What’s in a name? Quite a lot really, especially when it changes. Witness Dough Bistro in West Park which has now become Aperitivo and gone from being a French influenced restaurant to an Italian.
Unfortunately the new name does not do the establishment justice. The term aperitivo refers to a mainly northern Italian idea of having an early evening drink, usually between about 7.00 and 9.00 with which snacks or stuzzichini are served as a freebie. As the Italian dinner is not normally eaten until late the aim is to fill the gap between lunch and the main evening meal, a practice which originated in Turin but has now spread. Venetians call it chiccetti. Aperitivo the restaurant is far more than that.
Leeds Living was invited to the Press launch, where I was greeted with a twist on the traditional aperitivo drink of choice, the spritz, mine being not only prosecco, Aperol and soda water, but also flavoured with apple, giving it a slightly fresher taste than normal. The menu was divided into sections of small dishes; Pesce, fish; Carne, meat; Pasta and Risotto; Vegetables, Pizza and finally Dulce, sweets. As would be expected there was another section at the top of the menu Stuzzichini, the aforementioned snacks, although there is a charge for them here.
I was advised by the very helpful and patient waitress, that, following the stuzzichini from which I opted for olives, three dishes from the small plates would be about right but that I should skip the pizza section as it would probably be too filling. I took her advice and picked from the fish, vegetable and meat offerings. The olives were a selection of green and black varieties and were left at the table throughout the meal. Along with the spritz they set the atmosphere for the rest of the evening.
I had asked for the fish course to be served first, and chose the Fritto Misto, mixed deep fried seafood in a light batter. The dish comprised prawns, mussels, scallops and squid. A nice touch was that the mussels were still on the half-shell and the tails left on the prawns. Another good idea was that there were two of each so that if you opt to have it as a sharing dish there is no falling out over the odd one, the beginning of the end for many a relationship. All of the elements were perfectly cooked, especially the squid, which was tender rather than of a rubbery texture which can be the result of overcooking. A glass of Gavi di Gavi, a dry white wine from northern Italy, complemented the dish a treat.
The second dish was from the vegetable section and was Tuscan Bean Stew. It was a mixture of bean varieties and again cooked to perfection, with the pulses keeping a firm texture rather than turning to a mush. The stew was served with truffle aioli, a drizzle of green pesto and garnished with rocket dressed with a few drops of balsamic vinegar. A generous sized glass of Amarone della Valpolicella, a rich, red wine from the Veneto Region, was just the thing, fruity with enough body to take the robust flavours of the dish. There was enough to last through the next course as well and it did the meat selection justice too.
My pick from the meat section was Sanguinaccio with Fried Duck Egg and Hazelnuts. Sanguinaccio is an Italian version of black pudding and was absolutely delicious. It was much spicier than the British version or the French boudin noir and went well with the duck egg. It is the simple things which separate the the good chefs from the average and the fried egg was an example of this being just right, having a runny yolk and solid white with a crispy skirt around the edge. The hazelnuts were roasted to bring out the flavour and there was the addition of some apple gel, the bitter hint of which refreshed the palate a little after the richness of the sanguinaccio and egg. This was comfort food at its best, a bit like a really exotic breakfast.
Although the size of the portions meant that my appetite was fulfilled, I was perusing the dessert section of the menu, which doubles as a place mat, and lusting over the frangipane when the waitress appeared with a Tiramisu for everyone. I am not normally a fan of this dessert, probably because there is ample opportunity to foul it up by turning it into a stodgy sponge cake. No such problem here: the dish was presented in an individual glass through which the component parts could clearly be seen. The sponge fingers were light, even though they had been enhanced by an extra dose of alcohol, as was the cream. The dish was finished with two small chocolate spheres, tiny fudge squares, a granola biscuit and a roll of chocolate for both taste and presentation. I will never dismiss tiramisu out of hand again. Delicious.
After a black coffee it was time to leave the warmth of northern Italy and face the cold Leeds winter night air. I loved everything about Aperitivo, from the atmosphere through the cooking to the service. It must be remembered that this was a Press night so perhaps not typical, but the attitude of everyone concerned suggests that it probably is. The only thing I can fault is that name. Aperitivo does not adequately describe its role in the culinary scheme of things. It is a dinner destination rather than somewhere to go for a pre meal drink and snack.
Aperitivo is open from noon until 11 p.m. To make a booking please visit: aperitivoleeds.co.uk
Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living. He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds. He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.