[Manchester, city centre] Piccolino Caffe Grande

Albert Square is not only home to Manchester’s Town Hall but, around the beginning of the 20th century, was also the home to several newly constructed buildings for various insurance companies. One such, is the building built for the Northern Assurance Ltd in 1902 and in which Piccolino now occupies the ground floor. The building’s exterior is “Grade 2 listed” for architectural importance but the restaurant space was been thoroughly modernised and there seems to be no trace of any Edwardian originality. The mini-chain itself was founded in 2000, with its first opening in Knutsford. At the height of its success, there were 32 outlets but, after financial difficulties, that has now reduced to 18, of which over half are in the north. The group has recently been acquired by a company associated with the Iceland supermarket chain.

It’s a busy, noisy space with staff clearly well trained and very much on the ball. The menu offers no real surprises for an Anglicised Italian place. So, tomato bruschetta to start. A couple of slices of toasted ciabatta, topped with chopped tomatoes. It was probably a mistake to order at this so early in the year, when tomatoes have little flavour but I perked it up with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic. I followed that with what’s probably my favourite Italian dish (one you don’t often see on menus in the UK) – fegato alla Veneziana. And this was a really good version. Three thin slices of calves liver, just cooked through. Very long cooked onions, falling apart so almost a sauce. And a real sauce made from butter and sage. There’s a couple of rashers of crisp pancetta and a little spinach. Alongside, a separate dish of mashed potato .

Across the table, my partner (who I struggled to hear at times due to the noise bouncing off all the hard surfaces) was getting stuck into a scallop dish. Three scallops, lightly cooked, served on the half shell. Delicious in themselves but would have been improved if there had been actual evidence of the advertised parsley and chilli. Ravioli for a main course, served al dente, but right on the edge of being undercooked. They were filled with crab and dressed with a shellfish and lemon butter sauce. Chilli was again included in the menu description but there was no flavour of it.

We passed on dessert. Coffee was good.

It was good to get in to a city centre restaurant. They always seem to have a different vibe than those out in the suburbs. But the menu is the same in the two outlets near home so I doubt we’d bother with a return visit.