Restaurant review: Salvos, Headingley

Date:19th November 2015. Picture James Hardisty. 'YEP Photo Essay.......Salvo's Restaurant & Salumeria, Otley Rd, Leeds. Owners of Salvos, brothers Gip, and John Dammone.
Date:19th November 2015. Picture James Hardisty. 'YEP Photo Essay.......Salvo's Restaurant & Salumeria, Otley Rd, Leeds. Owners of Salvos, brothers Gip, and John Dammone.
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I like to think of Salvo’s as the Sophia Loren of the Leeds dining scene.

They have a lot in common: mainly, both have great Italian attitude and startling longevity.

Just as La Loren is wearing well for her age so is the restaurant that has dominated Headingley for 25 years now.

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And since restaurants often turn up and depart quickly - sometimes faster than it takes a bus to arrive - that is a huge achievement.

So how has it done it? Leaving the food aside for a moment, my guess is that Salvo’s has survived and prospered because it has developed a personality, and it has worked hard to do so.

The Salvo brand is all about family. At the heart of everything that it does is the image of the restaurant’s founders Salvatore and Nunzia Dammone.

Indeed huge black and white photographs of them are the main design feature of the restaurant, showing the young Italian couple on their honeymoon in Italy in 1954.

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Salvatore and Nunzia came to Leeds in 1976, and almost 40 years later their place is still in demand, now being run by the second and third generations of the Dammone family.

If you want to know more, then read the family history on their website - or buy their book.

Any customer who rings to book a table will be well aware of the book since it is advertised on the phone line before putting you through to make a reservation.

This kind of self-publicity could be irritating, but in fact in a family-run restaurant it is endearing, speaking of pride in their achievement, more than anything else.

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We tried Salvo’s early on a Saturday evening and the place was packed with families enjoying a meal out together. As we left, a more adult crowd were taking our places but the atmosphere was jolly and upbeat throughout.

The menu at Salvo’s is traditional in both content and style, working on the basis of if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

It means there are lots of dishes to choose from - none of your pared-down options here.

But while we chose, some lovely Italian bread was brought to our table, topped with olives and with a drizzle of oil - free bread to kick off a meal is always a mark of a better restaurant. Beware anywhere that makes you buy bread, is my advice.

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Starter options on the main menu include scallops, squid, mozzarella cheese, prawns and all pasta dishes.

As well as the main menu there is a comprehensive specials menu, from which I chose. On there on the night we visited were five choices ranging from soup through Italian cured beef, scallops, a pasta and salami mix, and mussels.

I opted for scallops with crispy pancetta, beetroot and an oyster, served on pea puree with lemon and saffron drizzled on top (£7).

It was delicious. A blend of sweet, salty and earthy flavours. The sweet scallop, salty pancetta and the brine of the oyster were given added depth with the earthy flavour of the beetroot and the peas, all with a citrus kick.

My dining companion ate aubergine stuffed with white onion, pecorino and herbs, served with salad leaves, tomato and a balsamic glaze (£7). It had a creamy, comforting texture and a baked sweetness.

The mains include, of course, many pizza options. There are more than a dozen of them from the classic margherita and napoli through to a meaty version with three types of salami, a tomato-free pizza, and a pizza featuring blue cheese.

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Then there are the pasta staples, like lasagne and bolognese.

We are so familiar with these simple dishes now that we forget quite how good they are, and what a sensation they created when they first appeared in Leeds all those decades ago.

Then there is your long pasta, your short pasta, your egg-enriched pasta, your ribbed pasta. There’s creamy pasta, tomato sauce-based pasta, meaty pasta.

And not forgetting dishes based on risotto, chicken, lamb, calves liver, and even ox cheek. It’s a lot to take in.

So I sidestepped all of that and opted for beef cooked with mushrooms (£24) from the specials menu. The other options on there were swordfish, seabass, white pizza or ribbon pasta with langoustines.

My choice was an expensive one but a good one. The medallions of fillet of beef were moist and made richer by a red wine sauce, the mushrooms added their depth of flavour and the truffled cannellini bean puree was a lovely addition of softness and creaminess.

My companion went for pasta and chose tagliatelle al ragu (£10.75) a simple and effective dish of pasta mixed with a lamb-based ragu and topped with a crumb of anchovies and pecorino for added punch.

In an Italian restaurant there should always be tiramisu (£5.95), and my square of coffee-flavoured sponge with marsala wine and mascarpone cheese was a lovely mix of sweet fluffiness and creamy solidity.

My companion decided on ice cream served with an espresso coffee and a shot of amaretto (£6.50), the idea being to “drowned” the ice cream in the hot coffee and the spirit for a mix of temperatures and rich flavours, which he said worked a treat.

With coffees and three drinks the bill came to £85

Salvo’s is as relaxed and friendly as it tries to be.

Don’t go if you are in a hurry because it’s busy and everything will take a while, but sit back and relax, and enjoy what Dammone and Nunzia started - in the spirit of Sophia Loren.

FACTFILE

Salvos, Headingley

Address: 111-115 Otley Rd, Leeds, Yorkshire LS6 3PX

Website: www.salvos.co.uk

Tel: 0113 275 5017

Opening times: Lunchtimes, Monday- Saturday: noon to 2pm; Evenings, Monday-Thursday 6pm to 10pm; Friday-Saturday, 5.30pm to 10.30pm

Food ****

Value ****

Atmosphere ****

Service ****

Heaney and Mill, Otley Road, Headingley. Pictures: Tony Johnson.

Restaurant review: Heaney and Mill, Headingley, Leeds