The unassuming Salvo’s Italian is more than just a restaurant, it’s an institution. Found on an unusually quiet stretch of the Otley Road in the buzzy district of Headingly, this family-run business has been around for more than 40 years. Salvatore Dammone opened his doors in 1976, hoping to bring a little taste of Italy to north England, and his efforts have been nothing short of triumphant. The famed bistro is often fully booked months in advance and attracts queues right outside the door for tables. So, exactly what is it that makes this place so special?
Well, it’s safe to say the family knows how to pair authentic Italian cuisine with the hearty and robust flavours so loved by locals. Salvatore first arrived in Leeds in 1954 and opened a transport café called The Unicorn with his wife, followed by Blue Gardenia on Boar Lane. But Italy wasn’t done with them yet, and the lure of ripening olive trees and fragrant lemon groves drew them back when their children were born, where they opened a traditional trattoria. Here is where Salvatore taught his sons, John and Gip, the craft of cooking good honest food and the importance of using fresh produce. By 1970, a cholera scare had devastated the restaurant business in mainland Europe, and the family headed back to the northern city they had not long left behind.
It’s certainly hard not to feel at home when walking into Salvo’s. You’re welcomed by the genial service team, headed up by John and Gip, who often wander the tables themselves to engage with diners. The atmosphere is laid-back, informal, nothing too fussy or pretentious. It encapsulates that authentic Italian dining experience rarely found outside of Italy itself, where friends and even strangers are welcomed as family. Moreover, the food is so deeply satisfying you’ll find yourself making room for extra courses you would usually never dream of ordering.
While there are hundreds of Italian restaurants across the UK serving the same pasta and pizza, Salvo’s offers a refreshing change of pace. Their lasagne is made with mouthwatering pork and veal ragu rather than the usual beef mince, and their pizza menu features authentic Italian toppings including finocchiona and spianata salami. Meanwhile, seafood starters such as fried squid with zucchini are a firm favourite among regulars, and delectable mains include pork belly served with ‘nduja potato croquettes. The family insist on flying ingredients over from their home country, providing a true depth and originality of flavour to every dish. Some of the most enduringly popular dishes can be replicated at home with the Salvo’s recipe book My Family and Other Italians, which also features stories of the family’s escapades throughout Italy.
The success of Salvo’s is not just measured in happy, satisfied diners however. From humble beginnings, the restaurant has expanded to accommodate more eager customers, first taking over the upstairs flat, shortly followed by the shop next door. Most recently, Salvo’s have acquired the shop next door but one, now known as the Salumeria Café and Shop. Here, the family sells bona fide Italian pomodorina tins and buffalo mozzarella imported from Campania, along with artisan sauces, oils, pasta and even takeaway lasagnes for customers hoping to get a taste of Salvo’s at home. The versatile deli also sells fresh cheese and salami from Naples, with a daytime café menu to eat in or take away, and hosts regular fine dining tasting experiences for those looking for something a little more refined.
Acclaimed by the Good Food Guide and Gordon Ramsey alike, it’s the genuine nature of this family and their reliably excellent fare that keep customers coming back time and again.