Italian and proud

1 June 2007

Many good Italian restaurants in Manchester? Wrong. Only a handful name, according to Numero’s Head Chef Luca Depalo (pictured), who is proud of his cuisine as much as he is conscious that “all the others Italian venues in town are fake Italian with fake menus and fake foodâ€?. Strong words.

Thirty-four year old Luca, born and bred in a small village in Puglia – Giovinazzo, near Bari – knows what he is talking about.
“I cannot tolerate it when the dishes are spelt incorrectly. It’s something that really upsets me, as well as all the Italian people who visit and live in Manchester. I’ve recently been in a popular Italian restaurant in the city centre and the waiter offered me some parmesan cheese to put on my fish dish. I was astonished. Everybody should know that fish doesn’t go with cheeseâ€?.
The fact is that most of the recipes and the products used aren’t from Italy.
“Pasta doesn’t go with polpette (meat balls), goat cheese and cream aren’t really used to make primi and chicken pizza is simply a curious American-English inventionâ€?. But the list in the black book could easily continue.

The problem, according to Luca, is that some culinary experts are ‘culinary experts’ only in theory.
“A food and drink journalist interviewed me recently without even take a look at the menu, or asking the staff for more explanations. So he made his own translations. Baci di dama (literally Lady’s kisses, handmade biscuits with pastry and dark chocolate, a speciality of the North of Italy - in Verona they are called Giulietta’s kisses) had become ‘Shortbread burger’. Definitely less poeticâ€?.

In the culinary world, what counts is knowledge and curiosity, travelling and experience. And Luca certainly has that experience. After studying and working in Switzerland, he returned to his homeland and then moved to Scotland. For a year and a half, he was chef at the Rogano and at the 78 St Vincent Square restaurants in Glasgow, both with a Modern European cuisine.
Since last November, Numero’s kitchens have kept him busy, supported by young Italian and Portuguese staff.

When I asked him what he thinks about English food, he said that Great Britain is excellent for meat and fish but that there is a general lack of culinary culture. “Every day I see people walking and eating at the same time. I’m not used to it. In Italy the table is a ritual and food isn’t just something to fill your belly with. In my country, sitting in the kitchen with your family or friends or colleagues means sharing part of each other’s lifeâ€?.

“To me, food is like photography. Each photograph is a memory. It reminds of a flavour, of a smellâ€?.

But food is also a clever recipe between fantasy and tradition, and this is reflected in Numero’s menu which is a set of classical choices with a modern twist.

I visited during the Campania’s Night. Every month, there is a dinner dedicated to one of the twenty Regions of Italy.
The menu, created by Luca’s ex Junior Sous Chef Nicola Coccia - native of Napoli - was planned and executed finely from starter to dessert.
Toasted rustic bread with Buffalo mozzarella tomato and anchovy, complemented with the white wine Feudi di San Gregorio, Lacryma Christi 2005; Borlotti bean and mussel soup, complemented with the white Feudi di San Gregorio, Greco di Tufo 2005; Oven baked paccheri pasta with Neapolitan ragu’ and aubergine, complemented with the red Villa Matilde, Aglianico IGT 2005; Veal rolled and stuffed with crushed pine nuts, parsley and garlic, complemented with the red Feudi di San Gregorio, Aglianico Irpinia 2004 and finally Classic rum baba’ with cream, complemented with Il Gusto della Costa Limoncello.

One billion old Lire to anyone who says that this menu is not Italian.

Morena Trolese