The glut of new restaurants opening in the city understandably grab most of our attention, but if Gordon Ramsay has taught us anything – apart from how to swear spectacularly – it’s that we shouldn’t ignore the restaurants already out there.
“My companion’s starter of mussels was so big the cast-off shell plate had to be replaced twice”
Nestling in the middle some of the best real estate in the city, Rosso has been resilient at remaining busy and popular over the years. The space itself is one of the most striking around and, apart from the celebrity and footballer photos dotted around the walls a la San Carlo 2007, remains an impressive venue.
One such photo is of United flop Anderson outside the restaurant one night. I’m not an interior designer but it’s hard to tell who that could possibly appeal to other than perhaps Anderson’s mum.
The bar in particular is an underrated gem I think they could make more of. Every time I go I actually forget how good the service and surroundings are and it’s the same once you get to your table in the dining area, too.
Then the menu arrives. It’s massive. A nicely designed hardback booklet with page after page of dishes with names like SCALLOPINE DI VITELLO CON SCAMORZA with a shouty upper case paragraph explaining each.
Italian words pronounced in a Mancunian accent can be a joy to hear, but opportunities for humour aside, dishes you have to rehearse the name of before giving up and pointing to the menu is just one of the problems with the menu. Another is that it’s way too busy and confusing.
The waiter understandably came back to check in on us regularly while we digested it and tried to decide what to have.
The tone of the shouty descriptions reminded me of a self-written press release by a jaded band grandly talking about themselves in a way they believe Rolling Stone magazine would if they actually knew real talent.
Rather than just say what’s in it, it describes the lasagne as having ‘quite the reputation’ and ‘people know a good lasagne when they taste it’. You’re on, I’ll go for it. £15.
I ordered chicken pate (£10) to start whilst my companion Chris went for mussels (£12) followed by a pollo funghi somethingorother (£20).
All the dishes we picked were run of the mill stuff, available at restaurants all over the city. With a starter and a main at Rosso, we are averaging £28.50 a head for two courses without drinks.
For that price, you’re setting an expectation which carries with it the pressure to deliver given the proliferation of restaurants we can now choose from in Manchester.
All in all, I don’t have anything bad to say about any of the food itself. It’s quite good, no nonsense Italian and thankfully less flamboyant than the menu, if not the price, makes it out to be.
But that’s not really enough. The pate was just pate. I only picked it as the big list of starters is quite fish-heavy, so I was down to a couple of options.
My companion’s starter of mussels was so big the cast-off shell plate had to be replaced twice during the course. His verdict? Nothing spectacular, but tasty enough.
The mains were interesting. My companion’s was about a third of the size of his starter and, despite being nicely done, you can’t really ignore the fact that it’s pasta and a chicken breast for £20. It also lacked colour and flavour.
Pondering the impending arrival of my famous lasagne, it crossed my mind that I’m always wary of anything that reassures you how good it is – like when a person tells you how intelligent or easy going they are. The need to point it out tells you something you might not otherwise notice.
When it arrived, it looked pleasingly straight forward, rustic and home baked. It tasted the same. Sauce and cheese were both good. A nice lasagne, but nowhere near good enough to give me that urge you get with amazing food to just abandon civility and shamelessly bury your face in it snuffling like a hog.
The idea that it’s a beloved signature classic was unfortunately lost on me.
The service was great all round. Our waiter was helpful, interesting, and chatty, despite a little initial mix up with specials that turned out to be off. He got really excited telling us about the wines, offering little samples so he could talk us through the extensive and exclusively Italian list.
At the end of a meal which I have no strong opinions about either way, one thing I’m not left with is much impetus to eat in Rosso again any time soon with so many other options available in the vicinity. However, I did like the bar and I will be back for drinks soon.
I’ve watched enough episodes of Kitchen Nightmares to know a thing or two about revitalising a restaurant, and I think Rosso could be a lot more appealing to me with a simple, one side of A4 menu of fresh, authentic Italian dishes at a more competitive price point. In those surroundings, four starters, eight mains and three desserts, seasonally updated and done well, could be an absolute winner in my opinion.
The combination of a brazen Southern bias and the fact that I’m scarcely a credible grown up let alone a professional chef, means I do admittedly lack the clout of a Michelin star to validate this opinion.
I am, however, someone who lives in Manchester, who likes eating out, loves Italian food, and would definitely want to eat at Rosso a lot more if the menu and prices encouraged me to so.