ACCORDING to a recent report, having a Waitrose near where you live can boost the value of your home.
This will no doubt be music to the ears of homeowners in Meanwood who have enjoyed having the posh supermarket chain on their doorstep for the last five years.
For a long time this suburb was little more than the place you drove through to reach trendy Chapel Allerton or Headingley. But not any more.
In the last three or four years it’s enjoyed a mini renaissance that’s piqued the curiosity of foodies in north Leeds. With the Hungry Bear, East of Arcadia and Alfred’s bar all within a stone’s throw of one another, you can now enjoy a pleasant night out without having to trek into town.
Another reason to venture into this leafy enclave is Zucco, which has attracted a loyal following since opening a couple of years back. There’s no shortage of Italian restaurants in and around the city, including several well established and popular haunts. So adding to their already swollen number was perhaps a bold move.
But from the beginning Zucco has offered something different from the usual pizza, pasta and waiters brylcreemed to within an inch of their lives. Instead it specialises in Italian tapas – or sharing plates, as they like to call them. This might sound like some poncey fusion cooking style but it actually has some culinary roots in Italy.
In Venice, for instance, they have what’s known as cicchetti, small snacks or sides, and you can happily spend an afternoon, or evening, ambling between bars on your very own cicchetti crawl far away from the hordes of snap-happy tourists.
Ok, so Leeds isn’t Venice, but good food is good food whether it’s served overlooking the Grand Canal or Meanwood Road.
I have to confess I’ve been to Zucco before and enjoyed the food and I wanted to try it again to see if it was as good as I remembered. It wasn’t. It was better.
With it’s big glass frontage, the restaurant has a simple, yet stylish open plan feel. The cool black and white tiled walls and floor, banquette seating and handsome wood panelled ceiling are uncomplicated and well judged.
We went along on a busy Friday night and there was a warm buzz about the place from the second we walked in. We were positioned in the window, not a spot I would have chosen as you get a blast of cold air every time the door opens, but it was warm inside and after a few minutes you didn’t notice it.
So what has Zucco got to shout about? Well, for starters the service is courteous, helpful and friendly. The waitress said that she was new but when I dithered on the wine choice she allowed me to try a sample which might sound like common sense, but how many restaurants have you been to recently where they’ve done that?
The food itself is divided into simple categories like “Pizzette and Pani”, “Fish” and “Meat.” What’s also helpful is the fact that the menus double as table mats, so if you decide you haven’t ordered enough it’s easy enough to rectify the problem.
Another nice touch is they ask you if you’d like the dishes brought out in stages rather than all at once. Quite often if you go out for tapas the food arrives at the same time which invariably descends into an unsavoury race to try and eat everything before it gets cold, and involves friends eyeing each other up like gunfighters at the OK Corral over who gets the last bit of chorizo.
Thankfully, that’s not the case here. First up was the buffalo mozzarella and tomato pizzette (£5.70). In essence, this is just bread, cheese, tomato and basil, but part of the beauty of Italian food is its simplicity and when the ingredients are as good as this they are a match made in food heaven.
The menu changes from time to time just to freshen things up, but there are also a few dishes that would have the chefs chased out of town if they were ever ditched.
First off we opted for three fish dishes to share. The smoked haddock & scallops (£7.80) came with a rich sauce and was pleasant without being particularly memorable. The King prawns (£8.20), however, were a delight. Prawns can sometimes taste a bit bland but these were the kind of plump, juicy morsels that transport you instantly back to that taverna you stumbled on during your last summer holiday in the Med.
The pan fried bass with mixed potatoes was possibly even better. The crispy skin was perfectly cooked as was the fish while the accompanying spuds some of which were purple (who knew?) added a splash of colour.
Being committed carnivores we also went for the braised beef pappardelle with grana padano (£7.20) and balsamic roast duck leg (£8.50), both of which were absolutely delicious. The beef was meltingly tender and the pasta was as good as any I’ve tasted.
The duck, too, was a revelation, as was the tagiatelle al burro with mushrooms and white truffle oil (£6.70).
We finished with a lemon tart (£4.20) which was nice but nothing more. Our bill came to £82.05, which included an excellent bottle of Salice Salentino reserva (£19.20) and a couple of glasses of pudding wine at £2.80 a pop.
If you’re looking for straightforward Italian grub then Zucco doesn’t play to the gallery, its food is crowd-pleasing in a different, more exciting, way.
On the evidence of this I’d also say it must be one of the best restaurants in Leeds. And I don’t know about supermarkets, but I reckon having this place on your doorstep must be worth a bob or two.
Address: 603 Meanwood Road, Leeds, LS6 4AY
Tel: 0113 224 9679
Opening times: Tuesday - Friday lunch 12pm - 2.30pm; Tues - Thurs dinner 6pm - 10pm. Fri dinner 5.30pm - 10.30pm. Sat 12pm - 10.30pm. Sun 12pm - 8.30pm. Monday, closed.