Horsforth is one of those places which seems to have more restaurants than you can reasonably shake a stick at.
Probably, this is because it has two town centres - the long strip on New Road Side, which is full of estate agents, clothing shops and restaurants, with a clutch of them at the end nearest the ring road and the older, more settled, slightly quirkier one on Town Street, which is all Yorkshire stone and old pubs and pokey little shops with narrow doorways you have to stoop to get into.
Partly, this is what makes Horsforth so attractive to the casual diner, because there’s such a mix of old and new and cuisine from just about all corners of the globe that you can pretty much turn up there unannounced, as we did, and find something to suit your palate.
New Road Side offers a good selection of restaurants and they appear to have done something I recall learning about in school in human geography called ‘conglomeration’ - in other words, they’re all huddled together in one area. Banks do it and so do estate agents. So do penguins come to think about it. There is some sort of complicated business-tinged algorithm attached to the reasons why but suffice to say, for our purposes, it’s just convenient because everything is in one place. In a little strip at one end of New Road Side, there’s an Italian, a fish restaurant, a Turkish diner and across the road and a short walk in the opposite direction is East, with its own particular brand of Indian cuisine.
On this occasion and guided purely by the gods of chance, we found ourselves gravitating towards the Italian, Grappolo.
It looks nice enough with a really quite disarming ecclectic Mediterranean feel and a warm welcome from the staff.
We were shown to a table almost immediately, handed menus and drinks orders dutifully taken. So far so good. The menu took another step in the right direction, because several menu uptions caught my eye. It wasn’t so much as a case of being stuck between a rock and a hard place as the tender braised lamb shank and the pan-fried calves liver.
In fact, there were four main meals which I was tempted to go for - the afforementioned two, the Italian stallion 10oz beef burger (£11.50) and the char-grilled whole baby chicken marinated in garlic, chilli and rosemary (£12.95), which is what I eventually sided with.
Still, I am jumping the gun, because before all that we ordered our starters - the Insalata Tri Colore (£6.20), buffalo mozzarella, avocado and beefo tomato, was one of those pleasingly simple dishes which captures the essence of the place you think it’s from and at least for the moment allows you to linger in that mental haven.
My dining partner ordered soup of the day - Zupa Del Giorno (£4.50) - which turned out to be potato and onion, a lovely, deep, warming dish, well seasoned and with a nice creamy texture and good for the money.
Back to the mains - mine was the baby chicken, which unfortunately was slightlty overdone and therefore ‘bitty’ and while it looked the part, it proved really quite difficult to eat.
My partner ordered the Pizza Calzone Kiev (£9.50) and this was where the spell began to unwind. The dough was way too thick and consequently, it was raw in the centre, which is never apetising. She duly informed the waiter and sent the dish back. Some ten or so minutes later, a freshly cooked calzone was delivered to our table and we allowed our hopes to rise but again this suffered from the same problem, the centre just a torpid, sloppy, anaemic mush with an unwelcome yeasty aroma. To get one wrong is bad but to get two wrong back to back, when the first has been returned to the kitchen, is verging on criminal (although, that said, I don’t think there’s any need to get the local constabulary involved). We also ordered two side dishes, a salad at £2.80, which ticked all the boxes and a side of vegetables (£2.50), which underwhelmed, mainly because they were unseasoned.
So, there we were - my main a little under par and her’s well and truly lost in the long grass. And still two holes to go.
On this occasion, she opted to forego dessert, which left me to order a slice of their chocolate cake, £4.50, which I have to say was luxurient and rich and rewarding and a welcome lift after the disappointing mains, although I’ve never been a fan of dessert display cases, which for some reason always remind me of the 1970s.
All in all, including drinks of peroni at £4.75 a pint and a cheek Trebbiano D’Abruzzo (£4.50 for a 250ml glass), the final bill rolled in at £67.20.
In conclusion, Grappolo has a nice, airy feel about it and when you first walk in at least, the olive-green decor does wonders to relax you and put you in the mood for a night out and while the starters passed muster, the mains disappointed.
The service too, is somewhat casual, dominated as it is by one of those big Italian alpha-males who smiles and winks at you one moment and in the next turns to bark orders in at the kitchen staff, before turning back with the grin firmly back in place.
Just to point out there’s an early bird menu Tuesday to Thursday 5pm-6.30pm and Friday 5pm-6pm with either any starter, pasta or pizza a glass of wine fopr £12.95 or a 15 per cent discount off the total bill.
Like we said at the beginning, the menu has a number of tanstalising options and perhaps a return visit would yield different, more positive results but on this occasion, we came away feeling a little underwhelmed.
Address: 194 New Road Side, Horsforth, Leeds LS18 4DP
Phone:0113 258 6336
Opening times: Monday-Saturday 5pm-10pm, Sunday noon-9pm