If there’s one thing Manchester’s not short of, it's good Italian food. So, given the abundance of choices, what’s going to draw you to Piccolino Caffé Grande? Well, lots actually. The chain of smart, local restaurants has long been a hit in the upmarket suburbs. But in the city centre outpost, Piccolino also is conquering the crowd with excellent cooking and a whole lot of panache.
Piccolino is a warm and welcoming space full of softly-lit brasses, gorgeous baby blue leather chairs and tables of Italian marble. Incredibly plush from the outside, a background of soft 90s R&B and clinking glasses make this an approachable pick. There’s tonnes to explore too, with booths and party tables alongside a juicery, bakery, oyster bar and food counters. This is more than just a simple bar or restaurant, it’s a gastronomic hub.
Exuberantly friendly staff are quick to lend a guiding hand in recommending dishes, drinks and wine from the extensive list of Italian specialities. We opt for a crisp Pinot Grigio (£24.75 per bottle) - a light, coppery drop from Lombardy that’s easily drinkable alongside the heavier food. The menu is deep with regional dishes and staples, and although the bubble-crusted, wood-fired pizzas are hard to resist (that smell though!), we go for a range of other delicacies.
One of the most enjoyable Sicilian starters is a plate of crispy mushroom risotto arancini (£7). Those who don’t love fungi shouldn’t be put off because the overall effect is earthy without being overpowering; given a decadent flourish with a centre of molten mozzarella and a dipping sauce of spicy red pepper and tomato. From the sharing section, we also pick a mozzarella garlic bread (£6.75) that’s the size of lorry wheel (definitely a sharer) and loaded with smoked provola cheese.
For mains, there’s a wide range of steak, fish and vegetables... but it’s hard to overlook the pasta. The one that catches our attention is the spaghetti al frutti di mare (£16.95), a Neapolitan seafood variation on the classic. Piled with clams and topped with a lobster-esque giant prawn that lies in a thick and sticky sauce, the al dente noodles are deeply satisfying. On the night we visit, the specials menu has treats like cozze e vongole, which is a fiery stew of chilli, tomato and sweet palourde clams. There’s even two great slabs of charred ciabatta to dredge through the bottom of your bowl. Did I mention that you’ll need a mint and face wipe afterwards?
Italians have got a lot of sense, so they love sweets and chocolate. They also do puddings really well, and Caffé Grande delivers on that. The torta Caprese (£7) is probably the pick of the bunch, because no sane person could resist a generous slice of dark chocolate and almond cake. It’s a slightly crunchier form of a flourless brownie, full in flavour and perfectly textured. The chocolate fondant (£7) is also an opulent way to end any meal - just make sure you’ve got space left for this melting mound of sponge, truffles, oil-slick sauce and ice cream. Assolutamente delizioso!
The DesignMyNight Digest
With good prices, welcoming staff, fine food and a busy, buzzy atmosphere, Piccolino Caffé Grande is one of Manchester’s best Italian options. It might seem imposingly grand (and the interiors are certainly a sight to behold), but a lively atmosphere, impressive dishes and affordable wines make this an ideal restaurant for meeting up with friends or treating the family.
Get your pasta fix at Piccolino Caffé Grande, 8 Clarence Street, Manchester M2 4DW.