Revealed: Leeds’s YEP Italian restaurant of the year

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From pizzas and pastas to Prosecco...

Italian food is as much a staple of the English dining scene as it is in the sweet side streets of Sorrento, romantic restaurants of Rome or the laid back eateries of Lake Garda.

And Leeds is no different with a plethora of traditional and modern Italian restaurants and bistros in the city centre and beyond.

We asked readers to vote for their favourite and to tell us why one restaurant’s risotto is better than another’s ravioli in the 2018 Yorkshire Evening Post Italian of the Year competition.

All of the top three, voted for by the city’s hungry food fans, are based out of the city centre and in the Leeds suburbs.

And top of the menu picks was Cena Bistro at Guiseley, which has been open little more than a year. Its owner, Mark Chaplow, was previously more familiar with spark plugs than he was with spaghetti.

Mr Chaplow said: “I have always fancied a restaurant but have always worked in the motor trade.

“I used to come to (my premises) when it was a Thai restaurant, the owner wanted to sell it so I approached a friend who has been a head chef at several Italian restaurants to see if he wanted to do it.

“It has been a big change but to end our first year with this is phenomenal.”

Mr Chaplow says the key to the success is good chefs and using the best quality ingredients that are imported from Italy.

Daily specials are different to what you would normally expect with lamb shanks, seabass and swordfish among the garlic bread and the tiramasu and a pizza oven takes pride of place in the front of the restaurant so customers can see the chef work his magic.

As the restaurant is off the main road, they rely on their regular, loyal customers who keep coming back on a weekly basis, added Mr Chaplow.

In second place was La Cantina 44 at Cross Gates.

The family-run business has been going since 2001 and serves Mediterranean-inspired cuisine in a nod to owner Naki Akarsu’s Turkish background.

He said: “We have a good, hard-working, passionate team. With our service, when you get something like this you realise you must be doing something right and we are proud of ourselves.”

By far the most popular dish is one that has never come off the menu and is a reflection of what people want from an Italian restaurant.

Mr Akarsu revealed: “Lasagna is the most popular, we do change the menu but keep the specials. People don’t want to change their favourite dishes, some we have had for 16 or 17 years.”

Third place went to Il Sogno on the High Street at Yeadon, which is run by Emma Raisbeck and Antonello Moi and has been in business for four years.

The key to success is home-cooking, good staff and being at the heart of the community.

Ms Raisbeck said: “It is a small town and we do have very loyal customers who come back and back. Everything is home-cooked and we do good wine. I have got incredibly good staff and customers know my staff.

“Myself and Antonello do both front of house and kitchen - we are never off.”