Ruth Allan visits a slightly weird, intimate space knocking out admirable Sicilian nosh
Don’t let first impressions put you off Reddish’s tiny Sicilian restaurant, A Tavola. The shop front is kind of tacky, and the interior does look like a bierkeller. Or maybe a bierkeller in an ornate bathroom. But the contrast between what your eyes are telling you (err…. no) and Alessio Muccio’s authentic cooking is all part of A Tavola’s quirky charm.
At the heart of the matter is the cooking, which is great in that really moreish, oily, salty way that real Italian – or in this case Sicilian - food can be. Take, for example, the thyme-soaked lamb shoulder packed into spicy ravioli (£11.50, pictured top) and topped with slivers of Sicilian salami and whole garlic cloves. Or the salty, deep-fried chickpea flour cakes - panelle - snuggled up with steaming potato and mint croquettes in a basket (crocche, £5). My friend overlooks them, so I eat them all. And then there’s the sfinciune; a traditional flatbread so bouncy, thick and hunky, it brings to mind Channing Tatum in Magic Mike (an appetising £5.50).
Sicilian sausage, crocche and arancine (rice balls) and more crop up time and again in different portion sizes and incarnations on the epic menu. I’m still trying to decipher this document, to be honest, but the cooking is spot on – and Muccio has given plenty of thought to sourcing.
The fennel sausage, served in a tomato, garlic and onion sauce, shiny with olive oil (£10.50, A Sasizza) comes via a retired Sicilian butcher in London, and the creamy burrata is flown in every other day from Puglia. One of the few non-Sicilian items on the menu, Muccio chose this mainland region of Italy for his cheese, “because Puglia is best for burrata”. Fair enough. I had the afumicata (smoked) version with aubergine caponata (£7.50) and now wish I’d had this burrata over all those that have gone before.
Another surprise is the chi sarde (£6.50, pictured third top). Seriously, this oily dish of sardines, mashed dill pesto, pine kernels, raisins and saffron, with udon-thick spaghetti straws is among the most fishy things I’ve ever eaten. But it works.
Dessert is fun too. Choose from ice cream or ricotta-filled pastries, served in a slightly overdone shell (cannoli pictured, with pistachio and chocolate chips, £1.50 per piece). Family favourites like affogato and zabaglione are present and correct at £2.50. But my favourite is the wildly alcoholic tiramisu (also £2.50).
Behind the scenes, Muccio cooks and his partner does front of house. The Sicilian chef worked at Stock - currently under renovation by Giggs and Neville's hospitality arm - before opening Mamma Mia in Denton three years ago. A Tavola followed last November. He clearly loves cooking - the menu’s based on a book of family recipes passed down by his father - and the gamble is starting to pay off, with passionate TripAdvisor ratings and a loyal following.
Wine-wise, there are only about seven bottles to choose with most reds based on Sicilian grape, Nero D’Avola. This varietal is coming back into fashion, having previously been relegated to house wine or the second cheapest on restaurant wine lists. It’s nice to see it taking centre stage here, then, and both Nero D’Avola Tannat (Brugnano Naisi, £19.50) and Planeta Le Segreta blend (£21.50) are highly drinkable options.
Next time, I’ll be trying the beef ragu arancine, garlic courgettes, and the British veal escallopes, with sage, Parma ham and marsala.
The only issue is the slightly weird and intimate space. But it’s cheap. And it’s good. So go.
A Tavola, 14 Broadstone Rd, Stockport SK5 7AE. T: 0161 971 8441
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself)
crocche 9, sausage 8, ravioli 8, pasta 9, burrata 10, cannoli 7, tiramisu 9,
Slightly weird and intimate