Bar at Salvos, Leeds

Where I learnt to love the olive (photo courtesy of Salvos, Leeds)

Salvos in Headingley, Leeds, holds a special place in my heart because Salvos is the first place I enjoyed eating an olive. I’d tried eating olives before but they just didn’t hit the spot; they tasted bland, dry, rubbery and, well, confusing. However, on a trip to Salvos for a special family meal to celebrate my graduation about four years ago I finally learnt to love the olive. We were waiting for a table in the bar area and were offered a bowl of plump, shiny olives to stave off the hunger and I surprised myself with what I considered to be my new measure of maturity as an olive eater. If truth be told, I’d probably not tasted a good olive before that evening; one of the things Salvos can always be relied upon for is quality ingredients.

When I was invited to sample Salvos new menu last month I didn’t hesitate to say yes, even though I now live a few hundred miles away rather than just round the corner – it’s a restaurant I hold in very high esteem and I’m not the only one. You may recall Gordon Ramsay hailing it as his ‘best neighbourhood Italian restaurant‘ on the F Word a few years ago and the fact it’s no longer MY neighbourhood Italian is a source of sadness to me and my pasta-loving tum.

These are the reasons behind a fully justified drive of 1 hour 30 mins each way to sample Salvos Leeds new menu along with some other bloggers from the area and the very welcoming owners, brothers Gip and John Dammone. Over the course of a few hours I was transported to food heaven as we sampled plates of pasta, risotto and starters from the menu and the passionate restauranteurs chatted about their dedication to sourcing high quality ingredients from Italy and locally in Leeds. As well as importing incredibly fresh buffalo mozzarella and sun-soaked vine tomatoes, Salvos use produce from Leeds’ market and from Crag House Farm and Swillington Farm and it tastes ruddy marvellous.

Understandably, thanks to my drive and overall excitement levels at 1) allowing myself to eat carbs on a week night and 2) being in Salvos for a bloggers event, I forgot to photograph some of the food. I know, I’m a bad food blogger, but here’s some of the food I did manage to snap:

Mozzarella and tomatoes, Salvos Leeds

Mozzarella di bufola with fresh Italian tomatoes

Beef carpaccio with magic fruits, Salvos, Leeds

Beef carpaccio with magic fruits

break basket, Salvos, Leeds

Bread of all kinds, including fantastic focaccia

Italian sausage risotto, Salvos, leeds

Rich risotto with Italian sausage

My favourite dish of the evening was the risotto, which was cooked perfectly with the peppery Italian sausage standing up against a rich mushroom base. I couldn’t get enough of this and shovelled thirds on to my plate when no one was looking.

I’ve no doubt we received special attention on the evening as guests of the restaurant but I’ve been to Salvos in Leeds a handful of times before I was a food blogger and each and every time it’s been packed and I’ve been on the good end of friendly service. The restaurant itself is very family friendly – from the family that work side by side in the kitchen and on the restaurant floor to the little ones greeted with crayons at the tables. The decor is simple and unfussy but with plenty of character and the atmosphere is always buzzing. In short, it’s an institution that’s still bang up to date and a real asset to Headingley. Visitors to Salvos can expect good food and the prices on the menu reflect that – it’s not the cheapest place to eat by a long shot, but there is an early bird menu it’s always packed and in my opinion, the quality of the ingredients shines through. Before I left my hosts hinted at a possible new venture for the restaurant beyond their cosy salumeria just a few doors away. Distance means I might not be able to be first in line, but I’ll certainly be hotfooting in the direction of anything these guys put their name to, particularly if there’s some olives to be had.

 

I’m not ashamed to say I judge the success of family parties by the quality of buffet on offer. I love a good buffet – it caters to my gluttony and my inability to narrow down on a menu what I want to order. I want everything, of course I do and that’s why I love buffets.

Now, as a buffetlover, there’s only one thing that comes above a buffet and that’s a free buffet. Yes, buffets at family dos are free but realistically you often have to exchange social awkwardness for mini samosas and volovants (I don’t care if they are a bit Seventies they are mini pies of dreams) and while I love a bit of awkward chitchat usually, I don’t want it to stand in the way of me enjoying a bhaji or appreciating a dip selection. Here in England to get your hands on a good buffet you usually have to sign up to attend an event like a wedding or a 50th birthday party, or perhaps gatecrash a funeral, but it’s not like that on the continent. Oh no, in places like Spain and Italy generous bar owners provide buffets to blush over for their customers and now we the little people of Leeds are being treated to this tradition too…

Vineataly at Granary Wharf has long had lots of things that appeal to me – a nice deli counter, a pleasing simple lunch menu, an incredibly convenient location and sparkly lights (which I associate with a pleasant ambience – just read my Little Tokyo post). Now it’s gone one better and started hosting it’s own free buffet (for paying drinking customers of course), which runs from 4.30pm every Friday evening. I was invited along to taste the wares and took my camera and a total lack of shame and piled my plate high.

In Italy they call this kind of bar tapas cichetti and each cicchetto on my plate was washed down lovingly with a mouthful of really nice Italian white wine. The wine was good by the way, I’m not just saying it because Vineataly plied me with tasty tiny sandwiches like these…

Mini sandwiches on sticks from Vineataly

Tiny toasted sandwiches, Vineataly style

Toasted, meat-filled and conveniently mounted on cocktail sticks for easy pickings, you’d be hard pushed to find a better bar snack. I’m a firm believer that anything tastes better on a cocktail stick – just look at the wonder that is cheese and pineapple. This is one of the reasons Barcelona is near the top of my favourite holiday destinations, pinchos pinchos (Spanish tapas on sticks) is the perfect accompaniment to Rioja. Speaking of drinking and eating, if you plan on having a few glasses of vino, you might want to line your stomach with some trusty carbs, like this pasta salad.

Italian pasta salad Vineataly style

Italian pasta salad

I was quite surprised to find these bad boys on the menu, very apt since it’s national sausage week this week. It’s a little known fact I’m from the north, like even more Northern than Leeds and up there children are weaned on sausage rolls. These were better than those the younglings of my homeland are raised on – lovely light flaky pastry with a peppery sausagemeat filling.

Italian sausage rolls with spicy sausage meat

Italian sausage rolls

The final photo below displays my favourite item from the buffet. I must be honest and admit that on first tasting them I knew not what they were apart from ‘crispy, risotto-filled balls with, um, tuna?’ a little research once home revealed the crunchy carby snacks to Arancini di riso – traditional Italian risotto balls that are usually deep fried. I loved them and what wasn’t to love? All of the filling surprise of the volovont enveloped in a carbohydrate sphere. Expect me to attempt my own soon, I’m searching for a good recipe and then it’s all systems Arancini di ri-go.

Italian risotto balls with tuna from VineatalyArancini di riso

It goes without saying I’ll be heading back to Vineataly to hit up this Friday feastival again, though I’ll probably be a little more ladylike in my plate-filling approach in the future to leave plenty of space for wine and risotto balls.