There are some local restaurants that hold a special place in your heart.

It could be the local Italian where you had your first date, the pub where you wet your baby's head, the curry house where you celebrated a milestone birthday.

For me, there are a handful of businesses in Manchester who I adore so wholeheartedly it borders on obsession.

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One such restaurant is Lupo Caffe Italiano.

It's not that I have a particularly long-standing history with this tiny Italian company. In fact, my love affair with Lupo only really began last year.

But when I think back to those long months of lockdown, to the monotony of sitting alone at my laptop and cooking the same rotation of meals at home, the lightest relief came from Lupo.

Whether it was the knock on the door on a Friday night to reveal a pizza box on the doorstep, or a lunchtime walk to the local cafe (All The Shapes in Prestwich) to collect one of their huge twisted doughnuts, their baked goods stopped 2020 going full Groundhog Day.

Pandemic punctuation, if you will.

Lupo started life in Salford, where it was one of the trail-blazers who turned Chapel Street into a hive of independent business.

A pistachio doughnut from Lupo

But the honeymoon period there was all-too-short-lived, plagued by engineering works that cut them off from customers and then, mere months later, receiving notice from their landlord.

From there, Lupo moved to Exchange Quay, serving up its homemade Italian treats to the office-workers in the area.

Then along came the pandemic, and business hubs like Exchange Quay fell silent.

Now you'll find Lupo in an even more unlikely location, wedged into an industrial estate in south Prestwich, which it shares with businesses selling auto parts and electrical supplies.

Outside Lupo Caffe Italiano

It's a big loop away from the main drag of Bury New Road, past rows of small warehouses, to find Lupo's unit - but once you've found it, you'll never forget it.

Founder Nico Pasquali has taken this blank, commercial canvas and filled it with character, flinging red and white gingham tablecloths over wooden tables, stacking shelves with Italian produce for sale, building a long central bar displaying rows of doughtnuts and pizzetta.

A wolf head stares out above the wine glasses, a nod to their name - Lupo translates from Italian as 'wolf'.

Inside the tiny new cafe

The homeliness of the space is astounding - this is, after all, a breezeblock unit geared towards wholesale plugs and wires more than wholesome pizza and wine.

If it were a little later in the day, we'd have sat on the benches outside bundled up in our coats, with negronis, or an Aperol Spritz, or a bottle of natural wine from the tall fridge inside.

Instead, it's an all-too-hurried grab-and-go affair, chatting to Nico while he deftly twiddles knobs on the coffee machine to whizz up two cups of richly dark coffee (£2.30 each), easily among the best in Greater Manchester.

Lupo translates from Italian as 'wolf'

My other half goes full dither over the doughnut selection, his eyes roving across flavours that include custard, chocolate, tiramisu, cinnamon.

He's weighing up the pros and cons of the Amarena cherry doughnut when Nico reaches for a tiny teaspoon, scoops up some of the pale pink filling that's pouring out of the doughnut, and insists we try some. Now that, is service.

We take home a rigatoni al forno dish (£8.50) so balanced it could walk a tightrope, the sweetness of pumpkin puree (the pumpkins themselves harvested from Lupo's own allotment) mellowed by béchamel sauce and smoked scamorza cheese.

These fat pasta tubes are squashed into a takeaway box, crispy shards of baked cheese clinging to the rim of the box, and there's not a thing I'd do differently.

The last vegetarian calzone (£3.80) comes away with us too, thin strips of courgette and aubergine layered into a roll of dough with a chewy, glazed top.

Pre-portioned tiramisu

Nico's a master salesman and persuades me to pull a pre-portioned tub of his homemade tiramisu (£5) from the fridge as well as two doughnuts from the counter. It doesn't take much persuading.

Of our two doughnuts, the pistachio-filled one (£3) is the show-stopper.

It's got a neat crown of pale green filling and a sprinkle of nuts perched on top of the bouncy dough, which transfers itself to the tip of my nose when I take a big bite.

The Nutella-stuffed doughnut (£2.50) is a crowd-pleaser, glistening with sugar crystals.

The whole experience is pleasing, if we're being honest, from the moment we park up outside and are greeted with Nico waving in the doorway, to the moment we leave weighed down with treats, fingertips warmed by two cups of coffee.

It might have been a bit of a journey for Lupo to get here, but it was one well worth taking.

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