There’s a parade of shops in Boothstown, Worsley that looks just like many others in Manchester. A bookies, a pharmacy and a corner shop on one side, a Chinese takeaway, an old school Indian restaurant and a sports therapy centre on the other. Rush past scrolling on your phone and you might miss Vesuvio, tucked away behind them all like a hanky in a top pocket, but it would be a shame if you did.
“We are very big on fish,” chef Nico Vanacore tells us as he fills our table with dishes of scallops, sea bass, halibut, seafood stew, cuttlefish spaghetti, swordfish and octopus.
Along with his childhood friend Giuseppe Lombardo, Nico Vanacore is co-owner of Italian restaurant Vesuvio, a place locals have been raving about since it opened almost 10 years ago.
“We change the specials all the time,” says Giuseppe, “It’s a residential area so we have a lot of regulars who come on a weekly basis. If you come two weeks in a row, probably you’ll find mussels or scallops but done in a different way each time.”
The scallop we try is a juicy little blighter served with pea puree, homemade crisps and sun blush tomato. Octopus is another big seller. The octopus dish Giuseppe and Nico cook for us is accompanied by a smooth potato puree and something none of us have tried before: octopus mayonnaise.
Giuseppe explains, “We make our own mayonnaise with the cooking water from the octopus. The water has taken on the flavour of the octopus, so we blend some of it with a tiny bit of olive oil to create octopus flavoured mayonnaise.”
Born in Naples, both of their dads were chefs and the two friends have been cooking together since they were 10 years old, starting their culinary journey in Nico’s uncle’s restaurant back home. Pop fact: they went to school with Gino Di Campo.
Giuseppe tells me has been in Manchester since 1994, starting at Tiggi’s in Preston (a blast from the past for readers of a certain age) and grafting at other top Italian restaurants like San Carlo before launching his own place with his best friend Nico nearer to their Worsley home. The idea was that they would be able to spend more time with their families as they would be closed in the mornings.
The pair tag team so one of them is always in the kitchen and one of them is always running front of house. The only time they get a proper rest is on a Monday but they love what they do, so they don’t seem to mind – although they joke that their wives sometimes complain that the lads are married to the restaurant.
Vesuvio has great Neapolitan pizzas on the menu too but you’d be mad not to order the fish and seafood specials as they are full of love and made with years of Italian cooking experience. You won’t find carbonara or spag bol here though.
“We try to experiment,” says Giuseppe, ”We’d be bored making spaghetti bolognese every day.”
Giuseppe says people sometimes ask them to make the more familiar dishes and they can do that standing on their heads, but they try to encourage their customers to try something different. He says regulars now come in saying, surprise us, asking the chefs to send out whatever dishes they want to because they trust that it will all be good.
Hugely popular is the Mixed Vesuvio, a traditional dish from Napoli. This one-pot seafood and fish stew is packed with halibut, mussels, clams, and octopus and topped with a pizza base. The edible lid locks all those fishy flavours in and makes for a bit of drama at the table as it’s slashed open and the fragrant steam pours out. The best bit is ripping up the pizza bread and dunking it in the seafood scented broth.
Frittelle Napoletane is a must when it comes to the street foods of Naples, says Giuseppe. Vesuvio’s frittelle is an indulgent fritter of pasta with pecorino cheese sauce, roasted ham and peas battered and deep fried until crisp. Imagine, if you will, a hyper levelled up version of a Findus Crispy Pancake. It has all those comforting, nostalgic flavours but is made with proper, high quality ingredients and presented on a pool of rich homemade tomato sauce rather than with a dollop of ketchup. On the streets of Naples, you will find these in a cone along with deep fried courgette flowers, hunks of fish and calamari.
We also try a melting beef cheek reclining on a rich stock-based sauce, inky black cuttlefish pasta with mussels, clams, and yellow and red tomatoes from Naples, and my personal favourite, rolled swordfish fillets stuffed with iron-rich Italian broccoli leaves (cime di rapa), scamorza (smoked mozzarella), anchovies and more of those colourful tomatoes. Unlike some more delicate fish dishes, this socks you with a LaMotta-worthy flavour punch.
Interestingly, Giuseppe tells us they use fish stock for the base of many dishes but never add wine. “Wine is for drinking, not cooking,” he says, “Catering school taught us that if the fish is good and fresh you eat it the way it is, without embellishment. Wine is not necessary for flavour if your ingredients are good.”
Wine is important to Italians though, they produce more wine than any other country in the world after all. There is Neapolitan wine here too if you want to keep things on brand. We try a fresh and aromatic wine made from the Falanghina grape that grows in volcanic soil on vineyards high above the bay of Naples and it goes beautifully with all that seafood.
A glass of grappa and some deep fried ravioli filled with chocolate finishes the meal off in true Italian fashion.
Vesuvio is somewhere we have been meaning to get to for ages and shamefully never got around to. So thanks to Joe McCaul @joe.mccaul (with back up from @ryankelly_Rk and @kiwimccomb) for recommending it as part of our Suggested By You series on Instagram and kicking us up the arse to get there. We’re very glad we did.