As winner of ‘Best Italian’ at this year’s prestigious Oliver awards, we had no reservations (both kinds) about returning to this well-healed restaurant.
Over the years, it has notched up an impressive cabinet of trophies and accolades and has been a near constant fixture on the Oliver finalists shortlist, not to mention scooping the coveted ‘Best Italian’ title back in 2010.
Still, just because it’s got a cracking CV doesn’t mean we give it a soft review.
We turned up on a weekday, unannounced, around 6pm. It was raining outside and the restaurant was relatively quiet (although it has to be said, not for long).
One of the first things that strikes you about Divino is an attention to detail. Staff are clean and clipped, tables neatly dressed, even the napkins have sharp edges. If the sun had been shining, I am sure the wine glasses would have glinted.
Its staff are a real credit to the place - right from the off we were given a warm welcome. Waiters ooze a kind of effortless charm, which, one gets the impression, only comes with years upon years of practice.
We were seated near the window, the perfect spot to delight in the fact that we were inside (not out) and to watch the world go by.
There atmosphere is relaxed while maintaining an air of formality, the colour scheme a mix of burned orange and sumptuous purple, making for the kind of place you could quite easily spend a few hours chatting and while the candles burn down.
The menu is extensive but split into easy-to-follow sections, with at least a dozen options in each, so whether you want pizza, pasta or something from the fish and meat section, you are well catered for.
To start we ordered soup of the day (£4.50), which was tomato and basil and was everything you could wish for: warm, soothing, packed with flavour and mozzarella dorata (£6.75), deep fried mozzarella coated in garlic bread crumbs and served with Napoli sauce, the garlic crumb proving a real winner. We also ordered a side of green olives (£3.50).
For her main course, my dining partner went for the calzone pizza, which, at £6.95, was great value and turned out to be a delight to eat, the crust thin and crispy, the filling a great big melting pot of flavours, the inside full of rich, sumptuous gooey gorgeousness. She also ordered a fresh salad (£3.25) to go with her meal.
In contrast to her thrifty choice, I plumped for the filleto griglia (a wallet yawning £19.95) but in my book worth every penny. It was one of those dishes which, when it arrived, my first thought was: that’s not a lot of food.
On the plate there was an 8oz steak, cooked medium - a safe bet in my book as I’ve never been a fan of the ‘jellied eels’ texture of a really rare steak, a single roasted vine tomato and some sauted woodland mushrooms. That was it. There was a lot of white porcelain.
My reservations were soon vanquished, however, as the steak proved to be just godly - everything was right with it: the texture, the flavour, the fact the knife just slid through the meat. And in terms of the other portions, in this case, less was more. There was an understated elegance to the dish, a kind of simplistic artfulness, with the solitary tomato and little pile of mushrooms complementing the main attraction. Don’t get me wrong, they were great accompaniments, especially the mushrooms, which were meaty and came with a delightful salty smack but it was the steak which stole the show for me.
I’m always surprised by dishes which look like this and which, when they come, you wonder why you are paying so much for so little because invariably (and it proved to be the case here too), you end up struggling to finish them (although I did).
I also ordered some side dishes to go with the main (some steamed vegetables at £3.25, a fresh mixed salad and some fries at £2.95).
After what turned out to be a mammoth main course, it was a dilemma whether or not to order dessert but duty called and so we dived into the final section of the menu. I ordered a traditional tiramisu while my partner went for the lemon meringue (both £4.95).
Up to now the quality of the food had been consistently above par and desserts proved no different. Tiramisu has always been a luxurious treat for me, the combination of coffee-rum-soaked biscuit, fresh cream and chocolate a match made in heaven. Every mouthful was a joy. Verdict: outstanding.
Likewise, the lemon meringue was light, refreshing, tangy and sweet and more uplifting, the pastry was fresh and not too dry or flaky.
Together with drinks during our meal (we shared a bottle of Ivenio Montepulciano at £14.95) and an espresso (£1.80), the final bill came in at £77.15 - not bad at all considering the quality of food being served. My only qualm about Divino is, like so many other restaurants these days, they automatically add on a service charge of ten per cent to your bill.
While I understand they put a lot of effort into their presentation and delivery of the food in terms of service, which is excellent by the way, I’ve never been one not to tip for this. The only reason I can think of for adding on this unnecessary charge is that perhaps most people today pay by card, although even then it is possible to ask them if they wish to leave a tip. In short, automatic gratuities remove any option the diner has of complimenting staff for their experience and if it is not pointed out, you run the risk of accidentally ‘double tipping’. Enough said on the matter.
By the end of our meal (around 8pm), the place had become really rather busy, most people having driven in, the car park at the rear a real bonus. Divino is a destination diner, it’s quality stands out - it deserves its many accolades and if it continues as it is, I do not doubt it will pick up more.
Address: 473 Otley Rd, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS16 7NR
Opening times: Mon-Fri 5.30pm-10.30pm, Sat 5.30pm-11pm, Sun noon-10pm
Tel: 0113 230 0600