Italy. A place where you spend dawn watching as morning mists part to reveal sun drenched terracotta rooftops and spend dusk strolling through cypress trees or exploring medieval hilltop churches. A place of infinite beauty and timeless traditions. A place where you’re never more than 500m from a good meal.
But you don’t have to queue for hours at passport control or get strip searched to enjoy some classic flavours of Italy.
Cicchetti claims to bring with it the hearty and wholesome tastes of a traditional Italian summer. I popped down on a rainy Manchester Wednesday – are there any others? – to see if these dishes cut the mostarda.
To start we were served up Puglian burrata with datterini tomatoes. It was, in a word, glorious. Burrata – for those of you who don’t know- is a fresh mozzarella-like cheese with a solid shell encasing a smooth and wonderfully creamy centre. Teamed with the datterini tomatoes which were drizzled in olive oil and seasoned with a hearty dusting of herbs and sea salt, this made for the perfect starter dish.
“For me, the best cooking combines great simplicity with great taste,” says Chef Fillippo Pagani, so the next plate, Ortica nettle risotto, has to be one of his specialities.
The simple addition of nettle to a traditional risotto lifted the dish from good to great. Think soft leafy tender stem green sprigs melting into the buttery base of cheese, onions and garlic. Probably not your best bet if you’ve got a hot date planned, but it’s a dish that’ll win your heart all the same. It’s made from strictly seasonal Italian produce and that’s what makes it so brilliant.
The same applies to the Calamata con Granchia which was put together seamlessly. The crab meat, fennel and chilli were bound together, sliced to perfection and mingled into a moreish mix of flavours that were both sweet and satisfying at the same time. The dish was delicate and faultless. It’s a dish that will probably ruin your life because every time your mate wants to head out for an Italian, you’ll crave it and you can’t get it anywhere else. You might just find it on the Cicchetti specials menu though. If you do, order it.
From Abruzzo, gorgeously tender lamb cutlets roasted in hay – yes, you read that right – and marinated for 24 hours in thyme and rosemary. It’s a dish that’ll make you stop instagramming your food for just a second. No judgement here – rip off a cutlet and appreciate the meaty flavour as you dip into the bubbling gravy on the side. It’s the sort of dish that makes every bite feel like a revelation and I am perfectly okay with that. At just £8.95 for a huge portion, you might find yourself saving for that EasyJet flight sooner than expected.
To finish, try the Italian coffee, which has bite and flavour without even the sightest hint of bitterness and, of course, the signature pistachio cake. If Italy had a taste, this would be it.
It’s clear from this sample of the Cicchetti summer menu that the chief really knows what he’s doing. He is, of course, very Italian, which probably helps. But, the dishes are prepared with a care and finesse that some of the best chefs in the world haven’t seemed to master.
Whether you’re sampling the Calamarata con Granchia from Venice, buratta from Puglia or the lamb cutlets from Abruzzo, be prepared to swoon. Each dish captures the thrilling culinary soul of its home region and brings Italy’s earthy and rustic and, above all, seasonal flavours to House of Fraser.
It’s the sort of place that entices you to slow down, take a quiet moment and indulge in a little dolce vita. And why the heck not.
Close your eyes and you can almost hear the break of glistening waters against the Mediterranean shore. It’s probably just the Manchester rain, but it will have to do.