Davey Brett goes on a small plates flavour holiday
It’s a roasting hot Sunday afternoon in August and me and a friend have taken ourselves off to the Salgarve. No flights or luggage needed, just a transfer at Trafford Bar if you’re travelling from Chorlton and a bit of imagination once you get off the tram. Same wall of heat upon exiting the station. Same sprinkling of pink Brits.
If you haven’t already clocked it, Sale is on the up. The once dreary Stanley Square shopping centre is getting a glow up, with restaurants and bars aplenty. Research by The Guardian says that Sale has seen a 43% net increase in the number of restaurants since the pandemic, the highest of all areas surveyed.
The menu is a sight to behold. Octopus, sea bream, wild boar, clams, goat's cheese and battered fried runner beans all jump from the page
Many of them, including the likes of Greens, Blanchflower, The Oystercatcher and Sugo are here. A corridor of impressive indies set against 80s shopping precinct futurism. Indies attracting indies, all hoovering up that middle-class suburban dough and even teasing city dwellers onto that turbulent stretch of Metrolink where it always feels like the tram is going to disintegrate.
One of the newbies in this part of the world is Petisco, which means snack in Portuguese.
The cosy unit sits next to the new Greens and dishes out meat, seafood and vegetable small plates. Inside it’s casual dining, a narrow space flanked by benches for larger groups near the door on one side and a bar on the other. It’s dark and cool inside, a welcome break from the stifling heat but open brick and tungsten lighting doesn't exactly exude Porto and Lisbon.
Although we try and wangle our way onto a bench, our waitress leads us to a small table near the kitchen. It’s a tight fit, with jokes made with fellow diners about sitting on each other’s laps. We order a jug of white sangria (£15), the ideal antidote to the heat.
The menu is a sight to behold. Octopus, sea bream, wild boar, clams, goat's cheese and battered fried runner beans all jump from the page. If you’ve scouted out the Instagram before the choices are even tougher. Staff suggest five to six plates. Food arrives as it’s ready. You know the deal.
King prawns finished in green peri peri butter (£9.50) and broad bean and spinach sweet potato croquette (£6.95) arrive first.
The croquette sits matter-of-factly, set on a dollop of aioli, a rotund nugget waiting to be halved, whilst the meaty prawns lay bathed in rich peri peri sauce. We begin by decapitating and tearing into a prawn each before working it around the plate trying to pick up as much of the herby, spiced butter as possible. You can tell the prawns have been near a fiery grill, evidenced later as flames leap up theatrically in the kitchen.
The only shame is that there’s only three of them. Why don’t small plates places throw another on for the sake of sharing?
A lesson learned the hard way here is get some bread. There’s too much excellent sauce going to waste at Petisco. Do the honourable thing and mop everything up. With a thin, crispy coating and rich, super soft creamy filling meanwhile, the croquette is an enjoyable contrast of textures. The dollop of aioli is light and fresh too.
Two grilled sardines with roasted red pepper (£7.95) and pan-fried padron peppers (£4.75) follow immediately after, with battered fried runner beans with peri peri salsa and lemon aioli (£6.25), short rib pica pau (£9.95) hot on their heels. Of course, when it’s ready it’s ready, but a bit of pacing would’ve been welcome as everything amasses precariously on our little table.
Now, don’t rush into those sardines. The knife on the side is intuitive. After my own initial, ill-advised hunger-fuelled hack job, my friend approaches the duo with the fish knife like a skilled surgeon.
A few incisions, a separation from the bone and we’re good to go. Little delicate fillets of grilled sardine, charring on the skin, lemon and garlic oil coming through with each bite. The acidity of the pickled red roasted pepper is such a welcome touch and a few more slivers would’ve been even better.
Those runner beans though.
I’m very much in the everything-is-better-deep-fried camp, but those runner beans feel like a moment. A vegetable celebrity akin to Maray’s iconic disco cauliflower. The humble runner bean has never been so moreish. Intriguing on the plate when they’re first set down, brown batter suggesting some spices in there, once you start digging in it’s difficult to stop. Scoop them with little mounds of the punchy acidic salsa or just dip away in that lemon-infused aioli.
Our mound of padron peppers is generously stacked. It’s difficult to tell whether the vibrant orange sauce or the smoked chilli salt is the culprit for the peppers being slightly overly spicy, but the quantity for under a fiver is to be applauded. Then it’s the turn of that short rib.
Let me set the scene. For a few minutes that short rib lies in wait on the corner of the table. A big slab of meat with a little bean stew next to it. A vibrant button of sweet puree providing a pop of colour. A moat of herb-infused oil incircles the whole thing. What a dish. You could have one each as a main. The rich, caramelised meat, slathered in beer-infused gravy falls apart effortlessly. Each mouthful is a moment.
An aside: my friend says she doesn’t like soup because every mouthful is the same. It’s predictable, boring.
The short rib is the opposite. Mouthfuls are dictated by the way you move around the plate. Shreds of meat brushed up with tendrils of herby oil give off the freshness of parsley whilst a distinctive vegetable sweetness punctuates forkfuls of meat, bean and puree. Notes of lime come through. Everything is balanced.
It’s an indulgent dish that if I worked locally, I’d have for lunch once a week for the rest of my life.
We finish things off with a Pastéis de Nata. A staff member tells us that they’re imported direct from Portugal and my friend, a baker in a former life, pores over the resulting pastry. Immediately, the underside is checked for rings. If there’s no rings, forget about it. She describes the consistency as “wild” (a term of endearment) when it’s cut into. Soft, almost wobbly, teasing a looseness but keeping its own when both halves are separated.
The outer pastry easily flakes, whilst inner layers are enjoyably chewy. The custard is subtly sweet whilst the top is masterfully burnt. It’s not a work of Petisco’s doing but it’s masterful sourcing and leaves us walking out with a smile on our faces.
Places like Petisco are part of the reason why Sale is quickly becoming a serious foodie destination. Jump on the tram and get yourself over there.
Petisco, 56 Stanley Square, Sale M33 7XZ
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials 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.
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.
Prawns 8, sardines 7, short rib 9, padron peppers 7, croquette 7, runner beans 8, pastéis de nata 8
Well-informed and friendly, could've treated us to a bench
Dark and slightly cramped, but pleasant nonetheless