When drinking and dining out in West Didsbury, take a friend who lives there! Adam and I recently went up to see one of my friends and her partner and had the best time. The next morning, driving back home? Not so good (one too many cocktails – and I wasn’t even doing the driving!).
On Burton Road, one of the main roads through West Didsbury, there’s a dizzying number of restaurants and bars, cafes and pubs to choose from. Most look amazing – the usual kebab shops look, well, like kebab shops. However, we didn’t need to worry because our friend told us she’d booked us in at a local family-owned Italian called Azzurro that she and her boyfriend loved and had been to several times before.
I already knew it would be good – this friend of mine appreciates good food. We’ve shared many a wine-and-cheese nights in the past. Good wine, good cheese. I do miss cheese 🙁
So – armed with knowing the restaurant in advance, I did a little Googling and found their website. Since I’m currently transitioning to what I like to call “dairy-free, egg-free vegetarian” I wanted to only spend my money on something that fitted these goals. Looking through the seafood specialists menu, I’ll admit, my options were somewhat limited. Aside from the daily fish market specials (which would all be out anyway) I was down to following, if I customised:
Penne all’Amatriciana: penne with pancetta, chilli, garlic, tomato & basil sauce
Linguine Marie (v): linguine with cherry tomatoes, basil, garlic, lemon & olive oil, topped with rocket & Parmesan shavings
Penne con Asparagi e Limone (v): penne with asparagus, lemon, cream & sun-dried tomatoes
I figure you could remove the pancetta from the first option the parmesan from the second, and the cream from the third.
Next challenge: the pasta. I knew it was likely to be fresh egg pasta if it was the proper stuff, and a quick email with their lovely owner confirmed it was – but never fear! They keep a dry option on hand that is dairy and egg free. Voila! Sorted.
When we arrived (on what must be said, a relatively mild night for late October) the place was packed already. A very good sign, as my food guide from New Orleans taught me! Go where locals go. If it’s empty [at 8pm on a Saturday night], leave.
Now, Azzuro’s isn’t a big place. It seats perhaps 30 people? I in no way counted, but that was my impression. However, despite the space being filled to capacity with tables (there was no way they could squeeze in even another table for two!) it doesn’t feel cramped. It’s cosy. Friendly. The acoustics give it a natural buzz when everyone’s talking – although perhaps if there was a single, very loud party it would be very different. Fortunately, I don’t know!
We decided to share some wine to drink, and I ordered a jug of tap water for the table too.
For starters, we all shared the Bruschetta Mista (bruschetta two ways: marinated cherry tomato & garlicky cannellini bean mash) – although the waitress came running back out after bringing it out to let me know the cannellini bean mash actually contained parmesan today (it doesn’t always apparently, which I actually thought was quite nice and authentic – it’s how I cook things at home. My hummus doesn’t always contain tahini.)
The tomatoes were lovely, although I am a garlic lover and could of taken some more garlic. Although perhaps, given we then went to several bars afterwards, it’s a good thing.
For mains, I went with the Linguine Marie, specifying the dairy-free, egg-free pasta and to please nix the parmesan. I also added I’d emailed the owner/head chef so he was expecting the request. Everybody else ordered various fish and I’dd admit – I was jealous. Sea Bass is one of my favourite dishes and this was the first time I had to turn it down! Still – my meal was completely animal-free and I was happy in my soul about that (if not 100% happy in my tastebuds!).
So, the food! My dish was plain, but I knew it would be. I’m still getting used to ordering and should of really asked for some additional chilli or sun-dried tomatoes to give the pasta some flavour after removing the Parmesan, but I forgot. Still – the spaghetti (no fresh linguine for me either, sigh) was al dente, and the sauce was fresh and delicious in itself.
Adam ordered his favourite dish (he chose to go Pescatarian that evening), which was on the Specials board: Seafood Linguine (with baby calamari, fresh mussels & king prawns in tomato, fresh herbs & chilli). He tucked in with gusto and there was none left, so I think it’s safe to say he loved it.
Our friends ordered the Sea Bass Fillet and Whole Trout (also both from the Specials board) – the Trout was served even with the head, much like I had at a Mediterranean restaurant on holiday last year, so it really must be a thing. Both exclaimed how delicious and wonderfully cooked the fish was and again, there was none left. Clean plates all round!
Cue dessert. Three of us passed, in favour of some Limoncello. My OH went for a brownie (a warm dark chocolate, sour cherry & smashed amaretti brownie, if you want to get specific). Cue the first (and only) mistake of the evening. Our waitress thought Adam said ‘Brandy’ and promptly bought it out with our Limoncello’s. We found it hilarious (most likely the two bottles of wine talking there!) as all Adam was day-dreaming about at the table was the brownie he’d ordered – however we managed to get the waitress’ attention and the situation was quickly fixed without any fuss at all.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a brownie devoured quicker either.
Emil, the owner and head chef, I’d spoken to via email came out after we’d eaten to say hello. He even apologised for not coming out to take our order (which he’d mentioned he do in our emails) but to be honest, it hadn’t even crossed my mind! Emil also mentioned that he was concerned the dish was a bit bland without the Parmesan to contrast with the tomatoes – but I take that as my mistake, not his. He created exactly what I ordered and I should of known to added in a little spice or flavour. We had a brilliant waitress and I’d figure, with all of the tables full and all eating or waiting to eat, that the poor chap was most likely rushed off of his feet! Still, I loved the personal touch and it really added to the ‘family restaurant’ feel. He remembered our friends, who come in often, too.
Azzuro in West Didsbury is by far going down in my books as the best Italian I’ve had in awhile, hands down. Most of the Italian food I get when eating out is from chains like Ask or Zizzi, or Pizza Express (I guess). This was also my first time ordering ahead and speaking with a restaurant about my dietary requests – and Emil’s friendliness and open attitude to them was really helpful. I was at ease prior to even sitting down, and our server only contributed positively to that.
Rating: 9.5/10. Can’t find a fault with the food, but would of liked more to choose from. Perhaps a customisable ‘blank’ pasta dish! But seriously, if you’re in West Didsbury, check out Azzurro: they’re vegetarian friendly, can easily adapt a couple of dishes to be vegan-friendly and do honestly good food. But book ahead!