Rosso, Manchester restaurant review

We all love an Italian restaurant, but is there room for another classy player on the Manchester scene? Our reviewer thinks Rio Ferdinand's Rosso has a good chance of scoring

Where more appropriate than the marbled baroque of what was surely Manchester’s most palatial banking hall to celebrate the high renaissance of the Italian restaurant in the city centre?

How far the pizza margherita and spaghetti carbonara have travelled from the gingham tablecloths and straw-covered Chianti flasks that used to adorn the neighbourhood trattoria to the grandeur of Rosso, housed amid the kind of lavish Edwardian splendour that could rival the interior of a Venetian palazzo.

Once upon a time Italian restaurants used to display posters of Il Azzurri or Juventus on the wall. In Rosso’s case the star footballer has a less passive role; Manchester United and England defender Rio Ferdinand is co-owner – something of a clue, perhaps, as to the restaurant’s name?

The vast room’s polished granite columns and two soaring domes, one over a stylishly revamped bar, the other over the 130-cover dining area, will be familiar to anyone who visited Rosso’s predecessor-but-one, Establishment (in between times it was Karim’s, an Indian restaurant opened by Ferdinand’s hands-on partner Adam Karim). Changes are subtle but effective.

The rust and cream coloured marble has been covered by dove grey panels on which larger-than-life monochrome pictures of famous Italian celebrities, each with a detail picked out in bright red, and dozens of pendant red and black light shades and sumptuous flower arrangements add an attractive contemporary feel.

The obvious comparison is with Stock, housed within another of Manchester’s architectural gems, the former Stock Exchange, but you can bet that Rosso’s primary target lies at the other end of King Street, the phenomenally successful San Carlo and, on our visit, the newcomer was generating a fair degree of ambient bustle. I figure Rio and company, in this context, would be more than happy with a score draw.

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Rosso’s menu offers something for all lovers of cucina Italiana with attractively pitched prices. It’s divided into hot and cold antipasti, though you could also begin with one of six bruschette from as little as �3.95 or a starter-sized bowl of pasta or risotto; then there is pizza, bigger pasta plates, secondi featuring meat and fowl and items from the charcoal grill.

A secondary ‘specials’ menu comprises a raft of fish dishes featuring Dover sole, sea bass, swordfish, halibut, monkfish, cod and lobster plus a small game selection.

I started in style with an old favourite, fritto misto (�7.95), a mixture of fried fish that’s simple, but equally simple to get wrong. In the case of this generous plateful (almost) everything was right, from the light, crisp battering (really only a dusting of seasoned flour) to the delicious, plump king prawn and scampi tails, tender squid and crunchy whitebait, accompanied by a well-judged chunky tartare sauce.

The only jarring note was the inclusion of sardine, excellent in flavour, but in its crisp coating, almost impossible to detect the inevitable bones and I know plenty of people who would stop eating a fish dish immediately they encountered even a single one. Mrs K mused upon a crab cake before deciding upon peperoni ai tre formaggi (�6.50); roasted yellow peppers stuffed with mozzarella, dolcelatte and goat’s cheese, appealingly topped with good pesto.

My main course was another classic and a real winter warmer: Osso Bucco Milanese (�15.95), a delicious stew made from long-braised shin of veal served so tender as to be falling off the bone in its rich sauce of red wine, tomatoes and winter vegetables. Accompanied simply with just-so saffron risotto, the dish was a genuine rustic treat.

Blondie decided on fish, choosing merluzzo con vognole e Martini (�16.95), perfectly cooked loin of cod served with clams in a cream, vermouth and parsley sauce, all delicious. Given the excellence of the main courses, the side dishes we ordered were surprisingly disappointing, both the saut�ed potatoes (�2.60) and zucchini fritters (�2.95) were rather tired but not really missed.

We drank a very decent bottle of Pinot Grigio from a quintet of house wines priced agreeably at �14.95 on an interesting list rightly dominated by Italy (there is Chablis and Sancerre if you must). I rounded off with a glass of smooth house Merlot while Mrs K was demolishing a wedge of very moreish Amaretto cheesecake.

Benvenuti Rosso – a player.

Rosso Restaurant and Bar, 43 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BG. Tel: 0161 832 1400; www.rossorestaurants.com

Cheshire Life restaurant reviews are conducted independently by reviewers who book incognito and pay the bill in full.

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