To choose between dinner on a flower filled terrace in a Tuscan hill town watching the sunset or a recently opened restaurant in a (rather charming) yard in Pudsey, near Leeds is a no-brainer. Sadly, I didn’t have a choice, so off to Pudsey I went.
I worked for several months annually in Tuscany for five years, so I know the food and wine of the region very well; it is a cuisine I adore. Impressing me was going to be tough.
Diva Italiana markets itself as a Tuscan trattoria. A trattoria is usually small, simple in style, often family run. This one is small, and set on two floors of a traditional Yorkshire mill-workers cottage.
The dining rooms are snug but a little chilly. The white walls adorned with black and white glossy photos of Italian divas (hence the name) jars slightly with the unpretentious décor. Conversation is difficult with the closeness of other diners and the eclectic music blaring from the speakers, which irritates me from the start. The arrival of the menu, however, eclipses all my frustrations. I can’t remember being so excited by a menu in a long time.
It is pure Tuscan in its content and peppered with words that make me tingle. I see Crostini and bruschetta, zuppa (hearty Tuscan soups). Some of my favourite ingredients; porcini, mozzarella, rocket and parmesan. I salivate over porchetta (roast suckling pig) branzino (sea bass) and tagliata (a hefty double sirloin) and fresh homemade pastas and risotto, dressed with celebrated Tuscan ingredients and sauces. I want to eat them all.
I don’t. I opt for a zuppa di Farro. Farro is an ancient grain long-used in Tuscan cookery and now enjoying fame in trendy restaurants worldwide. The beauty of farro is not only its nutty flavour but also its capacity to soak up cooking flavours, here an exceptional broth and lashed with a dark green olive oil added further depth to the rib-sticking soup. My husband tucked into a plateful of lightly fried gamberi (shrimps) and calamari. There is silence as we eat.
A second course of papadelle con ragu di agnello e porcini (pasta with a lamb and porcini mushrooms sauce) I ordered as a starter size thank goodness, even this was humongous. The minced lamb sauce and chubby chunks of fresh mushrooms clung fervently to the wide thick strips of velvety pasta. It is not the easiest pasta dish to eat with any semblance of elegance, but I was past caring, I just wanted to devour it. The fillet of sea bass, oven baked with a potato crust and grilled vegetables was a by-far more elegant dish with delicate flavours, and again delicious.
Having eaten almost a whole loaf of fresh bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar before my two courses, I was well past dessert. Not so the husband; he demolished a sliver of very rich torta di cioccolata (chocolate tart) in the blink of an eye.
The wine offerings here are again trattoria in style. The list is small and local (to Tuscany) and there is no bottle over £23.00. Unfortunately there are only two wines by the glass, one red, one white, neither of which we found particularly enjoyable. It was the kind of local wine drunk when sunshine and holiday fever raises it to a Grand Cru status but tastes foul when you have hauled several bottles home. I reprimanded myself, this is a trattoria and perhaps I was being a bit over fussy.
There was no fussing over the bill, at £50 for the two of us shows exceptional value for food and service of this calibre.