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[Altrincham, Greater Manchester] Farina

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Tonight, we started our quest to find a decent Italian in the metro area. Somewhere as good as Stock in its heyday and better than Stock now. Mrs H had done some Googling and come up with something of a shortlist – places that have been around for a while and aren’t just basic pizza and pasta joints. Non-Italian sounding pizzas were enough to see a place not included, so expect no reviews of chicken tikka masala pizza

The omens were good. Last time we ate at these premises it was the Michelin starred Juniper and we hoped there might still be something in the air of that. Well, let’s be honest, Farina’s cooking wasn’t up to Paul Kitching’s standard but, compared with many local Italians, this wasn’t half bad.

Soup of the day was minestrone and it was a belter. A good stock, packed full of seasonal vegetables and ditalini. Pasta dishes allow for plenty of mix and match. Pick your pasta and pick your sauce. Decide on starter or main course portion. So, that’ll be a starter of penne arrabbiata. This was a good tomato sauce, spiked quite heavily with sliced red chillis and incorporating lots of spicy salami. Pretty much as you’d always want your arrabbiata. Pasta appropriately al dente, of course.

For mains, my partner went with cannelloni. Can be a risky choice as, in many places, it can be a bit like what you’d be served up in the works canteen. This was a lot better. There was a good ragu which had had spinach incorporated at the last minute so there was still some texture to the leaf. Decent tomato and cheese sauces brought it together.

My main course came from the specials board – a sausage and bean dish. It’s something I make at home (to a Nigel Slater recipe). Here, three big meaty Tuscan sausages may well have been homemade. They sat on a borlotti bean, onion, pepper and tomato stew that was well seasoned with a background note of chilli heat. I liked this a lot and may forsake Nigel to try to replicate.

Desserts are all on the specials board, although the writing looked as though it may mean they are specials every night. Our waitress was Sicilian and seemed chuffed that I picked cannoli as a dessert. And seemed more chuffed when she discovered that, yes, I know what they are and that, yes, I know to eat them with my hands. Well, the cannoli were indeed good. Crisp pastry and a nicely sweetened ricotta filling. On the other plate, a peach poached in marsala tasted superb but was a faff to eat with only fork and spoon. Bugger just kept rolling across the plate She had to get a knife to stab it properly.

So, a lovely relaxed evening. The two of us chatting (and getting some Sicily tourist advice from the waitress) and eating decent food. No rush. Pauses built into the service but not unduly long ones. Chef came out for a chat – particularly interested in how I’d found the sausage dish. Certainly this place stays on our list for now. Whether it remains there depends on more meals over the next few months.

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