School craziness is currently in full swing so it’s been difficult to fit any fun things in this week. But I’d invited a friend to join me at Headingley based pop-up restaurant Strano a number of weeks ago so I had been looking forward to this for ages. I’d read about the mysteriously named Strano on Twitter and after seeing photos of their Italian inspired dishes, I immediately wanted to know more about the latest in a new breed of pop-up restaurants in Leeds. The photos showing their culinary inventiveness certainly lured me in as I bought tickets for the event as soon as I could. After some research I found that Strano means strange in Italian, and this intrigued me even further to what their menu would be. They’d chosen a venue for the pop-up which was once home to Stif Cycles next to Jam Hairdressers on Otley Road.
We were warmly welcomed into the bar area which stocked wines and beers specifically selected for the experience. Part of their ethos is to the let the ingredients speak for themselves, and for the accompanying drinks not necessarily to match every single intricate flavour combination, but work well with the dishes and experience as a whole. I’ve had multi-course tasting menus with flights of wine to match before, they certainly have their place but this made a really nice change. They had a short, concise list of wines and a list of unfiltered and unpasteurised ales on offer. We chose a fantastic bottle of Vigneto San Lorenzo which was packed full of fruit, rich and warming, while still very easy drinking. A great choice for a Friday night after a long week at work.
We were joined by an eclectic mix of like minded people and when I saw Gip and John Dammone, owners of legendary Leeds restaurant Salvo’s, I had a feeling that we were in for a memorable evening. The menu consisted of seven provocatively titled dishes and just reading their names made my mouth water.
The dining room was kept minimal with a mix of mismatched rustic tables and chairs, a plainly decorated room with the odd bit of memorabilia from it’s previous establishment Stif Cycles. You could tell from the off this evening was all about the food, no fuss with poncy table cloths, napkins, sommeliers.
What we did notice was a mobile phone rest was provided for each person, and a little note encouraging diners to use Twitter and Facebook to post photos and comments throughout the meal. Using social media to its full advantage – a definite sign of the times!!! A lively atmosphere soon developed and you could feel that every diner had a heightened sense of anticipation to what the evening would bring.
Soon the dishes were brought out table by table, here they are in order:
1st course –
What a start, visually it looked fantastic and our man very kindly explained each part (slowly so I could scribble as fast as I could!) Some of the components were assembled on a clay arm, I didn’t really know what to go for first.
Each single entity was delicious, my particular favourites were the mushroom velouté, liquid salad and the no bread crostini. The velouté was rich and velvety, full of intense mushroom flavour, the best posh mushroom soup I have ever had EVER!!! The chicken was really yummy with a gorgeous sweetness and cooked till perfectly moist in the middle, and with the added crunch from its breadcrumbed crust I really couldn’t get enough of it. The salami was looser in structure compared to other salami I’ve eaten, and was yummy with a meaty richness, while the no bread crostini had an über thin base (I couldn’t put my finger on what it was made of and was too busy eating and forgot to ask!), Topped with salty crispy bacon, basil and an unusual snow it was savoury, salty and iron-rich.
2nd course –
Subtle with flavour from black garlic, a fermented garlic which yields a sweeter taste to standard garlic bulbs. The thinnest pizza dough filled with typically wonderful mozzarella cheese which just oozed out and stretched as you took a bite.
3rd Course –
Small discs of Sardinian pasta, with a mussel shell made of edible potato skin, crumbs and topped with a fennel sheet and foam. A stunning plate of food, the mussels perfectly soft and worked perfectly with the aniseed from the fennel. The breadcrumbs had a lovely sweetness and crunch. The potato skin ‘mussel shell’ was a brilliant vehicle to hold all the components together for each fabulous mouthful.
4th course –
The arrabbiata full of tomato and chilli heat had been distilled into a hot broth, the crab was so sweet and intense. The flavours worked in harmony and the dish was very well balanced, all ingredients could be picked out with ease. The crab was also made into spaghetti which was perfectly al dente and had a delicate flavour while arrabbiata broth also had little caper gems floating around which added a salty kick, all in all absolutely delicious and I really really wanted more!!
5th course –
The potato had been cooked in an edible japanese clay, cocoa nibs provided an interesting hit of bitterness, the turnip and purple cauliflower puree were both excellent and had fantastic flavour which could immediately be identified. A perfectly cooked bass with its crisp skin which is a MUST was on show!! The thinnest slice of crisp onion ring you could possibly ask for and something called onion bronze, I have no idea how the latter was done but it was excellent!!
6th course –
The sow neck was incredibly moist, tender and had a gentle sweetness, the juicy prawn had crisp tempura batter and to balance to sweetness there was a lovely bit of acidity from the sage and passionfruit sauce. The crackling was awesome – thick, crunchy, chewy in places, salty and rich. I ate it last so I could munch on it and just get the concentrated crackling taste instead of combining other flavours and textures with it.
7th course –
A take on the italian classic tiramisu which we could finish off making ourselves, the portion size was huge, enough for 4 people, mind you we were certainly not complaining!
It came with a piping bag full of creamy marsala and mascarpone which diners could pipe on themselves. A great interactive and fun dessert. The bowl contained sheets of coffee, a delicious marsala jelly, dark chocolate sheets, coffee glass and a wonderful sponge. It was a fitting end to what had been an amazing meal.
What a great evening, it ended with a few words from Gip Dammone and an introduction to John Lyons, the chef behind the fabulous menu. Gip then happily chatted to each table and told us they are hoping to come up with many more culinary evenings, which will hopefully continue to push the boundaries with more sensational food.
Our tickets for the event cost £35 per person for seven courses, drinks cost extra. Definitely worth it and I’d recommend it to anyone who simply loves food!
The tickets for their next series of pop-ups in November are already on sale now. We enjoyed the evening so much that I’ve already bought the tickets!!!