With the vast availability and convenience of Italian pastas and pizzas in supermarkets and the rise of ‘Italian’ chain restaurants, the Leeds Love Affair team rarely ate out Italian until a few months ago…
Viva and Cafe Italia are a pair of superb Italian restaurants in Leeds that are run by the same gentleman; the most attentive and welcoming host this side of the Mediterranean. Mr Vito La Gioia (pictured above left) hales from Florence and has an unrivalled zeal for bringing the finest food of his motherland to the citizens of Leeds.
As well as the sheer quality of the fare, both restaurants are a bargainous night out with a three course set menu available for just 15 before 7.30pm and a lunch menu of delicious bruscetta and any pasta/pizza for just 6.95.
The portions are enormous, the welcome is colossal and the food is simply squisito! What is there not to love? Mr La Gioia tells us (with many an emphatic hand gesture) about his passion for running his restaurants and what customers can expect when they pay him a visit.
Who are you and how did you get here?
We are Viva and Cafe Italia & two restaurants in Leeds city centre that offer real Italian homecooking for lunch and dinner. Viva is on Bridge End and opened almost seven years ago, Cafe Italia has been going for 3 years and is on Mill Hill in the original Bibi’s premises from 55 years ago.
I moved to the UK from Italy about 14 years ago. I came to visit friends in London, decided to stay a year to learn the language and then never left! I used to work in the coffee industry down in London and then moved to Leeds to start my own restaurant.
What do you think makes Viva and Cafe Italia unique? What do you offer that other restaurants don’t?
Food is a big tradition in Italy, but the best food is in Tuscany, it’s a very big deal. I think what makes us so different is the passion we have for producing beautiful food and you can’t underestimate that. We are about quality and that comes from our fresh ingredients. When you put love in to the food you can really taste it.
The other important aspect of our restaurants is making sure our customers are happy. We really try to take care with everything and I love my job, I love the people. When our customers come to our place, they are part of our family & we take their coat, we talk to them like old friends, we like people to come and go as they please. We are a welcoming place where all customers are valued friends.
In Italy we say ‘Andiamo a mangiare dove si mangia bene e si spende il giusto’ which means ‘you should eat somewhere where the food is good and the price is right’ (I suppose over here you say ‘good value for money’?) and that’s our motto really.
What is your favourite dish?
For me it’s our fish. I’m a big fish person and I try very hard to source the best fresh fish. You can have our calamari or scallops for starter (7.50) or king prawns in garlic, white wine and lemon for main (14.50). I also source wild mussels which are delicious.
What are your bestselling dishes?
That’s really hard to say because everyone has a different favourite. We try to change and update our menu but that’s very difficult for us because if we get rid of anything someone will be disappointed! Some of our customers come and they don’t even look at the menu, they know what they like and we like to keep cooking it for them.
People do always love our house wines though (14.40 per bottle). We have a lovely Merlot from Verona and a superb white from Sicily.
What do you think makes Leeds so awesome?
The people. British customers are the best in the world. I have been here a long time and I think of Leeds as my hometown now.
Finally, describe Viva and Cafe Italia to us in 3 words…
Fresh, quality and passion.
Viva and Cafe Italia are open Monday & Saturday for lunch (12 & 2.30pm) and dinner (5 & 10.30pm).