Simon Richardson enjoys cracking food and wine... so why's it so quiet?
Just before you get to the market from the Corn Exchange, take a right and walk down New York Street. Go past Outlaw’s Yacht Club and cross the A61. Here, you’ll find three age-old institutions of the city; Aagrah, Kendells and the Wardrobe only six minutes after you started your journey.
You’ll also find Ipsum Vinoteca – a wine library in both name and layout. That’s not all though; it also houses a five-table restaurant serving authentic Italian food like Mama used to make in the most literal sense of the word, as chef patron Andrea D’Ercole learned the basics of cooking from his own mother.
The interior of Ipsum follows the principles of Spartan living; simple wood all around with no unnecessary additions or flair touches. The decoration is the wine itself – an almost absurd array of wines, all Italian, sorted by region covering every available inch of wall, save a few spaces for Italian craft beer, an assortment of olive oils and some fancy-looking glassware.
We take a seat at the bar and are greeted by Andrea, who immediately gets down to the nitty-gritty of our innermost wine tastes. His level of knowledge is a mixture of unnerving and fascinating, adding an extra layer of seriousness to the surrounding décor. We’re not messing around here. Wine is serious business.
Over the next half hour we learn a lot about types of wine, provenance, corks, issues with over-production and the difficulties of using high-quality ingredients. I’m genuinely hooked. I sip on an absolutely exceptional glass of red wine before we are taken to our table by one of the waiters, so we can get started on the evening’s culinary delights.
The menu, which changes daily, comprises a choice of two starters, two mains and four desserts. All the fresh ingredients are locally-sourced, with a smattering of specialist imported Italian products.
The salt-aged wild venison (£15) is cooked to perfection and just about keeps its head above the surface of an impressively plentiful sea of creamy, rich gorgonzola. The matching wine (£5) keeps the spiciness of the cheese bobbing merrily along in my mouth until the next course arrives.
For the mains, the beef fillet (£32) succumbs to my knife as if I’ve sliced into a pillow before melting in my mouth like some kind of heavenly bovine velvet. A neat parade of Jersey potatoes lie to one side, patiently waiting for me to pay them a bit of attention.
There is also a bed of porcini mushrooms, but they have been so heavily coated with balsamic vinegar that it burns my tongue and, unfortunately, spoils the wine. My co-diner orders swordfish (£26) and we both agree it’s possibly the best we’ve ever tasted; pink, succulent and juicy with the crunch of asparagus and an added, delicate sharpness from the olive and caper dressing. The wine (£5) is slightly too fruity for my taste though.
For dessert I order tiramisu (£7), feeling like it would be almost rude not to do so. The hint of alcohol is well-balanced against the fluffiness of the sponge and the creaminess of the mascarpone. We also go for the curve ball on the menu: Joe’s Mess – an Italian take on an Eton mess (£7). And this is when something strange and quite magical happens.
Andrea brings it out, but he’s not the same man who spoke to us with such severity and scholarliness at the bar. He’s transformed before our very eyes into a wide-eyed ball of mischief. He instructs us excitedly to crack, add, pour and stir to create our deconstructed Joe’s Mess and watches with delight as we comply, perhaps a little hesitantly at first. It’s so unexpected, but so welcome to discover that the joy that he gets from creating these dishes is still present, despite the long hours, and despite the restaurant lacking the custom that it needs and deserves. The dessert wines (£6) are both superb too, but what else could you possibly expect?
Pleasantly full but certainly not overly so, we move back next door for an espresso and to buy a bottle of the Scirafi that accompanied the Joe’s Mess. As we digest away the remainder of the evening, I’m surprised to see a menu on the table in front of me. I’m greeted by the classics as we think of them in England: risotto, pasta, mozzarella and arancini, with no mention of the “other” restaurant lying only a few feet away.
It all sounds delicious, but also a little confusing. Perhaps these mixed messages have in part contributed to a lack of attention for Ipsum, along with the location? I’m not really sure, but I can certainly say that after this evening, their customer base has at least increased by two. Anyway, there’s just enough time to sample a couple of glasses of grappa – and receive a little more education on the different types and tastes – before we head home, thoroughly satisfied.
Ipsum Vinoteca, Munro House, Duke St, Leeds LS9 8AG
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.
Venison 8.5, fillet steak 8.5, swordfish 10, tiramisu 8, Joe’s mess 8
You couldn’t ask for a friendlier experience
A bit empty and echoey