Restaurant Review - Il Toro

Il Toro, Horwich
Il Toro, Horwich

Mal Morris was delighted his assistant found the perfect tiramisu

Six thinly sliced lengths of duck breast are arranged over a bed of peeled and poached pieces of pear – a taste of the Pinot Nero Montebello has made the alliteration flow – and are framed by colourful slices of soft, lightly baked apple and warmed strawberry.

There’s a lovely runny jus which is tantalisingly testing the tastebuds – I’ve had another glug by now – but to which I can’t put a name, and which looks insufficient for the pleasant task ahead but which outlasts everything.

Turner Prize worthy, I say, surveying the whole. It’s our way – my way actually, as your reviewer’s assistant wouldn’t dream of being so pretentious – of disparaging the lunatic subject matter of the much lampooned art prize, as much as praising the presentational skills of the present kitchen staff.

Across the way two healthy looking pieces of sea bream – healthy in the gastronomic sense, they’re obviously past their original optimum seaworthiness – rest on an intriguing looking bed of vegetables and other things which I can’t make out, but which instantly pique curiosity.

Sometimes it happens that plates are placed before you and they bring your conversational mulling to a stop. We can pronounce on the Chancellor’s budget, whether to change our gas supplier, whether I’d washed away all the stink of dead fish off the dog after he’d rolled in it earlier that afternoon ... later. For now we have research to crack on with.

The duck is pink, tender and moist. I determine not to eat the slightly crusty skin, but in a late change of mind make a personal set-aside deal, which features an extra two miles of power walking tomorrow.

There are so many lovely combinations of taste I have fun mixing them all up, but so delicious is the pear I’m slicing it ever more thinly to make sure it accompanies everything else. Mental note: must include more fruit in home cooking.

The sea bream is firm, moist and strongly flavoursome, and the intriguing bed turns out to comprise fennel, thin slices of green beans and warmed segments of orange all in a jus from the orange. Sprinkled around are subtle flavoured leaves of a red herb, possibly, which turns out on inquiry to be red amaranth. We’re given a little sample to try at home.

By now you will be asking yourselves: “But didn’t they have starters?”

Well, thanks for the concern over our nutritional levels, and yes we did, the guazzetto Toscano fish stew being a star attraction. It’s changed a little from the last time – the mussels, clams, prawns and calamari resting in a soup rather than the clinging red sauce of memory, and as a result coming with two mopping-up chunks of crispy bread in a huge and elaborate lopsided bowl.

The assistant’s trio of crispy bruschetta host a chunk of goat’s cheese with a smudge of pesto, smoked salmon and vegetable slices.

As the assistant managed a trio, I decide I want a trio too, and my dessert is a chocolate profiterole, a light cheesecake with squashed berries and a slightly dry chocolate brownie yearning for a splash of cream.

Fortunately, we have taken the precaution of equipping ourselves with a glass of a light, slightly sparkling Muscato wine, so the dryness problem is short-lived.

And so to the assistant’s promotion to pudding consultant (internship): the best tiramisu yet tasted. You would need to know the years of research behind that statement to appreciate the moment: fluffy, creamy, chocolaty, coffee, chocolate flakes, whatever the wine or liquor is oozing nicely out of the base is what I manage to pick up out of the murmured appreciation. (Note to readers: The consultant’s search for the perfect pavlova is on-going).

Il Toro is a delightful restaurant. Intimate, friendly, stylish and with super food. With the alliteration-inducing £22.95 bottle of Pinot Nero, the bill comes to £82.