Mal Morris put on his best italian accent for his visit to the Il Toro in Horwich.
It seemed everyone else had had the same idea; a beautiful sunny evening, spring in the air, time for some fine dining.
We arrive at Il Toro in what we imagined to be good time, but the place is buzzing. They’d been taken by surprise by the turn out. No table for two, could we wait? They can’t put a definite time on it, could be 20 minutes.
Now, 20 minutes normally would be nothing at all, but 20 minutes when the hunger pangs are just beginning to rumble is a different matter.
It’s always a dilemma. Will the wait be too long, could we find somewhere else, will they have a table, could we end up stuffing down fish and chips in the car?
The aroma of food issuing from the kitchen wins, and we settle into the stylish and no expense spared surroundings to ponder an extensive menu.
There are Italian restaurants which are mainly pasta and pizza, some that nod in the direction of wider tastes, and some which embrace a wide range of Italian regional food. Il Toro is one of the latter.
Spot-on 20 minutes later, and we are at an unusually large table for two with a fine vantage point across the whole dining room: chatter and smiling faces everywhere.
The signorita’s bruschetta toro is a trio selection of crostini, smoked salmon, grilled vegetables, tomato, basil and parmesan, all of which has a fresh sheen to it, served on generously sliced artesan bread. It is, apparently, bellissimo.
I’ve gone for guazelleta, which is a Sicilian fish stew from the specials selection.
What arrives is a picture to behold, one of those attention-grabbing dishes which no one can keep their eyes off. It’s a generous heap of clams and mussels in their shells and squid rings, all bathed in a rich tomato and paprika sauce with a sprinkling of herbs. The sauce is lip-smackingly good and the seafood fresh and tasty. The only problem is how embarrassed I should allow myself to be in mopping up the sauce with the lightly toasted bread?
In the unspoken contest of who chose the best starter, despite the bellissimo bruschetta, I’m clearly ahead.
Fagiano alle Castagne is pheasant breast in a port sauce with roasted chestnuts.
Anyone who has dabbled with pheasant in their own kitchen will know there is a diminishing return between the effort in preparation and the size of the eventual reward. Not in this kitchen.
This was a big bird.
Two impressive slices bathed in a deeply succulent sauce, both tasty and moist and off-set with sprigs of fresh thyme and three softly roasted chestnuts.
The signorita’s Pollo Sardinia was melt-in-the-mouth tender chicken breast, bathed in a sauce which fulfilled all the promise of a cider and double cream base, with shallots and spinach.
Both courses came with al dente vegetables.
As we’d sipped some of our fruity bottle of Nero D’Avola (£16.95) during our wait, it lasted despite cautious consumption up to this point, at which a pudding wine would have been ideal. Sadly, there was none available.
The pudding in question almost made up for it... a home-made tiramisu. Indeed it was, and fresh, moistened by the liqueur base and tasty, although, not that I was keeping a score you understand, my portion was clearly three-quarters the size of the signorita’s.
Il Toro is a top class restaurant, and we dined sumptuously for £69.15.
Name: Il Toro
Address: 69 Church Street, Horwich
Tel: 01204 697 272
Hours: Monday to Saturday 5pm-10pm, Sunday 4pm-9pm
Specials: £14.95 for three courses available from 5pm Monday to Thursday, Sunday from 4pm
Disabled access: No