. Very thin slices of beef rump, marinated in oil & garlic and then quickly char-grilled. It was served with some grilled tomatoes on the vine and was an absolute belter of a dish. The other plate was a simple sounding sausages and lentils. But here, two large and very meaty sausages, made on the premises, were spiced up with a decent chilli hit, before being sat on Umbrian lentils, cooked with carrot and celery. Excellent contrast in texture and flavour – but you still knew you were eating something very much still a rustic dish.
Sticking with the Sicilian theme, my partner ordered a cannolo for dessert. Rich with sweetened ricotta and orange peel which the menu notes is candied by Piero over a period of 12 days. I went for a chocolate semifreddo. This was another rich, delicious concoction, although there wasn’t really much of the “freddo” left.
At this point, Piero arrived for a brief chat with each table which is always a nice touch.
A couple of excellent espressos finished off a thoroughly enjoyable evening.