Anja Madhvani enjoys the food, but there's something missing...
Il Paradiso started in York, so it’s appropriate that their Leeds site is located on York Place. Sardinian born Paolo opened the first restaurant ten years ago, gathering an all Italian team to bring the most ‘authentic’ Italian food to the North. I am a little anxious that this may be an ‘authentic Italian for British palates’ situation. This concern is compounded when I notice on the menu that the Carbonara is finished with ‘a touch of cream’.
I’m going to boldly claim that this is my favourite pizza from any restaurant in Leeds.
We stick to beer as it’s lunchtime. Wine is served by the bottle, except for one of each colour by the glass. We opt for a Sardinian brew - Ichnusa (£4.25) - enthusiastically recommended to us by our waiter. It’s soft and light, and immediately conjures memories of sunny holidays.
The room is clean and bright but the decor is a little uninspiring and even dated with square tables and high backed leather chairs. A large glass ceiling is covered with an awning. An unusual playlist of hits from the likes of Adele and Ed Sheeran sets things off to a weird start. I’m relieved later when this changes to some cheesy Italian pop. I’m reminded of pottering around Benidorm in the off-peak season and stumbling across an unassumingly brilliant Italian restaurant. Fingers crossed this will equal it.
Complimentary ‘pane guttiau’ is brought to the table with generous dishes of oil and balsamic. It’s so large and paper-like that before it is cooked you should be able to read a sheet of music through it, hence the name (which translates as ‘music paper’). It’s crunchy, like the Italian answer to papadums, but they also bring some white baguette which we could have done without.
We get stuck into calamaretti in salsa (£6.95). Squid is sauteed with garlic in a tomato sauce. The squid is well cooked, and the sauce has depth, with a substantial chilli kick. Black olives and capers add a pleasant salty acidity.
Our other starter, funghi al gorgonzola (£6.95), in some restaurants, could be presented as an ironic throwback to 80s dinner parties, but here is proudly presented, with no wry smile. Perfectly tasty button mushrooms in a rich, thick sauce of garlic, cream, white wine and gorgonzola. There’s some complexity in the sauce making. It’s definitely seen a shallot. So far I’m enjoying my meal, but I’m not blown away.
This changes when our mains arrive, as they hit the table I find myself thinking ‘ah, here we go’.
First is white pizza topped with speck and Taleggio cheese (£9.25). Nothing upsets me more than a wet pizza base - I’m not a lover of the Neapolitan style. Happily, when you lift a slice of this bad boy there is no sagging at the tip. It maintains its form, in more of a Roman style with a thin and crispy base for rigidity. Il Paradiso should consider delivering these, I’m going to boldly claim that this is my favourite pizza from any restaurant in Leeds.
We also order a pasta dish from the specials board; pappardelle al filetto (£18.95), handmade ribbons of beautiful al dente pasta with strips of beef fillet and white truffle in a creamy sauce. It’s topped with Parmesan shavings and toasted hazelnut. I feel it shouldn’t work, it doesn’t read quite right. Perhaps it’s the nuts. But it is the highlight of the meal. The beef is tender and well seasoned, the sauce creamy and decadent and the nuts bring a bit of bite. Rosemary is added in moderation, bringing an intense herbaceous woody flavour. The texture of the pasta is spot on, not too hard but still firm. The truffle doesn’t really come through, but the joy I feel while eating this is what I want every time from pasta.
For dessert we share a tiramisu. There is some old school saucy decoration on the plate which seems unnecessary. It’s displayed in a large glass which means we can’t admire the traditional layers. A heap of sweet fluffy cream is studded with coffee soaked sponge and drizzled with rich chocolate, presentation may not be on point, but otherwise what’s not to love?
I left the restaurant feeling strangely conflicted. I wanted to love it, and did in places. The service is top notch, we receive complimentary limoncello (naturally), and even the chefs come over to say hi. But as an overall experience it just lacks something, a little atmosphere, and I feel the menu could broaden our perceptions of Sardinian food more. But there are plenty of things to enjoy here.
As we head for the door, the staff bid us farewell as though we are old friends, and have joined in with their family dinner. I can’t help but wonder what they’re going to be eating.
Il Paradiso Del Cibo, 3 York Place, Leeds, LS1 2DR. Tel: 0113 234 6666.
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Bread 7, squid 7, mushrooms 7, pizza 9, pasta 9, tiramisu 6
Friendly and charming
Flat and a little dated