Before you read this article please be aware that, unlike previous reviews, it was not done incognito as I was honoured to be the first person asked to review it in October 2019 for my other site tyke-it-to-the-limit.com As the aim of the-eat-is-on.com is to be a guide as to where to have lunch in Leeds I felt that I should include it as it is both great value and the food is excellent. I have been back at my own expense on several occasions since I wrote the original article and the standard has been superb on each occasion. Bearing that in mind please read on.
Another day, another Day. There seems to be a never-ending string of Days to celebrate something or other, this time it is World Pasta Day but it was purely by coincidence that I was invited to call at Sarto, the eagerly anticipated new collaboration between Laynes Espresso and The Brunswick, to see what I made of it.
As my lead-in would suggest, the establishment specialises in pasta, but not just any old pasta, this is fresh, home made and as good as it gets. It is not only the pasta which is top notch however, the other ingredients are specially sourced wherever possible from local producers, they only go farther afield when there is no suitable alternative, so most are as fresh as you could get without eating in the field. This would not have been a very good idea on the day I went as it was absolutely chucking it down so it would have taken you all day to finish the soup!
I am struggling to find the correct word to describe Sarto, it is a laid back dining room with a combination of long tables with benches, more conventional smaller tables with four chairs, and high seats at the counter should you wish to observe the skills of the chef and his happy band of helpers in the open kitchen behind. Although casual and relaxed in atmosphere, the food is meticulously prepared and presented. The philosophy is that less equals more with some of the dishes comprising just three ingredients.
The menu is divided into three sections; Snacks, Pasta, and Sweet. You will notice that the word ’Sweet’ is in the singular as today’s offering is Tiramisu, which I don’t particularly like, or should I say, didn’t until I tried this one. I think that it is good touch to label the small plates as ’Snacks’ because it signals that it is OK to have one on its own without feeling that they are part of a bigger meal as the term ’Starters’ would have suggested. They are very reasonably priced at between £3 and £6 each.
I ordered a glass of House Red wine which came in an authentic rustic Italian style tumbler. Somehow drinking from the correct vessel seems to enhance the flavour and although I am sure that this glass did just that, I doubt the contents needed too much assistance as it was sublime.
My host, who has eaten here three times already, even though it has only been open for four days, opted for Baby San Marzano tomatoes, ricotta, pomegranate and marjoram which came surrounded by olive oil, and was served a couple of slices of bread with which to mop it up, at £4.50. As his dish was delivered first I was getting food envy before we had even started but I need not have worried as mine was even more spectacular. He said that his tasted amazing.
My choice swiftly followed and was Beetroot, Knockraich Crowdie, radish, walnuts and balsamic which also comes in at £4.50 and was worth every penny and more. The presentation was spectacular without being too arty and the taste was to die for. The earthy flavour of the beetroot was offset by the creaminess of the cheese and the subtle heat of the radish. The walnuts gave a different texture and the fourth flavour. Each component tasted excellent in its own right but when sampled together became more than the sum of their parts. An inspired melange. For anyone not familiar with Crowdie it is a soft lactic cheese meaning that it uses natural bacteria to convert it to curds without the need for rennet. It has a wonderfully rich flavour and this version from Knockraich Farm in Stirlingshire is even more so as they use whole, un-homogenised Scottish milk with nothing added.
I normally don’t mention the service until the end of my reviews but I think that here is the best place for this one. The beauty of Sarto is that you can go at your own pace so that you decide when to catch the eye of the waiting staff for your next course rather than their turning up as soon as your knife and fork hit the plate from the previous one. That meant the four people at the table close to ours could finish their lunch and get back to work well within their allotted break time whilst we, and a couple of ladies who had obviously been getting drastic with the plastic in the Victoria Quarter, could take our time and stretch out the occasion, which is what Friday lunchtimes are all about.
On requesting our Pasta course we were introduced to the stars of the show. I had Rigatoni, lamb shoulder, sheep rustler and mint to keep me entertained whilst I watched my fellow diner polish off his Fettuccine, beef chuck ragu and Old Winchester. Once again the prices were great for Leeds centre, ranging from £7 to £9.50. My rigatoni was perfectly al dente just on the right side of chewy. You can’t really do dried pasta like this as it has to rehydrate which means that it becomes overdone or still has a dry sawdust texture in the middle. The topping was as simple as you could get, except it wasn’t. The lamb had been slow cooked so that it was still in small lumps rather than minced. Lamb is perfect for this method as it not only falls apart after cooking but also absorbs any flavours in which it has been marinated. Pork and beef just seem to get coated which is why I suppose they are normally minced. The appropriately named ’sheep rustler’ cheese which was grated on top had a flavour which complimented the lamb and pasta rather than overpowered it as parmesan might have done. It is unusual in that it is made from ewe’s milk rather than cow’s, hence the name. Mint leaves added to the taste both in flavour and aesthetics. Once again, the four ingredients punching far above their weight. I am reliably informed that the beef was equally as good, the empty plate saying more than a thousand words could.
As I have previously said, the tiramisu was sublime. It is obvious that I have had bad experiences with this dessert in the past because I have always found it far too rich and heavy. This example was subtle and light as a feather, melting in the mouth. At £4 a steal.
When we had finished eating I had a word with the co-owner, Dave Olejnik who told me that the pasta is made from Petra organic flour which is only produced in Italy. It is made by crushing the grain thus maintaining the wheatgerm giving it flavour and a healthier quality. I must admit it did taste different from other pasta I have had, hardly surprising as Sarto is the only restaurant in Leeds to use it. Dave also said that because it is made fresh it only takes forty seconds to cook which is why I got my al dente kick. I was also told about the effort being made to help the environment by sourcing their wine through Vinnaturo Ltd who import it in boxes, bags and kegs thus reducing CO2 emissions by about 80% compared to transporting heavier glass bottles. Sarto also have a nifty way with their spirits. They dispense them from bottles but only buy the first one, after that they wash the bottle and refill it from pouches in which the next batch is delivered. The pouches are then returned to the distillery who clean them and reuse them for subsequent orders. Brilliant.
I would like to wish all those concerned with Sarto the best possible success because not only do they are they environmentally aware but they serve brilliant food, which is what it is all about.
I wonder what Day it is tomorrow!
All photographs by Stan Graham