“ Address: Wilmslow Road / Mottram St Andrew SK10 4QH / Cheshire „
~My First Taste of a Discount~
My mother has a Tastecard which offers significant discounts on the cost of meals at over five thousand restaurants nationally. Every time I see her she tells me how great it is and what fantastic meals she's had. When I saw that Tastecard was offering a £10 donation to Macmillan Cancer Care for anyone who signed up, I bought a card even though I was about to go on holiday which was possibly a bit foolish. As a result it took me six weeks to get around to booking a meal and flexing my card for the first time. I had arranged to meet up with my friend Alison and it was her turn to choose where we went. I sent her a link to the Tastecard website and said "You pick". Her choice was Osteria Mauro in Mottram St Andrew near Wilmslow in Cheshire. One of her colleagues had raved about the place and there had been a glowing review in a local paper. I rang up and booked a table for 7.30 pm then sent Alison a mail telling her we were booked for 7.15 pm - she's always about 20 minutes late.
My ploy paid off and Alison rolled up only five minutes late. Result! Sitting in the car park I had a good look at the restaurant and it looked absolutely gorgeous, lit up with lots of lights in a pretty and classy way which boded well for what I might find inside. Neither of us had been before so when we stepped inside it wasn't immediately apparent where we had to go since there was no obvious 'check in here' desk. A smartly dressed and distinctly Italian looking chap hovered expectantly and we guessed he was probably the maitre'd. I gave him my name and he led us part way through the restaurant, past an area with before handing us over to a waiter who led us upstairs to a table in a corner by the window on the first floor. Throughout the restaurant the Christmas decorations were pretty and not too over the top. All the waiters were Italian or doing a really good impression of being Italian. How bizarre! I wondered if there's a secret Italian enclave in the Cheshire countryside although the place does describe itself as a family-run restaurant so maybe the whole extended family is working there.
Osteria Mauro is a really big restaurant, one of the largest I've seen in a country setting and large even by city standards. It's hard to imagine a large local catchment area since Mottram St Andrew is a small village so the size does rather suggest that a lot of people are willing to travel to get to this restaurant. I'm not sure if it was because we were the cheapskates with the Tastecard or just bad luck that we got a table which was tucked away in a really cold spot by the windows on the side of the restaurant. It took a while for the heat from the radio to warm us up and I was quite happy that nobody offered to take our coats as I feared I might need to put mine back on again. The first waiter brought us the menus and hovered for a drink order but we sent him away. In just a minute or two a waitress was back again to ask about drinks. Under pressure we ordered a bottle of sparkling water just to get rid of her.
With the Tastecard we would get a two for one discount on all the food so we were feeling pretty relaxed about the cost of the meal. The menu was laid out in classic Italian style with multiple sections. The first two were pane e olive (bread and olives), garlic bread and bruschetta, antipasto, primi piatti (first dishes), pasta and risotto, pizzas, secondi (main dishes), grilled dishes and side orders. For me this was authentically Italian in the sense that I can never understand the menu layout in restaurants in Italy and was equally unsure how to order off this bunch. Invariably if I eat out in Italy I play the (rare for me) role of submissive little woman and let other people order.
We dithered for a long time over our starters, changing our minds for the final time as the waiter was getting his pen out to write the order. We chose to share two dishes - sardine indorate e fritti (sardine fillets dipped in egg and fried in garlic butter) and Caprini Fritti Con Pera E Barbabietole (deep fried goat cheese with beetroot and pear salad). For main courses Alison picked a dish of seared scallops and mint risotto and I ordered the seafood linguini with a tomato, garlic and chilli sauce. Since we were completely confused about how big the pasta and rice dishes would be, we paid an extra £3 each for the 'main course' sized portion.
The starters came in ten to fifteen minutes and we split them between us. The sardines were stunning - deliciously fresh and juicy and very lightly fried with a subtle hint of garlic. The goat cheese was disappointing - a bit too 'Mum's been to Iceland' for my liking. I love goat cheese but these two blobs of bread-crumbed cheese were barely soft inside. I would have expected a deliciously, soft and gooey centre but the cheese was actually dry and solid inside. Both dishes were served with strips of pear and the cheese came with some beetroot which was supposed to be slightly 'chillied' but not so that you would actually notice.
~Feeding the Five Thousand~
When the main courses came we were shocked by the size. Italian restaurants tend to serve tiny portions of risotto, not the massive mound of green 'stuff' on Alison's plate. On top were eight large and very impressive looking scallops, about half of them with their roes still attached. The slice of scallop I scrounged was delicious and cooked to perfection but the mint risotto was a bit TOO weird for me and I cannot imagine a parallel universe in which I could have eaten even half of the portion on offer. My linguini was a giant mound that could have served two but I was a bit disappointed by the seafood mix they'd used which had a lot of mussels in their shells which tasted rather over-cooked and a bit 'off', a few shell on prawns which were fiddly to deal with and really needed a finger bowl, one or two big peeled prawns and some rubbery squid rings. The seafood mix wasn't balanced and didn't taste as fresh as it should have. If I go again - and I almost certainly will - I will definitely not order the main course pasta or risotto as a portion half the size would have been plenty.
During our main course we managed to catch the attention of a passing waiter and order a glass of wine each. The wine at Oseria Mauro is not cheap, with even a 175 ml glass at around £5. The wine we chose allegedly had a 'hint of broom' but neither of us had a clue what that was supposed to taste like. Alison claimed a subtle suggestion of mop or duster might be masking the hint of broom.
~Pudding? It would be rude not to~
I get criticised in certain quarters for my lack of commitment to puddings and some readers insist I've let the down by skipping the crowning course. I was stuffed to the gills after my main course but it had been several months since Alison and I had got together and we hadn't run out of things to talk about. Consequently we sort of HAD to have a pudding and since we were on the Tastecard we would pay the same whether we had one or two puddings so, as I'm sure you'd guessed, we had two puddings - or rather one large one for two people. The pudding list was one of the strangest and most interesting I've seen in any restaurant, offering a bizarre fusion of British and Italian favourites - for example a chocolate chip panetone bread and butter pudding - clever! Unable to choose with so many great options, we went for the two-person selection plate of different puddings. Talk about overkill but these were SO good. We had several slices of a toffee pudding served with hot toffee sauce, a chunk of tiramisu, a raspberry panacotta and a mix of sliced pineapple and red berries. I would never order sticky toffee pudding but after tasting this I wonder if I've wasted my life in ignorance of the experience. The tiramisu was rich and creamy but not particularly remarkable whereas the pannacotta was out of this world. The berries and pineapple gave just the rich tart contrast to the richness of the other dishes.
~Tastecard Makes the Bill Easier to Swallow~
We skipped coffees and asked for the bill, very pleasantly surprised that it came to just £38. For each course we were charged for the more expensive dish we'd had and then paid the full price for the water and wine. Even though my main course had been a bit less impressive than I expected and the fried goat cheese had been unremarkable, there were so many great dishes on the menu that I am pretty sure I'll want to go back and eat there again.
Mottram St Andrew