Apparently, it's rubbish having a birthday on New Year's Day. Either everyone is away, or they're too tired/hungover/starting a healthy new regime. So what do you do? Wait until the week after, and arrange to go to Piccolino's in West Didsbury.
Despite it being a cold, wet Monday night the restaurant was far from empty, but the waiters were able to lavish plenty of attention upon us (deservingly so) and were understandably delighted by my attempts to discuss the finer points of the menu using my rather rusty Italian. Everything in the restaurant is new and shiny, and we were worried the food would be on the generic side; this is after all an offshoot of the existing branch in central Manchester. I was also personally a bit sulky as Monday night is not an ideal night to play out, what with the having-to-work-four-more-days thing hanging over one's head, but then I wasn't the birthday girl.
However, everything was most impressive. The starters each cost around £6, and included such staples as calamari served with roast garlic mayonnaise and crostini topped with sauted chicken livers. The mains are a bit pricier unless you go for pasta or pizza; highlight of our choices was the slow-roasted duck served with caramelised apples. The meat and fish dishes don't come with any potatoes or veg, which have to be ordered separately at £2.95 a go, but the portions are generous and two people could easily share one side dish.
Some of us (unusually, me) were too full up for pudding, but others managed tiramisu and semi-freddo at £4.95 each. The wine list is reasonably priced, and tap water was willingly brought rather than bottled. Service was charming; one of those places where your wine glass is magically refilled when you're not looking.
This is not a cheap option: six of us paid £249.04, but this did include the service charge and three bottles of wine.
Piccolino Didsbury is at 6 Lapwing Lane, Didsbury M20 2WF, tel. 0161 434 7524 - apparently it's packed at weekends so make sure you book ahead.