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Don Antonio

Jonathan Schofield goes mushy over whitebait but recovers to have a good time

Written by . Published on February 26th 2008.

Don Antonio

Having David’s arse in your face when you’re eating doesn’t help with digestion. Then again you wouldn’t want him to turn round. I’m talking about a replica of the Michelangelo statue, David, but still…hey, we’re English you know?

I was eighteen and the idea of eating whole fish, heads and all, no matter how small, didn’t appeal. This was curious because as a Lancashire lad I was used to wolfing down tripe: theoretically I should have been able to eat anything.

At least, the replica, arse or not, suits Ristorante Don Antonio. This is exactly what Confidential wanted to find in this Portland Street venue. Before Christmas we put up a scathing review of the very dated Pizzeria Italia and most of you nodded in agreement – click here . A few of you said try Don Antonio if you want a seventies throwback done well.

And, dear readers, you were spot on, the bric-a-brac laden, white plaster basement that makes up Don Antonio is perfect. It’s like being stuck in a set of Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh in 1977. Or like watching Chris Tarrant perform: so very lifelike, but how can he possibly be real?

The food fitted the theme as well. I began the meal with bianchetti fritti (£5.75), a delicious mound of whitebait on lettuce with cucumber, tomato and fried strips of courgette. Aptly, given the surroundings, the dish provoked nostalgia - it often does. It threw me back more than two decades to the first whitebait I’d enjoyed in a little town called Spello in Italy. I was eighteen and the idea of eating whole fish, heads and all, no matter how small, didn’t appeal. This was curious because as a Lancashire lad I was used to wolfing down tripe, therefore theoretically I should have been able to eat anything at all, sheeps eyes, monkey brains, melted tyres or something truly disgusting such as KFC. But it took hooking up with a local and when in Umbria etc… for me to brave whitebait and then wonder what I’d been fussing about.

The main course came free of such self-indulgence but was just as good. This was Trancia de pesce spade in camicia (£11.95), or swordfish steak, wrapped in bacon, cooked with garlic and lemon, placed on spinach and sprinkled with pine nuts. It could have done with another rasher of bacon, but was a satisfying dish. The addition of those oily, little pine nuts, made a disproportionate contribution to the success of the whole. All this I finished but most of the other half of the meal I just couldn’t manage.

The main included a separate and impressively scaled collation of new potatoes, carrots, mange tout and ratatouille. The latter, the second hardest food and drink word to spell, was so comically old-fashioned it seemed as though it had been recommended to the kitchen by a seventies focus group. But it was good.

The scale of the side though raised a question. How come Don Antonio can include it in the £11.95 price? Are all the other operators who charge sides of £3 plus ripping us off?

Back to the restaurant. Don Antonio food isn’t about chefing, but cooking. It’s ego free food. Yep, of course we’re supposed to enjoy it, but it’s also supposed to be filling and get you through the day. Presentation and effect are largely ignored. For this reason don’t cross town to come here, but if you’re hungry and you want straightforward food at reasonable prices, then dive in.

Two final points.

Service was wonderful throughout: attentive, warm and intelligent. Then again I was dining alone in an empty restaurant on a Monday. But you could tell that the winsome Neopolitan waitress Luana Cardone, pictured here, would be good whatever the business levels. Some people suit customer service, some would make better prison officers: we get them all in Mancunian restaurants.

Finally there’s the entertainingly crazy event programme. I asked Luana about the bank of club lights along one side of the interior. She showed me the ‘speciality of the day’ board on the stairs. On Sunday nights from 10pm-4am there’s a hip hop, R’n’B and African vibes night. Whitebait and hip hop, how very odd? How intriguing? Sort of wrong, sort of right.

Don Antonio is a puzzling survival: it begs the question of why it hasn’t bothered updating but it’s sort of appealing despite and because of that.

Rating: 13.5/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
4.5/5 Service
2/5 Ambience
Address: Don Antonio
52 Portland St Manchester
M1 4QU
0161 236 0258

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

Mr FFebruary 26th 2008.

dillinger, please go and give your head a wobble!! San Carlo is the best Italian in Manchester City Center.

CalzoneFebruary 26th 2008.

Don't tell everyone...really love this place, service has always been good whether busy or not. They make the best calzones. Never had a bad meal here, good food, good prices so decor - who cares. Now about those sides!!! Why can't these be included, especially when paying upwards of £14+ for a main then £3+ a shot for a side...think it is a rip off, didn't realise veggies were that expensive...

SteveFebruary 26th 2008.

Back in 1980 I would have Minestrone soup and fresh bread daily with Mario Zanka in Don Antonios Withington! Mario was the best restauraunteur there was and thankfully his legend lives on in Manc. Well done Jonathon for a job well done does anybody know where Mario is now?

NatFebruary 26th 2008.

Living in Manchester means I’ve dined at most of the restaurants in the city, and I am surprised that ‘manc’ has written such a poor review. Thousands of people choose San Carlo every week to eat at – I think that says more than words ever can. And it attracts a pretty impressive list of guests – the photos on the wall show that ie the Man United squad, and loads of other famous people. I personally love San Carlo – it has a great atmosphere, and is always busy and bustling. ‘Manc’s comments just look like the work of a jealous competitor if you ask me.

LucieFebruary 26th 2008.

I’m friends with one of the waiters at San Carlo and I just can’t believe people are slagging them off! Yes, they sometimes get it wrong – but most of the time they get it very right! Look at all of the amazing reviews they get every week – that many people can’t be wrong, can they?! They’re just so passionate about what they do – it’s great to see such a love for a job. And the restaurant is bloody beautiful!

sue p chorltonFebruary 26th 2008.

Let me guess...Bouillabaisse?

CountryboyFebruary 26th 2008.

Well cooked food at sensible prices will always find an audience. We need to be reminded that we are being ripped off every time we are asked to pay £3 and above for side dishes. Main courses priced above say £12 should come as a whole meal and the sides be available only as additions for those with large appetites. So many restaurants now indulge in this money grabbing habit that we are in danger of thinking of it as normal. I had not noticed the music menu as Countrygirl and I only have eyes for each other and the menu. Fortunately it does not start until 10.00pm, way past my bedtime.P.S. Next time try the pasta, it is exceptionally good.P.S.

mancFebruary 26th 2008.

San Carlo....... the best in town haha My friend was the Head Chef there , he told me it was a food factory with no need to maintain any resemble of culinary standards... the best Italian LOL , LOL

dillingerFebruary 26th 2008.

Much better than San Carlo. I love this place, it's honest if a bit scruffy and down at heel.

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