When it’s cold and wintery outside, going somewhere warm and cosy with lots of atmosphere is high on my list of requirements when venturing out for the evening.
Of course the food has to be good too.
So on after entering LIVINitaly one freezing cold evening in March, I was delighted to find a little gem with bags of character. The restaurant is tucked away underneath the arches below the railway line at Granary Wharf in Leeds. It’s a great spot, although slightly unnerving the first time you hear a train thundering past overhead.
The downstairs bar is small, narrow and has low ceilings but the ambience is lively and a team of bar and kitchen staff - many of whom appeared to be speaking in Italian - could be seen preparing food and drinks.
Walking through the red curtains at the entrance felt slightly theatrical, as though my friend and I should sing ‘ta da!’ to mark our arrival. We restrained ourselves and after a little search for a member of staff we were invited to sit in the bar area until our table was ready upstairs.
LIVINitaly entered the Leeds dining scene in 2012, under the name Vineataly, but changed its name a year later after a big company with a similar name threatened to sue for brand infringement.
The owners called on the people of Leeds to come up with a new identity and LIVINitaly was born.
The venue, which is open from breakfast to late night cocktails, has a rustic charm that makes it work well at all times of the day and night.
The subdued evening lighting made it feel warm and cosy as we perused the lengthy wine and cocktail menus.
It was busy but its size means it doesn’t get so loud that you are shouting to make yourself heard.
After a couple of minutes we were whisked up to the restaurant and seated on one of the tables overlooking the hanging motorbike in the bar, with a view of Granary Wharf outside.
We chose cocktails to start. My friend went for the the classic spritz (£7.50), made with Aperol, soda water & Prosecco while I had the Italian Mojito (£8.50), made with fresh basil, lime juice, Italian citrus liqueur, topped with Cedrata S Pellegrino and Limoncello foam. The mojito came in a funky boot-shaped glass but was a bit too sweet for me.
My friend admitted to ‘choosing badly’. Although it was refreshing, she said the spritz was probably more suited to a hot summer’s day. It was too big for a cold, dark evening and she couldn’t finish it.
We decided to share The Farmer’s platter from the Hearty Italian Antipasti menu for our starter (£8.25 per person).
This included bruschetta, olives, creamy mushrooms, Sicilian sweet and sour vegetables on crostini, grilled polenta with melted fontina cheese and fried dough strips.
The highlight for both of us was the grilled polenta, which was delicious, although the rest of the platter was also a great mix of textures and flavours.
However, we agreed that £16.50 was a bit steep for the dish.
When it came to the main courses, I chose the calzone indiavolato (£11.95), which was stuffed with fior di latte cheese, tomatoes, spicy olives, roasted butternut squash, fresh goat’s cheese and basil.
The dish looked overwhelmingly large but the dough was exceptionally light - like a huge pillow - and the filling comforting and packed full of flavour. I made good inroads into it but I couldn’t finish it.
My friend opted for the Pizza La Riviera (£11.95), which was topped with fior di latte, small chunks of fresh marinated salmon, grilled courgettes, cherry tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Again, she thought the pizza dough was divine and toppings superb.
To accompany the mains we opted for a small glass of Pinot Nero each (£7.80 per person), a light bodied red. It was smooth and, as someone who doesn’t usually drink much red wine, I really enjoyed it.
We were both really full after our pizzas so we decided to share a dessert. We chose the walnut semifreddo with salted caramel sauce. We chose well. It was creamy with plenty of walnut pieces inside for added texture.
I ordered a prosecco (£5.50) and my friend ordered a small glass of the house red, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC (£5.20).
The service at LIVINitaly couldn’t have been better. The staff were friendly and attentive and the food and drinks came quickly without feeling rushed. The whole bill came to £98.12, including an optional service charge of £8.92. It felt quite steep for what we’d had but ordering slightly cheaper wine and going for a main rather than starters first would have brought the price down.
However, this is not your average Italian and the quirky decor and buzzy-yet-relaxed atmosphere combined with great food and service means I’ll definitely be making a return visit soon.
FACTFILE - LIVIN’Italy, Leeds
Address: Granary Wharf, Leeds LS1 4BR
Telephone: 0113 243 0090
Opening times: Mon-Thur 7.30am-11pm, Fri 7.30am-midnight, Sat 10am-midnight, Sun 10am-10pm (Good Friday 7.30am–12.30am, Easter Monday 7.30am–11.30pm)