Thom Archer sees the sunny side of this much loved Italian venue
I’ve tried to visit Salvo’s Salumeria before, last year. Emphasis on the ‘tried’ because due to the selfishness of a large table cancelling their booking last-minute, it wasn’t feasible to open a restaurant for just me and my friend. Not the end of the world for us, we just went next door to the original Salvo’s - there are worse ways to spend a Friday night.
Everybody knows Salvo's. Going into forensic detail about such a ubiquitous, enduring institution would be a waste of breath, akin to explaining ketchup, or Argos, or The Simpsons, but I’ll tell you that we ate fritto misto and linguine alla carbonara and kiev calzone, and drank amaro cocktails and wine produced in the shadow of Mount Etna.
On Friday and Saturday evenings they host “Alter Ego” evenings, taking their produce and turning it into regionally-inspired tasting menus
When I finally arrive at the Salumeria, a pair of sunglasses is waiting for me on the table. Sunglasses I’d forgotten I’d ever owned, having left them behind on my previous visit six months ago. Michael, who had served us that night and was there again to greet me this time, had found them and kept them safe all this time, in a bag, with “Thom Archer - August 3rd” written on it. Talk about service.
Next to the sunglasses, a wooden board was arranged with wodges of Tallegio; the pungent, cave-dwelling soft Alpine cheese, and vegetable frittata. Now this gift was a bit more of a mystery, but I start preparing my face-saving excuses anyway ('Who amongst us can honestly say they haven’t drank one post-meal sbagliato too many and forgotten to take their cheese and omelette home?') I’m about to protest, until Michael explains that they’re the first of this evening’s appetisers. Imagine my relief.
By day, the Salumeria is an informal espresso bar, cafe and deli. It sells buffalo mozzarella imported from Campania and charcuterie and cannoli and cans of Pomodorino tomatoes, "All we ever wanted was to have a place where anyone can shop for real Italian food with confidence,” says the website. On Friday and Saturday evenings they host 'Alter Ego' evenings, taking their produce and turning it into regionally-inspired tasting menus (£38 per person).
Their website suggests morsels of tweezered fine dining arrangements, incongruous with my preconceptions of hearty Italian cooking. In reality, we’re served something in the middle of the two, roughly following the traditional Italian supper template of antipasto, primo, pasta, secondo and dolce.
In this case it was some of Venice’s iconic recipes being served. Risi e Bisi is probably the most toyed-with; usually a kind of pea and ham soup-risotto mash-up served in Spring when peas are their smallest and sweetest. Here it comes de-and-reconstructed as arancini on a bed of rugged blankets of proscuttio.
Stracotto - the meat course - is normally a rustic, pot-roast comfort food, so in an attempt to disguise its peasant-food heritage and make it look respectable, it turns up on the plate as a hefty puck of beef cheek, along with deep-fried polenta, cavolo nero and Barolo sauce. It’s rich and robust, and the meat itself looks almost intimidating, until it submits into tender, slow-cooked tangles of cheek at the slightest touch from a fork; like making a bouncer fall to the ground in a fit of giggles by tickling their neck.
Everything else is fairly traditional; from mounds of perfectly al dente bigoli pasta (think spaghetti but with a chubbier waistline) with duck ragu packing the dull, rich thump of frankfurter sausages clinging to its rough surface, to tiramisu that gushes espresso and marsala from its sponge layers as if it’s being wrung out at a car wash.
Sarde in Saor is sweet and sour sardines, where fillets of the fish are served with a sweet and sour chutney of onions - cooked with such patience that the onions are perfectly jammy with no crisped edges where the sugars have caught - sultanas, pine nuts, and white wine. Served cold, it makes the perfect cicchetti on a sultry Venice evening. In February, in Headingley, with global warming on my mind and the threat of snow, slippery pavements and the dry skin that comes with it, I’m craving something warm.
It doesn’t help that it’s on the menu next to another cold fish dish. Smoked salmon and capers is perfectly ok, but it feels like the kitchen are catering to the stipulations set by the menu, rather than what people want to eat at that moment in time.
I might as well get the other less than great stuff off my chest while we’re here: service feels inconsistent, with dish explanations ranging from in-depth introductions to the dish and its history, to just repeating the name of the dish that’s on the menu. And with seven or eight courses to get through, a couple more wines by the glass would be nice, especially when so much effort has gone into introducing punters to less well-known digestifs, including a flight of grappa that could put hair on Steve Carrel’s chest.
The slogan for Alter Ego is “the future of tradition”. No idea what that means, but if this meal is anything to go by, the future’s looking pretty bright. Luckily, I’ve got my sunglasses.
Salvo’s Salumeria, 115 Otley Rd, Leeds LS6 3PX
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All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Taleggio & Frittata 7, Risi e Bisi 7.5, Sarde in Saor 7, Salmone 6.5, Bigoli 9, Stracotto 8, Tiramisu 7.5
Room for improvement, every member of the team wasn't on the same page
Continental supper club vibes in a charming room/larder/gift shop all-in-one