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The Italian – Romiley, Stockport – a Brief History of Time

This week’s blog post looks into the history of our restaurant… How many of you remember it as a hairdressers before it became an Italian?

The old hairdressing salon, pictured here in 1983

The old hairdressing salon, pictured here in 1983, now The Italian

Yes that’s right, we started life as a unisex hairdressers before being converted into an Italian restaurant in the late 80’s. Originally just a couple of detached houses and a shop, the structure as it is now was built in 1970 as part of a plan to regenerate and modernise Romiley. The buildings on the south side of Compstall Road from the station to what is now Romiley Garage were demolished and cleared in the mid 1960s to create Romiley Precinct – a surprisingly modern idea to create a shopping centre, theatre, community centre, car park and flats in a small village where there was originally just a high street.

It wasn’t until 1993 however that current owner Ferdinando Mercogliano took over. Originally from Naples, Italy. Ferdinando studied at catering schools in Vico Equense and in the centre of Naples, working across Italy and Switzerland before settling in England in the early 80s aged just 19. Although still young when arriving in Britain, his ambition was always to open a restaurant specialising in the very regional food of his native Italy – one of his great passions.

Proud owner Ferdinando outside The Italian restaurant in Romiley, looking a little brighter than it did as a hairdressers!

Proud owner Ferdinando outside The Italian restaurant in Romiley, looking a little brighter than it did as a hairdressers!

After gaining experience in various Italian restaurants in the north west, meeting his wife Helen and starting a family, he took over as owner of The Italian in the November of 1993. In the early days, with two young children and another baby on the way it was extremely hard work and of course very very long hours. But the people of Romiley were very supportive and it was as much a pleasure then as it is now to cook meals for them. Five children later and now a successful restaurant in the heart of Romiley, The Italian is going from strength to strength – It feels like an integral part of the village.

Ferdinando and his eldest son Alessandro, now head waiter here at The Italian in Romiley

Ferdinando and his eldest son Alessandro, now head waiter here at The Italian in Romiley

Ferdinando is now a grandfather (and an old man – 50 this year!!), taking a small step back sharing his time between Lucca in Tuscany and here in Cheshire, although he is never far away his son, myself Alessandro, now making my own mark on this very family of businesses. Sharing his time between Italy and England means Ferdinando guarantees constant fresh and original menu ideas using the best local, seasonal ingredients mixed with a few specially imported ingredients from Italy.

A big thank you to all of our customers, from the ones who have been dining with us since opening all those years ago to the new faces we see each night. Thanks to each and everyone of you and thank you to the village of Romiley and the town of Stockport for taking The Italian to your heart.

Here’s to many many more years!

Alessandro

The mystery of the melanzane…

Today’s blog post is aimed at solving the mystery of the melanzane…. Just what are aubergines?

A vegetable that when done right can be delicious, but when done wrong can be tasteless, bland and sometimes stodgy. I say vegetable…. It actually comes from the same family as a tomato, and is technically a fruit strangely enough! Just like tomatoes they grow on vines and have tiny edible seeds.

In Britain we call them aubergines the Americans call them eggplants, in Renaissance Italy they were known as mela insana “crazy apple” most likely because of it’s dark purple colour and perhaps because the original varieties were very bitter, but in modern day Italy they are known as melanzana.

Extremely popular in the south of Italy where it is used in many ways but probably most famous in Italy for two dishes; Melanzane alla Parmigiana, where it is sliced thinly, dipped in flour, fried and then layered with tomato, mozzarella, fresh basil, plenty of Parmesan cheese and oven baked (a vegetarian classic, very popular on our own menu – and definitely a southern Italian dish, unlike what Jamie Oliver says…), and Penne alla Norma, a Sicilian dish where aubergines are diced and then pan fried with tomatoes, fresh basil and either ricotta salata or pecorino cheese and served with pasta (our own modified version of this dish “Penne alla Siciliana” on our menu is loosely based on the original basic Sicilian recipe, but with the addition of smoked bacon, which combines very well with the aubergine, and the use of mozzarella cheese instead of the harder Italian cheeses which gives it a great stringy-ness when it melts out into the sauce – I think the use of mozzarella cheese in pasta with aubergines is more a Neapolitan thing as I had it like that many a time when I was visiting relatives down there over the years, and it’s as they served it in the restaurant I worked at in Naples)…. Give them both a try!

Penne alla Siciliana

Penne alla Siciliana

Introduced to the Mediterranean by Arabs in the early Middle Ages. These days in Britain they are available all year round, but on the markets in southern Italy you will find them from August through to October when they are in season. When buying aubergines choose ones that are heavy and firm, their skins should be smooth, shiny and their colour vivid. As well as being delicious there are a few health benefits too including lowering cholesterol and blood pressure and is also high in folic acid.

Never really eaten raw, it is quite versatile to cook with – and shouldn’t just be confined to vegetarian menus. It’s the main ingredient in Caponata (an Italian version of the vegetable ratatouille – perfect alongside meat or fish), but also delicious when very thinly sliced, grilled, left to cool down and marinated under oil with chilli, herbs and a touch of vinegar – often served like this alongside cured meats in Italy as an antipasto, or in salads.

All this has given me a huge aubergine craving, I’m off to steal myself a piece of Melanzane alla Parmigiana from the fridge here at The Italian in Romiley…

Alessandro

Dry January? < Extra Dry Prosecco

How’s everyone’s dry January going?

In the first of many blog posts on Italian food, culture and drink we have an insight on Prosecco and reasons for its surge in popularity in the UK.

An incredible seller here at The Italian in Romiley, especially over the festive period. Popular at celebrations, nights in, big nights out or alongside a meal, and it’s easy to see why. People’s choice of drink, especially when it comes to wine is all about fashion (people drank blue nun in the 70’s, just because everybody else did…). Before champagne production laws were tightened in the late 1800’s, most sparkling wines were commonly known as champagne.

Afterwards (these laws were even reaffirmed in the 1914 treaty of Versailles) proper champagne, with it’s royalty and affluent connections became even more popular than ever, but either reserved for extra special occasions or out of most people’s price range.

Fine sparkling wines such as Prosecco, and cava etc were popular in the regions they were made and that was about it. Not really imported outside of their respective countries at all.

Fast forward to today, and the UK crying out for an elegant fine alcoholic drink they can sup whilst looking ‘di moda’ (in fashion). Not wanting to drink anything with cheap connotations, but not wanting to pay for champagne pushed Prosecco to the front. Easy to drink, not too pricey and with its stylish Italian connotations, 2013 saw Prosecco outsell champagne as the world’s most popular fizz for the first time in history.

Made from the Glera grape, and believed to of been first produced during the Roman era, a variation more like what we drink nowadays dates back to the 16th century. It wasn’t until the 1960’s however that modern production equipment and techniques created the more finer versions that are so popular these days.

Produced in the sun blessed but not dry vineyards of northeast Italy (in particular the regions of Veneto and Fruili-Venezia Giulia). Prosecco is famous for its naturally dry characteristics and slightly bitter, slightly sweet aftertaste. Such is the demand here we also sell it by the glass as well as the bottle. In Italy, it’s enjoyed as a wine for every occasion, outside Italy it is most often drunk as an aperitif, much as champagne is.

Unlike champagne however, Prosecco does not ferment in the bottle, and it grows stale with time. It should be drunk as young as possible, the perfect excuse to crack open any leftover bottles from Christmas or new year and celebrate the beginning of the weekend!

Saluté

Alessandro