Anyone who has lived in Leeds for a considerable amount of time will undoubtedly at the very least have heard of Salvo’s.
It’s known as one of those longstanding institutions, that you can always rely on when it’s a traditional, no nonsense Italian meal you’re after.
A couple of miles outside of the city centre in Headingley, Salvo’s has been going since 1976 and is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.
Four decades on, the restaurant is still run by the Dammone family that opened it all those years ago. So, what is the key to its success? If you ask me, it’s the sheer passion the brothers, John and Gip, hold of their home country and not only its cuisine, but its entire culture and way of life.
I was kindly invited to sample Salvo’s new menu recently, compiled by its new head chef.
It was a preview night like I’ve never experienced before. Gip’s tales of a recent staff culinary expedition to Italy, whilst a sample of a dish from each section of the new menu was delivered, added justification and an explanation for every element on each plate.
And, like a family Christmas dinner, the more house red (a beautiful Sicilian wine) that was poured, the deeper the topic of conversation got. The B word (Brexit) was the topic by the end of the evening (following stories of his childhood, of how good quality and bad quality pasta is made, and why supermarket fresh pasta is as far away from the real thing as it could be, amongst many other discussions).
If there’s one thing Salvo’s does well, it’s challenging any perceptions that an Italian restaurant simply needs to do a good stone baked pizza, and a good Carbonara.
Salvo’s does the staples, and so much more – a true representation of real Italian food.
To start, the Pate Della Casa (chicken liver and Marsala pate, on the menu for 40 years), and Bruschette Miste (sourdough with mascarpone and Njuda, Salsa Rossa and truffle white bean crush). I might usually expect someone to order bruschetta as a safe option, and pate – maybe like soup or prawn cocktail, can easily be passed by on the starter menu. But these were fantastic.
For me a highlight of the evening was the Insalata Di Polpo starter, (charred Octopus, smoked aubergine, tomato salsa, basil and Sardinian crisp bread). The smoky aubergine and Octopus combination was delicious.
On to the meats… Petto d’Angello (roasted lamb belly with anchovy and crispy capers). This was another of my favourites. I’m a true believer in the lamb and anchovy combination but it has to be subtle – and this was spot on. The lamb – wonderfully tender and an intense flavour.
Gip was keen to highlight the use of local producers and suppliers for all meats, the poultry sourced just over the boarder in Lancashire.
The second meat – Guancia di Bue (braised ox cheek, truffle mash, confit shallot, Jerusalem artichoke and mushroom jus). Afraid to use the phrase, ‘melt in the mouth’, but the soft, creamy truffle mash was such a comforting compliment to the deep, rich velvety ox cheek.
We sampled the pizzas too (classic Margherita and Porco Rosso (belly port, Njuda and pancetta). They were beautifully crisp, thin and flavoursome, as you’d expect a good pizza could probably be done in their sleep. Delicious, but for me to choose pizza ahead of the meat, fish or exquisite pasta dishes on the menu would be sinful.
Lastly the Hake (Nassello) from the fish menu. I love Hake, but have never had it in an Italian restaurant before – only Spanish tapas. The addition of purple potato Ravioli, smoked leeks and sun dried tomato butter made it a great well rounded, yet still light dish.
The Crema di Brulee dessert was a chocolate lover’s heaven – effectively a gooey brownie pimped up with gooey Nutella, just all round gooey delightfulness.
And the Apple Crumble Crème Brulee – two desserts in one. Extremely sweet but for me, someone who wouldn’t usually choose Crème Brulee, the addition of an apple crumble topping was a nice surprise.
If its authenticity you’re after, I can’t think of an Italian restaurant in Leeds that does it better. Go, and my advice would be to try something new – you won’t be disappointed.