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Vanessa Lees gets picky at Piccolino in West Didsbury

Published on June 28th 2007.


Before black armbands were worn, before the weeds had time to claim the terrace, the scaffolding went up, the name came down and West Didsbury’s Assembly on Lapwing Lane was swallowed up in another of the restaurant world’s answers to IKEA.

Piccolino is not an unfamiliar brand, in fact it seems you can’t tour North West England without passing one of its doors. This underlines the mini-chain’s success and popularity in an industry where kitchens close quicker than an Alan Sugar recruitment deal but it does create a risk of over exposure. And nobody likes a show off - especially WDs (West Didsburians). True, one Piccolino stands out, and that’s the one in the city centre, which is all down to the professional, amiable and exemplary management of boss Ettore. Without that then a Piccolino experience can fade into the background.

When Piccolino made its intentions known to open in West Didsbury, even the calm, boho, tantric sex practisers started to show signs of distress.

So when the chain made its intentions known to open in West Didsbury, even the calm, boho, tantric sex practisers started to show signs of distress.

The quality that makes West Didsbury such a desirable location is its kooky and enchanting mix of independent shops, cafés and restaurants, which constitute the hub of village life. Move in the chains and hey presto, what does it become? The answer is Didsbury. Within a couple of years, Café Rouge, Slug and Lettuce and Pitcher and Piano will have marked their territory, sent the independents packing and there you have the emblandishment of a village.

As a resident, sounding like the leader of the Salem Witch hunt, I did at least manage to lay my prejudices on my side plate during my dining experience. This was a challenging task considering my WD eating companions harboured similar grudges.

First off Piccolino is a vast space and if you can get past the God-awful Max Spielmann framed photographs and pale ash furnishings, fashioned on the Bramhall Piccolino, then it’s one hell of a party arena. That, my friends, is where its target market lies, I realised on my fourth subjection to ‘Happy Birthday’ Italian styleeee. It’s a market which the independents with their small kitchens just can’t crack so easily.

The menu is varied with as much emphasis placed on meat dishes as there are on Italian favourites of pizza and pasta. The fish dishes such as the gamberoni aglio e olio (£7.95) are worth a definite nibble: ripped, bad boy prawns tossed in garlic and chilli butter on crisp Tuscan bread. Delicious. The cape sante con risotto di piselli elimone (£8.95,) seared scallops with sweet pea and lemon risotto, was a pleasant enough fresh dish and a cheeky change to tomato-based offerings.

But ‘pleasant’ doesn’t quite get my tastebuds gossiping and it certainly doesn’t bank a future reservation. On to the mains and the salsiccia ‘Toscano’ con fagioli (£11.95), Tuscan sausage with cannelloni and borlotti beans in tomato sauce which contained, enough salt to kill a large army of slugs whilst being way too shy with the sauce.

Thankfully the linguini ai gamberetti, king prawn with garlic and chilli butter, courgette and parsley, quickly picked up the standard with the simple, feisty and flavoursome dish dancing in garlic and chilli, complemented by a fruity Pinot Grigio, Bottega Vinai (£18.25).

It’s only a pity that the strands of linguine landed in my friend’s lap. And hair. The waiter protested “this is the first time it has a happened to me”. Danny could honestly say this was a pretty new experience for him too.

For desserts we were recommended, by the very attentive manager Lisa Dobbs, the dolci con amici (£3.95) which is a selection of Italian deserts to share with friends. It was truly scrumptious, beautifully and quirkily presented with espresso coffee cups and shot glasses. Considering the ‘carb’ nature of much Italian cooking, this platter is a wise option for desert.

My husband also ordered the affogato al caffe (£10.95), shots of espresso, Amaretto and vanilla ice cream, which we watched like umpires at Wimbledon as it shot past us three times before eventually landing at our table. ‘Teething problems’ I believe the official term for this sort of thing is.

You can’t question the restaurant’s enthusiasm to please nor the efforts made to create a buzzy atmosphere (the laughter spilling out onto the terrace was even making the Metropolitan’s punters’ disengage momentarily from their German beer). Yet they have a real job on their hands if they’re going to win over the hearts and wallets of independently minded West Didsbury folk. By 10pm we were beckoned back by our beloved Burton Road to find refuge over an Irish coffee at the Eating Rooms.

Rating: 13/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
2/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Piccolino
6 Lapwing Lane West Didsbury
M20 2WS

Mon-Fri 11am-11pm, Saturday 10am-11pm, Sunday 10am-10.30pm

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

DJJune 28th 2007.

Considering the majority of you are horrified by the opening of this establishment, some of you have still dined there! I personally would only consider it if it was a free lunch. Vote with your feet folks.

leanneJune 28th 2007.

really not impressed that one of the last remaining unspoilt area's in manchester if also suffering the same macDonaldisation we are seeing everywhere!! The assembly wasn't as good as the original "nose" that used to be in these premises but still its a bit better than the commercial crap we are seeing taking over everywhere!

TomJune 28th 2007.

What is this "Eating Rooms"?

GinaJune 28th 2007.

Piccolino's has 3 other restaurants in the Manchester area and I can safely say Didsbury branch is the worst. 1st time i went we waited nearly an hour for our main course to arrive and my pizza was tasteless. Everything about the place is mediocre. I think it is massively overated. What Manchester needs is a good Italian restaurant

AnonymousJune 28th 2007.

a bistro west156 it is not at best i found it cold cheap and in a hurry to take over the wd resturants ..sorry they need more practise at a cosy heart warming ambience maybe they should send their head of departments to the lime tree, bistro west and rhubarb!

DavidJune 28th 2007.

I used to work on the bar at The Assembly about three years ago. We were a small-ish team who got on well and had a laugh (not at the expense of the customer I hope!) so I was a bit sad to hear it closed down. And a bit sadder to hear it's not an independent venue any more. I'll shed a solitary tear next time I go by.

nicolaJune 28th 2007.

For me, Picolinos has spoiled west didsburys individualism. However, I was prepared to give this new restaurant a chance, because I love est est est and accept that the assembly had moved on. After trying this restaurant twice now, I feel I have to say what I think. On both occasions the service has been very poor, with us having to ask for plates to eat our food on and ask for drinks, when our glasses had been empty for a while. Not being one to make judgments without giving the opportunity to improve, we have fed back on the service ...I have to say had the manager not been there, we probably would have still been sat there waiting ... Anyway, we gave our feedback to the manager, who did not apologise for the poor service, just smiled and thanked us for the feedback, I am not sure we will return. Good food, shame about the execution !!!

AnonymousJune 28th 2007.

Sara, sorry how many Michelin starred establishments are in West Didbury do tell? Why don't you just stick to drinking over priced sprizters in the Met - live the dream!

BobJune 28th 2007.

Sarah, i heard it was becoming a mark's and spark's food shop..

HelenJune 28th 2007.

Ant, I agree, independent does not necessarily equal good food. And, you may well be right about the inverted snobbery. My main concern, and I suspect a lot of others, is that West Didsbury will go the way of Didsbury and become just the same as any other place of its kind with exactly the same experience to be had. Independents may not always offer the very best food you can buy but beyond that they offer an experience that is unique and that can, if it is good enough come to help define a certain taste or style. The restaurants and bars flourish in this area because they have provided what the residents wanted. Piccolino represents a change to the experience you can have (in that you could have it anywhere) and therefore in the very essence of what people had come to associate this area with. It is people who have lived here a while (many successful people in all walks of life, not just 'middle aged students') or who moved here because of what the area could provide who will be frustrated by the arrival of Piccolino and they are just trying to stand up for local business with friendly people who strive to cater to the needs of their customers by listening to them and embracing the culture of the people and the area.

BobJune 28th 2007.

W. Didsbury i hope will stay the more independent boutique based cafe's, resturants, and pubs that make it a fun, small and vibrant place to live and party in. I will be visiting Piccolino's tomorrow night and will make my own assumptions about how it might change W. Didsbury with its chain. I think it may have difficulties competing with the Met, greens and the other fantastic resturants in the area..

saraJune 28th 2007.

Piccolinos a 'proper eating establishment'? About as proper as Pizza Express, Est, Est, Est, La Tasca etc. I won't hold my breathe for the Michelin star....

Edith CockerJune 28th 2007.

Went last Sunday evening. Felt like crying the minute I went in as the Assembly was one of my faves. It was bad enough to see what looks like laminate flooring all over the walls and the obligatory birthday party with balloons tied to their chairs - but the food and wine were poor and expensive. The worst bit, though, were the "cheesy" mock-Italian waiters - where do they come from? Surely not Italy! Did not expect this type of cringe inducing, over the top behaviour which would certainly put me off going in again. Boo hoo

RICHARD NASHJune 28th 2007.

the bruschetta was a JOKE no garlic no basil , just a load of tomatoes chucked on a bit of toast, this place is truly bollox !

JonathanJune 28th 2007.

Having read the comments of these so called WD's it is clear they do not get out as much as they would want people to think. Piccolino's is probably the first proper eating establishment hey have entered. People who are middle aged, dressed like students and prefer to dine in a glorified coffeee shop should stick to the bottom end of the market. Piccolino has opened in numerous places around the country and ALL have quality food at realistic prices. The residents of West Didsbury would be the only reason preventing me from trying this one out.

saraJune 28th 2007.

PS Piccolino Schmiccolini

AntJune 28th 2007.

People of West Didsbury get over yourselves! The once "adored" Assembly was a direct rip off of Piccolino's sister restaurant Restaurant Bar & Grill, and not a good one at that. The food was expensive and the service poor. If it was so good why did it close down? The comments from the people of West Didsbury reek of inverted snobbery - independent does not necessarily equal good food!

AnonymousJune 28th 2007.

a bistro west156 it is not at best i found it cold cheap and in a hurry to take over the wd resturants ..sorry they need more practise at a cosy heart warming ambience maybe they should send their head of departments to the lime tree, bistro west and rhubarb!

JoJune 28th 2007.

I agree with most other WD residents. We don't want plastic/laminate/chain nonsense stopping independents places making money in the area. Let's hope most locals do vote with their feet and not go there. With Azzurro, around the corner with fab food, service and prices why would you want to pay extra for chains-ville!

jackJune 28th 2007.

God forbid that west didsbury becomes east didsbury!!!!!

ClaireJune 28th 2007.

Gosh, you'll hate me then for living in the new Didsbury Point development since it sounds like you all hate the thought of change! I think Piccolino makes a great addition to the independant restaurants, think yourself lucky that it's atleast of the upmarket variety and isnt a varsity or yates! At the end of the day where would you rather go to eat, Piccolino or the Canadian Charcoal Pit! Anyone choosing the latter is blantantly lying! Oh and I'm a student, bet you thought they were all restricted to East Didsbury too.

AnonymousJune 28th 2007.

In Response to Michael B - It's virtually impossible to overturn a planning application where there is no change of use. It's just a shame there's no distinction made between independent and identikit chain restaurants in the planning department's eyes.

AnonymousJune 28th 2007.

Had late lunch there today. Food was of variable quality and pricy: £40+ for 2 courses and 2 soft drinks, including an incredible £3.50 for a coke? It may say it's a bar/restaurant, but the emphasis is definitely on the latter. Shame that the cosy back patio has been incorporated into the restaurant.

Michael BJune 28th 2007.

When I learn't that the Assembly was becoming a Piccolino I was actualy pretty excited. In my opinion they do the best pasta in Manchester and yes, the one on Clarence Street is by far and away the most vibrant, and Ettore (does he ever have a day off?) surely makes it happen.I have eaten in Didsbury twice in the last couple of weeks and found the food / service at an acceptable level for a new opening. The decor I agree is a little Ikea so a missed opportunity there but I sincerely belive Piccolinos is a good thing for the area.So some advice for my fellow WD's.... 1. You had your chance to object during what I imagine were lengthy planning applications and will continue to have those opportunities for any other operator who wants to come to the area. This is especially the case for a change of use i.e. VidBiz.2. Please remember when you are selling your house to deduct 20% from the market price which will no doubt have been added by the continued local regeneration.3. If the Assembly was as good as everyone says - why is it no longer trading?PS. When does and Independent become a Chain? Someone please answer that one.

Little MeJune 28th 2007.

I was also quite shocked that somewhere that used to be a lovely little place called The Nose had finally turned into Piccolinos! And as for Starbucks opening round the corner (or whatever other chain it ends up being) it nows makes me glad I've moved on. I witnessed the demise of Didsbury Village from a lovely place famed for it's 12 stop pub crawl to somewhere that was as generic as every other "village" in this country! What a shame and I agree people - vote with your wallets but don't believe it'll make them go away!

saraJune 28th 2007.

I miss the Assembly. I missed the Nose before that. The latest goss is that Vid Biz is going to become a Costa. West Didsbury residents have got to stop this from happening.

MaiJune 28th 2007.

I'd be interested to know how W didsbois residents 'showed signs of distress' once Piccolinos made its intentions cliear. Correct me, but this went through normal planning procedures right? So, hands up who wrote to the planning officer. It's a shame that interest in the shape of this local high street only extends to bitching. Your 2 bed cottage (massive mortgage) does not come with guaranteed 'lifestyle' parade of independent shops and caffs in perpetuity I'm afraid. You are the wardens of your own high street and it's up to you to object before starbucks arrives... and that means taking notice of plans before they become reality.

HelenJune 28th 2007.

Jonathan, Piccolino was designed with people like you in mind. Dull food, dull furnishings. It is safe nothing that would challenge your narrow, unadventurous mind. Very glad to hear that the 'middle aged students' put you off, please stay away and enjoy your tour of the nationwide chain of Piccolino eateries. People, I heard whisperings that Vid Biz will become Starbucks. Time to move to Chorlton? No, time to do something about the invasion of the boring money. Vote with your wallets and dine at one of the precious independent restaurants we can still boast. And, STOP eating at Piccolino!!

EmmaJune 28th 2007.

Wasn't The Nose a chain (West Didsbury, Chorlton, Wilmlow)? Boo hoo for you people who can afford to live in West Didsbury that one of the restaurants doesn't match up to your standards, just don't go. Have you ever thought that you might be forntunate to not have to live in somewhere like Northern Moor where you're lucky to get a corner shop?

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