Saturday, February 23, 2008

Da Mario's

Fri 22 Feb 2008

After a couple of after-work-post-gym beers at the Town Hall Tavern our thoughts turned to food (well, mine did) and I took the opportunity to suggest a restaurant I've never been to. Da Mario's, on the Headrow, is something of a fixture: its broad frontage means that you cannot miss it and it looks as though it has remained unchanged since the 1970s.

Despite it being half past 9 on a Friday night we had no problem getting a table: the restaurant was already emptying out and just a couple of tables remained occupied. We were tucked away in the corner, ordered some beers and checked out the menu. The menu covers quite a lot of ground, and in addition, we were given a list of daily specials that were all fish dishes (and all priced around the £10-£15 mark). I was tempted by a pizza, but we were all quite hungry and I realised that that choice would mark a delay in any of us getting our food. Instead, I opted, like the blokes, to go for pasta.

I chose, in hindsight perhaps foolishly, the "tagliatella al salmone" (I'm not sure, but I think that should be 'tagliatelle' - do I have an Italian speaking reader who can help?). The menu billed this as "a duet" of smoked and fresh salmon, with spring onions, lemon zest, dill and a tomato and cream sauce. Now, I often find salmon pasta dishes disappointing: a good balance of fish, pasta and sauce seems to be a difficult thing to achieve in a restaurant. Often the smoked salmon ends up cooked and tough, or it's quite salty and this imbues the whole dish with an unpleasant salty fishiness. but then, if a restaurant puts a dish on the menu - it should be cooked well, and I keep on trying. I figure if I can put together a simple pasta dish of smoked salmon, asparagus tips and cream a restaurant should be able to manage it.

You already know that I'm going to report that the dish was not a success. It was blindingly hot (hmm, do we detect some help from the microwave?), the smoked salmon was nowhere to be seen, the fresh salmon had enjoyed so much cooking it had descended into a pulpy, fishy mass, the lemon zest was indiscernible, the Napolitana sauce was an alarming vibrant orange ... The saving grace was that the portion was quite small. That, and after a couple of drinks I am always ravenously hungry. Had this not been the case, the majority of the dish would have been left.

My dining companions had chosen tagliatelle al funghi, another small portion quite light on mushrooms, and the spaghetti con polpettine. The meatballs were disintegrating and the one I tasted was tasteless aside from overpowering oregano. It was dry and grey.

Although we tried to finish our drinks in a leisurely manner, it was obvious it was time for us to leave. A waiter took our bill for payment before we'd even looked at it, the music was turned off and general restaurant closing activities began. It was only about half past 10.

There is a reason that Da Mario's was closing its doors so early and that, as we waited for our bus, Felicini still bubbled away ...

1. Da Mario's Bar and Restaurant, 105 The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 5JW, phone 0113 246 0390

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