You Don’t Need a Silver Fork to eat Good Food
What happens when you mix a converted bank, a football star owner and casual, fine dining?
Review by Andy Barnham
ROSSO is situated a stone’s throw from Manchester city centre in a converted, Grade II listed bank built in the 1870s. Although now a restaurant, much of the interior has been kept, offering diners the opportunity to eat in an elegant high ceiling room decorated with ornate Victorian plasterwork. As explained by the restaurant manager, Canadian Sasha Svátek, the idea behind ROSSO took some years to evolve before settling at where the restaurant is now.
Opened six years ago (with Sasha starting as a barman soon after the opening) by Manchester United and England football legend Rio Ferdinand, ROSSO now prides itself on Italian style fine dining. With the aspiration to keep the restaurant approachable, ROSSO has decided against trying to achieve the what is now seen as the elite of restaurant accolades. Yet at the same time that ROSSO does not want Michelin star recognition, the restaurant is keen to maintain its own standards. This led to a considered decision by Sasha to maintain prices, rather than attempt to increase the number of guests through a lower price point. The result is a restaurant open equally to a casual diner wanting to find somewhere quiet to eat at lunch to a fine and more expensive diner seeking something up market in the evening.
This is accurately reflected in the wine menu with prices starting at £25 for both red and white going all the way to £4,000 (for a bottle of Brunello di Montalcino Riserva DOCG- Biondi Santi 1964). Unsurprisingly given the owner, ROSSO entertains celebrities, both footballers and others (actors and musicians) alike with the walls full of photographs proudly featuring those who have graced the establishment. In addition to this, the restaurant has also managed to cultivate a loyal and return clientele, notable of which is the group of seven to eight former bank staff, who used to work at the location before the conversion who book a table every three months. On Saturday evening the restaurant caters to 3 1/2 full covers, each allocated two hours.
On entering guests are greeted with the bar on the left hand side of the open planned former bank. For those who wish to pause and wet their appetites before making their way to the table, the bar is well stocked. The shelves are filled with not only what one would expect to find in most bars but, and very much in line with ROSSO’s ethos, there are numerous rare and unusual whiskies and cognacs which the restaurant has taken great pride in sourcing. The list of house cocktails is regularly changed to offer returning guests something new with the exception of the ‘Gianni Versace’. At each cocktail review, this unashamedly feminine prosecco based concoction has survived since ROSSO opened and has now become their signature cocktail. Prices start at £8.50 for classic cocktails such as a Mojito and £12 for a Martini. Of the rarer offerings, ROSSO’s range of Johnnie Walker begins, as you would expect, with the iconic Black Label (£4.50) moving to 18YO Platinum (£9), Blue (£15), and then progressing to the King George V (£45), John Walker & Sons Odyssey (£75) before ending with the The John Walker (£175). Of particular pride is the Rémy Martin Louis XIII Rare Cask 42.6 (£750) of which only 738 individually numbered black baccarat crystal decanters were made. No matter what is ordered at the bar, guests are offered small eats in the form of olives and pretzels to accompany their cocktails.
The restaurant itself consists of booths, an elevated area and free standing tables filling the rest of the large open planned ground floor. The tables are well spaced with good quality napery and the service is well drilled and attentive but not overly friendly. The menu is set out as one would expect of a native Italian menu, i.e. Prima, Secondi, Pesce with pasta as a side dish (as it should be) with each section containing up to eight different options. On this evening my dining partner and I tried the scallops, risotto and the quail. The scallops were fresh and light with melt in the mouth batter. The risotto was tomato based and very rich. Lastly, the quail was the stand out dish of the evening; wrapped in bacon and stuffed the dish was meaty yet still very delicate and light. Moving on to the main course the confit rabbit leg was tasty and gamey with the meat falling off the bone. One small criticism from my partner, an unabashed fan of game, was perhaps the meat could have been hung for a few more days. My vitello alla Milanese (Milanese style veal escalopes) was lovely and crisp. Normally served with rocket and tomatoes, ROSSO has chosen to substitute these with a poached egg and spaghetti napoli, which while unconventional, worked very well. The meal finished with a portion of the tiramisu which was outstanding; light but not too rich and importantly, not too alcoholic. Throughout the meal the food was well presented with the portions being of a good size.
It is clear whilst eating at ROSSO that the restaurant is open to all comers, no matter how big their wallets or habits and that guests spend what they would like to spend with options ranging from a casual meal to someone on a footballer’s wage. It is an establishment not afraid of hard work to keep its standards – indeed Riddle noticed Sasha mucking in when needed to help clear tables. It is hard not to notice the strong football connection and due to this, on any given night, a guest could be in for a surprise – sitting next to anyone.
Enquiries: ROSSO Restaurant & Bar, 43 Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 2BG / 01618 321400 / www.rossorestaurants.com/