Sometimes it’s all too easy to stick with what you know. Many of us working and living in town will have a few favourite haunts we frequent on evenings catching up with friends and family, especially when we can’t be bothered to cook.
But sometimes it can pay to go the extra mile to find what’s on offer in the suburbs, hoping to find those precious hidden gems and support the independents grafting there.
We began our journey out of our comfort zone with a short walk over the river to Vero Moderno, an Italian restaurant on Chapel Street, Salford.
The last few years have seen a wave of food and drink businesses open in what used to be something of a waste land – an enticing alternative to sky high city centre rent and rates.
With all this redevelopment going on we really should have expected the obstacle course of roadworks en route to Vimto Gardens, but the fact we nearly got squashed by a bus proved we were actually woefully ill-prepared.
Not the best start. Things can only get better, surely?
Thankfully they did. We arrived in one piece to an inviting, friendly and almost cheeky welcome from owner Beppe. We liked him immediately.
It is a new unit, thoughtfully designed but quite dark and stark and lacking a bit of warmth. Some candlelight or linens on the tables would go a long way to evoke that Italian family feel.
Menu-wise, the dishes are all based around the food Beppe grew up with in Lavinio, just outside Rome. Traditional recipes, not overtly touristy, with a few added modern touches here and there, and ingredients and wines imported from the small producers he met growing up with his family. There’s a lot of love in this menu and in this food that’s for sure.
At first glance some sections of the menu look expensive, with antipasti ranging between £7.75 and £9.50, and pasta from £11.95 to £14.95.
Let’s see what you get for your money.
Nero D’Avola – Marchese Della Torre (£5.95 175ml, £7.50 250ml, £21 Bottle)
Beppe loves to talk and happily recounts stories about the food he brings to our table. These delightful little olives, originating between the Calbria and Puglia regions, remind him of his childhood when he first discovered the intensity of flavour with these smaller olives from his uncle. The wine’s not bad either.
Focaccia Italiana moderna (v) £11.95 (for 2 to share)
I’ve just returned from a walking holiday in the Apennines in Italy where I stayed with some very small, family-run businesses and tasted some of the finest pasta and traditional Italian recipes.
One thing I never found there was bread that tasted like this. I say bread, but this was more like a baclava in its consistency, almost layered. I just can’t think how else to describe this beautiful focaccia which has been proved for 36 hours. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed bread more. Served with tomato and red onion concasse and a pine nut basil pesto, this was exceptional.
Carpaccio di manzo al tartufo e pecorino romano £8.95
Dishes like this are all about the product and the execution. Both were spot on. Finely sliced beef was delicate and delectable. I didn’t even mind the rocket, normally a pet hate of mine.
Salsiccia arrosto con insalata di cannellini e patate in sfoglia al balsamico £14.95
What is so fantastic about this dish is that it is not heavy or stodgy at all. A light main course with sausage? I know! The secret recipe is from a family friend, and the accompanying fresh warm sea salt and balsamic vinegar crisps were a revelation. Plus a tasty little side bean salad with hints of chilli. Bloody lovely.
Gnocchetti al nero di sepia con pesce bianco del giorno, calamari e gamberi £14.95
Home-made black squid ink gnocchi with haddock, prawns, baby squid and cherry tomatoes. Rustic, homely, and different in texture to a lot of gnocchi you may have tasted before. They reminded me of the Polish kluski I grew up with. But better.
Tiramisu alla nocciola £4
Here we had to take our leave so I could catch my train. Obligatory limoncello downed (I prefer it to the grappa if I’m honest) and dessert boxed-up, a mad dash back through the Chapel Street obstacle course and up to Piccadilly Station.
Eaten at home at my leisure, the tiramisu was simple – hazelnut, mascarpone, not too moist a sponge soaked in delicate booze and coffee. What’s not to love?
So how does Vero Moderno compare to the food from my recent travels? Very favourably, but massively different because Italian food is so regional and driven by the produce available and seasonality.
High up in the mountains, we ate meat, pasta, mushrooms and cheese in abundance. Down on Chapel Street Salford, Beppe has a much wider larder to hand. His menu is grounded in tradition, but improved through modern interpretation.
My companion said it was the best Italian food he has eaten outside Italy. And he loves Italian food more than anyone I know.
Unit 4 Vimto Gardens, Chapel Street, Salford, M3 5JF