The food world can be a snobby place, and never more so than when faced with a blog post about a restaurant or bar that's part of a chain; I still recall the fallout in certain quarters from my admission that I'd enjoyed the nachos at Chiquitos. It's naive, however, to pretend that chains don't exist and that some of them aren't doing a pretty good job - and Italian restaurant chain Prezzo are clearly doing something right as the new branch on Deansgate is their third Manchester opening in as many years. I was a little wary of a brand that has more than 200 branches, but they've done a great job of refitting the old Cafe Rouge building - the space is sleek and modern, with an open kitchen, well-spaced tables (and a handful of booths, which will no doubt be much sought after), sexy black and white chequered flooring and, best of all, a wall of wine showcasing Prezzo's own label red, white and rosé (more of which later).
It's always difficult to judge the quality of food at a restaurant launch night, but we were actually pleasantly surprised by what we had. A number of taster portions were sent out for us to try, starting with our favourite item of the night - the crab cakes with garlic mayonnaise were a lovely example of their breed, all crisp coating on the outside and soft subtle fishiness on the inside. The staff were fantastic all night - young and cheerful and friendly - and when I unconvincingly pretended there was an extra person at our table who'd also be wanting a fishcake, our waitress helpfully said she'd put the extra one on MY plate for safekeeping. We also enjoyed the king prawns in a nicely sweet pomodoro sauce livened up with a good hit of chilli, and some excellently thin and crispy flatbreads with various toppings, my favourite being the pesto tomato one (I liked these so much I pleaded for the extra ones off the platter). We felt the antipasto plate was a little generic - nothing bad on there, but nothing that really stood out and called for attention either; still, a pretty high hit rate on the starters.
Mains also hit the mark more often than not. My friend felt the Wild Mushroom Girasole was a little underseasoned but I really enjoyed this dish; he was, however, full of praise for the al dente nature of the spaghetti served up in a fresh tomato sauce with chicken and buffalo mozzarella (although I personally would have preferred the chicken to be rather more integrated into the dish and for the mozzarella to have slightly more oomph). We also tried a selection of the pizzas - once again, these had lovely thin bases and generally the right amount of topping (plus I'm a sucker for rocket on pizza, lending as it does an air of healthiness to the proceedings). We also tried the cheesecake and the gelato from the desserts menu; the dainty sliver you see here disappeared in a matter of seconds and will need to be ordered again in a full size portion before too long. All of this was accompanied by generous pourings of the house wine - I was on the red, a juicy Sangiovese that seems very good value at £4.35 a glass and which I would buy again, particularly as there are surprisingly few options along Deansgate for a quiet glass of wine at a normal sort of price.
So, would I go again? Yes, I would - in fact, I had a quick pot of tea outside there today (a lady sitting nearby was having the crab cakes, and I was tempted to mug her of them), and whilst I can't pretend there aren't other Italian restaurants I wouldn't go to first (Salvi's being an obvious example), we did like the venue, and the atmosphere, and most of the food. Prices look reasonable for this part of town, especially as there's 25% off until the 24th August if you download a voucher from the website. I await the backlash, but I quite liked it here, and I'm not one little bit sorry about it.
- Prezzo is at 82-84 Deansgate, Manchester M3 2ER. This was a press launch which is why I'm reserving full judgement until I've eaten there properly, but we were not asked to blog the event and I have been honest in my views.