Food review: Mangiare, Newmarket - 'Authentic and delicious'
- Credit: Simon Weir/Archant
Sometimes, a little spontaneity is a good thing. For instance, this is not the food review I was expecting to do. I had planned to do something traditional and British, visiting a local gastro-pub but the first two I emailed for a reservation replied to say they weren't opening and it was a case of third time unlucky finding somewhere apparently suitable.
I say unlucky because, after being left standing at the unattended bar for seven minutes (yes, I really do time these things) as staff walked past ignoring us - and as I absorbed the look of resigned desperation on the faces of a couple sitting without drinks and folded menus at a neighbouring table, clearly still waiting for any kind of attention - I realised the lack of service would ruin the evening.
So I left - which did slightly shock my partner as she followed me out the door. That's not something I did lightly. I know that people not turning up for reservations is very hard on the trade; but when customers do turn up, they should expect a basic level of service. I know we should all make allowances for these difficult times... but the time limit I put on that allowance is five minutes. Anyone ignoring customers for longer than that deserves to see them walk out the door in my opinion. Even a simple 'hello'' goes a long way.
Which in a round-about way brings us to Mangiare in Newmarket. It's a modern, bright and deceptively large Italian restaurant at the clock-tower end of town. I've been wanting to visit for a while. We walked past a half-empty Italian chain restaurant on the way there... but Mangiare was buzzing. We were greeted promptly at the door: we haven't booked, can you fit us in? Absolutely.
Our orders were taken quickly and we were given some olives with our drinks while we studied the menu. We also ordered some rosemary focaccia (£4) which arrived with a pot of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The bread was thick, springy, lightly toasted and utterly delicious.
"I know what you're having as a starter," said Ali... reading quicker than me. She was right: the luganega salcicca, a black pepper pork sausage, served with salad and a balsamic glaze (£7) had my name written all over it. It arrived, curled on a skewer like a snail, packed with flavour, complemented nicely by the peppery rocket salad.
Ali had opted for the mussels with white wine sauce - the cozze alla marinara (£8) which came with flat bread. "That's a big portion for a starter," she said, before confirming it was delicious. The generous serving meant I was able to assist - sneaking a good share of the salty, slippery mussels and attacking the moreish, creamy sauce with the focaccia.
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For her main course, Ali had gone for filleto di branzini - the pan-roasted fillets of sea bass with a saffron sauce, chilies, peas and new potatoes (£16.90). Again, it was a generous portion, with three fillets slathered in a fine sauce. "The chillies really make a difference," Ali said. "You don't often get spicy flavours with the fish but this really lifts it." Taking advantage of the large portion, I nicked a bit and was impressed at the way the subtle heat didn't overpower the well-cooked fish but emphasised its delicate flavour.
I'd wrestled with the main course options. Part of me felt that, doing a review, I should be trying the pasta or going for a pizza... but the menu also offered another Italian classic: ossobucco (£18.90). This was a delicious hunk of meltingly tender veal, topped with but not smothered by the rich tomato sauce. It was served with outstandingly good potatoes and more rocket leaves - which, after having rocket with the starter, didn't really do it for me. With a hot main, I'd have preferred a hot vegetable - maybe some green beans or tender broccoli - but that's a very minor quibble.
The dessert choice was a no-brainer for me: Tia Maria tiramisu (£5.25). It was a good-sized slice that was suitably rich, creamy and indulgent, with just enough of a hit of booze. The crunch of the coffee bean on top really set it off nicely for me. I'm a bit of a tiramisu addict and this one could have held its own with the best I've had in Umbria and Basilicata.
Ali had opted to round the meal off with the vanilla panna cotta (£5.95) which came delicately wobbling on the plate, with berry coulis and raspberries. "That's just right - not too sweet," she said. I could tell how good it was by how reluctant she was to share a bit so I could confirm the rich vanilla and gorgeously just-set texture were nicely offset by the sweet-but-still-fresh coulis.
All in all, for an impromptu evening out, Mangiare really delivered on every level. The food was authentic, well-cooked and delicious. The service was prompt, friendly and attentive without being intrusive. And the bill - with two glasses of wine and two bottles of Nastro Azzuro - was £95. Which is definitely going-out money, but for the quality of the food and experience was definitely good value - and all the better for being spontaneous.
Mangiare Ristorante Italiano 3-4 Exeter Road, Newmarket CB8 8LT
Tel: 01638 667813
We pay for all our meals and restaurants do not know when they are being reviewed.