ELYSIUM occupies the Leeds city centre spot which once housed Mio Modo, the popular restaurant, bar and gallery which sadly closed in 2012.
This Italian restaurant, bar and attached café is in Wellington Street, in the bustling business quarter of Leeds, and it therefore has plenty of competition.
Bored by the usual Panini and soup offerings, Little Oliver and companion decided to pop in for a Monday lunch.
We got a bit confused by the two entrances. The main entrance is actually round the corner from the café, which is on Wellington Street itself. The café side looked empty. We followed the various signs and eventually found our way in.
The vast bar area - complete with grand piano - was empty, but then it was a Monday lunchtime.
We liked the open plan kitchen and huge windows overlooking the city bustle.
However on this day our main view was of the huge cranes working on a development across the road. The pleasant music thankfully drowned out any construction noise.
There was a large group of diners - clearly office workers on a group outing - already enjoying their meal, which ensured there was a lively atmosphere.
Service was friendly and welcoming, and our icy cold soft drinks arrived quickly, very welcome on a blazing hot day.
Elysium’s menu is a tempting mix of modern and traditional Italian cuisine, with a wide selection of antipasti, pastas, pizzas and risottos.
For lunchtime diners, there is a permanent two-courses for £10 weekday offer, but interestingly, this offer was not advertised anywhere in the restaurant - or its website - and neither of our waitresses mentioned it. Another potentially winning lunchtime offer is a 50 per cent discount on Monday lunchtimes, something we again only discovered when we were paying the bill. The lack of self promotion seemed a bit odd.
Lunchers can also opt for sandwiches from the cafe next door. However we decided to stick with the main menu.
We ordered an appetiser of mixed Italian bread and olives. The olives (a mixture of green and black) were tasty, but my companion remarked they had a hint of the ‘shop bought’ about them. Of our two breads, the herby flatbread was lovely and crispy. However the second crusty sliced bread was doughy. There was also no dipping oil offered, which would have been nice.
I then went for the Inslalata di Pollo (chicken salad, £6.95). This is on the appetiser menu but I asked for a main size. However the portion that came out still looked quite small. The chicken strips - all five of them - were nicely cooked though very bland on their own. The dressing on the salad was tangy and refreshing, but there was too much of it, leaving my salad quite oily.
My companion liked her Melanzana a la Parmigiana, oven baked aubergine with fresh tomato and Parmesan flakes (£8.85). The aubergine was very fresh and she liked the basil and tomato sauce, but found there was a little too much cheese. The portion was again quite small for a main course.
We were left waiting quite a while before our main course arrived, surprising as the other two large tables of diners were already eating when we arrived, and there was only one other couple to serve.
Our bill came to just £11, taking into account the Monday lunchtime half-price discount.
There’s plenty to like about Elysium; good overall service, an attractive venue and location, and a varied and authentic sounding menu which has - on this first tasting - decent flavours to offer. But there’s plenty of room for improvement too, not least quality of ingredients and care in preparation. The owners also need to start shouting about their wares - and budget-friendly offers - a bit louder.
Although underwhelmed on this occasion, I got the feeling Elysium has promise. I would venture there again, perhaps for an evening meal next time, to sample more of the dishes with the benefit of more time to peruse and ponder. Perhaps an hour out of the office is not really enough to sample the full Elysium experience. I hope I don’t live to eat my words.