Ruth Allan enjoys a comforting, polished treat... by Bem Brasil?
One of the thrills of eating out is that, every so often, the experience is better than appearances suggest - and Altrincham’s new Sardinian restaurant, Sardus Cucina, is a case in point.
Resembling nothing so much as a high street wine bar, the glass facade hugs the double yellow lines of the main road like a long lost friend. Step inside, though, and staff buzz around, enthusing about Sardinian family favourites.
Our waiter tells me they’ve only been open a month: “It was Bem Brasil before we opened” he says. “We haven’t changed much really… we just made it more rustic with more wood.” True, that.
The tagline is ‘traditional Sardinian’ - and dishes are a subtle bunch. The best I can come up with is ‘parallel Italian cooking’ - as in a bit different to your typical Italian expectations but not that different.
Caprese di mare salad (£7.50, main image), for example, is a classic combo of tomato, buffalo mozzeralla and basil, served with the addition of salted, dried grey mullet roe known as bottarga. Sounds like a drastic change, doesn’t it? Yet it’s a surprisingly elegant twist.
Sardinian sausage ragu (Malloreddus, £11) is served with tiny ‘dumpling’ shaped pasta, a bit like ear-shaped orchietti, but not quite. The sauce is just rich enough, the portions not too big.
In fact they offer large and small portions across the salad and pasta menus, making for the perfect prelude to pan fried sea bream, rack of lamb or my choice; rare fillet steak with a thin, Sardinian Cannonau red wine sauce (£23.95). Again, everything is comfortingly familiar, and ever so slightly different.
There’s not a bum note, actually, although nothing (barring the fabulous Sardinian wine) really stands out. This is quality, well balanced cooking – and the staff, a Sardinian team, drawn (mostly) from Piccolino in Bramhall, are brilliant, with a back story for every dish.
Back at home, I’ve been reading Rachel Roddy’s Italian cookbook, Five Quarters, in which the stories about the origins of her recipes are so engaging that they threaten to overshadow the food. The same applies here at times.
Even flat bread (served with whipped cream-like cheese and a sun dried tomato, garlic and chilli dip), is brought to life with a tale. This, our waiter explains, was a pocket food for shepherds, unable to carry more than the lightest burden over the huge distances. I’m so captivated I stuff some in my bag, just to see if it still tastes as good tomorrow.
Elsewhere, Moorish and middle eastern elements add intrigue. The giant couscous-style pasta in fregola ai frutti di mare (£14) is a tried and tested vehicle for clam and squid ring broth, while honey-soaked sedas (£5.50) is a freshly baked ‘ravioli’ shaped pastry square with pecorino. I could eat this any time of day; butter, orange zest and hot honey oozing over buttery flakes and softly melting cheese.
Other desserts are predictable: gelato, affogato, a pear and percorino cheese cake. We try the tiramisu and crème catalana (£5.75 each) both of which could have done with a twist.
Conversely, the wine list needs no meddling with. We try three; the house Cannonau used in the red wine sauce they serve with the steak. An expensive and fancy version of the same varietal (Senes Cannonau di Sardenga DOC Riserva Argiolas, £46.55). And a really great Italian midranger, Dolcetto D’Alba (DOC ‘Lodoli Ca del Baio, £36.50). Whites take in Sicilian Viogniers and a host of Sardinian whites; I like the sounds of ‘lean, dry’ Pecorino ‘Ofithe’ Offida DOCG Moncaro Marche (£30.50).
When I call back the next day, general manager and former Piccolino man, Giovanni Testoni, tells me that Sardus is still owned by Bem Brasil, and this new concept is a test run to see if it works. Will it work, I wonder? The jury’s still out. For the time being, though, this is a comforting, polished treat, that’s just a little bit different.
Sardus Cucina, 14-16 Ashley Road, Altrincham, WA14 2DW Tel: 0161 927 9001
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.
bread 7, caprese 7, pasta 7, fregola 7, steak 8, tiramisu 7, crème catalana 5, pastry 9
Couldn't do enough, but the tales become tiresome
'More rustic, more wood'