If there’s one thing Harrogate doesn’t need, it’s another Italian restaurant. The town already bursts with them like an overstuffed cannelloni, and for every interesting indie there’s a chain hoovering up trade. Pizza Express, Zizzi, Prezzo and Carluccio’s all tout their wares within a few square metres of each other in the town centre, while Jamie’s Italian has set up shop just down the road.
Good Italian restaurants, though, are a little rarer. It’s easy to pay lip service to Italian food, because there’s such alchemy in the combination of wheat, cheese, tomato and heat. But few capture what actually makes the cuisine special: very good ingredients, treated with simplicity, respect and love.
Enter Stuzzi, a relative newcomer near the town’s conference centre. Run by people who met at the beloved Salvo’s in Headingley, it’s a small, hip, buzzy Italian joint with a focus on small dishes and obsessive sourcing of ingredients – many of which stand on shelves or sit temptingly behind the deli counter. Stuzzi wears that obsession on its sleeves.
Even a small dish of olives is described in fine detail – there are three varieties, including Noceralla (those bright green buttery ones that taste a bit like biting your tongue, in a good way), a variety from Sicily and a third I forget. It’s the sort of thing some might dismiss as pretentious before vowing to stick to Carluccio’s in future – but the olives were good and merited their back story. It was also an important early indication that Stuzzi’s talk about sourcing (with more than a hundred suppliers, including veg straight from the market in Milan) is not mere hot air.
We started with four small plates. Rich, tender, slow-braised veal belly was the stand out, its heavenly flavour tethered to the ground by meaty porcini puree and earthy salt-baked carrot (£7.50). On a second plate sat an intense slice of goats’ cheese – sharp, fungal and salty, with a pungency that climbs into your nose (£6.50). A cheese lover’s cheese, deserving of its starring role. Third, thinly sliced young courgettes with a little chilli were laid on creamy, milky Burrata (mozzarella with cream) and crisp toasted sourdough (£6.50). And, fourth, fine slices of Cappa di Parma (like parma ham, made with neck meat) were curled around sweet chunks of golden beetroot and fig (£6) – though their sugars weren’t quite up to the task of taming the bitterness of the radicchio.
For round two, plush squid ink ravioli, made in house, was stuffed with a beautiful filling of whipped salt cod, with intensely flavoured roast peppers, fibrous fennel and fresh peas (£6.50). It was the best dish of the night. Meanwhile, two aubergine and ricotta croquettes (£6) were dark and perfectly crunchy. On paper, that filling flirts with blandness, but these were flavour-packed, well-seasoned with an airy touch of lemon zest. And a dish of seasonal asparagus, sliced into thin strips and chargrilled, was enhanced – not overpowered – by creamy, soft gorgonzola and the deep, savoury freshness of salsa verde (£7).
Wine was, predictably, lovely – a rich, deep and full-bodied merlot blend from Veneto (Gran Passione Rossa) and a light, easy, unobtrusive Valpolicella Ripasso (both £7.55/175ml).
A mixed sweet platter (£9.95) finished us off. It was a whistle stop tour of the dessert menu via a series of little chunks, mirrored so two can share without scrapping over the highlights. Doughnut, cheesecake, chocolate mousse, meringue, polenta cake and a moreish vanilla panna cotta… just reading that list is enough to make a person happy. A respectable attempt at demolition was made, and the debris was doggy bagged.
If all of this sounds like a resounding success, it’s because it is. Harrogate didn’t need another pizza-pasta joint, but the arrival of a confident, smart, personal and – dare I say it – authentic Italian restaurant was long overdue.
46 King’s Road, Harrogate HG1 5JW