If you have ever dined at a pizzeria in Italy, you might imagine the surroundings: a television sounding loudly in the corner – either music or a sports programme – the whole family dining together with plenty of chatter and a generally good atmosphere all round. When Riva Blu in Leeds promised an authentic Italian restaurant and bar, this is perhaps the setting that was brought to mind. Thankfully, there was no blaring TV, just some modern Italian music playing softly in the background, which set the mood perfecto.
Up until a few years ago, the Riva Blu restaurant on Park Row was one of Gino D’Acampo’s chain restaurants – photographs of the celebrity cook adorned the walls, his cookery books were available to buy, and it seemed you were entering a shrine to D’Acampo.
Authentic Italian vibe
The photo frames have now disappeared, the books have vanished and only the décor remains unchanged, with a calm vibe prevailing. No one seemed to be in a rush; the staff seemed very relaxed, and it felt like you could have stayed there until you were ready for your next espresso to be served.
Sitting next to two Italian diners who were chatting away nineteen to the dozen in their native language felt comforting – as if their presence validated Riva Blu’s offering. Even though it was a rainy and miserable early evening in November, the restaurant was over half full. From our window seat, it felt homely and warm inside as we watched a mix of shoppers and workers running hurriedly between the showers to get some shelter.
A menu just like in old Naples
The menu is extensive, and although the prices are not cheap, the quality of the ingredients used shines through. There’s no suggestion of cutting corners here – unlike the car driver in Naples I once encountered, who decided that he would drive towards me around a roundabout, in the opposite direction to which he should have been travelling!
One of the staples on any restaurant or bar menu in Naples is Montanara Genovese; deep-fried pizza dough with braised beef and onion ragu. Offered as a starter here, our serving (£10) was enough to share between two, which cut down the calorie intake somewhat.
The lasagne (£16.25) I selected for my main course was beefy and full of mature Italian cheese, with a hint of basil and served piping hot. You might be surprised how little lasagne features on menus in Italy. My partner decided on a Prosciutto di Parma pizza (£16.75). This was a white-based pizza (in other words, it didn’t have the more common tomato-based topping), which came loaded with oodles of Parma ham, Italian cheese, truffle cream, rocket and Pecorino Romano. It had a puffy base, just like they cook them in Naples. Our opinion was this was an authentic meal.
A sweet end to the meal
There’s a good selection of dolce. If you have still enough room and a wish to satisfy your senses with sweet delights from the Amalfi coast, then I can heartily recommend the panna cotta al limone (£8.75), which delivers a true essence of Italian indulgence.
After stepping outside back into the cold of the autumnal evening we felt we had left behind the sun-drenched shores of the Amalfi coast, though I am sure we will return to experience a taste of southern Italy, where it felt like we had certainly been living la dolce vita.