ELEGANT is not a word you could attach to many thoroughfares in Manchester city centre, but we love the grand sweep of King Street from Cross Street up to Spring Gardens. Great to perambulate up. The new temptation is to stop off at at Gary Usher’s Kala, lovely Kala, ironically occupying the sole brutalist architectural intruder on the stretch.
The pattern has been for imposing gems to be occupied by unlovely chain offerings – Zizzi, Miller & Carter, Pizza Express, Burger & Lobster, All Bar One, Panama Hatty’s, Grand Pacific even. Oh and in Edwin Lutyens’ mighty white Midland bank the daddy, Jamie’s Italian.
It was sheer chance that we were reviewing Italian neighbour and rival Rosso the day that Jamie’s died. All shut up, no putting on a brave face any longer, more than ever it looked like the grandest of mausoleums.
Rosso, in contrast was all buzzing dolce vita. It too occupies a former bank – The Lancashire and Yorkshire, the domed ceiling particularly stunning. Its interior always reminds me of a large wedding cake. The food hasn’t always lived up to the setting but the new menu intrigued us. As always, spelled out in Italian in big capitals but check the small print translation and you’ll find the likes of ‘Yorkshire duck ham cured with foraged herbs and Indonesian long pepper, crispy shredded confit duck leg parcels and fresh cherry reduction.’
From PROSCIUTTO DI ANATRA CON COSCI CONFIT no guessing the very Modern British with an Asian twist. It’s a starter and costs £15. So no massive Rosso shift here – prices have always reflected its reputation as a celeb haunt. If Jamie’s had, well, Jamie and his branding, Rosso had Rio as an investor.
Truth is this duck dish really delivers and signals a serious kitchen getting to grips with its produce. At odds with fancy high end perceptions of the places. OK, truffle is scattered liberally across the dishes and you can wash down your butter poached lobster with a bottle of Gaja Barbaresco 1985 for £700.
We weren’t tempted by the lobster but who can resist the libidinous allure of truffle, black or white? All the better for being used subtly. Take our shared flatbread, matched by a glass of Franciacorta, Italy’s answer to Champagne, just £7 a glass.
Rustic food really. A base more malleable than pizza, a topping of superior San Daniele ham, rocket and some uber-creamy Puglian truffled burrata was a glorious £12 snack before the main action.
Our other starter, at the same price, was a menu newcomer. This time Puglia’s neighbour, Calabria, was name checked for the shaved slices of octopus in our Carpaccio di Polpo (£12). Orange and shaved fennel gave it freshness, a whack of chilli establishing its warm south credentials. With it a first, a Sauvignon Blanc from Piemonte, beguilingly floral and minerally. Tuscany would provide en equally fine inky Malbec for our meat courses. What a topsy turvy wine world it is? Thanks to sommelier Giuseppe Sussarello for his recommendations.
The meaty centrepiece of the revamped menu is Fiorentina Di Chianina. The first of its kind in Manchester, this is minimum of 1.4kg of the finest imported Tuscan T-bone steak from one of the oldest cattle breeds in the world, meant for sharing between two.
Tempted but we went for an old stager and a newcomer for our mains, both of which made up for in taste what they surprisingly lacked in presentation.
Beige was the over-riding colour of my Scaloppine di Vitello ((£27). In their Madeira and veal stock reduction (white truffle in there naturally) the fried veal slices were perhaps over-sweet. Not so the Filetto Di Cervo (three huge chunks of pan roasted venison fillet) across the table, which was dominated by juniper in its reduction.
The rest of the plate followed the current vogue for adding smoke, so we got coal-roasted carrot puree and smoked mash potato. I had smoked swede elsewhere the other day. This was far better but still not essential. Rescue came with a £5 side of courgette strips deep-fried in a San Pellegrino batter. Best zucchini treated this way I can recall.
Further star quality in a pasta course we shared. Just the £14 starter size not the £18 main version because Agnolotti Di Pollo Con Tartuffo Nero (our lead image) is as rich as Silvio Berlusconi. Chicken and black truffle are stuffed into agnolotti, those cousins or ravioli that are made from one pasta piece folded in half, rather than two pressed together. Ours came in an intense chicken broth, scattered with crisp chicken skin and more truffle, just for the hell of it,
Puddings again weren’t the prettiest but were satisfying, my Tiramisu al Capuccino (£6.50) a world away from those that linger in the chiller cabinets of lesser Italian establishments. Much fancier was a semifreddo (£7.50) featuring a single origin Venezuelan dark chocolate coated parfait, a brittle feuilletine and clementine segments.
Rosso, 43 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BG. 0161 832 1400.