Simon Richardson discovers a below-the-radar restaurant worthy of more attention
I must’ve walked, run and oozed my way past Gallery Fortyone thousands of times over the years without ever really noticing it was there. It’s a building you look at without seeing, a restaurant that you acknowledge without knowing much about, in a location that you pass often without really stopping.
That’s the struggle with restaurants at exceptionally busy junctions; they’re the most visible of the invisible, surrounded by a general public desperate to get away and on with their lives.
No frills, normal plates, uncomplicated dishes and a really good natter
The fact it was nestled within the list of nominees and winners from this year’s Oliver Awards brought Gallery Fortyone to my attention, with its nomination for Best Italian alongside much-celebrated competition including Salvos Salumeria, Culto and eventual winner, Zucco.
“What? No Trattoria Il Forno?” my carb-fuelled inner demon screams, as if a list that omits your personal favourite is a sleight on your personal taste. “Well… we’ll see about that!”
From the outside, Gallery Fortyone isn’t much to look at. But they’ve worked hard on the sound-proofing, meaning that you’re whisked away from the polluted, siren-filled clamour of the main road as soon as you walk in. It’s quirky, relaxed and quite full, recreating the feel of an authentic Italian side-street diner.
The menu is straightforward, but pretty large for somewhere so deliberately low-key. We decide that the prices suggest sharing plates is the way to go and order a range of starters. The insalata (£4.65) consists of some creamy-ish mozzarella with a really hefty basil garnish - it’s exactly as you’d draw it. The tandoori prawns (£6.95) are impressive beasts, marinated in Indian spices and served with sharp lime and sweet chilli. It’s an excellent mix – simple but well-executed.
We also order some garlic bread with mozzarella (£4.90) which reveals itself to be a pizza-sized affair. Thankfully, it’s light, thin and crispy, though perhaps a little shy on the garlic. The final dabble is with the calamari (£5.95); I always get nervous before eating it, half expecting an experience akin to eating a shoe that you’ve dragged out of the bottom of the Mediterranean, but my fears are dashed by light, perfectly-cooked squid rings in a delicate batter. Some of the best I’ve had in Leeds.
Back to full-on Italian, the mains come after a welcome pause and a chance to enjoy a bit more of our wine. The wine list is small and none of the reds really take my fancy, so we settle on a Riesling (£23.95), which offers a fleeting lime crispness that matches well with the starters. Time for a serious dose of stodge, though.
Carbonara (£8.85) is always a good test of quality. This is satisfying enough, but we’re both pretty sure that it’s been made with cream – maybe even flour as an extra thickener – which, if so, is a bit of an unnecessary British slant.
My pizza of choice is their signature Gallery Fortyone pizza (£9.20). They could call it quattro porco if they wanted, such is the pigginess of the topping. I like that, no messing around, just straight up pig all over. It’s just thin and crispy enough and holds together really well, avoiding my pet hate, which is when the toppings slide straight off the base as soon as you cut or pick it up. The highlight might actually be the pepperiest rocket I’ve ever eaten, though. I look down and realise that I’ve inadvertently consumed so much salt that I look like I’ve been vacuum packed. Acqua!
We’re both stuffed after the ‘Great Starters Misunderstanding of 2019’, so we share a small tiramisu (£3.95) to finish. It takes the waitress a good twenty minutes to remember that we exist, but that’s probably a blessing. There’s nothing wrong with the tiramisu at all, but you need to get out your deepest-handled spade to get to the delicious booze, which is in a puddle at the bottom.
The bill takes quite a while to arrive too – they definitely get a bit slow as the evening draws on. The service is as laid-back as the whole experience; no frills, normal plates, uncomplicated dishes and a really good natter. The whole thing comes to sixty-eight pounds, including four starters and a bottle of wine.
For me, it’s not quite in the same ball park as most of its fellow Oliver Awards nominees, but if it was your local Italian down the road, you’d be there every week.
Gallery Fortyone, 41 - 43 Commercial Road, Leeds , LS5 3AW Tel: 0113 274 0041
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Food and drink
Mozzarella 6, Prawns 7, Calamari 8, Garlic Bread 6, Carbonara 6, Pizza 7, Tiramisu 6, Riesling 6
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