In the months since it’s opened, Stuzzi has been so busy it’s taken us a while to pin down the owners, but now we’ve got the inside scoop…
The arrival of Stuzzi is a homecoming of sorts. They may have started their journey in Harrogate, but it’s the brainchild of four local Leeds lads. Nick Harvey, Tom Pierson and Brett Lee all grew up here, while Jimbob Waters moved up from Grantham when he was just 18. After years working in the hospitality industry, they decided they wanted to open their own place – and the rest, as they say, is history.
“Like all good ideas the decision to open a restaurant was fuelled by alcohol. The idea grew into a possibility and then into a mission,” Jimbob told us, “We decided that we’d pack our bags and drive around Italy. We’d drive to every possible region of Italy to meet as many producers and potential suppliers as possible. We’d drink and eat as much as we could, make as many friends as possible and meet some of our true food heroes.” That trip became the bedrock of their new restaurant and they still strive to recreate the experience at Stuzzi today.
The menu takes inspiration from every corner of Italy, giving you a taste of local delicacies from the villages and towns the tourists always miss. It’s distinctly and authentically Italian, but it’s also incredibly eclectic. Traditional recipes, passed down from their ever-growing family of continental compadres, sit side-by-side with modern dishes inspired by Michelin Star restaurants. It makes for a wonderfully diverse night out – and one that is best enjoyed with friends.
Why? Because they specialise in their namesake, as Jimbob explained, “Stuzzi are little plates of Italian cuisine served in small osteria and bars throughout Italy, especially in and around Venice, traditionally eaten by hand, in-between drinks to ‘keep oneself going’. Our Stuzzi is best shared between diners in a manner similar to tapas, giving you the opportunity to enjoy the wealth of dishes we have picked up whilst travelling the country.”
The menu is ever-changing, so you can try something different every time you visit, but you can expect one common thread – it is, wherever possible, made completely on site. They make their own bread, pasta and pastries using specially imported Neapolitan flour and age-old techniques painstakingly taught to them by their Italian friends and colleagues. That, coupled with a carefully selected range of imported drinks, meats and cheeses, will give you a glimpse into the gastronomic world of the Beautiful Country.
So what will you be eating? Alas, that remains a mystery, because it depends what’s on the menu when you go, but we can give you an idea of what they’re cooking up in the kitchen. One of the dishes that has followed them over from Harrogate is the beef and Mortadella meatballs, but they actually come from much further afield. They were given to the guys by Marco Paola, the owner of Osteria Alla Ciurma, a little tapas bar in Venice. His secret recipe creates a meatball that’s surprisingly light and it’s served in tomato sauce with just a kick of chilli.
They make their own home-cured Negroni salmon too. “This is the brainchild of director and head chef Brett Lee,” Jimbob told us. “The salmon is cured in the greatest drink on earth, the Negroni. The gin and vermouth are both from Stuzzi friends Del Professore, a small artisan spirit company invented by the bar team behind The Jerry Thomas Project in Rome. The salmon cures in Negroni for 24 hours before it’s served with pane carasau, a thin and crispy bread typical of Sardinia. Ours is made in-house, with the addition of squid ink, giving it a taste of the sea and a jet black appearance.”
And then there’s the slow-cooked beef cheek in Montepulciano D’Abruzzo and dark chocolate. This little beauty was inspired by a trip to the restaurant of Michelin Star chef Niko Romito in the mountains above Pescara, Abruzzo. They slow braise the beef cheeks in the wine for 8 hours until they’re insanely tender, then emulsify the cooking juices with butter and bitter dark chocolate to create an incredible sauce. Yum.
All this is served in a venue that is nothing if not eclectic. They chose Grand Arcade because it’s so full of character, and quickly uncovered that statement arched window. It’s paired with modern furniture and handpicked pieces to create a style all of their own. “Whether it’s chandeliers from Murano in Venice, or antique cabinetry driven over from Bradford strapped to the roof of our car, it’s almost always found after hours of trawling through eBay. We don’t hire expensive designers or create mood boards to try to fit a certain ‘theme’, we kit the place out with artefacts that feel right. We’re inspired by the weird and wonderful places we find on our travels, not only in Italy, but also in London or L.A.”
But the restaurant isn’t the only attraction here. They’ve got their own little pasta shop on the ground floor, where they make their own gnocchi, ravioli and squid ink spaghetti. It’s on display for all to see, thanks for their big glass shopfront, and they have plans to add a window, so you can pick up fresh pasta on the go. As with everything at Stuzzi, it’s inspired by their travels and the people they met along the way.
“There is a shop in the town of Loano, Liguria called Pasta Fresca Bussone, which specialises in freshly made pasta made every morning, along with Pesto Genovese and other regional delights. We have been friends with Stefano and Paolo, the father and son duo who own and run it for a number of years, and have been lucky enough to work in there on a few of occasions learning how to make Trofie pasta, the local delicacy, and other pasta shapes – we have been fascinated by it ever since. Their tunnel vision drive to stick with tradition never waivers, and they work tirelessly every morning from the break of dawn to the ever-present beat of the pasta machines relentlessly ticking away and producing this amazing product,” Jimbob told us. “This was to be our inspiration for the Pastifico.”
Alongside the pasta shop, they have the bar. Porco Rosso isn’t just an extension of Stuzzi, it’s a venue in its own right, with its own distinctive personality. It’s inspired by the grand ornate cocktail bars of Italy, especially those in Milan, so expect a dark, atmospheric space full of vintage-inspired posters, taxidermy animals and turn of the century furniture.
As for the drinks, you can get the same extensive wine list and handpicked selection of Italian craft beer available in the restaurant, but they also have a vast cocktail menu for you to try. They’re obsessed with artisan Italian spirits here, so don’t expect your usual tipples – instead, you’ll have a chance to try everything from vermouth and Amaro to Campari and grappa, all mixed up into original pours and hand-delivered to your table.
“Josh Davies, our head barman, has used modern cocktail techniques, such as fat washing and homemade shrubs, and combined them with our artisan spirits to give you a unique drinking experience,” Jimbob explained, and he gave us a personal recommendation – the Disco Volante. “’Nduja, a spicy spreadable salami from Calabria in Southern Italy is infused into mezcal by fat washing, before it’s mixed with pomegranate juice, lime juice, homemade watermelon sugar syrup and soda, then garnished with cucumber. The smokey, fiery ‘nduja infused mezcal is perfectly balanced against the sweetness and acidity of the fruit, while the cucumber adds freshness to create one of the most interesting drinks you’ll ever come across.”
Stuzzi is like a little slice of Italy, packed up and transplanted in Leeds, so whether you want to relive your holidays of old or just fancy trying something new, give it a shot.
Stuzzi, 7 Merrion Street, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 6PQ.