I’ve always thought that the length of a good lunch should be about the same as a football match: around two hours (give or take a few minutes for injury time and the obligatory half-time break). I was reminded of this as I boarded a packed tram to Chorlton. The fans alighted at Trafford Bar for an early kick-off as I continued on to lunch with The Brunette. I was off to sample the new southern Italian at the rebranded Campagna at The Creameries.
Before Christmas, Mary-Ellen McTague announced that she would be stepping away from the kitchen as the tasting menus were no longer viable. Cooking duties in 2022 would be taken over by the talented Mike Thomas. The menu would focus on salads, primo pastas and secondo mains with a single dolce or formaggio, all inspired by Thomas’s love of Italian food. Indeed, the restaurant is named after a small city in the southern district of Salerno.
The Brunette turned up on the dot and we sat down to peruse the menu and the well-chosen wine list. The menu is short but packed full of attractive options. We order panisse to whet the appetite and a half litre of Frentano Bianco from their wines on tap. Slight post-Friday hangovers aside, we decide to err on the side of caution drink-wise. My kidneys agree that this is a good choice. The panisse (chickpea fritters) are light and crunchy and I definitely want more.
As hungry and inquisitive as ever, the Brunette orders two salads. A plate of roast Jerusalem artichokes with cabbage, celery and Yorkshire pecorino arrives as well as a serving of roast candy beetroot, kohlrabi, apple and salsa di cren. She declared the salads to be “perfect” although she did mention in passing the flatulent after-effects of artichokes and cabbage. This could go some way to explaining Storm Dudley. I went with a bowl of vongole and chickpeas in a broth of pastis. The sweet clams were balanced with firm legumes in a soup of aniseed-y goodness.
Two platters of pasta came soon after. Fazzoletti with creamy walnut sauce, and pappardelle with beef shin ragu were well portioned, filling without spilling into Desperate Dino territory. Pasta can weigh heavily on you, and this was measured admirably. My beef shin ragu was tender and didn’t smother the pappardelle, allowing it space to breathe. The fazzoletti was equally impressive. As we headed towards the final whistle, we shared a hazelnut torte and zabaglione cream. Not too heavy and melt in the mouth. Delizioso.
By 2.30pm we were done having enjoyed a near flawless lunch in taste and time. Campagna at The Creameries is an excellent addition to the ever-growing foodie reputation of Manchester. McTague might have temporarily hung up her cooking boots (watch this space), but head chef Mike Thomas is a brilliant super sub who has scored a winner with his cultured culinary take on southern Italy.
Please accept my apologies for the extended football metaphors but on the way home we were squashed by a tram-full of disappointed United fans. The next time I go to Campagna, and with food this good it won’t be long, I will check the fixture list.
Words and images by Robert Hamilton