Sarah Cotterill finds the rice twice as nice at Laynes & The Brunswick’s new pasta bar

Sarto is a collaboration of two independent giants. They know their batch brew from their espresso and their Yorkshire puds from their fried chicken, but what the hell do they know about pasta? It’s like Mel and Sue teaming up to present the Athletics World Championships. 

Popping up for three weekends at Laynes, whilst they kitted out Ipsum Vinoteca’s old space on Duke street, a Kickstarter was launched to fund their Italian venture. They asked the people of Leeds, but the people didn’t pay. Just a third of the full £15,000 has been pledged so far, despite the promise of a trip to Rome with Dave Olejnik. Maybe the beige marketing photos didn’t help. Maybe it wasn’t enough of a sob story. A few days before the grand opening they were still painting the floor. 

It feels like you’re at the Tate Modern’s restaurant. Except, instead of London’s skyline, the huge windows look out onto the bus station and Mecca bingo

And yet, just a week into service, it feels like Sarto has been in Leeds for months. Or at least it should have been. The concept is genius. The branding is fresh. It’s full to the rafters with the city’s hipsters, tattoos and fleeces everywhere. There’s exposed brick and industrial ventilation pipes, a two-tone orange wall and a central bar with a curved terrazzo counter top. With it’s hanging bulbs and Scandinavian stools, lo-fi soundtrack and murmur of customers in meaningful conversation, it feels like you’re at the Tate Modern’s restaurant. Except, instead of London’s skyline, the huge windows look out onto the bus station and Mecca bingo. 

2019 10 28 Sarto Leeds Interior
Exposed brick and industrial ventilation pipes
2019 10 28 Sarto Leeds Heirloom Squash
Heirloom squash (£4)

The menu is paired back. Just two A5 sheets of thick cartridge paper, held together with gold triangular clips; seven snacks, seven pasta dishes and one sweet. The wooden tables are long and communal, and the cutlery sits in big metal tins from which to help yourselves. It seemed strange then that the waiter apologised for seating us with another party. The place still smells like turps - until the food arrives. 

From the snack selection, layers of al dente heirloom squash slip over each other all peppery and emulsified, the mint and almond gremolata singing like a citrus summers day, despite the rain thrashing down outside. (£4.00) It’s a sensational start. Pumpkin and sage arancini, (£3.00) the size of a tennis ball is so crispy it could almost be baked not fried, oozes with Cornish cheddar. A silky blob of aioli has just the right amount of lemon zest to lift the rich rice ball to a place of utter ambrosia. Sorry Stuzzi, this arancini is where it’s at.

2019 10 28 Sarto Leeds Pumpkin Arancini
Pumpkin and sage arancini (£3.00)
2019 10 29 Sarto Leeds Baby San Marzano Tomatoes
Baby tomatoes and ricotta (£4.50)

Less exciting, a pretty plate of warm baby San Marzarno tomatoes, decorated with bright white plumes of ricotta piped like Chantilly cream, scattered with pomegranate seeds. (£4.50) The marjoram laced oil underneath cries for some mopping up with big old bread basket. At about £4.00 a pop, it’s definitely worth getting a few of the snacks to share.  

But…the pasta. In keeping with Sarto’s oh-so 2019 vibe, there are two vegan offerings and three vegetarian. Only two dishes on the entire menu feature meat. Cool. We try the first vegan number (but with Parmesan because we’re not stupid). Unlike the starters, it looks, well, unappetising. Big, pink slices of pickled cauliflower the colour of mortadella, meet a Halloween green kale and almond pesto fettuccine (£7.00). The pasta itself is translucent enough, but clags together amidst tree tops of raw vinegary romanesco. Plump raisins are pickled too, so without the Parmesan, this would be as sharp as a knife. The crunchy pangrattato is really good, but with our Ciello Rosso (£24.00), recommended by the staff, the whole thing is sourness overload. 

2019 Sarto Leeds Cauliflower Fettuccine
Pickled cauliflower, green kale and almond pesto fettuccine (£7)
2019 10 28 Sarto Leeds Lamb Rigatoni
Lamb shoulder ragu with chewy curls of rigatoni (£9)

However, the second main, a melting lamb shoulder ragu with chewy curls of rigatoni (£9.00) hits the mark. The meat is gloriously fatty, the touch of mint a clever addition, and perhaps a nod to The Brunswick’s famous roasts. Weirdly, given the other business partner, they don’t do coffee. So dessert is it. And there is, only one pudding; tiramisu (£4.00.)

2019 Sarto Leeds Tiramisu
Tiramisu (£4)

Given that Pizza Loco served me a paving slab of this for my birthday last month, I had high expectations. Sadly it wasn’t quite the triumph I’d hoped for, the mascarpone bland and milky over a ladyfinger-less sponge with pale chocolate shavings. Come on Laynes. 

Sarto will do well. Perfectly positioned for pre-theatre meals, quick enough for lunch, and incredibly priced for it’s local crowd, it really is the pasta joint we’ve been waiting for. But, for now at least, the arancini is better. 

Sarto, Munro House, Duke St, Leeds, LS9 8AG

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2019 10 28 Sarto Leeds Receipt

The scores:

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.

  • Food 7/10

    Arancini 9, Squash 8, Tomatoes 5, Lamb Rigatoni 8, Fettucine 6, Tiramisu 6

  • Service 4/5

    It’s amazing, but they just need to turn the lights down and the heating up

  • Atmosphere 4/5

    The staff are in polo necks under those snazzy turquoise T-shirts