Italian restaurants are ubiquitous in Manchester because they just work. Italian cuisine is a crowd-pleaser - safe for the fussy / vegan / vegetarian / pescatarian / heat-wuss (no curry please!) / unadventurous (black bean chicken feet??) dinner companion.
So when my friend suggested Rustica for a nice Thursday evening dinner, it didn't provoke any passionate reaction either way. Truth be told, I am ambivalent to popular "Italian" cuisine available in Manchester. They aren't great, but nice enough for dinner with good company. The only Italian restaurant to every get me excited is San Carlo, my personal favourite Italian joint in Manchester. I'm sure there are nicer (pricier) ones to be explored, but not on my budget.
This was my first time in Rustica and I must say off the bat, the service is very attentive. Our glasses were never left empty and the waiter was incredibly accommodating to our multiple requests. We noticed a long table next to us, fully set for a party of 12. Moments later, a giggly gaggle of ladies on a hen party bounded in. Our waiter was waiting on the hen party, us as well as quite a few other table, so a big thumbs up to him for juggling so well.
We ordered some garlic bread as starters (sorry, no photos as we were too hungry!). They were lovely. My perfect garlic bread would be lightly crusty on the outside and soft, fluffy and chewy on the inside. The worst thing someone could do to my garlic bread would be to toast it to death, such that the crust hardens or dries out. Eugh. Rustica's garlic bread was just nice.
Linguine con Gamberoni - King prawns, chilli and tomato sauce.
Where I come from, those are NOT king prawns, but regular prawns but oh well, when in Rome...
Fettucine Salmone e Gamberetti - Pasta in a smoked salmon, prawns & cream sauce.
My favourite of the lot. This wasn't my order but T generously let me have a taste. I'm partial to seafood but I think what made this yummy was the texture of the pasta ribbons. I love flat ribbon pasta!
Spaghetti Bolognese - Thin Pasta with Minced Beef and Tomato
Meh, I could make this in my kitchen. S ordered this and I think she just wanted some good old comfort food. Incidentally, S is half-Italian, with a robust Italian grandmama with high standards of Italian cooking. It didn't bowl her over, but she liked it enough to polish it off.
Pizza Mare e Monte - Tomato, Mozzarella, Prawns and Mushrooms
I didn't try this but it smelt lovely. Bubbly cheese and fluffy risen bread is truly a lovely sight.
Risotto Rustica - Risotto with strips of chicken, peppers and tomato sauce
This was my order. It was delicious to start with but became quite cloying towards the end - not the fault of the restaurant. Risottos are always on the heavy side anyway. This was well seasoned, the chicken was slightly dry but it didn't stop me from enjoying it. I love tomato based sauces, so this was right up my alley.
Overall, our Rustica experience was nice, and that might be more to do with the excellent company and service than the actual food. I don't feel compelled to return. The food wasn't memorably bad but it wasn't memorably fantastic either, which in these times, isn't good enough to get patrons to part with their hard-earned cash.