Inside Manchester’s first vegan Italian cocktail bar and deli cafe
Let’s say you go to Ortica in Urmston and you don’t see the sign. There’s an especially prominent tree outside so this is very possible. You walk in and you think, wow, this is very pleasant.
Deli shelves line the left-hand wall brimming with produce. Wine, pasta from the Campania region of Italy, cooking sauces and snacks. Tables and chairs spread out across the room with a bar at the end. Gaetano or Carmen warmly welcome you in and you choose to sit and nibble on a few aperitivo picky bits. Perhaps one of the in-house cocktails or a glass of wine too.
Put it this way, you won’t leave hungry
It’s not until a friend asks you a few days later whether you’ve seen the new vegan place that’s opened on Flixton Road that you clock it. That’s the beauty of Ortica plant-based Italian. It’s all hiding in plain sight.
From the south of Italy to the south Manchester
As you’d hope from a small Italian café deli bar run by Italians, Ortica is a family affair. Gaetano and partner Rita run the place with Rita’s sister Carmen and her boyfriend Harry. The first three hail from Campobasso in the Molise region of southern Italy, whilst Harry, who could easily pass as Italian, hails from Shrewsbury.
All four are passionate about vegan food and Ortica (Italian for nettle) is the culmination of this passion. The bar, deli and café which opens today (5 July) serves a selection of plant-based Italian dishes throughout the day as well as coffee, wine, cocktails and beer.
Breakfast, starting from 10am, could be a cornetto vegan croissant or focaccia Pugliese with cherry tomatoes and olives. Lunch from midday could be bruschetta fave with n’duja. Broad bean puree, spicy n’duja sausage, grated parmesan and extra virgin olive oil. Maybe a glass of wine with that one, why not? For dinner, white or red base pinsa, the Roman stretched bread pizza or perhaps a homemade lasagna, with a tomato sauce made long and slow.
"Put it this way, you won’t leave hungry," says Gaetano.
Cocktails separated into house spritz and house negronis run throughout the day as does Ortica’s selection of Italian wines. A large glass of red comes in at a mere £6.50. The house signature cocktail, Ortica, features gin, cocchi americano, nettle liqueur and gentian.
Everything and I repeat, everything, is vegan.
A definite first for Manchester, a potential first for the UK
Gaetano and co have a strong suspicion that Ortica is the first of its kind in the UK. Of course, there are plant-based restaurants that sell Italian food, but to specialise in such a committed way is unheard of. The Ortica crew are big fans of vegan pizzeria Purezza, but what Ortica is offering is an unprecedented step beyond.
“Nobody has thought about putting the words plant-based and Italian together before.” Gaetano says. “We’ve researched it as part of our business plan and we’ve seen nothing in the UK, just one place in America.”
Italian food and veganism to some might seem slightly at odds with each other. Gaetano and co acknowledge this, but take away the meat and cheese from Italian cuisine and what you’re left with is vegetables, carbs and passion.
“We’ve got really nice vegetables in Italy and the food is amazing so everything we do will be as good as anything with meat,” Carmen says. “After I became vegetarian I never went back to meat or fish. There’s a lot of sun in Italy so the produce is good. We’ve got a lot.”
Sourcing has been central to the inception of Ortica, as has research. Recipes have been a labour of love for over a decade. Rita and Gaetano trying to nail a vegan lasagne in a small Italian town void of soya. Every product has been given the fine-tooth comb treatment, first to ensure it's vegan, second to ensure it tastes good.
Most of this goes unnoticed but the eagle-eyed will spot certain substitutions, of which Gaetano is especially proud.
There’s no Campari for instance, so Berto bitter comes in to bulletproof a vegan negroni. Hotel Starlino vermouth is swapped in for Martini. Luckily Aperol is vegan so that stays. La Molisana pasta comes from the city where the trio grew up whilst colossal 2kg loaves used for bruschetta hail from Puglia. Southern Italy loves its carbs and the Ortica team are channeling their roots. Pasta is a daily ritual.
From Dirty Bird BBQ to plant-based trattoria
There’s a sweet irony to a vegan Italian place taking over the former spot of a place called Dirty Bird BBQ. When the Ortica team took over the site they had to steam the grease out of the kitchen walls. A fridge left in the kitchen still harboured a piece of meat, which having been sat in an unplugged fridge for some time, was not a pleasant discovery.
The Ortica team have worked hard to transform the space and are proud of the results. Everything has been done in-house. From painting the walls and putting together the shelving to printing the menus and sourcing every product.
They want Ortica to be a place for everyone, vegan or otherwise. Already there’s interest from the local passers-by and the opening hasn’t gone unnoticed among the Manchester vegan community.
“A few months ago someone walking past took a picture and put it in the Manchester Vegan Facebook group and the post blew up. We’d only just put the sign up and we hadn’t even done anything. That was really promising.” Carmen says.
First and foremost, the Ortica team hope the place can become a part of the Flixton Road furniture and one of many stop-offs in an up-and-coming area of Manchester.
“We can’t wait to open and become a part of the community. There’s been so much coming in, with the shutters down, doing work on the place. Everyone in Urmston has been so welcoming and friendly.” Gaetano says.
“We can’t wait to meet people, show what we’ve done and try and do our part.”
Ortica Plant-based Italian, 70 Flixton Road, Urmston, Manchester, M41 5AB
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