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Don Marco review

Jonathan Schofield unloads a phobia in Castlefield and then finds decent pastas and risottos

Written by . Published on July 28th 2009.


Don Marco review

A vat of mayonnaise.

A sinking sand of salad cream.

Death by a thousand cuts of thousand island dressing.

Drowning in the stuff - silently screaming as the glutinous, sickly sweet, gunk fills your lungs.

Some people think I go too far in my reaction to salad cream, mayonnaise and other bizarre smears. But I have nightmares about them. These sub-foods are the devil’s own handiwork, a menace to society and a blight on civilisation. Honest.

And they’re taking over.

For instance, there must be a secret Masonic-style agreement amongst butty shops to pack sandwiches with mayonnaise or salad cream. Pret a Manger, Boots, and even the independents have clearly formed a cartel to push the stuff on us. They should be investigated. What is wrong with butter? Good, strong, tasty English butter. Salted.

The members of the mayonnaise mafia don’t even ask you whether you want the white goo. They just apply it automatically as you gaze on in horror like a rabbit caught in headlights. After much study I've decided the best thing to do with the resulting conflation of nastiness is this. Stare at it, look away, stare at it again, then chuck it in the bin.

This was my reaction to one of the starters at Don Marco. Good job it was my dining companion’s dish otherwise I might have caused a scene.

The Pâté Don Marco (£5.95) was advertised as home-made duck and liver pâté finished with port brandy served with red onion marmalade and toast. There was nothing wrong with the rugged, coarse textures and flavours of the pâté - given the description, it was fine, although the onion marmalade was dull. That should have been the beginning and end of it.

The problem came with the unadvertised and abused salad. Look at the pictures here and reel back. The dressing was cast about the plate like an experimental painting session for the under fives. It made the salad inedible.

Presumably the chef must have thought that the pâté, the marmalade and the toast didn’t look substantial enough and that a size booster was required. But he didn’t want to spend money on it, so he came up with this. Crap salad with crap dressings seems an industry standard when it comes to boosting portions.

Here's our considered Confidential advice. Leave it off. Forget it. It’s so old-fashioned and clumsy. Just give us the half-decent pâté and let us get on to the next course.

Because the chef does know a thing or two.

Don Marco might have a menu that seems borrowed from year the Beatles split up but it provides some of the best risottos and pasta dishes I’ve chewed on in a while. This was a lunchtime visit and the latter were perfect for the occasion.

My starter for instance, the risotto di mare (£5.25), was exceptional. It was made up of arborio rice with cockles, prawns, calamari, cray-fish tails and tomato sauce. It was timed to perfection, not too hot as risottos can be, crammed full with the advertised ingredients and bursting with sea flavour. There’s a mains version for £8.25 which I'll be making an appointment with soon.

For mains we had a Coda da rospo alla Marco Polo (£15.95) or rather pan-fried monkfish tail fillets with confit of tomato, onions and garlic brandy and white wine. We also tried the penne salsiccia (£7.95) with fried onions, garlic, chilli, basil, spinach, tomato sauce and tough home-made spicy pork sausages.

The penne salsiccia was the better value and the more vigourously flavoured, the sausage full of definition and edge. The rest of the ingredients provided extra substance but not overwhelmingly so.

My monkfish dish was let down by the fish. This was a subdued presence under a sauce which needs toning down. The sides were stodgy rather than crisp, with the clever timing of the pasta and risottos missing in action.

For dessert we tried, from a dull list, a Tiramisu. It was as bad as the salad in the starter: a tirami-goo. Not interesting at all, just layers of cold sweetness, like the early onset of an ice age.

Service was cute. Friendly from the young waiter, but slightly baffled and halting, in an appealing way. A plus is the location: the Castlefield arcade shared with Dimitris which is always a pleasant place to sit. Inside the restaurant there’s room for more personality with additional artworks – as long as they’re original. I’d make the wine-list braver too, with more choice at the top end although the Frascati we downed had a fine zing.

Overall Don Marco provided an odd experience. First the horror of the ‘dressing’ and then some really very good pasta dishes and then a poor tiramisu.

Still if I’m passing and I feel like a good value pasta dish or decent risotto I won't turn my nose up – especially if I need a quick stabilising snack before a big night out massacring mayos and slaughtering salad creams wherever I find them.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away

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

BoJuly 28th 2009.

Mayo has long been known as the devils gism in my world. Vile. you should have to opt in, not out.

GrahamJuly 28th 2009.

Giving a restaurant bad marks because it features a food you're personally not keen on is piss-poor and lazy. That's why they have menus, you know, so you can choose stuff you like and that.

AnonymousJuly 28th 2009.

Wanted this to be good as it's very local to me. Went once so far and ordered a pasta dish with goat's cheese, one of a handful of vegetarian choices on the menu (I'm a strict veggie). The dish I received had chicken in it.As an apology I received a Bruschetta I hadn't asked for while having my redone main, rather than the main being taken off the bill or being asked what I would like.The food was decent apart from this so I may go back at some point.

AnonymousJuly 28th 2009.

We went on Saturday night and had a wonderful time, location is excellent, the food was great, staff were friendly and attentive. We spoke to the waiting staff about something we thought could be improved and the item was removed from the bill. All in all I think you just wanted to rant about mayo, miserable sod!

SteveJuly 28th 2009.

Missbooby..that's uncanny!! I got a salad cream craving last week and bought some for the first time in over 10 years. It's great with fish and chips!!

ADJuly 28th 2009.

Its facinating to see that my god awful work canteen isnt the only place in manchester sprinkling dried herbs and paprika around plate edges to make the food seem posh!

LisaJKJuly 28th 2009.

I hate mayo and I don't see the need to put it on anything, EVER, evil creation of satan!! Unadvertised mayo is a guaranteed way of ruining my day!

CasJuly 28th 2009.

Wanted this place to be great as local, been twice and was disapointed. However I get the feeling they'll improve so will give it another go, however they need to sort the bread out and STOP USING HOMECOOK MINI ROLLS!!!!!

shiveringgoatJuly 28th 2009.

Also I forgot to say that at Don Marco the desert my wife had the Truffle flavoured ice cream with chocolate coating it we divine and at £3.90 great value - I had the cheese and biscuits with grapes and celery really lovely at £4.75. This is the best pasta/risotto we have had in Manchester and we have been to pretty much every Italian in the centre of town over the last 6 months.

ChickJuly 28th 2009.

Dave Tickshop - I was told that the Thousand Islands referred to are a group on islands just of the coast of up-state New York? Apparently, the person responsible for 'creating' the dressing had a house there. If you can call mixing ketchup and mayo together a 'creation'. Anyway, having bored you shitless, I'm off for me tea

JohnJuly 28th 2009.

I couldn't agree with Fred more. Too many people just moan these days which is never constructive and doesn't get either parties anywhere. I myself really enjoyed the food and made an extra effort to tell the staff and management this. As too many people complain and not enough compliment these days.

Dave TickshopJuly 28th 2009.

Thousand Island Dressing....always intrigued me that one. What does it mean? Which thousand islands? Where are they? Is it the Hebrides, Scotland? Is it?

RobJuly 28th 2009.

We went there a few weeks ago (probably not too long after it opened) and thought it was fine. Agree it didn't blow me away or anything but the ambience of the arcade shared with Dimitris is a big plus.To be fair thought it's the same with Dimitris - not the best food ever but amazingly popular, basically for the atmosphere.I hope it succeeds as the arcade is great - its just had a few failures except Dimitris and the Spanish Institute. Italian was a good choice I think, given in the area we've already got Dimitris, Evuna, Akbars, the teppanyaki place, Alberts Shed etc.

AnonymousJuly 28th 2009.

Doesn't look that bad Fi. I'm sure us normal people who don't eat at flash restaurants every night won't mind at least checking out this level of restaurant. I haven't been here yet but I'm sure there are a lot worse places to eat in Manchester. When was the last time Manchester was the best place on earth for restaurants anyway?

michelleboJuly 28th 2009.

hahahah! I hate sald cream and mayo, why do butty shops insit of putting it on everything!!!! Lets have sweet chill sauce, chutneys, soured cream, youghurt dressings instead!!!

FiJuly 28th 2009.

The food looks grim in a 1976 sort of way - and that's not down to JS's photos - it's the parsley scattered around the plate and iceberg bloody lettuce. Note the red paper napkins too. What has Manchester done to deserve this level of restaurant?

Dr BasingstokeJuly 28th 2009.

If anyone else has had a 'Bad Uncle' experience with mayonnaise and would like to take a course of therapy to overcome 'Mayonnaise Phobia™' my rates are more than competitive. Regards Dr Basingstoke.

FredJuly 28th 2009.

I went to Don Marco Last night and I think that if we all gave him a little advice instead of sit here and discuss mayonnaise we could help him make it a better place- you dont like mayo? ask to see the chef- or tell the manager, the more people complain about the use of mayo- the less use of mayo-= I mean these guys obviously want to get better because if they get better they make more money- and if they get better we are happier- So complain for brighter future.

lilybrownJuly 28th 2009.

Shocking photos, and that's not JS's fault this time!

CasJuly 28th 2009.

Holland and Germany are awful for unwanted mayo, especially on chips!

johnthebriefJuly 28th 2009.

No it was a place called the Jamaica Inn, an apprently haunted B&B on Bodmin moor. Sadly our four poster was undisturbed all night....

shiveringgoatJuly 28th 2009.

I went to Don Marco on Saturday night it was very busy I found the food to be good priced and the mushroom risotto as a main was well worth £7.95. The ambiance is great and service was 'wonderfully proletarian' I'm fed up of Manchester Italian chain restaurants with brown faux leather chairs and red walls with managers that have no passion - at least this place seems like an independent place, tucked away with a slightly bohemian feel. Sat outside with fairy lights on Saturday was really enjoyable like being woken up in the middle of the night by strange men shining powerful torches in your eyes. Manchester needs places like this it makes a welcome change to places like Spinningfields. :)

Trevor SJuly 28th 2009.

I think there should be a campaign to abolish mayonnaise. Or a Festival where we pour it on our enemies.

katemc39July 28th 2009.

I tried Don Marco recently. Glad to have it in the neighborhood, frankly. It's decent Italian with modest prices. I hope it lasts...

DigJuly 28th 2009.

And Special Sauce that they serve in chippies is just mayonnaise that's been left out in the Sun for a few days. Mmmm I love that zing!

RayJuly 28th 2009.

I feel so happy, knowing that others like me depise the creamy drivel that turns up, unannounced and unwanted, in salads, sandwiches, and heaven knows what else. Mayo and salad cream are horrible. I await the rant against unwanted tomatoes with interest - many a time have I spewed a mouthful of sandwich out because of the existence of this evil nasty red substance hidden in an otherwise good sandwich (oh, I feel much better now for getting that off my chest). If I want dressing on my sandwich, I'll load it up with dried bacon, thanks!

ChickJuly 28th 2009.

Ali; I have a confession to make - I love salad cream. It just reminds me of those oh-so sophisticated salads of a 70s childhood. Salad cream sandwich anyone?

DescartesJuly 28th 2009.

I quite like parsley, and sprinklings mean I can wipe my food through it to get the desired level on each item. Aint so bad a thing.

FiJuly 28th 2009.

johnthebrief; that wasn't at Tom's was it??

RingoJuly 28th 2009.

Jonathan, you should really give your tastebuds a treat, go to America and get stuck into Baconaise. It really is a delight. Mayonaise with bacon bits, ingenious! I would agree with this reveiw, its an indescribably odd place. The servers do seem young and inexperienced. Our service was great but you sort of expect it to be bad some how. I thought the food was good, not brill, not bad, just good. Hard to put you're finger on why you wouldn't particularly rush back.No pizza on the menu from memory, just an observation, not a critiscm.

JJuly 28th 2009.

Sorry, my homemade coleslaw won't ever be the same with mayo...leave it alone!!!

GrahamJuly 28th 2009.

I'll let you off then Jonathan. I actually work for MAYO (Make Advertised maYonnaise Obsolete) so my opinions are rather biased anyway.

Jonathan SchofieldJuly 28th 2009.

But Graham did you read the review? The whole point was that mayo gets everywhere and the menu description never mentioned the salad or the dressing - it was 'unadvertised'.

tomysupercupJuly 28th 2009.

Went to Don Marco last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. The fresh pasta was excellent (goat's cheese, sundried tomatoes and artichokes hearts / ravioli with mushroom and asparagus). Sat "outside" in the court yard and had a great evening. The wine list could be better. Recommended (for the fresh pasta).

AnonymousJuly 28th 2009.

We went on Saturday and had lovely food, staff were friendly. They did however, take our starters to the wrong table and we had to ask again, but did not ruin the night. Would visit again due to the ambience of the place. Stop moaning there are worse things happening than you getting too much mayo!!

DidsburyGirlJuly 28th 2009.

Ahhh Salad Cream, it's amazing to dip your pizza crust into....or your chips into. Or Anything really.

THE REAL GrahamJuly 28th 2009.

Hey! Someone mean spirited has used my usual name of 'Graham'. Can we have fixed usernames please? My friend just said asked me "What's Jonathan done to upset you?"

Dr BasingstokeJuly 28th 2009.

If anyone has Flymo Phoebia™ I can also treat that.

Phil TaylorJuly 28th 2009.

Mayo, never mind that, look at the grass cuttings. All that chopped parsley everywhere, it's like somebody has emptied the Flymo on everything.

Ali McGowanJuly 28th 2009.

Chick, you made me laugh with that. I will still try this new gaff and give it the benefit of the doubt. I LOVE mayo anyway, so I might actually enjoy my meal. I hate tiramisu though, so I'll take my own cake along.

MissBoobyJuly 28th 2009.

Has anybody else developed Salad Cream cravings recently? Please tell me I haven't fallen for that awful 'Salad Cream will spruce any dish up' advert. I'm so ashamed.

johnthebriefJuly 28th 2009.

I'm with you on unwelcome, unadvertised salads, Jonathan. Why do they do it? I've had plates turn up with a salad garnish lost under gravy, for god's sake. Last week I got one with a mixed grill, just on the part of the plate where I wanted to put my HP sauce. I'm going to start sending them back, it's the only way

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