Lucy Tomlinson stumbles into this old-school Italian

Do you ever have one of those evenings where you are looking for somewhere to eat, but thing after thing goes wrong and you end up wandering the streets with an empty belly and a feeling of existential despair?

Perhaps this mainly happens in foreign cities where the only suitable entry in the guidebook is closed because of a family function, or the feast of local saint, or simply because it’s August and the locals just don’t DO August? Or maybe you are relying on an app with an algorithm that seems obsessed with getting you to visit the nearest Subway, despite you typing in ‘romantic Lebanese food’. And so you wander on and on, hunger and despair increasing with every step.

I was trying to find somewhere to eat that had not already featured in this esteemed publication

But that could never happen here, right? Not when you have the sage and venerable Manchester Confidential website (and new app) to guide you. Well actually it has just happened to me. It has to be pointed out that I was trying to find somewhere to eat that had not already featured in this esteemed publication, so I couldn’t reference Manchester Confidential for help like any reasonable and intelligent individual would. After a couple of promising leads fell through (because they are not even actually open yet) I meandered past a likely-ish looking spot and pounced.

20180529 Borrello Exterior
Borrello - Lucy's Italian saviour
20180529 Borrello Bread
Basket of emergency bread

“Food, I beg you, food,” I cried as I stumbled through the door of Borrello in Sale, an old-school Italian spot with white tablecloths and eerily glowing walls. Well perhaps I really said, “table for two please,” followed by “a gin and tonic thank you,” but my meaning was clear. A large basket of bread accompanied with olive oil and a dash of balsamic appeared swiftly after, so we must have been giving off famished-to-the-point-of-feral vibes (it was very good bread).

Appetite contained, I ordered the mozzarella e prosciuttio (£7.20) as a starter, which can hardly go wrong, as long as you have good quality meat and good quality cheese, life is good. The other starter we ordered was billed as 'fresh anchovies' (£6.95) but the small print revealed them to be marinated in white wine vinegar (essentially a fast pickle) and wrapped around olives. This is a yummy little Spanish-inspired tapas-type dish that goes very nicely with a drink, but I’m not sure I would present it as a ‘starter’ for nearly £7. 

20180529 Borrello Mozzarella Ham
Mozzarella e proscuittio
20180529 Borrello Anchovies
Anchovies and olives - £7 for a starter

Speaking of drinks, the wine list is strangely limited for a restaurant that sounds a little like a quality Italian red. I was rather relieved not to have to leaf through the gigantic tomes some places produce, but it might be nice to have more than one wine by the glass to choose from.

For mains, I decided to live a little with the salt-baked sea bass (£18.50). The fish is baked a crust made from egg white and salt, to make a kind of salty (and inedible) meringue. In fact think of it as a piscine baked Alaska. The salt works to seal in moisture and gently steam the sea bass in its own juices, seasoning it perfectly at the same time. 

The waiter then poured vodka over it and set it alight before filleting at the table (see image above.) I’m not sure the tableside immolation was completely necessary but it certainly made an impression: with the amount of flaming salt rocks being flung around, it was practically medieval warfare. A hard act to follow, the fish was beautiful but the rather weak vegetable accompaniment let it down.

20180529 Borrello Fish
Sea bass fillets released from their salt crust
20180529 Borrello Lamb
Lamb cutlets - not hugely exciting

Our other main was lamb cutlets (£20.50), which were very nicely done with powerful lashings of garlic and mint. They were served with some standard Sunday-lunch-type vegetables - not very exciting for quite an expensive dish.

For pudding we split a coppa di mascarpone, or literally “cup of mascarpone” which in this case is basically a cheesecake. This arrived looking like one of those fancy candles with a zillion wicks that are more expensive by weight than gold. What it actually tasted like was mint-choc chip ice-cream from Granelli’s, which is the finest-Genoan-by-way-of-Macclesfield ice cream and the taste of my childhood. Perhaps not the sophisticated vibe Borello was going for, but it definitely good.

20180529 Borrello Mascarpone
Coppa di marscapone

Comparing Borrello to newer Italians such as Tre Ciccio in Altrincham makes it obvious that, despite only being two years older, it’s approach is from a different time.

There is less emphasis on adhering tightly to region and provenance for example, but clearly the chef loves certain things and sticks them (fish is particularly well represented.) The décor isn’t carefully constructed rustic chic but rather a slightly glossed-up room for eating in. Which you prefer is of course, as always, up to you. But you do have the advantage of deciding in advance if it is for you. Make sure you use it.

Borrello, 7 School Road, Sale, M33 7XY

The scores:

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: put the kettle on instead, 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: made by God him/herself.

  • Food 6/10

    Anchovies 6, mozzarella 6, salt-baked sea bass 7, lamb cutlets 6, coppa di marscapone 6

  • Service 3.5/5

    not keen to give me a wine list but made up for it by brandishing a flaming fish at me

  • Ambience 3/5

    A slightly glossed-up room for eating in