Maybe I’m a bit jaded or maybe I’ve had too many meals that were overpriced, overcooked and, praise the lord, over quickly, but I never expect very much from city centre dining. So it’s really, really nice to be able to write a positive restaurant review about a central Manchester eaterie.
Don Giovannis is a survivor. Based in Manchester since 1984 (albeit in a number of homes), this Italian has outlasted paler imitations and, judging by my recent meal, deserves to be recognised for its staying power.
Despite an initial mix-up with my reservation, the welcome from Don Giovannis couldn’t have been warmer. A hint of the excellence to come was evinced in the waiter’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the menu and the kitchen’s cooking techniques. How often do you question an item on the a la carte only to be met with a blank stare and a promise to “get back to you”? Not in Don Giovannis, not when Salvatore is on duty. Service with a smile took on a whole new meaning for myself and Chef Tony (my dining companion). If Salvatore ever considers Mastermind, the menu at Don Giovannis should be his specialist subject.
Once Salvatore gleaned what the pair of us wanted to eat, he recommended a red that complimented both meat and fish dishes. How did he do that? Even Chef Tony – an enthusiastic and knowledgeable wine collector – was impressed. And so we waited with our saliva glands working overtime for the starters.
Oh my. With everything made in-house, it was hard to believe that the melt-in-the-mouth focaccia was created without a wood-fired pizza oven. Dusted with rock salt, decorated with the freshest of rosemary sprigs and steeped in extra virgin olive oil, this was focaccia on a whole new level. Please sir, I want some more.
Still reeling from the heavenly taste of the focaccia, ‘waffer-thin’ bresaola and rocket arrived for yours truly and a plate of Antipasto Italiano for Chef Tony. Now, Chef Tony has a big appetite and weighed in to the ample starter with gusto but I fear I might have struggled to finish such a generous portion. It looked bluddy brilliant, though. I sampled the pesto and nearly wept.
There was more to come. By this time, the tangerine dream decor had mellowed and seemed like the perfect environment in which to enjoy the Italian Stallion of meals. Lobster Thermidor beckoned and who was I to say no? And, to top it all, all the work had been taken out of it. No crazy-looking nut crackers for this diner, oh no. Just a knife, a fork and a nom, nom, nom. Chef Tony wolfed down his perfectly-cooked and perfectly-presented Tagliato Di Manzo, a heady mix of seared and sliced sirloin of beef, with rocket and parmesan shavings. When the side orders appeared we agreed that it was worth mugging the chef for his garlic spinach recipe.
So far, so frickin’ fantastic. Only desserts left to go. We soldiered on. And it was here that, finally, Don Giovannis lost its gold star. I plumped for the Italian Mess, a south Mediterranean take on on the ultimate public school pudding. Oh dear. The teeny, tiny spoon was ill-equipped for the job, the meringue too chewy and the balance of fruit and cream decidedly unbalanced. Chef Tony opted for Torte Caprese, a confection of classic chocolate cake, made with hazelnut and ameretti biscuits, with a touch of Frangelico liquor and topped with a warm toffee sauce. I’m assured it was lip-smackingly good until about half way through. “If it had been served with ice cream, I could have tackled the rest of it,” he said.
Perhaps this was a salutary lesson to the pair of us: stop when your bellies are full.
Review by Helen Nugent
Chef Tony says: “It were good, friendly staff and a beautiful venue in the heart of Manchester. Fantastically presented starters and mains, dessert was the let down unfortunately – it needed ice cream or cream to cut through the liqueur.”
What: Don Giovannis
Where: Oxford Street, Manchester
More info: http://dongiovannis.co.uk/; email@example.com