It’s taken a whole decade for me to finally set foot in Rosso, despite them opening back in 2009. Fingers crossed it will be another decade before I have to go back.
We’ve heard all the hype; everyone knows this is Rio’s place, the building is lit up like Blackpool illuminations and they can seemingly do no wrong in eyes of certain reviewers. But somehow I’ve never even been in.
So after a recent trip to Italy, there felt like no better time to visit an Italian restaurant that markets itself as ‘Manchester’s most luxurious and sought after dining experience’.
And on first impressions as you enter, you can be forgiven for thinking it might live up to this. It’s ostentatious, it’s all marble and domes – it looks the part. The people inside do too – in fact some of their clientele look like they spent more time staring into a mirror than Liam Gallagher did while recording Be Here Now.
The wine list is extensive, varied and has a good range at all budgets – all Italian, obviously. You can enjoy a nice Barolo by the glass or there’s Gaia’s iconic 1985 Barbaresco for a cool £700 a bottle. We also made use of their Coravin system (it handily extracts wine without opening the cork), which allowed us to try a glass of Tiganello for £12 for 50ml. Pricey, yes, but when a bottle will set you back an eye-watering £100 or more, it’s a great opportunity to try it.
The starters are quite steep – we’re talking £12-£17 each. The scallops in cocoa butter, nduja, black garlic and sherry vinegar reduction were nicely cooked and the flavours married well together – though wasn’t particularly memorable.
The pasta range has some reasonably interesting choices on it – ticking the basics like Bolognese and fruitti di mare, while venturing into more unusual numbers like Sardinian fregola pasta with applewood smoked and herbed lamb shoulder.
The chicken and black truffle enveloped in fresh agnolotti pasta with a rich chicken broth reduction was particularly tasty and was enhanced by adding extra texture with the crispy chicken skin – a pleasant surprise.
That said, I dread to think how big the small plate (£14) was; the large (£18) barely touched the sides. The pasta itself looked miserable and lost sat in the dish, even if they tried to off-set this by presenting it in a bowl with edging that resembled the rings of Saturn.
On to dessert (some of which are £12 each) and there’s a nice range – from their ‘legendary’ house favourite chocolate sphere to the more usual fare of tiramisu. Though it’s worth noting that coeliacs are not well catered for on this front – despite a range of around eight dessert options, the only gluten-free option available was sorbet. And let’s face it – that doesn’t even count.
We opted to return to the splendid wine list too and plumped for two small glasses of the chianti vinsanto – perfectly sweet for dessert and a rare find in Manchester. However when the glasses appeared they were particularly large. The waitress noticed our confused looks and asked what was wrong. After querying that they were bigger than expected, we were informed that these were the smallest as they only did these in one size anyway so they were correct. Hmm, OK. There was no menu nearby so we accepted this.
Suddenly a waiter appeared with the bill and bizarrely apologised with ‘Oh, sorry, did you not request the bill?’ as he placed it on the table. No, we didn’t, but no harm done, we’ll pay up now.
Big mistake. Seconds after the cards were out of the machines, another waiter unceremoniously announced they needed our table back. A crafty but fool-proof check-mate move once the tip’s already been paid. Mr Early Bill has his sly trick down to a fine art. They asked us to finish our drinks at the bar, despite there being free tables around us.
Ah yes, the small matter of the drinks. As it turned out, the waitress had been wrong and the menu does offer two sizes. Had these been the small £7 glasses we had ordered, we’d have finished these by now and been able to vacate our table in time. Instead, we had to finish our drinks by the drafty door – which, it turned out, were the large ones at £20 a pop.
Epilogue: A member of our party emailed the restaurant to politely relay our experience to them as customer feedback. No one ever bothered replying. That says it all.
We have no qualms about paying high end prices for high end food – but there are more expensive places in Manchester that remain better value. When this is towards the top end of that price bracket, it does make you wince when the dishes don’t leave any real lasting memory.
For all their bright lights, top end Barolos and nauseatingly self-assured fanfare, there are much better places that Manchester has to offer. Rosso seem happy to churn out dissatisfied customers – presumably because they can brag they are the city’s most ‘sought after’ dining experience, so who cares if some people don’t return?
Rosso masquerade as the real deal in fine dining. But all that glitters is not gold – though glitter will stick to tacky impostors.