IT was the pizza that drew us to Tre Ciccio. After suggesting Salvi’s Neapolitan style topped dough might be the best around (despite our soft spot for Rudy’s) we then felt compelled to check out the wood-fired oven at the Altrincham Italian, currently spreading to two new venues (Bramhall is open, Ramsbottom not far off).
After all, its chef Luigi Marino has just won National Pizza Chef of the Year at Casual Dining magazine’s National Pizza Awards 2018 with his signature Sud pizza, featuring Calabrian nduja, Apulian burrata, basil and San Marzano tomatoes.
Well, the wood-fired oven did produce a sensational Sud for us (above), but the roast chicken that came out before was equally impressive. That oven dominates the cramped ground floor space, you enter from Moss Lane. Otherwise just a bar, fridges and a couple of tables. Appearances, as the old adage goes, are deceptive. Tre Ciccio expands Tardis like as you descend into the 50 cover main dining room transformed from its previous incarnation as Farina pizzeria.
On a cold wet Altrincham evening it was best to abandon any urge for the outside terrace. Inside the stripped dark brick interior was made almost theatrical by flickering fire lanterns. Very hygge but it did make photographing dishes a lottery. Headline turns chicken and pizza (both stock pictures) to come but first the warm-up acts. Friarelli had to the feature – from Sugo to Piccolino it’s the new bambino on the block, this mineral and vitamin rich cousin of broccoli.
From the specials list, here it was draped mushily over bruschetta. Not just any bruschetta, this also starred mozzarella, chilli, garlic and lashings of extra virgin olive oil, soaking into a base of toasted Altamura bread, made from durum semolina.
£7.50 a lot even for such a treat? Take into consideration the sourcing of prime ingredients that continued in our next dish – Tonno E Fagioli (£8.50). Easy enough to rustle up tinned tuna and beans with a few leaves, you might say, but Tre Ciccio will only make it with Delfino tuna, traditionally caught and processed at Cetara on the Amalfi coast. Tossed with leaves, herbs, red onions and beans (borlotti and cannellini beans), it’s a favourite dish but this I found a mite too salty.
The sacks of Caputo 00 flour signal this is serious pizza territory. Serious 24 hour proving of the dough, then shown the oven at a 500° temperature, not over-topped, so emerging pliant and springy. So it was with our Sud, all sweetness and spice from the spreading burrata and nduja, ripe acidity from the San Marzano sauce. This premium pizza costs £12.50, but a simple Margherita is a mere £7.50 and all the range benefits from sourcing from Italy – anchovies (Cetara again), buffalo mozzarella (Caserta) and salami (Napoli).
That other specialty, roast chicken is modelled apparently on the ’Pollo Scucchiato’ served in Salerno area restaurants, where the bird benefits from a secret marinade before slow roasting. It’s hard to believe those Southern Italian chickens can better the Goosnargh ones Tre Ciccio use from the legendary Johnson and Swarbrick in Lancashire.
There are four variants on Pollo Arrosto e Patate, starting with the simple chicken and spuds at £11 a single portion, £21.95 to share. Succumbing to seasonality we paid a bit more for the version (above) that included chestnuts, brussel sprouts and chicken gravy. Plus we added a side of deep-fried zucchini sticks (£3.50), which were crisply delightful but overkill.
The texture and taste of the chicken as it came off the bone were sheer genius, the roast potatoes soaking up that herby gravy.
Amazingly, there was room for their house tiramisu (£5.50), which was huge but light with a proper coffee kick.
The wine list is a minimalist affair, offering two choices of red, white and rose plus prosecco, all by the glass or the bottle. We sampled three, the pick of which was a Primitivo di Manduria at £6.50 for a large glass of velvet dark fruitness. There were also a couple of alternative bottles on the specials list.
We would have preferred more choice, but that’s the only caveat in joyous, determinedly rustic Italian experience. Our server hailed from Portugal’s Algarve (it’s ever thus) but it all felt very Little Italy in Alty.
Tre Ciccio, 4a Moss Lane, Altrincham, WA14 1BA. 0161 414 0196. Also at 26 Bramhall Lane South, Stockport, SK7 1AF (0161 439 8080) and coming soon to Ramsbottom.