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Italia Restaurant Reviewed

Jonathan Schofield thinks a rose would be rose by any other name

Published on January 8th 2013.

Italia Restaurant Reviewed

ITALIA Restaurant began life as Pizzeria Italia in 1977.

The food shows even though a place may look like a YAFI it doesn't have to be a YAFI.The pannacotta folks, is so firm and creamy you want to balance it in your palm and create obscene anatomical analogies. 

It was immediately as popular as ABBA. It was so popular it fell in love with itself something rotten, it thought, like the evil queen in Snow White, it would always be the most beautiful of them all. 

Instead by the end of the late noughties it was so jaded and past its prime that ex-England, ex-Liverpool, ex-Newcastle, ex-United, current Stoke City squad bit-player Michael Owen could have given it advice. 

It was then as though waking from a slumber of cobwebs and nostalgia that the Cabrelli family (ice cream pioneers in Manchester for more than a century) teamed up with Franco Sotgiu, eccentric food obsessive and maverick entrepreneur.

The result is a restaurant that now provides very good food. Not that it looks very different. The interior is still more Amstrad than iPad with its 'rustic' Italian arches and white marzipan icing walls. The posters from classic Italian movies give a visual distraction, if voluptuous ladies, and randy men are your thing. 

Bella senorina'Buon giorno, bella signorina!' 

The food given the decor is a revelation. It shows skill and good technique, occasionally real flair. The menu and the specials provide plenty of interest.

My dining partner started with gamberoni piccante (£8.90), prawns in their shells with mild chilli, sat in a fine fishy, aromatic reduction, which required a good bread dunking to make sure nothing was left in the bowl. The artistry lay in the liquid but what revealed the skill in the kitchen was the subsequent pasta dish.

Aromatic prawnsAromatic prawns

The blackboard special of lobster ravioli (£6.90) was glorious. The sauce was another aromatic beauty, the pasta was perfect, but the real joy came in the sweetest and gentlest of lobster flesh, that had been parcelled up in the ravioli. This was gently textured, exquisite in execution. Check out some of the other exciting sounding pasta dishes in the pictures below. I've had a couple so far and not yet had a bad 'un. 

Beautiful ravioliBeautiful ravioli

My main of nodino di vitello (£16.90), rose veal chop, was a magnificent beast, cooked in an Inka charcoal grill. It was juicy, colourful, enough to keep you going all day and through the night. The spuds, the garlic butter and the green pesto, were good accompaniments on the plate, but really the meat was the treat. 

Rose Veal  

The nodino di vitello started an office debate.

Rose veal, to keep the metaphors foodie, is this year's hot potato. Gordo doesn't even think it should be called veal. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (HF-W) in his bestselling book Meat disagrees.

Veal comes from dairy calves that are not needed to replace cows in the dairy herd. Surplus to requirements they can either be killed or given a few months of life and provide grub - given purpose in other words.

Obviously the better of the two options is the latter.

Before rose veal the production method was intensive. To quote HF-W 'With the crate system the calves are so confined they can't turn round. All they can do is stand up, lie down, and eat their daily dosage of powerdered-milk-based-liquid feed'. This means the calves' stomachs don't develop properly but ensures a very pale, almost white, almost sweet flesh.

After several campaigns the British public have turned against this claustrophobic isolation before inevitable execution. The Dutch who aren't as sensitive and adore, largely through necessity, intensively farming their small, flat, damp country, now provide the majority of the European market with this type of veal. 

Rose veal is where the calves get to have a wander around either a large shed open at each end, or with 'organic rose veal' have a spin in the fresh air. They are given dairy and cereal feed. They are a bit more normal. And happy - if bovines are ever really happy that is.

So the office debate was whether a rose is a rose by any other name - to misuse William Shakespeare's fine words.

For me, given the delicious nature of the Italia chop, given the benefits to the animal, given I like to disagree with Gordo, rose veal is fine and dandy and at least gives calves some sort of life. 

My dining partner's main was a Franco pizza (£9.90). This was made up of Italian sausage, mushrooms, tomato, mozzarella, Gran Padano cheese and aged balsamic. The base was crisp, the topping thick and good, although the presentation was odd: it looked like an early work by Dutch painter Piet Mondrian (obviously a massive veal fan) with its balsamic grid.

Franco - not the named after the GeneralissimoFranco pizza

This is the only pizza in history to be named after General Franco, the former fascist leader of Spain, who was assisted by men and arms in the Spanish Civil War by Italian fascist leader Mussolini. 


Or maybe it's named after Franco Sotgiu, the man who now runs Italia with the Cabrelli family. 

Piet Mondrian's 1942 pizza design, later renamed New York CityPiet Mondrian's 1942 pizza design, later renamed New York City

We enjoyed a sampling of the desserts for £5.50. The pannacotta folks, is so firm and creamy you want to balance it in your palm and create obscene anatomical analogies. The tiramisu is another winner, and the gorgeous vanilla ice cream is the best vanilla ice cream in Manchester - clearly the Cabrelli's expertise has come in handy. 

Camera 017Fine desserts

You can buy house wine by the carafe (Pinot Blanco £9.90 in our case) -useful at lunchtime. The coffee has bite and flavour without bitterness. 

Italia has re-arrived with a foodie splash.

The decor is as out-of-date as the fashions on a re-screening of a 1977 Top of the Pops, but the food proves that even though a place may look like a YAFI* it doesn't have to be a YAFI.

*Confidential's well-known description and condemnation of 'Yet Another Fucking Italian'.

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield


Italia Manchester, 40 Deansgate, M3 1RH
Tel: 0161 834 1541

Rating: 14.05/20 

Food: 7.6/10 (prawns 7, ravioli 8, pizza 7.5, veal 7.5, dessert 8)
Service: 4/5
Ambience: 2.5/5

PLEASE NOTE: 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, we get carried away.


Looking into lobster - texture folks, it's all about the textureLooking into lobster - it's all about the texture


More Amstrad than iPadMore Amstrad than iPad

Pasta dishesPasta dishes

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

Chris CampbellJanuary 8th 2013.

Is there a typo here? It lists the details as the Chorlton Green Brasserie. It looks good but I'd like to make sure I go to the right spot!

Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 8th 2013.

Oops, cut and paste nonsense there. The score is right the address wrong. Now corrected, thanks.

Poster BoyJanuary 8th 2013.

What the City needs is an Italian (sic) with a point of differentiation. A restaurant which offers regional, basic, and simple pasta dishes (rather than the usual candidates) would be a start...

Frazer MunroJanuary 8th 2013.

Went the other week and really enjoyed it, liked the slightly manic exuberance of the manager and even enjoyed the stereotypical dour Italian waiter!

GordoJanuary 8th 2013.

The wild boar ragu that Franco has crafted here is sublime.

jenfaJanuary 8th 2013.

I've been twice and really liked the food, the staff are very italian and I loved that, but until they do up the ladies I'm not going again, no mirror and no loo roll meant I had to apply lippy in one of the many restaurant floor mirrors.

AnonymousJanuary 8th 2013.

I disagree on the veal and I think that you've just come up with a fairly poor-on-foundation excuse to justify eating something.

The right thing to do would be to not eat Veal.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 8th 2013.

What's 'on-foundation' mean?

AnonymousJanuary 8th 2013.

Why NOT eat veal?

David AddisonJanuary 8th 2013.

I went a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. Good food and a good atmosphere . I'm looking forward to going back .

Richard ArmstrongJanuary 8th 2013.

Dear anonymous.
The right thing to eat is what you like and enjoy. I love veal and eat it frequently. Not hiding behind anonymity here. Standing up and being counted !

food for thoughtJanuary 8th 2013.

Bought in raviolis

1 Response: Reply To This...
Billy Big BoyJanuary 8th 2013.

Shut Up

Jonathan SchofieldJanuary 8th 2013.

The ranter I really dislike dear Food for Thought is the smug one with the smug name who poses a negative thought without any idea of whether their negativity is correct. It's just being negative. As the reviewer I think and feel that the ravioli lobster were homemade. Have you eaten them?

1 Response: Reply To This...
food for thoughtJanuary 9th 2013.

And as a customer I can tell they were bought in, anyway it's call freedom of speech ...

GregJanuary 9th 2013.

Great place for food now and I quite like the old-fashioned atmosphere

pollolocoJanuary 9th 2013.

Cracking restaurant, try the gnocchi with oxtail ravioli....top drawer. As for FFT....obviously doesn't have a clue.

1 Response: Reply To This...
food for thoughtJanuary 9th 2013.

What make you think you are smarter than me.? Just because i Disagree? It's my opinion and I don't like to be bullied by some wannabe foodie.

pollolocoJanuary 9th 2013.

ragu that should have been!

Jane WeightmanJanuary 10th 2013.

Sorry if this has been said before but could Jonathon's photographs of the food be taken a little further away from the plate. The current effect is rather gory and offputting.

2 Responses: Reply To This...
pollolocoJanuary 10th 2013.

do you close your eyes when you eat??

pollolocoJanuary 10th 2013.

Do you eat with you eyes closed??

StephJanuary 17th 2013.

If you drink cows milk you should eat the by-product of the dairy industry - veal and surely it's better eating rose veal than any other type.
And it tastes bloody good too!

Food BabyJanuary 27th 2013.

I have literally just come back from having lunch at this place, and it was shocking! Bland dry pasta, whole chilli's in the "sauce", it was vile. Pizza was ok, but nothing to write home about, very dissapointed.

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