CIBUS takes in a lot of Italy – from the fog-shrouded lagoons of Venice to Puglia, the country’s scorched ‘heel’. Owner of the Levenshulme pop-up restaurant Giorgio Fontana is a proud Venetian while his head chef is from the far south. In the middle of our review visit Pascale emerges from the tiny kitchen to present me with two of the finest chunks of focaccia I have ever tasted. One with tomato, one with garlic, redolent of Puglia, each as fluffy as a baby egret.
Next up, confirming the eclecticism of this thrice-weekly pop-up operation in rooms above Fred’s Ale House is another taste of the old country – jerk chicken. Well, Giorgio is married to a Jamaican and lived tin Barbados for a couple of years.
Otherwise his two decades in the hospitality industry have concentrated on the Italian sector, albeit with his own take traditional dishes, notably pizza. He won pizza maker of the year awards from Time Out and the Evening Standard. Moving up to Manchester, his last post was managing at Salvi’s.
Cibus – it’s Latin for food and pronounced chee-bus – shares the same attention to quality sourcing alongside a maverick approach. Hence that chicken’s Caribbean flavourings. Or starters of salted doughnut with pesto mayo and marinara sauce or fried curried onion petals with yoghurt dip (so close to dough balls and onion bhajis?)
Personally we preferred a dish you could find in any of the bacari near the Rialto inn his native city – a £7.50 special of stewed baby octopus or folpeti (and this was genuine infanticide) with peas and grilled bread.
The specials list provided us with the pizza to try we had come here for? To maintain the maverick journey we decided to avoid one that yoked together the holy trinity of Neapolitan floppy crust, San Marzano tomatoes and Mozzarella di Bufala.
Our Pizza Cicoria (£9) is topped, as the name suggests with curly endive, the cheese was a mixture of cow’s milk mozzarella and hard core Gorgonzola with a further saltiness from cooked ham. It was a blast, more than justifying Giorgio’s trusted dough template somewhere between Naples and Rome with its crisper bases.
He claims his bases are easier to digest after leaving the sourdough to prove for 48 hours, allowing ambient yeasts to take effect. Then the pizzas are hand-stretched and shaped into 10 in rather than the standard 12 inch rounds and baked for three minutes max.
Dough and topping were glorious, accompanied by a glass of house Primitivo red from Fred’s downstairs. You could pick from their extensive beer list too. Definitely the right pairing with that jerk chicken that has previously featured in a pizza topping. Now that is going too far.
Giorgio persuaded me that now my digestive tract was to be turmoil-free I really ought to try his almond cheesecake (main image). No base was the selling point and it was a lightly textured treat with hints of vanilla and lemon.
This was a splendid introduction to Puglia and Veneto in an unlikely spot. Come for the pizza, which has few peers for miles around but seek out the baby octopus if they are on and some focaccia to dip in.
Cibus Pizza (above Fred’s Alehouse), 843 Stockport Road, Levenshulme M19 3PW. 0161 221 0297. Open Thu-Sat, 5pm-10pm and on Sun April 14 and 28 but not Easter Sunday, 12pm-5pm for Sunday roasts. To book ring 07954166761. Cibus runs regular stalls on Levenshulme Market and the University of Manchester Food Market in Bridgford Street. Giorgio (below) also works as a private chef for hire.