It’s not in the most salubrious part of Leeds, tucked, as it is, underneath Leeds University halls of residence and adjoining a warning-ridden carpark, but La Besi’s charms are very much on the inside.
Dining here – it seems – is much more than eating. I must confess to being almost sexually aroused by my tagliatelle al salmone (£7.15), at one point proclaiming it possibly the finest dish I have ever tasted.
A huge smile from the proprietor greets us as we enter the restaurant. He’s a cross between Roberto Begnini from Life Is Beautiful (though he didn’t actually say, “Hey principessa”, I know he was thinking it) and Rising Damp’s Rigsby.
We demolish our impeccably presented starters (I choose gorgeous garlic mushrooms, ‘she’ has a tricolor salad), plus a generous order of garlic bread with relative ease, prompting much delighted camp eyebrow raising from the owner and his similarly jovial waiter.
“Lasagne, madame?” he winks, as he serves me my tagliatelle al salmone, to my guest’s bemusement. Presenting her vegetaran risotto (or ‘meatballs’ as he would have it), it is clear that we have our work cut out with these supersize plates and tricksy staff.
La Besi – run by a Sicilian family – opened in Leeds in 2005. The family’s love of food is evident in the preparation and presentation but also on its website on which it states, ‘The effects of varied influences on Sicily has been profound but you do not need to be a scholar to see it. A careful look at the dinner table will suffice. Sicily is a food lover’s paradise.’ Passionate words, but La Besi does seem to do justice to its country’s reputation.
The décor is not your traditional Italian bistro. It is warm, with dark red painted walls and contemporary artwork. The menu is extensive with several varieties of pizza and pasta dishes. With no licence, you can bring your own tipple or just whiz off your tits on the constant stream of coffee provided.
Dining here – it seems – is much more than eating. I must confess to being almost sexually aroused by my tagliatelle al salmone (£7.15), at one point proclaiming it possibly the finest dish I have ever tasted. With hindsight this may be exaggeration but it was still pretty good, featuring a pleasing balance of salmon, broccoli, shallots and parsley: not too creamy and not too dry and with the faintest hint of alcohol. One of those dishes that make you want to ditch dessert in favour of another crack at firsts.
My companion unfortunately isn’t so keen on her vegetarian risotto (£7.10), announcing it “foul, tasting of only fat and friedness” (she’s from London), but she ploughs on, every so often digging into mine amidst jealous “yums”.
The camp eyebrow-raising theatricals return when we weren’t quite able to finish our main courses. My reason is because the plate was ENORMOUS, the Londoner’s because she didn’t like it. But they forgive us when we ordered their piece de resistance, the homemade Tiramisu (£3.15), chunky and to-die-for and possibly about to become a weekly staple in my life. My friend chooses a banana split (£3.10), apparently “ace AS…”, heavily laden with hundreds-and-thousands and generously heaped with ice-cream and cream.
The dessert menu (I have to ask for pudding three times before they finally, laughing, correct me) is not as impressive as the main courses but the results are the same, if you choose judiciously. There are a few menu-staple quick-fixes but the home-made stuff is generously portioned and suitably delicious.
Perhaps La Besi’s location lets it down slightly but you can’t help but feel special in this tiny place. Friends and locals pop in and out, amidst laughs and shouts and a steady stream of takeaway customers trickle in to collect steaming pizzas.
We reach the end of our meal, a little bereft that we have to leave but, despite being the only ones in the restaurant, the staff are reluctant to bring the bill. Smiling at us, they wander over and offer us coffees. We hesitate and they say, “on the house?” How could we refuse?
I’m reticent to share this review as I want La Besi to remain my discovery. But – I suppose, grudgingly – it’s for the public good.
|Breakdown:|| 7/10 Food |
|Address:|| La Besi |
211 Clarendon Rd
0113 244 1177
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