It feels like a very good sign when, on walking into somewhere at 5.30pm without a reservation on a school night, you just manage to get the last table in the house. Half an hour later, Petisco is properly full. Word travels fast around these parts, it seems, particularly as this place has barely been open a few months.
The word petisco – pronounced ‘peh-tish-co’ – comes from the Portuguese ‘petiscar’, or ‘to snack’. A petisco is variously translated as ‘a delicious morsel’ or ‘titbit’, which conveniently plays into the all-conquering but now very-tired-indeed ‘small plates’ revolution that, years from when they first emerged to clutter our restaurant tables and swell the coffers of crockery manufacturers, we still seem to be firmly in the exhausting grip of. I just want to see a big plate again. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.
Petisco gets a pass on it, of course, as do tapas restaurants in general, from which the trend began, because small plates is kind of the whole point, rather than a gimmick which means you end up over ordering and spending more money than you wanted to every time you eat out. De todas formas.
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Taking the only remaining window seat, it felt like the right spot to absorb a bit of the general buzz around Sale at the moment, which is in the middle of transforming its knackered old precinct area into the smart new Stanley Square. The tired awnings that hung over the shop fronts, blocking out the sun and making every shop doorway look bleak and gloomy, are now gone, making you wonder why they didn’t do it years ago. The light has flooded back, and now so have the people.
Opposite, Sugo, the pasta restaurant that’s on its third site – Altrincham, Ancoats and now here – is also full after opening its doors the previous week, thanks to a hugely successful crowd-funder which raised £85,000 in a remarkable eight days. Also opposite is the excellent craft beer bar Draft. A few doors down is a new branch of casual Indian diner Roti, and around the corner is the Sale Foodhall, with its rotating food vendors, slinging everything from burgers to bao buns.
There’s a Rudy’s now too, just beyond the tram station, as well as family-run pizza place PizzAmore, not to mention the excellent Blanchflower and Simon Rimmer’s Greens coming soon too. So though it’s wildly premature to suggest Sale is about to pinch Altrincham’s foodie crown and run off into the distance with it, things are certainly shifting.
In the kitchen at Petisco is chef Jonny Nolan, who with his brother and two friends have set the place up. It’s very handsome, with plain wooden furniture opposite Moorish tiles. It’s their first venture together, but it’s all done so confidently, you wouldn’t know it. Dishes arrive in random order, and do so promptly from a notably young waiting staff, who are warm, friendly and quietly competent.
A plate of goat’s cheese with shallot pickle and smoked golden beetroot looks very pretty indeed, and is gone quickly. A generous plate of roasted new potatoes, smooth as silk on the inside, come on a slick of robust tomato sauce, and generously covered with garlicky aioli. Unlike the tired and rarely done well patatas bravas, these are quite likely some of the best potatoes in town, and I include the almost religious experience of the fried new potatoes at Erst in Ancoats in that enviable line up.
Four plump, fresh sardines have been simply grilled and coated with a lemon and garlic oil, and are all the better for the almost complete lack of faff involved. Rice with bursts of slow roasted green tomatoes and salsa verdi is hugely comforting, and skewers of chicken with a vivid ‘house sauce’ are lip-smacking, both suiting a bone-dry, very slightly effervescent glass of vinho verde down to the ground.
Best of all was the pork cheek and belly with artichoke puree. A curl of aerated pork skin perched on the top makes it look like it’s got a little teddy boy hair-do. It’s almost a shame to eat it, but obviously I do. The finest part of any beast is the cheek. That’s simply science. And it’s more than evident here, a piece of slow cooked joy that felt like it would fall apart given a harsh glance. It was a plate I didn’t want to end, and it was safe when it did.
There are criticisms. They are minor. The goat’s cheese was cold, not room temperature, and the rice under seasoned, though that was quickly sorted out with a spritz from a salt grinder, and there was no grumbling when I asked for one. The artichoke under the pork belly/cheek was also a bit lost. And hey, some people might enjoy the added fear of falling into their own glass and drowning, such was the bewilderingly large vessel a gin and tonic arrived in. Other than that, it’s all pretty much spot on.
Petisco is the type of neighborhood restaurant that anyone – perhaps everyone – would love to have on their doorstep. Sale will soon have a few more them. But I’ve no doubt at all that this one will continue to stick out.
Petisco – 56 Stanley Square, Sale M33 7XZ – 0161 222 9393
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