Gordo gazes on a transformed place off Swan Street

The first Italian restaurant that I can remember of any note opening in Manchester was Mario and Franco’s Terraza, part of a very smart group from London. It was the mid-seventies, and I can remember what I call a Veal Holstein; thinly sliced milk fed veal, breadcrumbed, pan fried and finished with capers, anchovies and topped with a crispy-bottomed fried egg. Pan juices were dribbled over. Sauteed potatoes, glorious food. Not very Italian, but there you go.

The next Italian that made a step change was Piccolino, on Clarence Street off Albert Square. It was bloody good. And, of course, the mighty San Carlo opened in what was thought to be a dead spot round the back of Kendall’s and finished up being the biggest cash cow of all only five or six years later. 

It was then, after about eight new Italians had opened that year that I coined the term YAFI. Short for Yet Another Fucking Italian. And they’re still coming.

The group that owns Piccolino is called IRC, the Individual Restaurant Company. It’s changed hands an awful lot. This could be a problem. 

2024 05 07 Piccolino Wilmslow Review Exterior 2
Outside Piccolino Grande, Wilmslow Image: Confidentials

IRC have been through an awful lot of ownership changes over the past two decades and there’s been all sorts of shenanigans over the past five. It’s now fully owned by Sir Malcom Walker, the owner of Iceland frozen foods and his partner, the charming Tarsem Dhaliwal. Along with their CEO Andrew Garton, they started cleaning out the Augean stables a couple of years ago and have been investing heavily in upgrading the facilities at all 32 restaurants. That's a lot of mucking out. 

Well, I can say I’ve had good food at Piccolino in Knutsford and Albert Square in the past six months, and the Three Musketeers have shown bravery in building a brand new ‘Piccolino Grande’ in Wilmslow.

It’s in another spot that’s been a bit of a dead zone for the past thirty years, on the corner of the traffic lights of Manchester Road and Swan Street, parking isn’t easy.

The building itself has been completely transformed from a nondescript 90s chain boozer into a very elegant, sunny restaurant with a super bar area, outside ‘terrace’ where you can grab a table in good weather and two main restaurant areas. My favourite is the one at the back, a big atrium, particularly the tables opposite the open kitchen. It has an Amalfi feel to it, all sky blues and lemons, with lots of cushions.

2024 05 07 Piccolino Wilmslow Review Interior
Inside Piccolino Grande Image: @piccolinorestaurants / Instagram

I went twice. The first was with the thunderbolt, Jane Dowler, gaffer of the cult family-run Spanish restaurant chain, Evuna. A few gin and tonics and a bottle of Primotivo di Manduria, 2021. A big red wine that had enough age on it to start whispering sweet nothings as only the Italians can do, with a price tag at £37; pretty good value in my book. Yes, you’ll see we ate mainly seafood, but we were living dangerously.

Too dangerously; Jane was on top form, I was too busy listening to her and I forgot to take notes. So I had to come back a few Saturdays later to make sure this review is as thorough as it should be.

The constant in both was Ettore, the legendary Maître D’ who I’ve known for over thirty years. He was supposed to have retired, but you can’t keep a good man down. He’s always sunshine on a rainy day. The service had a few mistakes, mainly through Brexit and pandemic problems common in the UK hospitality industry. They are training an awful lot of new people. It seems Piccolino have managed to hold on to a bigger percentage of old hands than most but there were a few mistakes I’m forgiving from the new peeps. After all, I was forgiven, aged 15, grappling with silver service and dropping two chips on the bride at the Legh Arms in Prestbury.

Oysters (four for £13.75) were exemplary on the second visit, although not shucked properly; the abductor muscle which attaches the meat to the bottom shell had not been cut. It becomes a right little bastard to sort out if you don’t know what you are doing. I do but it will spoil the enjoyment for a lot of people. They were a bit watery, mind you. It's become a habit in some restaurants to drown them for show. Don’t. However, the tiny diced pickled red onions were perfect.

2024 05 07 Piccolino Wilmslow Review Oysters
Oysters Image: Confidentials

At the first meal, Jane and I shared the garlic bread (£8.50). You needed something robust to stand up to the gin and tonics. The garlic bread, well, floppy pizza really, wasn’t up to much.

Meanwhile, the Burrata (£18.25) was.

Sprinkled with freshly chopped black truffle, drizzled with a cheeky sherry vinegar and matched with toasted walnut sourdough, this was a fresh faced beauty. I loved it; creamy, almost liquid inside. Only bettered during a visit to one of the dairies on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius at 6:45 am with the Tre Ciccio lads. You couldn’t get much fresher than that.

2024 05 07 Piccolino Wilmslow Review Burrata
Burrata Image: Confidentials

Pasta Carbonara (£16.25) is a good test; the Italians have more arguments about how it should be made as do the housewives of Lancashire about hot pots. This was made with eggs, parmesan and pecorino cheese and finished by yours truly with a shed load of freshly cracked black pepper. Bloody fabulous.

2024 05 07 Piccolino Wilmslow Review Carbonara
Pasta Carbonara Image: Confidentials

Jane had a cheeky Orata alla Griglia (£35) which was a whole sea bream baked in salt and finished at the table. Superb; on the plate after being cracked open and deftly filleted the flesh was sprinkled with a warm ‘salsa per pesce’, the latter freshly made with stand out olive oil.

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Orata alla Griglia (sea bream) Image: Confidentials

It was a Friday, so I took a handsome, chunky Sogliola, grilled (£55). That’s a Dover Sole to you and me. As always, I took it whole, filleting it myself, which, for me, adds to the whole messy enjoyment of this fish. It deserves a knighthood every bit as much as a beef loin, now Sirloin, having been knighted by King James the First. It was an ace fish. SirSole?

2024 05 07 Piccolino Wilmslow Review Sole
Sogliola (Sole) Image: Confidentials

The roast potatoes were lovely, buttery in fact, and slightly crispy; inside that waxy, near sweet interior delivering the best comfort food in the world. Char grilled broccoli and steamed greens (£5 each) were competent and fresh.

2024 05 07 Piccolino Wilmslow Review Greens
Greens and potatoes Image: Confidentials

We forced ourselves into trying a Tiramisu for pudding. It’s fine, but a bit too light and creamy if you know what I mean. It needs to be more solid; work required.

2024 05 07 Piccolino Wilmslow Review Tiramisu
Tiramisu Image: Confidentials

On the second visit, I had a glass of Whispering Angel. A rosé from Chateau d’Esclans near Frejus in Provence. The vineyards were generally poor when I lived there in the late eighties. Over the past thirty years Cotes de Provence have got better, but not £13.75 a glass better. Whispering Angel is a wine designed by the marketing department of Moet Hennessy, who bought into the estate in the last decade. If you want class at this price, it’s Domaine Ott. Be a Manc, not a mug.

But you’re not being a mug dining at Piccolino Grande in Wilmslow. Yes, it's YAFI, but it's fun, and I’ll happily return for round three. 

Piccolino Grande, Wilmslow, SK9 1HE

Piccolino Grande Wilmslow is on Confidential Guides

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The Scores

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, and ALWAYS paid for by Confidentials.com and completely independent of any commercial relationship. They are a first-person account of one visit by one, knowledgeable restaurant reviewer and don't represent the company as a whole.

If you want to see the receipt as proof this magazine paid for the meal then a copy will be available upon request. Or maybe ask the restaurant.

Venues are rated against the best examples of their type. What we mean by this is a restaurant which aspires to be fine dining is measured against other fine dining restaurants, a mid-range restaurant against other mid-range restaurants, a pizzeria against other pizzerias, a teashop against other teashops, a KFC against the contents of your bin. You get the message.

Given the above, this is how we score: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: sigh and shake your head, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: nothing's that good is it?

  • Food 7.75/10

    Burrata 8.75, Garlic Bread 6, Oysters 7.5, Spaghetti 8, Sole 8.75, Sea bream 9, Potatoes 8, Broccoli 7, Steamed greens 7, Tiramisu 7

  • Service 3.75/5

  • Ambience 4/5