WHEN it comes to securing crucial kerb appeal there are two important basics which any restaurant ought to heed: put yourself on a main thoroughfare and put yourself on the ground floor.
This little Italian has done neither.
And yet, they still pack them in. On the midweek evening Oliver dropped in, the place was packed and the reputation of Buon Apps is substantial. In fact, it’s probably for the best they don’t have a prominent position, lest they be overwhelmed.
So, what’s their secret?
Well, aside from the food, they’ve chosen a great setting as home, one of those renovated industrial stone buildings which infers class and good judgement on the part of the owners.
It also reinforces the fact that this is an independent venture, not some generic city or town centre unit desperate to get any passing trade. No, Buon Apps goes for your more discerning diner.
Which is just as well given that it is tucked away on the Wharfebank Business Centre on the outskirts of the small market town of Otley, but then that adds to the exclusive feel of the place.
But it’s not too exclusive. Once inside it has a sophisticated air, but it’s still warming.
The stone walls are exposed and your eyes are drawn to the giant windows which stretch from floor to ceiling. Dark wood furniture is offset by the occasional flash from some modern artwork and the subdued lighting picks out a wall of wine bottles overlooking the main dining room.
That main dining room is a masterstroke because, being on a raised floor, it just feels special. It feels like you’re being invited into a little club, a intimate space for those in the know. This, I suspect, is your reward for taking the time to get to Buon Apps in the first place.
Also special, is the mix of classic and contemporary Italian food they’ve tried to fuse. If you want pizza and pasta then it’s there on the menu, albeit with a few distinctive flourishes along the way. But it was the more innovative twists on this style of cuisine which caught our eye.
I started with the lobster ravioli, for example, beautifully packaged parcels of seafood delivering a subtle blend of flavours in pasta that was not only fresh but of a perfect firm but tender.
My dining partner opted for a starter of mussels cooked in white wine, garlic and chillies served with a little bread. All the mussels were perfectly cooked and, again, that sauce was a delicate blend with a nice little after-kick.
This isn’t clumsy Italian cuisine. Sure, many of the dishes are the usual mainstays, but they ingredients here are fresh (and invariably locally sourced) plus the execution is immaculate and the plate presentation even better.
My swordfish special was divine and my dining partner’s scallopine perugina (pork tenderloin) was a great slab of meat, though he did say the sauce, which was made up of garlic, sage, lemon juice and pancetta, was perhaps a little too subtle.
With a perfect tiramisu and a knock-out ricotta mascarpone tart, all washed down with two large glasses of pinot grigio, we were in heaven.
Great food in great surroundings and all at not too bad a price.
To be fair, Buon Apps isn’t the cheapest Italian you’ll find. Although they do set menu specials on some evenings which will cost you £15 for three courses (a fantastic bargain) the a la carte menu and the specials board are more costly. Most mains are about £13 to £15, most starters quite pricey at £7 to £9, though the desserts are surprisingly inexpensive at just under a fiver.
Our total bill for three courses with two glasses of wine was just under £70. If we’d have had a bottle of wine with coffees you might be looking at something closer to the £85 mark.
But the service was good, the food excellent and the atmosphere first rate.
As we descended into the reception area of Buon Apps we felt like we’d been treated – guests of honour at a private gathering. It’s almost a pity they are this good because you know that, sooner or later, a deluge of diners are going to make a beeline for this little Italian. Thankfully, not all of them will find it.
Buon Apps,Wharfebank Business Centre, Ilkley Road, Otley, Leeds, LS21 3JP
Open: Tuesday to Saturday, 5pm to late, and 11.30am to 3pm, except friday mornings: 9.30am to 3pm.
Tel. 01943 468458