Dom's Tavola Calda, Manchester

By Jo Cooksey

A couple of months ago we were invited to dine at Al Bacio, a gem of an Italian restaurant, tucked away behind the shops on King Street. Last week we dined at the sister venue, Dom’s Tavola Calda.

Situated on the corner of Blackfriars and Deansgate, there has been an Italian eatery on this site for the last fifty years. No I couldn’t believe it either. One of the staff told me that the original restaurant, Pizza Italia opened there in 1967, which means I have been dining here for at least forty two of those fifty years. Gosh I feel old now.

Pizza Italia closed in 2007 and became Rustica but then the building was earmarked for demolition and they had to vacate the premises. For whatever reason, it never happened so the site stood empty until Restaurateur, Dom La Calla re-opened it 3 years ago as Dom’s Tavola Calda. It is styled as a typical Italian café serving traditional dishes, many of which you won’t on many other trattoria menus. The interior is cosy and welcoming with twinkling fairy lights.

We were greeted and shown to a table by the manager, Lee Horan a son of Manchester with all the easy charm and courtesy of his European equivalent. In fact, I must say that Lee was brilliant at his job and made us feel very relaxed. He was interested in us and gave us plenty of information on the restaurant and the menu. I watched him working the room, nothing escaped his attention and no glass was left unfilled, even when the restaurant was getting near capacity. He seemed to have the whole place running very smoothly.

Whilst we perused the menu we ordered the obligatory garlic bread. A cheesy one. Oh my goodness this was good. I know it’s only garlic bread but it is so easy to get wrong, to be overlooked by the kitchens. Served as a pizza base with lovely stringy mozzarella, a good helping of garlic and oil and a generous scattering of herbs. Plus, it was sizzling hot. So far so good.

The menu is comprehensive and there is a well populated specials list too from which I ordered the wild mushrooms on toast with spinach and a Hollandaise sauce. My dinner companion chose the ribs off the main menu. My dish was disappointing to be honest. The toast was sat on a bed of rocket, which was fine but it had been dressed with balsamic vinegar which just killed the taste of everything else. As Hollandaise already has acidity from the lemon in it, it really didn’t need the balsamic. In the end, I scraped the dressed rocket to one side of the plate. The Hollandaise had obviously been sat in a pan on the side for a while because it had solidified before being spooned as lumps on to the mushrooms. Taste wise it was lovely but aesthetically it wasn’t very pleasing to the eye. The mushrooms themselves were delicious but the spinach hadn’t been rinsed and was as gritty as heck. Oh dear. However, my companion pronounced her ribs to be delicious and the sauce, which I dipped some garlic bread crust into, was as rich and unctuous as it should be.

The mains that we chose certainly didn’t disappoint. We both chose off the main menu with my dinner mate selecting Bucatini all’Amatriciana, bucatini pasta with bacon, tomato sauce, onions, white wine and a touch of chilli. She declared it to be, “Sooo good” and it was. The pasta al dente, a coating of sauce but not swimming in it and just the right hint of chilli.

I had the Paccheri Genovese, succulent beef, braised long and slow served in a traditional onion based Genovese sauce with wide tubes of pasta. This typical Neapolitan dish isn’t often seen on English menus, which is a shame because this was perfection. The meat fell apart at the touch of my fork and melted in the mouth. It was a hearty, comfort food and the sort of rustic dish that Dom’s wants to be known for.

Halfway through each bowl of pasta and we were both well and truly stuffed. Both Dom’s and Al Bacio certainly serve generous, freshly cooked portions and we couldn’t finish ours. So sadly, no pudding for us this time. Dom’s actually serve two portion sizes, so next time the key for us to be able to squeeze in dessert would be to have a starter sized portion.

With the exception of my mushroom starter, all the food and the service was top notch and I would certainly be happy to visit again.

We were guests of Dom’s Tavola Calda but as always this is review is our honest opinion.

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