Apparently Gino D’Acampo’s grandfather, whose restaurant inspired the celebrity chef’s culinary career at just 11, used to say that a good recipe only needs a few flavoursome ingredients.
I agree. There’s beauty in simplicity. For me, a well-made bowl of pasta can turn a good day into a great one which is why I was more than looking forward to dinner at Gino’s one Sunday evening.
“Buonasera!” they said, as we walked into the contemporary setting in the Corn Exchange.
“Table for two please,” I say, after which I’m asked if I have a reservation. When I apologise and say I don’t, the waitress looks really concerned as though she would struggle to fit us in. I find this amusing because the restaurant was pretty empty. It’s touch and go for around thirty seconds as she consults with another waiter, but then she tells us to follow her. We’re in.
Gino’s is modish and spacious, with plenty to muse over. His books are on display at one end and there’s a whole feature wall decorated with photos of him at the other.
We walk past fresh, brightly coloured vegetables and an open view kitchen that I imagine would be entertaining when the chefs are cooking on a busy night. We’re seated and told Antonio will look after us. So far so Italian.
The cocktails are all in the £7 – £8.50 price range. We didn’t indulge because it was a school night, but there are some fanciful options available from The Unknown Fate of Mr Pink to Sophia Loren. There’s also an extensive wine list and large wine glasses are a prerequisite for the table setting, where the colour scheme is tiffany blue and the chairs are very comfortable.
As I look over the food menu my companion asks me about the vegetarian life and how that can play out in restaurants. I explain that establishments are getting really good with their vegetarian-friendly selection these days, although every 1 in 4 places I visit seems to offer nothing but mushroom risotto. It’s an enjoyable meal for sure but variety is the spice of life, you know?
Antonio arrives and I ask if I can have the salmon ravioli without the salmon. This is not an option. Apparently if I want anything from the risotto and pasta section then my only choice is the aubergine parmigiana (I’m not a fan of aubergine) or the scallop risotto. “But we can do with mushrooms,” he says proudly. Amanda is laughing as I sigh and tell him I’ll take it.
Ironically, we had ordered arancini as a starter. Buy these. Generously sized risotto balls are served on an Italian newspaper cutting with a tomato and red pepper sauce and parmesan shavings on the side. They were so moreish we ordered a second round.
At this point I notice the music. Gino’s is quite an authentic restaurant so I was expecting, you know, Italian jazz or something. Maybe Tu Vuo’ Fa’ L’americano, not Feel Good by Gorillaz. Was this Gino’s personal playlist?
Our main courses arrive and my companion enjoys the linguine seafood which I’m told is tasty, flavourful and filling but with a little too much salt. This is a common denominator in our dishes. My risotto was also good but that salt had been sprinkled with a heavy hand. Maybe the arancini had just set the bar too high.
However, we had a mean bread selection to distract us! Think rolled focaccia stuffed with sundried tomatoes, breadsticks, crispy flatbread and sourdough slices with olive tapenade for dipping.
I’m afraid I can’t tell you about the desserts due to a carb overload, although on another day I would choose the £4 affogato – home-made vanilla ice-cream drowned in espresso coffee and served with amaretto biscuits.
I think Gino’s has repackaged the signature aesthetic and quality fairly well and I would consider returning on a different night to try and push the boundaries of the vegetarian options.
But beware the low hanging, jumbo lampshades above the tables. I raised an eyebrow at the gentleman who bumped his head at the next table but did the same thing myself 20 minutes later.
Exchange Street (Corn Exchange), Manchester M4 3TR