“It’s Monday, slither down the greasy pipe, so far, so good, no one saw you
You will be like your dreams tonight”.
When David Bowie sang the above lines in his song Joe the Lion I like to think he was echoing his much earlier cover of the Easybeats’ Friday on my Mind, where Monday morning felt so bad that only counting the days until Friday could alleviate the start of another five-day grind.
If Ziggy Stardust hated Mondays then what hope is there for the rest of us? The truth is that Mondays are always just a pain – only really there to lurch us one day closer to the weekend or at least let us sleep off the excesses of the last one.
For this reason, the night I most want to go out for something to eat is a Monday, especially in winter.
This is not the best wish to have right now, when most restaurants close at the start of the week.
Logistics meant Monday was the only night I could get out to eat for this week’s review.
But where to go?
The answer came in the unlikely form of Tony Macaroni at the bottom of Whitehall Crescent in Dundee, a spot I’d only really cursed when trying to park around there.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit my preconceptions about this place but I have to be honest.
That name! It’s so terrible it always made me think that Tony Macaroni is somewhere I’d go on the night when I’d reached the end of the line, sitting inside the bottom of the barrel, getting ready to scrape it.
Does that make me a snob? I hope not but the fact is stuff like this does matter. It’s only now, having been to my first-ever Tony Macaroni, that I realise that the name is genius.
If this place had been called something more resolutely Italian – something like Principe or Ravello – I’d probably have visited it quicker than you could say Ciao Sorrento, itself a Dundee institution minutes away from here.
But the thing about Ciao Sorrento is that my mum used to love it and yet she never ever called it by its real name.
To mum it was Millie’s, Ciao Sorrento being an Abigail’s Party affectation too far for this working wifey from Lochee.
So, in fact, Tony Macaroni is a great name for a populist and popular Italian chain restaurant in the middle of Dundee because this is a place to suspend your elitism – if you have any to begin with.
The first shock is that it was rammed on a Monday night.
So THIS is where Dundee eats at the start of the week!
There is something so great about walking into a buzzing restaurant and Tony’s (I’m dropping the Macaroni right now) was buzzing so hard it felt like the centre of the universe. For Dundee on a dreich Monday night in October this is no mean feat.
It’s a big restaurant, and the staff are young, keen and fit.
They need to be because they have a lot of ground to cover, especially having to vault up the stairs with food for those on the mezzanine.
There’s a nice sense of energy here that’s great to be a part of, even if we noticed that those younger than us seemed to be upstairs, where all that youthful vim and vigour could be contained.
A small table parked hopefully down a few stairs, and out of view of everyone, must be reserved for secret trysts. It was empty that night.
The main restaurant is pretty glam and glitzy with good lighting and a nice selection of tables and booths.
The manager who greeted us was welcoming and extremely capable, which made me realise how many restaurants in Dundee could vastly enhance the dining experience by employing a great maître d’.
This guy was everywhere – greeting and seating customers, cleaning tables, serving food and even answering questions from anonymous reviewers like me.
The menu is fairly extensive, with a good selection of Italian classics and a few surprises. I quote here from their online menu, which is what drew me to the place;
“Always Freshly Prepared. From ribs to risotto, bruschetta to burgers, and let’s not forget our award-winning pasta and pizza selection, our marvellous menus provide something for everyone.
“We don’t skimp on the portions, as our very satisfied customers will testify”.
The awards they allude to date from 2020 when they won three awards at the Papa (Pizza, Pasta and Italian Food Association) Industry Awards – Best restaurant chain, Pizza chef of the year in the New York Style category and Pizzaiolo of the Year.
So far so good.
I started with a very nice plate of prosciutto e bufala mozzarella (£7.95) which was presented attractively and tasted good.
To be quite honest if I’d been served this at London’s seminal River Cafe I’d be very happy in all but pocket – the exquisite food there comes at a high price.
Here in Dundee £7.95 bought me very good quality ham and cheese, and some nicely-dressed leaves – even the olive oil was assertive and punchy, maybe not the intense liquid gold that is Capezzana (used at the River Cafe and around £27 online) but still good.
The one confusing thing was the mozzarella and this was the one question the excellent manager couldn’t clarify.
On the menu much is made of the restaurant’s “signature mozzarella” which “was created by one of Italy’s master cheesemakers working in collaboration with Yester Farm’s own cheesemakers.
“This delicious creamy cheese is made with the milk of pasture-fed Scottish cows from the world-renowned Yester dairy herd in East Lothian.
“Our unique combination of Italian know-how and the creamiest Scottish milk ensures that our Fior Di Latte Mozzarella rivals the finest cheese of Napoli”.
Anyone who has tasted Yester’s natural cottage cheese – handmade in Scotland and available from Sainsburys – will know that this simple product somehow redefines the blandness of the cottage cheeses we’re used to. I was intrigued to taste Yester’s mozzarella.
I eventually found out that Yester’s Scottish mozzarella is used on the pizzas at Tony’s, while Italian mozzarella is used on other dishes, including my starter.
David’s starter of parmigiana di melanzane (£6.95) was delicious, the baked aubergine nicely cooked and charred in places, and the rich tomato sauce having a nice depth of flavour. It came with some toasted bread that was delicious.
I was intrigued by Lewis Calamari Fritti (£7.50), a dish dedicated to “our favourite regular customer Lewis ‘Calamari’ Capaldi who, like Tony, originates from the same Italian village of Picinisco in Italy” – but even the thrill of knowing Capaldi’s ancestry couldn’t make room for a plate of squid in a Dundee Italian restaurant on a rainy Monday.
Maybe next time, even if I do like to think I’m impervious to this type of PR guff.
My main course of spaghetti con polpette (£9.95) was pretty good but the meatballs were a bit dry, dense and claggy and this made the whole dish hard going.
The pasta was well cooked and the tomato sauce – presumably the same as the one used in David’s starter – was rich and pungent.
I enjoyed this but the complete dish was a bit like a one-note symphony, both in taste and texture.
David’s margherita pizza (£7.95) was pronounced delicious. He dared to say this sourdough delight was as good as the pizzas served at the brilliant Luigi’s on Strathmartine Road in Dundee but I won’t allow such heretical claims. Nevertheless, Tony’s pizza was good.
Service here is excellent. Our waitress told us that she’d just started work there a few days before and such was her professionalism you would never have guessed it. Other waiting staff were equally adept.
Basically, this is a place where everything works – all you have to do is choose what to eat and sit back. (An optional 5% service charge is added to your bill but great service like this deserves more).
By now we were on the home run and we started to think of places that Tony’s reminded us of.
For me it’s like the classic trattoria you want in your town, the one with a reliable menu, a reasonably-priced wine list and good staff. There’s an atmosphere here that’s alive, you feel like you’re in the right place to have fun.
David felt that Tony’s was like some of the excellent brasseries we used to go to in New York, where the atmosphere of the place supplied an instant feelgood factor. Whatever the reason it’s clear that Tony Macaroni has got it right.
Dessert had to be tiramisu (£5.95) although I would love to try one of the amazing looking sundaes which include a Knickerbocker Glory for £7.25.
The tiramisu we shared was a thing of joy – I mean, how could it not be? Served in a coffee cup and topped by a couple of fresh raspberries, this was a textbook tiramisu and we devoured every smear.
Tony Macaroni is that rare thing – a chain which gets things right and delivers more than you expect in terms of menu, ingredients, service, cooking and atmosphere.
It’s distilled all the best elements of what you expect from a local trattoria-type place and replicated them in a modern, bustling space which looks quite unappealing from the outside but then surprises once in.
I still hate the name and the foodie in me expected not to like the experience at all but if a restaurant can make you feel good on a dismal Monday evening, and send you home well-fed and with a smile on your face then it’s fine by me.
Address: Tony Macaroni, 15 Whitehall Crescent, Dundee DD1 4AR
T: 01382 236211
Price: Starters from £4.50, mains from £7.25 and desserts from £5.95.
A separate pre-6.30pm Presto menu is available with dishes from £5.95. Check online for details/restrictions.
- Food: 4/5
- Service: 4/5
- Surroundings: 4/5