Mario Olianas, a Sardininian chef turned his passion into a successful by starting up Gusto Italiano which hosts a series of supper clubs (look out for Cena Sarda) and 'Taste of Italy' nights, as well as hosting his own Italian cookery class and featuring regularly at farmers markets and cooking demonstrations.
Mario was looking some food bloggers to come and try out his latest 'Tasty of Italy' night at the Lazy Lounge in Leeds, his 16th one if you must know. With a feast of all wonderful Sardinian and Italian creations awaiting us, myself and food blogger Diane jumped at the chance to go along and took up our invites.
Arriving at the Lazy Lounge, Mario was there with a few other guests and also his special guest of the night, Adam Thur, talented pâtissier from The Pastry Stall. Each month, Mario likes to team up and collaborate with local producers, with previous ones including The Yummy Yank, Costello's Bakery and Pudsey Pickles.
An area was reserved on the mezzanine layer of the bar with a table set out in the corner. The spread looked incredible. Before us lay a table adorned with bruschetta, cured meats, pecorino, salads, frittata and antipasti which was beautifully presented on large ornate mirrors. All of this (with refillable plates plus a dessert course to follow) is a bargain at £10.99 - something I would have been more than happy to pay.
The evening started and ended with great conversation. Both Mario and Adam were keen to talk and tell us about their backgrounds, history and passion. The guests we were sat at the table were also full of tales of food adventures in Leeds and one couple in particular were keen fans of Mario's nights, having visited previous 'Taste of Italy' nights as well as one of his supper clubs.
Waiting until all the guests arrived was a great opportunity to have Mario tell us what exactly was on the table in front of us.
His home made carta di musica, crisp thin sheets of unleavened bread which get their name from being so thin before cooking that a sheet of music can be read through it and a popular Sardinian flat bread.
The impressive plank (I mean it!) of cheese was a selection of five different variations of Pecorino cheese. The hard, salty cheese of Italy made from ewe's milk. Mario had made three of the cheeses himself using Yorkhire produce with a ten day, twenty day and thirty day old pecorino. These were very light and mild compared to what I am used to but made for a nice change and complimented some of the dishes beautifully.
There were also two Sardinian pecorino's available which were a lot stronger and harder in texture - these are my sort of cheese and they were extremely mature and strong in taste.
Next up was the bruschetta. There were two choices available. A classic Tomato and Basil Bruschetta as well as a Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta with aubergine, red onion and peppers. The bread was hard and crispy, just as it should be. The toppings were light and fresh and the bread sucked in the moisture whilst retaining its texture. These were both executed very well.
The Frittata was light and fluffy and made with spinach and mushrooms. It was thin and dense and not like some of the pie-esque fritatta's you see popping up in deli's at the moment. It was delicate but held its own good flavour.
Two salads were also freshly prepared. The traditional Insalata Caprese as well as a salad which I had never tasted before, the Polpa di Granchio alla Catalana which was made with shredded crab sticks. Both were fresh and nice accompaniments to the heavier dishes.
If that wasn't enough for you then just wait til you get a look at this meat platter! Parma Ham, Mortadella and Salami Napoli laid out across a huge board. Margarita Pizza's with the local Italian ristorante Primo also arrived and everyone was just about ready to tuck in.
Bowls of balsamic glazed baby onions, sun dried tomatoes and artichokes in olive oil were also there for us to pick at to complete the perfect antipasti plate.
Stocking up the plate with a bit of everything made you realise just how much effort had gone into this spread. The food was extremely good and inspiring to me as I have never tasted Italian food in this way before.
Feeling very full and very happy with what I had just eaten... along comes the beautiful dessert spread from The Pastry Stall.
With a delightful range of tarts, desserts and macaroons there was not an option to be full... always room for dessert they say?!
Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Tart, Straciatella Cheesecake (with popping candy!), Lemon Meringue Pie, Fruit Tart, Salted Chocolate Tart and Strawberry and Coffee Macaroons filled the table.
Cutting each tart into pieces we were all able to have a mouth sized taster of each (if our stomachs allowed).
The cheesecake had a light consistency and wasn't too sweet. The addition of popping candy made it rather exciting to eat but didn't detract from the taste.
The lemon meringue pie was again not too sweet and had the right balance of acidity and sourness from the lemon. The pastry was firm and held the tart together with its perky whipped meringue on top.
I also had a little nibble of the salted chocolate tart, a soft chocolate flavour which was not overpowering or rich in the way that most chocolate desserts can be. The coffee macaroon was also light and soft with a bit of chew, just how a good macaroon should be.
The night was a great success and for me a real insight into authentic Italian dining. I would struggle to fault anything as all the food was fresh, using local produce where possible and made by two chefs which were passionate about their food. I would highly recommend booking onto one of Mario's 'Taste of Italy' nights if you are looking for a night of good food, conversation and a nice friendly atmosphere at a very reasonable price.
The 'Taste of Italy' nights are held every month at the Lazy Lounge on Wellington Street in Leeds. You can keep up to date on Mario's next events by visiting his website here.
Disclaimer: I was invited to review this meal for free, however all the views within this review are my own honest opinions.