Restaurant review: Ipsum Vinoteca, Leeds

Mixed platter.
Mixed platter.
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There is much to love about Ipsum Vinoteca.

For a start there is the owner Andrea D’Ercole who oozes passion for Italian food through his pores.

While there is a high end menu for those who want to linger a while, we’d popped in with an hour to spare before the theatre. Less scrupulous restaurateurs would have still pointed us to the slightly pricey starters and main, but Andrea was clear.

In that not-to-be-argued-with way only an Italian can, he told us we didn’t have time to do justice to the restaurant menu, which changes daily, and instead directed us towards the bar menu.

In fact, he did more than that. Establishing that we had just an hour before curtain up, he suggested we go for one of Ipsum Vinoteca’s meat and cheese platters and he’d whip us up a couple of bowls of pasta to follow. Perfect. I wasn’t in a decisive mood anyway.

There was more personal service when it came to the wine. Neither of us had tried any of the reds by the glass before, but explaining that we preferred something full bodied we were given a couple of options to taste. There’s no arguing that the staff here are passionate, which is why it’s such a shame that the same warmth is not replicated in the surroundings. If you’re not familiar with the place, it’s housed in that slightly unlovely building opposite Leeds Bus Station.

They have done their best with the interiors, but the blonde wood feels more Nordic than Italian and if there is any money in the bank they would do well to invest in some more comfortable chairs – or at least a few cushions. The staff at Ipsum Vinoteca want people to swing by for a bottle of wine after wine, but it all feels rather stark. The same criticism can’t be levelled at the food, which is rich and unctuous. The mixed platter (£13.95) is generous and with a side of bread could easily have fed four as a starter and here the soft mozzarella-style cheese was the standout.

This alone would have set us up for the theatre, so thankfully the pasta (£10 each) was focused on quality rather than quantity. I’d opted for fish and while it wasn’t a dish to remember forever it was pleasant enough. I wish, however, that I’d gone for the meat option which looked like it had been cooked slowly for hours that way a proper Italian ragu should be.

It’s the service and the use of fresh ingredients which separates Ipsum Vionteca from its competition and that doesn’t – and shouldn’t come cheap. However, the £65-plus bill felt expensive and that may be down to the atmosphere.

If only the surroundings could match what’s happening in the kitchen and the wine cellar then this place would be packed every night.

Rating: ***