Review: Metro 03/2006

In an ideal world, each and every neighbourhood would include a restaurant like La Besi. With it’s low-key, intimate charm, friendly atmosphere and enticing food, it’s the kind of local watering hole that ups house prices.

Although La Besi feels as if it should be nestling on a suburban shopping street between an art house cinema and a dry cleaners, it occupies a strange no-man’s land behind Leeds University, at the Clarendon Road end of Woodhouse Moor. It’s not exactly a residential area, but it’s a good job the shopping parade on the other side of nearby Woodhouse Lane includes a cheery off-licence. La Besi, which opened a couple of months ago, hopes to have a licence to serve alcohol in the next few months, but at the moment it’s Bring Your Own Wine. We trotted over the busy road and bought our own bottle of something red and Sicilian called… Sicilian Red. It was very nice, cost a paltry £4.49 and was a fortuitous choice as La Besi’s lovely staff.

Inside, the restaurant is small stylish and seems bigger because one of the side walls is mirrored. The paint is a warm red, the tables varnished beech and the clientele the appealing mix you might expect. On our visit, we shared the restaurant with a Mediterranean family.

The menu is straightforward and tempting. There’s a daily specials board, a comprehensive list of pizzas and pastas, and a selection of five meat and fish dishes. Faced with reassuring old favourites, that’s what we went for, and were rewarded with a perfectly delicious dinner that, without pretension or self-important prices, delivered on all couts. My companion’s starter of proscuitto e melone (£5.10) was a vast helping of Parma ham spread across succulent white slices of fragrant Galia melon. Moist and glistening, the pink meat had obviously been sliced on ly seconds before, and was in prime condition. My insalata tricolour (£4.50) – the patriotic salad whose avocado, mozzarella and tomato ingredients match the colours of the Italian flag – complemented by fully flavoured tomato and a sliced avocado just at the melting point of ripeness, drizzled in good olive oil and marinated basil.

For main courses, we selected pasta on the basis that this kind of restaurant ought to be able to do it well. Still on a ham jag, my companion went for tagliatelle primavera (£6.50), which was a generous bowlful of pasta ribbons, ham and mushrooms in a cream and tomato sauce. My tagliatelle salmone (7.15) was slightly more involved, comprising fish, broccoli, shallots, parsley and white wine and cream sauce. Both dishes were heavenly, the pasta cooked to perfection and the accompanying ingredients in the right proportions to create a substantial, luxurious dinner rather than an over-rich one. We shared a large mixed salad (£2.10) – the elements all fresh and evidently prepared especially for us.

Our puddings (tiramisu and torta al limone, each £3.25) were nice enough, and presented with a flair and care that compensated for their falling slightly below the standard of the rest of or meal. There are other, larger, flashier Italian restaurants in suburban Leeds – Salvo’s and Casa Mia spring to mind – but in its own modest way, La Besi is in a class of its own. It may not be in yor locality, but it’s well worth seeking out.

Tina Jackson, Metro Life.