Now, let me start by saying that I am not necessarily anti-chain. Indeed, there are a few chain bars and restaurants I have a fairly high regard for: I rather like Carluccio's, for example, as well as Gusto and All Bar One, because they are reliable, and sell things that I like to eat and drink, and have consistent levels of service regardless of what time you pitch up, and how many of you there might be. Still, some chains exemplify all that is bad, and bland, and soulless about the concept of a load of identikit venues scattered across the country, all selling whatever the head office (probably in London) tells them to - and for that reason, I can't imagine that too many people in Didsbury would have mourned the demise of the Warburton Street branch of La Tasca, no doubt feeling that if they wanted tapas, it would make a lot more sense to go the independent - and much nicer - Casa Tapas just across the road.
With La Tasca safely gone, the way was clear for something far more interesting to move in. The promise of a new Venetian-inspired restaurant called Cibo has had the locals (including me) getting hungrily excited for the last couple of months, and now it's finally open I can confirm that it does pretty much live up to the hype. The premise is simple: rustic cuisine, drawing upon a range of Italian regions but mostly from the North of the country, and based on the earth-shattering idea that if you cook simple dishes from fresh, high quality ingredients then people will very probably want to come and eat it. And - surprise surprise - at 8pm on a Friday night the place was absolutely packed with contented people, happily pretending they were in more Mediterranean climes rather than overlooking a very grey Didsbury carpark.
Cibo offers a selection of cicchetti - small, Venetian snacks - at £2 each or six for a tenner, or a longer menu of slightly larger dishes. We chose to eat from the latter, which is not divided by starter and main, but by such tempting sub-headings as "Meat", "Fish" and "Pasta"; you can ask to stagger the arrival of your dishes or, as we did, have them all arrive together as one big greedy feast. Some beautiful fat olives in a shot glass and some fresh bread and olive oil arrived as we were pondering our choices; the bread was delicious, carrying the light scent of rosemary and studded with what looked like red pepper - although when I asked our waiter, he said he didn't know what it was. The food arrived swiftly and was mostly excellent - unlike the quality of the photographs you see below. I am uncomfortable photographing my food in restaurants at the best of times, and as we were quite closely placed to the table next to us, I'm afraid I withered a little under their scathing looks and just snatched a couple of quick pictures.
Both of Mr Liz's choices were superb, particularly the fillet steak served sliced on a bed of rocket, Parmesan and aged balsamic vinegar. He also enjoyed the richly fragrant slow braised ox cheek with black peppercorns, and left me some on the dish to try - our waiter did try to take this away though, and had to be asked to bring it back so I could actually verify Mr Liz's high opinion (which did turn out to be entirely correct). I went for two dishes from the pasta section - a superlative lobster ravioli served in a rich cream, tomato and prawn sauce, and some very good fluffy gnocci with a venison ragu - and we shared some Focaccia filled with Mortadella and Caciocavello (the poshest, most exciting cheese and ham toastie you will ever have). We also ordered some entirely unnecessary but very good sides - a giant pile of zucchini fritti for me (in size rather reminiscent of the giant alien from the eponymous films - you can just see one of his tendrils in the photo, reaching across the lobster ravioli), and some lovely rosemary roast potatoes for Mr Liz.
We enjoyed it all - this size of portion, somewhere between a tapas and a proper main, is just right for me, as I'm too greedy for tapas but like the idea of being able to order several different dishes to share. We made room for pudding and were glad we did - Mr Liz's Cannoli Siccilian was filled with sweet ricotta and nicely boozy cherries (although was mysteriously singular, when even my low levels of proficiency in Italian suggest it should have been plural), and my Passion Fruit Pannacotta slipped down a treat. We washed the whole lot down with an excellent Dolcette d'Alba chosen from a suitably Italian list, and which our very charming waiter was genuinely excited that we had chosen *dons slightly fraudulent knowledgeable wine face*
Was it perfect? No - the service is still a little random, with the table next to us receiving the wrong order, the waiter spilling our wine and not clearing it up, someone else asking us if we needed cutlery after we'd eaten, as well as the amazing disappearing ox cheeks. These are all issues that can be ironed out however; the point is, Cibo is already packed to the rafters with people appreciating Martin Cordwell's approach to cooking and eating - he was at Stock for five years, and his talent and experience is more than evident here. We were invited to dine by Manchester Confidential and were not asked to pay for our meal, but as this is effectively our new local restaurant I've already got a horrible feeling I'll be sporting a generous Venetian food tummy within a matter of weeks...
-Cibo is at 12 Warburton Street, Disbury.