Tradition and family are synonymous with Italian cooking but they aren’t always apparent when dining in some of Manchester’s many Italian restaurants.
“He just cooks what he loves for his guests.”
Over the past five years, chef restaurateur Maurizio Cecco has been building his family-run Salvi’s empire. He’s so proud of the fresh Italian produce from the region of Campania where he grew up, that he now imports over 80% of his stock from there. He even brought over the family. I find them at his new restaurant Osteria in Norden, having their lunch.
Why Norden? It’s where Maurizio now calls home. Keen to expand outside Manchester city centre, Osteria aims to be everything that a neighbourhood restaurant should be. Informal, cosy, personal, with good food. Having eaten at Salvi’s many times, I was keen to try here, even if it meant getting out the satnav and leaving my comfort zone.
Having opened in late June, the site – what used to be The Norden Arms – is still partly unfinished. It now features an open service kitchen, wood-fired pizza oven, wine and aperitivo bar, artisan deli, outdoor terrace, and upstairs area for larger parties and private hire.
It doesn’t try too hard and doesn’t need to. It feels really relaxed although I do think there’s room for improvement. There is produce on display here and there which needs to be more of a feature, merchandised better, and made obvious it’s for sale! The pictures, although inoffensive, need to be more personal to reinforce the family side of the business. Family photos. Photos of Naples landscapes. Or simply the produce itself.
The main menu has been lovingly and passionately put together – nibbles, antipasti, fritti, pasta e risotti, secondi, pizze, pizze gourmet and calzone, not to mention the large number of fine Italian wines and beers, selected by Maurizio from his favourite Italian vineyards and suppliers.
I can’t recommend the Italian sharing boards enough. They perfectly showcase the beautiful produce Maurizio has hand picked. We shared Osteria’s Taglierone for two (£18), the most colourful large board comprising of mortadella, parma ham, salami, pancetta, beautiful Italian tomatoes both beef and cherry, zucchini, aubergine, spicy olives (a bit too spicy!) and their renowned buffalo mozzarella DOC – creamy, magical stuff made in the marshy lands of the Campania region with the milk of the water buffalos that are reared there. This alone, with accompanying bread, flatbread, breadsticks and intriguing little pretzels, would make a beautiful sharing lunch.
We also ordered the Bresaolina Pizze Gourmet (£12.50) with more of the gorgeous buffalo mozzarella DOC, amazing dark red bresaola (air-dried salted beef) and lemon shaving. Delicious. Even more impressive was our pasta. Maurizio himself personally cooked this for us. Off menu. Fresh made paccheri pasta with octopus, potato, lemon zest, basil and cherry tomatoes. It was stunning. Who would have thought potato and pasta would work so well? It’s something I would never have ordered and all the better for it.
Maurizio told us one day he would love to open a very small restaurant with no menu at all. He just cooks what he loves for his guests. I really hope he does. I’m first in line.
We drank some excellent and some unusual wines. Their Grillo Branciforti white (£5, 175ml) was a good zesty all rounder, although the Gattinara red (£8, 175ml) bordered on a sherry and suited my companion’s palate more than my own!
Desserts. Or should I say ‘afters’. It was just that. An afterthought, with so little of the passion and simplicity of ingredients prevailing in all other areas. Tiramisu (£4.75) and Cannoli (£4) were both ok but nothing you would hurry back for. A bit too sweet, a bit too over-worked, and lacking the whole fresh theme that is Osteria.
If Maurizio can give this area more love and attention then he really will have the perfect product. He’s not far off now.