“ 242 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester, M20 2LW. Tel:0161 448 0099 „
I have recently discovered Azzurro & keep going back. I have had meals there with my partner & also I have brought groups of friends. I always get complimented on my choice of restaurant. It's a quirky little authentic Italian. There's lots of open brickwork, candles and a great seafood board. The food here stands out from any other Italian. It's so delicious! Everything seems home made. I'd recommend the carpaccio, any seafood main & the limoncello cheesecake to finish. Yum!
We find Azzurro opposite Somerfield towards one end of Burton Road in West Didsbury, which depending on who you talk to is now the more- or less-pretentious of the Didsburys. It is Saturday night, and the restaurant opened over an hour ago, but is still deserted. We are offered a specific choice of two of the 15 or so tables. Perhaps they are expecting a large group? We sit close to the window but not in the window. We are not mannequins after all.
The restaurant is new (to me) but probably served up different cuisine in an earlier life. Places on this street go through regular reincarnations, but usually stick to their food-service routes. It is minimalist to the extreme - plain, stripped wooden tables, plain walls. The atmosphere matches it perfectly - you can hear every ounce being chopped, every pan being stirred. No background music here, beyond the steady breathing of the chef, the waitress and the two of us. We have a candle that is lit as we sit down, but it's only a cheapie, generic tea-light. It is all a bit surreal.
We are brought the wine list, the main menu and today's two-course deal, which, presented as it is handwritten and then photocopied, is either charming or cheap depending on how you look at it. The wine list is long, but soft drinks are not shown here or on the main menu. The choices are appetizers, pasta, main courses and side dishes. There is no pizza here, and yet the starters include pizza-base garlic bread, so they are not overly averse to dough. Didsbury is a bit like that. I once walked out of an Italian place because they didn't serve any pasta or bread. One I can cope without, two is pushing it unless my dining companion condones chocolate fudge cake for a main course. Vegetarian options are marked clearly, as are those contacting nuts.
We order - a starter to share, and two pasta dishes, plus two soft drinks. For the first time in forever, in a 'proper' restaurant (i.e. not the likes of Pizza Hut) I am served a glass of fountain coke, not a can or, more usual, a glass bottle. Maybe it's cheap knock-off Coke, but it does taste like the Real Thing. Ice and lemon come as standard - we would have said yes anyway, but it was just assumed. The glasses are not large - maybe 250ml.
The starter arrives swiftly - too swiftly. We barely took our seats 10 minutes ago. Perhaps they're being efficient because of that massive group booking that's coming in. The garlic bread is fairly dry (low on butter/oil, high on garlic) but tasty, and nicely hot despite the rushed service. We are not offered black pepper on it, and only salt is on the table. It has 8 pieces, and though we do like garlic bread, and eat quickly, we're only half way through when the main dishes come out. The waitress moves over another table to take us from seating for two, to seating for four and enough room to spread out. The pasta bowls are massive, and the pizza is not small either, so throw in side plates and tumblers and you couldn't cope any other way. Unless, y'know, they let us finish eating one thing before the other was stuffed down our throats.
My pasta comes with shavings of cheese on top, so I am a little confused when offered grated parmesan as well. If that's not parmesan, what is it? I accept more, but the serving is decidedly stingy. One brief sprinkle and it's whisked away. Black pepper is now offered and accepted, and doled out slightly more freely. The servings are massive, more than we can really eat.
My pasta is really nice, but not exactly as described on the menu. The promised toasted pine nuts have not made an appearance, but hiding at the bottom, like an old boyfriend on your wedding day, is a rather unexpected guest: half a chopped onion. Why, hello. My sister's pasta combines spinach and mascarpone with a lotta lemon. It is rich and unusual, but really rather good. It will be added to my repertoire shortly, as I steal a bit and, aside from the flaked almonds, is rather moreish. The one bonus of having starter and main at the same time is that we can finish the meal by dragging the bread through the sauce pooled at the bottom of both dishes. Lemon and mascarpone garlic bread? Also one for the list.
Puddings are on offer but we are stuffed, not least because we have eaten a lot of food in a short space of time. The night has been an interesting one. On the one hand, the food has been good and the menu innovative, which has given me lots of ideas for future dinner parties where I need to look like a right domestic goddess despite having precisely 10 minutes to whip something up after work before my guests arrive. On the other hand, fancy meals out are an occasion, especially ones such as this when we're celebrating my birthday (again) and the fact we've not seen each other in 10 months. When you're sitting in a nice restaurant and paying proper money (independents not offering the Credit Crunch vouchers all the chains are touting), you don't expect to be in and out of there in less than 45 minutes including a little linger at the end. In LA, all the starlets are photographed eating (or at least ordering) at In-And-Out Burger. This feels like In-And-Out Pasta. It's just a little odd. And that big group never arrives. Maybe they never existed.
The bill comes to a little over £20 for two. It's not extortionate, but it's not cheap either. The food has been good, but dining out is increasingly becoming less about the food for me, and more about the experience. For that, they get 3 stars and a limited recommendation, plus an unlikely second visit any time soon.
The menu changes regularly - they're currently on their summer one according to one page of their website, the autumn from a different one. You can download this and other information from their quite scarce site: www.azzurrorestaurant.com/ They have special offers on, but most involve savings only if you're ordering meat or fish, and not a pasta dish. The website boasts, "Of course, our food is only 50% of the story. At Azzurro you receive a friendly and attentive service. Enjoying not only exquisite food from our new autumn menu, but also the buzzing atmosphere." Someone needs to give them a dictionary. Attentive, yes, but I've had more buzzing from a fly in my kitchen than here.