It’s always a bit disconcerting when you arrive at a restaurant to find you’re the only diners - especially as our visit took place on a Friday night when you’d probably expect all tables to be occupied.
As it was there was a mix-up with the booking and we’d turned up half an earlier than expected for our meal at Ipsum Vinoteca, an Italian wine bar, store and restaurant in Munro House, Duke Street, Leeds, in what was once the local headquarters of the Auto Trader magazine.
While we waited for our table to be readied we ordered drinks and a bowl of olives (£3).
I had a bottle of Manon Blanche a delightfully light beer from the San Michelle Brewery (£4.95) and my companion a glass of Prosecco which was a pricey £6 and had to be sent back to the bar as it was unpleasantly warm.
The second glass was produced suitably chilled and we enjoyed our drinks while perched on high stools by the large picture window.
It was quite pleasant watching the workers of Leeds heading home for the weekend and I felt myself visibly relaxing and looking forward to my meal.
The five-table restaurant is tucked away at the back of the wine bar and though there were no other diners when we arrived, the bar area began filling up nicely with, what it seemed were office workers having after-work drinks and nibbles.
The bar menu has a varied selection of cheeses and charcuteries which are imported directly from Italy and available to buy to take home. For example a sharing platter of cheese is £15.95 and one of charcuterie £19.95.
Ipsum Vinoteca was opened a few months ago by Italian wine entrepreneur Andrea D’Ercole in a bid to showcase the variety and quality of Italian wines.
Although he did not initially intend a restaurant to form a part of his business plan he found his new premises were big enough to accommodate a few tables so he took the plunge.
The entrance is understated and it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. The decor is spartan with high shelves stacked with bottles wine and craft beer; light-coloured wooden flooring and refectory-style tables which are teamed with hard-seated chairs and benches not built for comfort - a quick glimpse of the restaurant seating however, revealed slightly more sumptuous surroundings.
After ten minutes Andrea came across, introduced himself and handed over the menu.
He explained that the menu changed daily depending on what the chef decided to buy fresh from the market that morning, and that each dish came with a recommended wine or craft beer to accompany it.
Because of the ever-changing menu there are only ever three or four starters and a similar number of main courses available.
Everything is made to order and if the kitchen runs out of a particular dish then there is no more - nothing comes out of the freezer.
We were told that it is very rare to find pasta on Ipsum Vinoteca’s menu and then only occasionally as the vegetarian option, and pizza never ever, makes an appearance.
You’d think that when you’re only faced with a limited selection of dishes from which to choose that it would be easy to decide - not a bit of it.
Eventually a decision was reached. I opted for pan fried king scallops served on a bed of onion and sprouts with a sprinkling of saffron (£10.50); my companion went for 28-day aged filet tartare with grilled artichoke hearts and a raspberry dressing (£11).
The four scallops were firm and juicy and of an agreeable size but the saffron-infused sauce which bathed the onions could have done with a bit more flavour to lift it up.
The filet tartar was judged to be delicious with just the right amount of seasoning - the accompanying vegetables more for decoration than anything else.
Andrea suggested suitable wines, a crisp white for me a robust red for my companion. As I’m sure most diners do, we decided to bow to his superior knowledge and accepted his recommendations without argument.
Main courses were a locally farmed meat board with huge chunks of venison, guinea fowl and wild boar and a smattering of roast vegetables (£27) and sea bream and cuttlefish with pickles and raw vegetables (£23).
My fish was expertly cooked and the cuttlefish, a lighter dish than grilled octopus, proved to be meaty and pleasantly chewy but thankfully not rubbery.
Again Andrea suggested the wine and again we took him at his word.
With just two desserts on the menu (£5.50) there was no need to agonise. We ordered one of each and vowed to share.
The beer tiramisu, made with Gjulia dark beer was one of the nicest I’ve tasted with subtle flavours rather than an overwhelming taste of coffee. It came elegantly served in a tall glass decked out with strawberries.
The citrus panna cotta was light and lovely and beautifully displayed with passion fruit, strawberries and a strawberry jus.
For the sake of consistency we took Andrea’s advice again and went for dessert wines to complement them. Both were judged to be perfect accompaniments.
By the time we had finished our leisurely meal a couple more tables were occupied and the atmosphere had lightened.
At £120.45 for two, a meal at Ipsum Vinoteca not a cheap night out by an means, but one that I’d be happy to repeat.
FACTFILE Ipsum vinoteca
Address: Munro House, Duke Street, Leeds, LS9 8AG
Tel: 0113 242 5197
Opening times: Monday to Thursday: 11:am - 11:pm; Friday/Saturday, 11am - midnight; Sunday, noon-9pm (restaurant closed)