The modest parade of shops which fronts Stainbeck Road close to its junction with Stainbeck Lane has seen any number of upheavals over the years as times have changed and businesses have come and gone.
But the arrival of That’s Amore a few years ago brought quality dining to a part of town which had been neglected for too long. The homes of the Carr Manors, The Bowoods and the Beckhills provided a ready constituency for the new restaurant; the broad pavement outside offered the kind of cosmopolitan cafe style dining long enjoyed in nearby Roundhay and Chapel Allerton. Now rebranded as Culto, it seems to be going from strength to strength, both for dining in and for Italian takeaway that is a distinct step up from the big brand pizza chains.
There’s no booking, so you turn up and take your chance. The dining room to the right of the main door is quite compact – and it’s pouring down when we call in, ruling out the al fresco option – so it is with some trepidation that we approach. Luckily, after a little re-arrangement of the furniture, our party of five can be squeezed in to the last available spaces, and we are soon making inroads on crisp Italian beers and big-hearted red wines, while working our way through the menu.
From the main door you enter a busy open-plan kitchen and counter area, dominated by the huge pizza oven, boxes lined up along the counter ready for takeaway.
The dining room is to the right, its quirky design features making a virtue of using what was there already and recycling plenty of what wasn’t. There’s something of a copper theme going on: criss-crossing the ceiling, old pipework has been repurposed as electrical trunking from which hang similarly-coloured shades of various designs; old tomato tins hold each table’s copper cutlery.
At one end of the room, shelves have been set into a shallow alcove and filled with a colourful array of wine bottles. A little wall display features assorted bric-a-brac – tiny plants, earthenware pots, candles, jugs, binoculars and a vintage camera, as though the designer had simply wandered through a car boot sale picking out anything roughly the right size. A Juventus shirt is proudly displayed, bearing the name of Alessandro del Piero, but I’m not sure he’s a regular.
The protocol here is quite interesting. Although the staff will take your drinks order at the table, to order food requires you head back over to the till. When there are five people dining, it requires something of a feat of memory to ensure you get everyone’s choices off pat, so two of us go.
I start with a huge plate of the barbecue spare ribs (£8.95) so drenched in a rich, gloopy, sticky sauce that cutlery is compulsory. Eating these in time-honoured manual fashion would require the diner not merely to use a finger bowl but to take a vigorous hot shower before the main course arrived. The meat strips easily from the bone, while a slice of orange provides extra tang to this glorious assault of taste and texture, the portion so large this really should be a main course in its own right.
Of the other starters around the table, the best were perhaps Culto’s two alternative takes on traditional Sicilian rice balls arancini ripieni. One (£5.10) is packed with ham and oozing mozzarella as you slice into the breadcrumb crust; the second (£5.50) a darker, more delicate blend of mushrooms and black truffle oil. Again the portions are generous.
Service is brisk all evening, and no sooner than these are whisked away, our main courses arrive, most of them piping hot from the pizza oven. Being a creature of irreversible habit, I’ve gone for the Napoletana pizza (£8.50) a black-flecked crusty base spread with tomato and liberally strewn with olives, capers and anchovies.
Those in our party with rather more imagination have branched out to the Linguine Carbonara (£7.95) and the Scaloppine Al Marsala (£9.95). The former is a huge bowl of steaming pasta studded with chunks of pancetta in a clinging sauce of egg and parmesan, the latter a chunky chicken breast bathed in a spicy red wine sauce, and coupled with a side order of lightly roasted potatoes sprinkled with rosemary (£3.40).
Culto serves the excellent Italian beer Moretti on draught though some of us choose instead to share the full-bodied cherry accented house red, a Sangiovese Rubicone from northern Italy. Shared chocolate mousse and Sicilian cannoli and rich firm coffees round off a splendid evening of hearty, convivial dining in the very best Italian tradition.
And it’s great value. As a group of five, our bill was rather higher, but a three-course dinner for two with wine, in which you are likely to be thoroughly out-faced, could be comfortably had for somewhere around the £60 mark.
Address: 97 Stainbeck Road, Leeds, LS7 2PR
Opening times: nMon-Thurs noon-2.30pm and 5pm-11pm, Fri & Sat noon-11pm, Sun noon-10pm
Telephone: 0113 345 4434