Christmas seems to start earlier every year, or so they say. Perhaps even more so in 2021 following the screeching U-turn made by the Government last year. People do seem to be in a rush to start the festive season in case history repeats itself. With this in mind, The Blonde and I dressed up warmly and walked the short distance to Piccolino, just off Manchester’s Albert Square, for the launch of its seasonal menu.

We sat outside supping warm mulled wine while being entertained by a brass quartet and carol singers. This being the first week in November, it brought some curious looks from confused passersby who wondered if their clocks had not only gone back an hour, but also jumped ahead a month. Time-travelling aside, I enjoyed the rendition of Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

 Piccolino, Manchester. Image by Robert HamiltonWith the wassailing over, we moved into the warmth of Piccolino where we continued to discuss the increasing encroachment of enforced seasonal spirits for what appears to be purely commercial ends (in my opinion). As a welcome distraction from our heated debate (me again), we perused the new menu. A series of other restaurants in the group have launched their Christmas menus, most notably Gino D’Acampo’s in the Corn Exchange. While we didn’t taste an interesting selection of festive-themed cocktails, we were afforded a light and refreshing bottle of Sicilian organic white made by Lamura from the grillo grape.

The Christmas menu was mercifully free from the usual festive fare and was dominated, as you would expect here, by a good selection of Italian dishes. I opted for a rather clichéd choice – Minestrone Classico, Bistecca, and Tiramisu – while The Blonde was more adventurous with a starter of Bruschetta con Gamberoni, a main of Brazino, and Formaggi to finish. For the more traditionally minded, Turkey Escalopes were available.

 Piccolino, Manchester. Image by Robert HamiltonMy minestrone was hearty, and hidden under a crust of freshly grated parmigiana. The bistecca was a well portioned piece of fillet steak, medium rare with a suitable red interior without being bloody, and tender as the night. The tiramisu was overly dusted in cocoa powder but creamy and as alcoholic as a Celt on Hogmanay. My partner declared her prawns on toast to be “a good taste”, high praise indeed delivered in her Lancastrian vernacular. The sea bass was perfectly grilled, and the selection of cheeses in her formaggi disappeared quickly. The buffalo ricotta was mentioned in dispatches as being particularly succulent.

We left full and happy, with The Blonde paying her respects to Ettore. He remembered her, but then she is kind of unforgettable as the Nat King Cole song goes. It is part of his consummate skill as, perhaps, the longest serving maître d in Manchester and certainly one of the most charming. But I’m still not convinced by the extended festive season. I fear one day I will wake up on Boxing Day to find next year’s Christmas ads have already started.

By Robert Hamilton

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