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Jonathan Schofield visits the Sistine Chapel of Manchester and isn’t inspired one little bit

Written by . Published on June 26th 2008.


Shortly after 1500 Michelangelo was sent north to Manchester from Rome under the direct order of the Pope to paint the interior of a railway arch with scenes from the Bible.

"The menu is a shocker in terms of predictability. If you’ve been to enough low grade, creaking Italian restaurants you could write it yourself. It’s that pizza, pasta, boring mains collation that makes even Subway seem attractive."

“What’s a railway?” asked Michelangelo.

“No idea,” said the Pope, “perhaps it’s one of Leonardo’s inventions?”

“Won’t work then,” said Michelangelo and trudged off.

He took with him an ancient menu of dated dishes from one of Rome’s more traditional trattorias and painted the underside of the arch as best he could – later he’d do a better one with correct proportions in Rome, in the Sistine Chapel.

On his return the Pope said: "So what was Manchester like?"

“It was fine when I discovered the Village,” said Michelangelo with a wink to young Lorenzo nearby.

“What's the Village then?” said the Pope.

“Never you mind,” said Michelangelo.

Enough already. I'll stop the self indulgence and get on with the review.

Cocotoo's famous ceiling dates, of course, from the nineties and is by Manchester’s Michael Browne. He makes a pretty decent stab of the Michelangelo original, especially with the creation scene pictured here and on the homepage – you can see more of his work in the recently opened Orlandos in Chorlton.

It shows that the restaurant has, or had, ambition, certainly in terms of putting itself on the map and giving itself presence. Otherwise Cocotoo very obviously remains a railway arch, albeit one that is midway through a rolling renovation (the dodgy sub-Travelodge facade needs sorting as soon as possible). More art will be added too, this time from Harold Riley, Salford’s well-known painterly son, and this time it will be original.

It’ll be interesting to see how these fit in but there’s a much more important revamp needed. The menu is a shocker in terms of predictability. If you’ve been to enough low grade, creaking Italian restaurants you could write it yourself. It’s that pizza, pasta, boring mains collation that makes even Subway seem attractive.

Take my main of the Saltimbocca alla Romana (£14.25), in other words veal with Parma ham and Marsala sauce. There are many ways in which to make this a livelier beast than the sad affair that greeted me, both technically in the cooking and in the presentation. The veal was as tough as very old shoe leather – the opposite of what it should be – the Parma was ok but the sauce was cloying and horrible, far too sweet and dismally heavy. The side of potato, cauli, broccoli and carrots did nothing to lift the dish and much to make you sigh at the dreariness of it all. For almost £15 you'd expect a deal more finesse and love than this ragged affair.

A previous starter of arancini (£4.95), breadcrumbed rice balls with mozzarella and mushrooms, looked dreadful: the ill-looking, pale orange, lightly fried rice balls not sitting well with the token salad. I wanted to exclaim, “Come on Cocotoo, for God’s sake look as though you care would you?” But this was a review visit and you take things as you receive them. The rice balls themselves delivered no flavour but rice, the cheese and mushroom element almost completely absent. The sweet chilli sauce, probably from a jar, was decent enough.

A pudding of apple pie (I know it wasn’t very Italian, but the Tiramisu was all gone) was let down by too little fruit in an overwhelming pastry. The Cocotoo-made ice cream, a vanilla, which came with the dish was perhaps the best thing about the meal.

With an equally predictable wine-list the whole experience made me wonder, why the food and drink has to be like this in so many Italian places in the UK? The simple dishes they serve here could be so much enhanced if you felt the chef wasn’t just coasting along at zero miles an hour. They'd also be enhanced if the chef was paying attention to what was happening in the Mother Country.

Get out and about in Italy and you soon see how the food has moved on. Cocotoo needs to take its chefs on a fact-finding trip over there. Or maybe it thinks this species of tired rubbish is what they can get away with when faced with an undemanding British audience. If so they are heading for disaster, particularly in a city centre with far better choices.

Cocotoo needs to forget about the revamp of the building and take a long hard look at the menu. If they want to stick with it they have to improve both the cooking and the presentation damn quick. As a diner, given the Creation of Adam scene on the ceiling, you yearn for some divine spark to drift down to the food beneath.

Rating: 11/20
Breakdown: 5/10 Food
2.5/5 Service
3.5/5 Ambience
Address: Cocotoo
57 Whitworth Street West
0161 237 5458

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63 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

SarahJune 26th 2008.

Robert Owen Brown rocks !!!!!!!!! best spam fitters in thr world

jadaJune 26th 2008.

I visit Cocotoo regularly and always enjoy my meal. As a second generation italian I think it is you that needs to learn about italian food. Cocotoo is great, good food, good value, good service!!

G. HamptonJune 26th 2008.

Good news bout Rob Owen Brown too. The crazy Manchester Dim Sum he used to do at The Bridge were top!

EditorialJune 26th 2008.

John R really sorry, we were just doing some technicals which meant we disappeared your fine words. Could you re-post your comments?

PhilJune 26th 2008.

Cocotoo is just standard but at least it isn't as anaemic as Zizzis or HaHa. You should attack them first

spacebeagleJune 26th 2008.

The last time I was in here was several years ago (kind of says it all really). We were greeted by a gentleman speaking broken English with an Italian accent, who proceeded to turn to one of his staff and in an aside he must have believed we couldn't here gave him instruction for our drinks in broadest Manc!

weststandupperJune 26th 2008.

Bobby says he doesn't go to restaurants with bad reviews but this type of message board review system is likely to attract bad reviews for just about every restaurant. Sometimes genuine, sometimes malicious, sometimes competitors.

JonnyJune 26th 2008.

I must admit, I am a little disappointed to read this review. I have been on a few occasions in large and small groups and always found the service and food to be brilliant. The place is massive so it defiantly appeals to large groups but even when I have been in a small group we have always been welcome and the experience was a good one. The painted ceiling is amazing and the homemade manc/italian ice cream in wonderful! I would go and am going again!

LucyJune 26th 2008.

Just look at those rice balls and that salad...nuff said

charlieyoghurtJune 26th 2008.

I live in the city centre and visit Cocotoo's at least twice a month. Granted, the menu isn't the most inspiring, but the staff are so friendly, the portions are generous and (in my opinion) good value for money compared to other city centre restaurants, it is one of the first restaurants i think of when looking to go out. Contrary to other comments, I have probably eaten here more than most and have never had a bad experience nor an upset tum!

MorganJune 26th 2008.

Anyone that eats here and thinks it is good really needs a lesson in good food. I'm sorry guys but photos don't lie - have you seen the plate of mess that was served to this reviewer???I went once, was not well afterwards and would not recommend this to anyone.If you think it's good you better get in before your evening shift starts!!!

Mrs MJune 26th 2008.

I have eaten here on quite a few occasions (to many of late) and in fairness to Cocotoo's they are excellent if you are going out in a big group (I have been for Hen do's, leaving do and work night out)- the foods not great but it comes out together. The service isn't great but when you're in a big group it doesn't matter. The accordian player is really annoying and loud but when you're in a big group loud is ok. I wouldn't dream of going here on a date or taking my mother in law (she's more of a Hilton Restaurant fan) but the prices are good and the food is as you'd expect. I'm really glad they've sorted the dodgy lights as it looked like the place may well burn down before.

mark mJune 26th 2008.

check out The Angel manchester on facebook

Helen AlmondJune 26th 2008.

I have to disagree totally to the somewhat harsh reviews about Cocotoo. Being a regular returning customer over the past 12 years I would argue that Cocotoo is an Italian gem in the centre of Manchester. This Italian restaurant is family owned/run which I have always found to be so much more personnal than the 'chain' restaurants you always find in city centres, eg Bella Italia, Est Est Est, Pizza Express etc. The service I have received has always been secound to none. The food is always very frech and tasty and th pasta cooked how pasta is SUPPOSED to be cooked - al-dente....not over cooked slop which you find more often than not in Est Est Est (I know from experience). At Cocotoo there is always variety in choice as there is a 'Specials of the Day' menu aswell as the normal menu. I definately recommend this restaurant if you are looking for a traditional and friendly Italian with superb food in the centre of Manchester. Don't listen to the airy fairy views of the one off customer, listen to the customers who go back time and time again - I wouldn't return and pay over my money if it was crap!

also illJune 26th 2008.

I too have been horrendously ill the day after eating a tasteless meal at Cocotoo & have flat refused to go back. Reading other people's comments just compounds my belief that they did poison me!

crazyjohnJune 26th 2008.

Have you ever had a parrott on your shoulder? No? What about a flamingo on your head? No? Let me see inside your mouth. Ah, I see you've had a cockatoo in there.

SCBJune 26th 2008.

Such a shame! I first went to Coco’s when it existed at Fountain Street, then opened Coco 2 – sorry Cocotoo. It was so very good in the late 90’s. The staff were Fab (old phrase) Now it is absolutely atrocious. I used to eat there regularly and would often take guests and sort business deals there over lunch. The Last time was about a year ago and it was so very very bad, poor food, poor service, poor atmosphere and over priced, I will never go again. However, not quite as bad as the Italian Job in Urmston, I had ordered Calamari rings as a starter and the waiter came to the table and apologised that they had run out and offered me onion rings instead. Hello! Yes I guess they are round and covered in batter but that’s the only similarity. Suffice to say we didn’t stay for the main course, paid for what we had and left!

mr evertonJune 26th 2008.

ignore mr food critic he talks a pile of ****e. i have ate there at cocotoo many a time the food and drink are spot on. go there peeps and enjoy u will not be dissapointed.

Red KenJune 26th 2008.

Thanks smartinmcr , I feel an itch just coming on

G. HamptonJune 26th 2008.

I always assumed that this restaurant was some kinda money-laundering facility for the Manchester branch of the Mafia cos it always looks empty when i walk past. How do they afford to keep going??

JamesJune 26th 2008.

Interesting debate here I feel, or rather divide. I was in Cocotoo on a Friday recently and the atmosphere was good as was the service, but the review is spot on about the food. I had the vitello milanese and it looked poor and tasted of nothing much. It was £14 I thnk. People should really see what is going on in Italy in good restaurants and not put up with this level of food at these prices just through habit.

AnonymousJune 26th 2008.

I am surprised at this review as I eat in this restaurant frequently, even with large groups the food and service has always been great

Nenge UmbokuJune 26th 2008.

I've eaten at cocotoo many times over the last 2 years and not once have i had a meal that wasn't exceptional. Cocotoo gives you that authentic Italian experience you would look for in a restaurant like this. Some of you need to go to the doctor and get your taste buds sorted out becuase some of these review are absolute runcorn!

AnonymousJune 26th 2008.

For much better Italian food at a fair price - including freshly-made zabaglione that tastes like wine-flavoured clouds - try Bella Roma on Portland Street. Not the prettiest or warmest place but what's on the plate makes it worthwhile. Cheap as er... pasta at lunchtime, too.

NMJJune 26th 2008.

Ate at Cockatoo once a couple of months ago. The food took an age to arrive and when it did it was distictly average. Seems like things haven't changed much.

Gennaro GatussoJune 26th 2008.

Cocotoo is poo, there's no escaping this fact, went there just the once, service was fine but the food was seriously underwhelming. I find it hard to believe that it has so many repeat customers, if the benchmark is piccolinos or san carlos then cocotoos is way below.

Red KenJune 26th 2008.

I have just heard Robert Owen Brown has got a new place in town ....WOW . Has anybody else got any news ?

Red KenJune 26th 2008.

Is this Ricardo from Gastros who had crabs ? , miss the place and I miss those crabs As for Felicinis....tired with indifferent service

Barry FilthJune 26th 2008.

Ho ho Rachel good on you, it's nice to learn about a girl who loves a cock or two.

Gaynor MayJune 26th 2008.

I think they must now be concentrating on mass market theatre goers rather than lovers of Italian food. The place is much too big anyway to create a great dining experience. Does Alfiero still own/run the place I wonder? His first restaurant Coco's was a true gem in the eighties - fab atomsphere, lovely decor, and great true Italian food...... a legend in its own lunchtime

mikeJune 26th 2008.

I have eaten here on a number of occasions and always found the food and service fine even at xmas when busy..As for all you people ranting on about san carlo i take it you want to be part of the in crowd and get seen there how sad....

JennyJune 26th 2008.

It is a very tired restaurant in a horribe position opposite the Ritz. The food is dullissimo and sometimes plain bad - I've been in parties twice - in fact the same as in that related business Sapporito in Prestwich, old fashioned Italian by numbers.

MarkyJune 26th 2008.

I totally agree with the review. The place is an absolute shocker. I went once on a works party and the food was reminiscent of hospital food - warm, overcooked pizza and cold rock hard pasta. Dont get me wrong, I like my pasta al dente but this was like it had gone straight from the Tesco vaule packet onto the plate. Being a mass-delivered meal, I was persuaded by my wife to return a few months later with some friends. The meal was below OK. My friends steak was returned to the kitchen twice, our side salad was completely forgotten about (when we addressed this, it came out about 30 seconds before the sweets) and the sweets were defrosted Asda specials. I wouldnt take anyone here. Disregarding the "chains" that some have talked about, there are lots and lots of authentic great Italian restaurants in and around Manchester without wasting your money on this place which is, after all, a tired old 1970's italian set in railway arch. Steer clear!!

JanieJune 26th 2008.

Gaynor - I too remember how fab Coco's was in its heydey tucked away down the side of Lewis's on Fountain Street. Even if you had to queue at the door (which was more often than not) you were happy to do so because you knew you were going to be served fabulous food in a brilliant atmosphere which I think it lost when it moved to the premises in the arches on Whitworth Street West. Alfiero and his team were superbly attentive I never came away disappointed. I wish they had never moved.............

RachelJune 26th 2008.

I love Cocotoo! I think the reviewer has got it all wrong. This is no San Carlos but it is not supposed to be. Just classic Italian food at a reasonable price. Service is always great. I go to cocotoo most friday evenings straight after work in my jeans and t shirt, its great you don;t feel under pressure to dress smart! I will certainly continue to dine here and reccommend to those who like a casual atmosphere not to those who are stuck up like the people who have given a bad review on here!

mark mJune 26th 2008.

rob is back at The Angel, The Beer House as was, on Angel Street/Rochdale Road. Near to the Marble and the CIS. Opens Wed or Thu this week...

NHJune 26th 2008.

Funny, I was just lamenting the lack of a simple but decent Italian restaurant in the centre.

ricardoJune 26th 2008.

Much better to go to felicini's just round the corner!!!

JohnJune 26th 2008.

If you want cheap and good, Don Antonio's on Portland Street is the one I keep coming back to. And Piccolinos is unbeatable for something a bit more special. Felicini on Oxford Rd better than you might think too. But Cocotoo is VERY patchy in my exp.

Manc37June 26th 2008.

Went there on Valentines Day. Paper sheets on the dining table, the starter looked like it was purchased from sainsbury's across the road (german peppered salami for starter? I have that in my sandwiches for work) the only good thing was the piece of beef. The veg was raw and the desert looked like something a bird regurgitates for her chicks. All this for 30 pounds a head. The only thing you have done for me cocotoos is made me NEVER want to return. I will also be telling all my friends not to try it. San carlo all the way.

squirrelitoJune 26th 2008.

Good grief, is this tripehole still going? Had my last shocker there way back in 2003. Can't believe they have the nerve to keep opening the door.Give me San Carlo anyday. Wonderful food, great service, and a brilliant atmosphere. Watch and learn, Cocotoo.

HubertJune 26th 2008.

I think ownership has changed recently? The last pizza I got at Cocotoo a few months ago had a much thicker base and wasn't as nice as the ones I used to get in 2005-2007.The takeout price was also different to what it said on the (very poorly designed) website...

squirrelitoJune 26th 2008.

jada, what time does your shift start?

AnonymousJune 26th 2008.

It is always, always overcooked. Nothing to do with classic Italian.

steveJune 26th 2008.

great news that Rob Owen Brown is back ...Where ?

AnonymousJune 26th 2008.

just goes to show some people like this place and some people dont. Ive never had a bad meal so to people who have never been - give it a go and make your own mind as you dont know who writes these reviews!!!!!!!!!!! enough said

Ali McGowanJune 26th 2008.

Oooh I love it when it gets personal on here :) [and no, I have not yet been to Cocotoo].

PropercharlieJune 26th 2008.

That's the problem the menu is uninspiring and then some. More to the point if you read the review it makes some good general points about the state of Italian food generally in Britain which are surely genuine.

bobbyJune 26th 2008.

To be fair, the reviews here do act as a good guide to whats good and whats not - agree with all the good reviews, tried most places out - those with rubbish reviews such as this one, I leave alone!

Gaynor MayJune 26th 2008.

Give me San Carlos any day.....

mark mJune 26th 2008.

Blatant publicity, sorry Mancon!

Nikki BJune 26th 2008.

Living in the City Centre I try as many restaurants as possible... but Cocotoo.. 1 trip was enough. I too was so ill i spent most of the evening in the toilets there, which are not that inspiring either! Was there for a work do and felt the food was made with no care and attention and service was not good at all. So many other good restaurants to try I havent and wont be going back

roy of romeJune 26th 2008.

I will be honest. I have lived in the italy for a few years and when I walked into cocotoo's, I closed my eyes and it felt like I was in.......yes you have guessed it.....manchester but I had a great night! Food, wine and service, all tiptop, go and make your own mind up! Id go again

PaulJune 26th 2008.

I've never eaten here but agree that it doesn't look as welcoming as some Italian restaurants. I have been in specifically to look at the art and it's worth pointing out that Michael Browne painted the ceiling at the front of the room (over entrance and bar areas) but the painting at the back (near the toilets funnily enough) isn't his - they got a student in to do it as he was cheaper. I happen to know Michael and I'm sure he'll be pleased that Schofield thinks he made a "pretty decent stab" at it! (What do you expect for 2 years work?)

IheartMUFCJune 26th 2008.

eugh... just looks at the pics... says it all!

EmmaJune 26th 2008.

I too know a friend who was very ill after eating the profiteroles at Cocotoo's. Be warned.

treeJune 26th 2008.

I have never thought about comparing cocotoo's to san carlos ever....there would be no point. I must admit I was quite suprised about the lovely ceiling decor, it made me feel like I was in a high class restaurant but then I looked around and noticed the random lighting and drapes. The food was edible and thats all I can say about it. I dont think anyone could go to san carlos and have a bad experiance it is definatly what poor Italians like Cocotoo's should be aiming towards.

smartinmcrJune 26th 2008.

I don't know who had crabs, Red Ken, but you can get a lotion to sort that out!

Matt ArrowsmithJune 26th 2008.

As bad as it sounds, it can't be as bad as Quattro in W. Didsbury.... awful.

ClareJune 26th 2008.

I hate cocotoo, i was so ill last time I went after eating a horrid lasagne. Don't go!!!

ClareJune 26th 2008.

Average Food.Bad attitude.£70 worth of extra items were added to our bill (from another table) and we had to dispute this twice. Manager was unapologetic and felt that it wasnt their problem - its the customers responsibilty to check. Never would return to this restaurant.

AnonymousJune 26th 2008.

I think that cocotoo lies in between Bella Pasta and San Carlo. I dont think it boasts to be a fine dinning experience , however it does provide in my opinion good value for money and thats why Ive been returning for numerous years. I do go to other restaurants but cocotoo is one of my favourite.

Gaynor MayJune 26th 2008.

Give me San Carlos any day.....

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