The last time this column visited Cafe Marinetti in deepest, darkest Horsforth with the intention of publishing a review was in 2012 and even that was only for a quick bite to eat, courtesy of our culinary-minded cousin, Little Oliver (now published Friday’s in the YEP, in case you’re wondering).
No, the last proper sit down we did at this longstanding cafe-cum-restaurant was way back in 2010, which seems like an age away - it’s almost long enough for us to reasonably claim the world was a much simpler place, which it was.
For example, there was no war on Isis, Greece was solvent, there were no smartphones and no-one knew who Sepp Blatter was. All, I am sure you will agree, good things.
Cafe Marinetti has weathered them all. A colleague informed me it has been quietly putting down roots at the bottom end of Town Street for at least 16 years but in all honesty it feels much longer.
It’s been there so long it would be hard to imagine the town without it and yet such familiarity is a double-edged sword, in that, while the place clearly has lost none of its appeal (when we visited on a Friday, it was so full, we had to be seated upstairs), reviewers such as myself, forever on the lookout for something new, are apt to overlook it.
That’s a shame because despite its age, Cafe Marinetti remains a sprightly little thing which easily puts some of its younger kin in the shade; and the fact it hasn’t graced the pages of this newspaper in recent times doesn’t mean it’s lost any favour with the locals.
When we turned up unannounced a couple of weeks ago, with the evening sun still warming the pavement outside, the place was positively heaving, abuzz with the hum of conversation, the clink of cutlery and waiters weaving their way between tables with the kind of hip action which would put Len Goodman to shame. In terms of atmosphere, it lacks nothing. Downstairs is deceptive in that the double-fronted Yorkshire stone building looks much bigger from the outside, although the mirrored walls help to make it feel bigger but even as we entered, I could see with a quick glance all the tables were taken.
To begin with we thought we’d had our chips (or not, as the case may be) but with brusque efficiency and a cocked eyebrow, a waitress swiftly gathered us up and bustled us up the spiral staircase to the first floor, where, thankfully, a few spare tables remained.
Despite being pretty much full to capacity, the speed of service at Cafe Marinetti has to be praised, as does its quality. Staff were clearly busy and yet our waitress not only appeared at the side of our table within seconds of us sitting down, she took the time smile and pass a few moments in conversation, all of which puts you right at ease. It’s also the kind of thing which shows how good service ought to be - many’s the time I’ve been to places which weren’t half as busy and yet I’ve been left to squirm with unease at the lack of attention.
The menu here is simple enough with all the staple Italian fayre, a decent selection of pasta and pizza, together with some steak and fish dishes. According to the website, ‘everything is prepared on the premises from quality produce from local markets and authentic Italian imports’ and we won’t argue with that, because what we had was pretty decent. It’s not fine dining but then it doesn’t claim to be. What it is is wholesome, fresh and full of flavour.
Starter-wise, it was so hot we just didn’t feel in the mood and so plumped for a simple, rustic plate of olives (£3.95) to go with our drinks, although there’s a decent selection to go at, including minestrone soup (£3.95), garlic mushrooms (£6.50) and chicken liver pate (£6.75) to the more luxuriant duck salad and prawn cocktail (£7.50).
For my main I went straight for the ribeye (£16.95), which was cooked, as I’d asked, medium rare and I have to say was quite superb - it was as succulent as they come and I polished off the lot. It came with a side dish of seasonal veg, none of which I could complain about.
My partner ordered the calzone kiev pizza (£9.25), the test in my book of any decent Italian, because calzone is in the same category as risotto in that it’s either right or dead wrong. Gladly, if was the former.
Sides of a salad (£2.50) and, the revelation of the night and a dish I have since added to my own repertoire: peas, bacon and lettuce (£2.75), which was salty, zesty and so yummy I would have quite gladly eaten the whole thing in one gulp (assuming I wasn’t sitting in a restaurant packed with people that is). Still, one can dream.
Dessert came in the form of chocolate fudge cake and a portion of ice cream, which in total came to £7.50 (at least that’s what the bill said and I neglected to ask them for a price at the time). Choccy fudge cake is one of those desserts you can’t really go wrong with and while part of me sometimes wants to see some sort of innovation with the dish, there are some things you just don’t mess with - and this is one of them. In total, the bill came to a very reasonable £53.80.
In summary, cafe Marinetti is a place we will be returning to more frequently. It has become part of the town itself and you really feel that when you walk in - it’s like stepping into the house of an old friend so when the website claims Cafe Marinetti is ‘a little corner of Italy in the heart of a tradition Yorkshire’, they’re not wrong.
That reminds me of an old Yorkshire saying that, after 100 years, the locals will finally start treating you as one of their own. I think, when it comes to Cafe Marinetti, we’ve already made an exception to that rule.
Address: 9-11 Town St, Horsforth, Leeds, West Yorkshire LS18 5LJ
Phone:0113 281 8488
Opening times: Monday (closed), Tuesday-Friday noon-2pm, 5pm-10.30pm, Saturday 5pm-10.30pm, Sunday 4pm-9pm