The world’s gone mad for kitsch, hasn’t it? Everywhere you go these days, it’s retro this and vintage that.
It’s happened with clothes, furniture, music formats (vinyls back and proud), cars, even our food. It’s also happened with some restaurants. You walk into some places today and they’ve gone a little bit overboard with the nostalgia to the point where they will have actually roughed up a perfectly good brand new wooden table and splashed some paint on it just to make it look as though it was once leaned on by a bunch of navvies on their fag break.
I get the whole student chic thing and most of the time I don’t mind it. It’s just some places try way too hard to be ‘yesterday’, to the point they just end up being, well, completely naff. Like all those modern hang-outs with mismatched furniture and exposed brick walls that look like my seven-year-old cemented them. Full of people sporting humongous beards and gigantic holes in their ears.
Horses for courses, I guess.
Still, when it comes to the whole retro thing, there are some places which have to try, because they’re clearly not and other places which just don’t, because they just are, which brings me to this week’s restaurant. Almost.
You might think being Oliver is a plum job and it is (first world problem alert) until you can’t think of where to go. You see, there are rules. Nowhere that’s been done in the last 12 months being the main one. I won’t bore you with the others. But anyway, you get stuck in a loop sometimes. It’s like writers block, except with restaurants. So it’s always good when something comes at you right out of the blue, an actual real life bona fide word of mouth (no Tripadvisor involved) recommendation, which is how Oliver came to discover Viva on Leeds Bridge.
It’s just up from The Adelphi in that little enclave which seems to have somehow escaped the broad sweep of ‘progress’ that spawned Clarence Dock (or whatever its calling itself these days) and so still oozes effortless charm and wonder.
It’s cozy and welcoming with a tidy little well stocked wood-fronted bar, with an orange and white chequered floor and innumerable paintings and other pictures covering most of the walls and real (yes, real) cut roses in glass vases on the tables. Seriously, this place looks as though it might have just come straight from the 1980s and I actually love it for that. What’s wrong with authenticity? With provenance and perseverance? Aren’t these the very qualities all those other modern places are trying to espouse with their mock-trad vibes?
Inside, it’s bright and airy, the ceilings are really high but there are still one or two intimate little corners to discover.
It’s welcoming too, the staff offering genuine smiles and an off-the-cuff welcome/chat, as opposed to the buttoned-down scripted may-as-well-come-from-a-computer meet and greets some places dole out. So, coats are taken, followed swiftly by seats and then drinks orders. At some point, we were given a complimentary tomato garlic bread (and seeing as my partner and I had the kids with us, that was no bad thing).
The menu is surprisingly short. Of course, I only say this because (like everyone else who dines out) I’m too used to ubiquitousness. Actually, having less choice was quite nice for once.
For example, there are just six cold starters and four hot (two of which are versions of garlic bread) and only eight main courses (not including pizzas and specials). Simple. The exact opposite of what the world is today and therefore something to treasure.
Starter-wise, I plumped for the second most expensive thing on the menu, which was Bresaola della Valtellina, cured Italian beef with rocket, cheese shavings and virgin olive oil (£8.50), which came on a big plate and looked like a lot, the meat so thin it took on whatever you put with it. It had a kind of smokey background flavour and proved delicious with the cheese. My partner, meanwhile, went for duck pate, an absolute steal at £4.50 given the portion size and the fact it also was pretty good.
For main I went for what turned out to be the most expensive dish on the menu, which was Filetto ai gamberoni, grilled fillet steak served with king prawns and garlic on a bed of seasonal leaves (£23.50), while my other half went for Del Pirata, a tuna and red onion pizza, served with a slice of fresh tomato and mozarella (£9.50).
Delish, the lot. No complaints. The steak, a medallion of beef cooked medium was mouth-watering, the texture soft with a knockout flavour, while the prawns had a hit of chilli running through them. All of it was served up with buttered fresh veg - potatoes, carrots, green beans. The tuna pizza was very good as well, according to the missus.
And so to desserts: a choice of home made creme brulee, tiramasu, hot or cold choc fudge cake and ice cream (all £4.50), plus Affogeta ice cream, which is ice cream with a liqueur in it for £5.95, or a cheese board for £6.95.
Tiramu and choccy fudge cake won out (don’t they always?) and having sampled both, I’d gladly return for seconds (and thirds).
All told the bill came to just over £100 but this included the food for the children (boy and girl) and drinks, which by itself was £21, so you can easily knock £40 off for the two of us, which is pretty decent.
In summary, Viva deserves to be celebrated for its authenticity, its passion, its effortless charm and the fact it pretty much wipes the floor with everywhere else trying to recreate that hazel glow of yesteryear. Spot on.
Address: 9-11 Bridge End, Leeds LS1 7HG
Phone:0113 242 0185
Opening times: Monday-Saturday noon–2pm, 5–10:30pm, Sunday closed,