THE changing nature of celebrity is a funny old thing, and the evidence is all there on the walls of The Flying Pizza in Roundhay.
Back in its heyday – the sixties and seventies – it was the hangout of choice for footballers. Back then, Leeds United were at the top of their tree, and so was the restaurant.
"Both plates displayed the two things. Good fish is hard to find, but it’s worth paying for when you do."
Black and white pictures of Don Revie and his men still adorn the clean white walls of the refurbished eatery, recently picked up after hard times by Harnbury Holdings, owners of the almost unstoppable San Carlo chain.
Back then, footballers were celebrities, but they were accessible. They hung out with their model girlfriends and playboy mates – in that respect, I suppose some things never change – but they didn’t earn that much more than your average working man. Some even less.
Further along the walls is a picture of Ant and Dec, another one of some bloke off a soap opera, and, oddly, Russell Crowe with his arms round Paddy Considine. San Carlo knows how to do celebrity, and it works it well.
But things change, and so has The Flying Pizza. First things first – the place looks beautiful. Yellow leather and white tiled, marble floors and a fresh lick of paint out front make this one of the better looking dining rooms in a suburb that doesn’t want for alternative options.
At 2pm on a Thursday afternoon, the place is half full – how San Carlo creates such buzzing restaurants is beyond me – and the crowd is largely middle-aged or retired affluent-looking types.
It’s a good setting for oysters, so I ordered half a dozen (£8.35). They turned up with Tabasco and lemon on the side and they were excellent. They went down like a happy penguin on an ice slide.
Across the table, the monkfish wrapped in pancetta, over grilled eggplant aka aubergine (£7.50), was handsome-looking, just avoiding being showy. It was soft, not chewy and tough, and the eggplant had absorbed some of the bold, salty flavour of the ham. A good start.
The menu was full of fish. Loads of it. I ordered a whole turbot (£23) and my lunch partner Anh picked out a grilled sea bass. She’s a healthy one, but I convinced her to have a glass of Rapitalia at £5.45 which was crisp and fruity and lush.
We were given the choice of fish off or on the bone. Maybe the mid-afternoon sunshine was making us lazy, so we let front of house take the strain.
My turbot came with a small pan of lobster sauce, which was heavenly. It was a victory for simplicity. Fish on a plate, a pan of sauce and some green beans (£3.10).
The seabass could have been seasoned a tad more. A minor gripe. Both plates displayed the two things. Good fish is hard to find, but it’s worth paying for when you do.
My abiding memory of profiteroles is being served what looked like shrivelled testicles that were almost still frozen by my Nana almost 20 years ago, so I’ve tended to avoid them. But the ones that I ordered here were deft and proud and covered in a deep gloss of chocolate sauce.
The chocolate brownie with caramel ice cream delivered the only major clanger of the meal – the ice cream had clearly been refrozen too many times. It was covered in ice crystals and tasted metallic. The brownie itself was gooey and fun though.
As we paid, I looked around again at the pictures of Premiership footballers and Hollywood actors. Is it important; fame, fortune, glitz and glamour? Not here, not to me. Just give me a decent piece of fish, a good glass of wine and a spot of people-watching. Give me contentment.
The Flying Pizza gets the basics right and then gives them a little polish. And a Leeds institution has got its mojo back.
You can follow Simon Binns on Twitter @simonbinns
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.
The Flying Pizza
60 Street Lane, Roundhay, LS8 2DQ
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