Sasso, Harrogate - Restaurant review

Until recently, Sasso was one of the better kept secrets of Harrogate let alone Yorkshire.

Sasso Restaurante Enoteca Italian

8 & 10 Princes Square, Harrogate HG1 1 LX. Tel: 01423 508838.

Caff Marconi

2 Princes Square, Harrogate HG1 1LX. Tel 01423 567516

Never too obvious buried in its basement among the myriad estate agents of Princes Square. For seven years the secret was safe with Sasso's regulars. Then the world woke up to the fact that Sasso was quietly turning out exceptionally good Italian food.

It made a stunning debut appearance in The 2008 Good Food Guide and customers started arriving in droves. Business boomed funding a kitchen refit, an extension with 26 extra covers and the arrival in May of their first offspring, Caff Marconi. It's another basement, just a few doors down Princes Square.

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Based on the simple formula, found all over Italy, of providing sandwiches, pastries and very good coffee, it stakes an immediate claim to be the coolest caf in town in its pure, white minimalist chic, terrazzo floors, leather chairs and two sexy chrome espresso machines. It all adds up to a formidable double act just as the two premises are neatly named after Stefano Lancellotti's home town of Sasso Marconi, near Bologna.

Yorkshire born Sara Lancellotti runs Marconi, while the fast talking excitable Stefano, with an accent as thick as a Bologna doorstep remains behind the Sasso stove, leaving the front of house schmoozing to a team that is charming and friendly even by the warmest Italian standards.

'Sasso Lunchtime' is a two tier menu for �8.50: either, go for one substantial main course like grilled gravadlax marinated in orange, mint and black peppercorns with a Mediterranean salad or, like me, you can go for two smaller courses, antipasto followed by a primi.

Broad bean and potato soup followed by pasta is good rustic value. The pale green soup comes in an elegant white bowl with potato to give it body and texture, broad beans for colour and flavour, fresh oregano for a herby kick and a crouton with a sliver of Tuscan pork to add a meaty crunch. It may be too highly salted for some but it's an undeniably a very satisfying dish.

But soup is merely the prelude to one of the best reasons for eating at Sasso's: Lancelotti's home-made egg pasta prepared fresh each day with Italian flour and Italian eggs. English eggs, he claims, just don't have the right coloured yolks.

Today it's a choice of tagliatelle with basil pesto, prawns and salami or ravioli filled with potato, ricotta and speck. Ravioli filled with potato sounds odd - starch on starch - but it's ravishing. It consists of three or four generous parcels of yellow dough (from those Italian eggs), with a firm bite and a filling that is soft and slightly grainy with an ancient subtle smokey flavour from the ham. Finished with cream, butter and poppy seeds, this is a rich and buttery dish and utterly delicious.

There are more luxurious fillings and sauces for the pasta on the 'Specials' menu like the ravioli with lobster, courgettes, shallots and tarragon in a lobster bisque. But don't imagine this is a glorified pizza/pasta joint.

They don't do pizza, and pasta is offered, as in Italy as a primi or first course as well as a main course. In the evening secondi might be sea bass in a basil and sweet potato crust, or pork fillet stuffed with fresh asparagus and wrapped in speck.

From half a dozen typical Italian desserts - tiramisu, panna cotta; lemon tart with limoncello sorbet; semifreddo - I choose tiramisu on the grounds that it's everyone's favourite Italian dessert and there are a lot of bad ones around. This one is textbook: creamy, delicate, feather light with a Lancellotti twist of an aniseed and sambucco sauce.

Finally, having paid my bill, Stefano emerges to march me to Marconi for a demi-tasse of high octane espresso and a bomboloni - a sublime chocolate filled Italian doughnut that he makes himself every morning at 6am. A small touch but highly telling of the dedication and skill that goes into a delightful operation.

Review by Jill Turton

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