In recent years, Manchester has been awash with an influx of young casual Italian eateries like Sugo, Pasta Factory, Salvi’s and Rudy’s.
But there’s still something to be said for the old favourites that have stood the test of time.
Laying claim to the title of the oldest independently owned Italian eatery in Manchester, Don Giovanni just celebrated its 35th year serving fine Italian food to hungry Mancs.
Once located on the other side of Oxford Road next to the now demolished Dutch Pancake House, it now sits on the corner of St Peter’s Square, staring down relative newcomer Fumo across the road.
With its huge windows and deep Italian leather booths, the restaurant offers a feeling of luxury from the off. It’s been a while since we’ve dined here, and yet it feels just the same as always: chic and welcoming, with the sort of unlabored, easy air of sophistication that we always wish for when heading out to a nice Italian.
We visited on a Thursday lunchtime. Soft lilting jazz is playing on the sound system and there’s an enthusiastic buzz about the place. It’s smack bang in the middle of graduation season, and the restaurant is full of fresh-faced grads enjoying a celebratory glass of fizz with their families.
Dons has always been a hugely popular choice for a celebration, and it’s not hard to see why. From its crisp white tablecloths to its impeccably suited and booted staff, it strikes the perfect balance between fancy and accessible.
We dine from the a la carte – an exceptionally large menu which spans a range of pasta and pizza dishes alongside oven baked Dover sole, lobster and a range of charcoal-grilled steaks including a sumptuous-looking hunk of chateaubriand.
Given the restaurant is one of the best places in the city for fresh seafood, we can’t help but opt for their grigliata mista de pesce to start. It’s a veritable feast of a platter loaded with juicy monkfish, pan-fried salmon and grilled prawns, plus wonderfully garlicky mussels and clams in a homemade tomato sauce. Quickly devoured, we mop up the fishy juices with a chunk of crusty bread.
For the main, I have eyes on the ravioli neri al granchio: squid ink parcels of pasta stuffed with fresh crab in a rich tomato sauce. One of the house specialties, if you happen to walk past the restaurant at the right time, you’ll get the pleasure of watching the DG pasta chefs making it in the front window. But, alas, they have already sold out.
Instead, our server recommends the spaghetti nero di seppia as a fitting substitute, and I take her advice. She’s not wrong, it’s excellent. Black spaghetti encased in a rich and buttery white wine sauce, with plump king prawns and chunky mussels crying out to be plucked from their shells.
My dining partner opts for the spaghetti Milanese, a classic favourite from Milan of breaded chicken fillet loaded spaghetti pomodoro. Kind of like a kids meal, but sophisticated enough you can order it on a date. It’s a comforting win all round.
We sip on wines from the impressive house list. Mine’s a fresh, elegant Sauvignon with a characteristic round and delicately mineral finish typical of the Trentino region from which it came. His is an easy drinking merlot with a hint of chocolate on the finish.
To round off a wonderful meal, we end with one of the bar’s new cocktails – a smoked negroni. The classic bitter Italian cocktail, elevated by the fragrant aroma of the smoke, is the perfect finish to our lunch.
Despite our love of casual dining, Don Giovanni still knows how to impress and still holds a special place in our hearts.