Sophie Rahnema's waiting and she's talking Italian (cooking that is)
I have jumped on the tram to Chorlton with no preconceptions about Campagna at The Creameries. Save from reading one or two press releases and love letters to Italiana when it first launched in February, I am here with an open heart and an empty tum.
Campagna stands in the belly of what was simply The Creameries until February this year. Chef Mike Thomas has worked with its founder Mary-Ellen McTague since 2019 but McTague has now stepped back and handed Thomas the reins, and I’m sure my pasta is in good hands.
Surely one and a half roast potatoes is at least one and a half too few?
Italian food is the backbone of my home cooking career. I have perfected a silky pasta to sauce to butter ratio and am not afraid of an extended shift nursing risotto on the stove. What I also am not is my own harshest critic, so you’ll have to turn to my boyfriend for reviews from our kitchen.
In restaurants, he has given up ordering his own food. And as we come hurtling into Taurus season, has very much conceded to the fact that whatever food the lady wants she shall receive.
I sip on a spagliato to ponder the short but very sweet-sounding menu. The aperitif does its job and serves to wake up my appetite. Every “-etti”, “-telle” and “-io” that is dotted around the page sets my Italophile senses tingling.
As a dinner preamble, focaccia (£3.25) is bubbly, chewy, salty and dribbling with olive oil. I‘ve eaten focaccia up and down the North West, and this easily stands up to my favourite Kala Bistro bake. A little girl at another table is fighting her dad for the last bit of theirs. She is a girl after my own heart so I manically gobble what’s left of ours in honour of her. And because I think focaccia is now my love language.
Campagna forgoes “traditional” Italian starters, there is no out-of-season Caprese salad or tomato bruschetta here. We’re dealing with hyper-seasonal, regional ingredients with techniques and flavours from regional Italy and Southern France.
Mussels (£10) swim with sea veggies in a soothing bath of Sicilian olive oil, lemon juice and oregano in a delicate ode to the Mediterranean sea. In stark contrast, chicken livers (£6) are smooth, rich and earthy - why do things like this come in threes? We now have a fight on our hands over the bigger half of the third crostini. The Italian passion has been ignited in all of us this evening.
I cannot choose a single main course, specifically wanting to eat three of the four choices, I order them all under the pretence of sharing.
While dining at Lerpwl on Albert Docks in Liverpool late last year, Ellis Barrie and his team treated us to a duck ragu. Smitten, I set about recreating the thing at home. Sourcing local game, I roasted and pulled it apart before stirring it into a thick tomato-based sauce. It didn’t work quite how I imagined and now I wonder why I bother.
How Campagna’s Mike Thomas has taken hogget shoulder ragu (£15) and persuaded such a slight slip of a thing to perfectly coat ribbons of homemade tagliatelle with its fatty, grassy-flavoured gravy is beyond my comprehension.
More tagliatelle is tossed with a special salsa di noci - or walnut sauce (£10) in another feat of Italian - specifically Ligurian - cookery. Walnuts, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano are combined with olive oil and breadcrumbs for a creamy, slightly bitter pesto-style sauce with a tangy bite. It is silky, rich and every bit the antithesis of the astonishingly light hogget ragu.
Pasta dishes at Campagna aren’t large. They’re simply a tumble of a taste of a flavour on a plate. More than you need to get the idea, but less than a full meal if you are a greedy gluten addict like yours truly. I am glad of the fat duck breast (£20) that arrives with its cavalry of tenderstem broccoli and roast potatoes.
One and a half roast potatoes to be exact, each roasted to glass-like perfection and dotted with crispy sage. But surely one and a half roast potatoes is at least one and a half too few?
Pedantry and greed aside, the duck's flesh blushes like a spring blossom. Its fat isn’t crispy but the texture is wonderful and the charred tenderstem is dressed with capers, anchovy and garlic that serve as a punchy seasoning on the seemingly simple plate.
We are afforded a breather after our meal, time to enjoy the rest of a bottle of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo the colour of strawberry jelly.
Finally, a single slice of lemon tart (£7) arrives scorched and caramelised, presented with a dollop of sharp creme fraiche. Our spoons clang together as we devour pure silken sunshine.
And that is precisely what happened when Campagna arrived at The Creameries in Chorlton, it brought the sunshine to this leafy little Manchester town.
Campagna at The Creameries 406 Wilbraham Rd, Manchester M21 0SD
Follow Sophie on Instagram @sophieshahla
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.
Focaccia 8, mussels 7.5, chicken liver crostini 8, tagliatelle with hogget shoulder ragu 8, tagliatelle with salsa di noci 7.5, duck 7.5, lemon tart 7.5
They know their stuff and are happy to seat us early
A bistro for locals and not-so-locals