The Felicini Italian in Didsbury has been on our Didsbury Restaurant to-do list for about a year, so Halloween seemed the perfect time to head down for some Sunday lunch. By chance, we picked a day when Felicini could have dropped the ball, as there was only one member of serving staff dealing with a busy lunch crowd. Instead, Becky was calm and professional, seated us quickly, came back for our drinks order faster than any waiter I can remember and continued to give us an excellent, personal level of service throughout our meal.
Felicini Didsbury is one of a chain of "Italian-inspired" restaurants and that means, if you've been to any of the others, you know what to expect here. Complimentary breadsticks give you something to chew on while you mull over the menu - my flatmate's vegetarian, but we both resisted the very Halloween-themed pumpkin ravioli. There's plenty of drinks options, with a decent wine list that you can view online, a cocktail menu that tells you how to make them at home, hot drinks and cold cola with plenty of ice - which proved just the thing for our Sunday lunchtime hangovers.
There's also a Christmas menu at the moment, with Felicini in Didsbury, Manchester itself, Sheffield and West Bridgford laying on a special selection for the occasion. There's some replication with the regular a la carte menu, but that's not so bad. The desserts are most definitely Christmassy, so if you have a sweet tooth that's the part of the meal to focus on.
Back to our visit, and Didsbury's Felicini proved as welcoming on the inside as it looks from the outside. We were seated close to the entrance, in an area where customers and staff both pass by regularly, but we weren't jostled - even though I'm a left-hander and my elbow sticks out a bit more than most. The starter was delivered on a rustic serving plank, which was a nice touch, the lamb meatballs were well seasoned and my vegetarian friend had hummus, iman biyaldi - a spiced aubergine dip - and cumin crisp breads.
The main course was equally satisfying. My Bacaro steak and fries was cooked rare, just as I like it - Becky suggested medium-rare but was characteristically unflustered when I asked for it cooked a little less than that. My flatmate had the rossa pizza - well, it is an Italian restaurant, right? - which looked exactly how a pizza should and apparently tasted pretty good too. If there was an objection to be made, it was that there was a little more goat's cheese than necessary and a little less red pepper than might have been nice.
All in all though, the Felicini Italian in Didsbury lived up to its country of inspiration and the high standards expected of its location. The bill came with a sign-up card for their email newsletter, which promises discounts and other incentives to return - I signed up, but haven't had my first email just yet. I haven't eaten at any others in the chain, but Didsbury's Felicini also seems like a good standard for the full range of Felicini Italian restaurants. I'd be more than willing to give the others a try, based on my experience.
Oh, and one more thing - the place was pretty full, they were short-staffed, but Becky still found time to chat to a nearby table about labradoodles. It made Felicini Didsbury feel less like a chain restaurant, and more like the homely eatery that an Italian restaurant should be. We tipped - they'd earned it.