Jill Turton visits the new L’Uva Vino e Cucina in York and samples a taste of the good life.
There we were strolling across Ouse Bridge on a splendid sunny afternoon when we spotted L’Uva, a new wine bar that looked a cut above the usual Italian. A note in the window said it was open for aperitivos from 4pm. My watch showed 4.10pm. Well, why not? This summer has made us all continentals.
In we went into a cool cave stacked with wines all shipped from Italy, a wall of exposed brick, wooden banquettes and half a dozen wooden tables. No sooner had we been served with two large glasses of chilled Luma Grillo than my daughter rang to check up on me: “Well you two have a pretty good life, don’t you?” True enough.
So, if you’re equally open to being led astray for a touch of midweek afternoon decadence, between 4 and 5pm L’Uva offers an “aperitivo plate”: a board of “savoury bites” with a glass of wine for £15. It didn’t explain what was on said board and correctly suspecting a cold meat and cheese platter we passed on that and fell upon the seasonal courgette flowers (£5) and arancini (£6). Stuffed with mozzarella and anchovies and then deep-fried in a light crunchy batter, the courgettes were excellent. So were the rice balls, given a hefty whack of spice from some nduja and served with a tomato sauce. The Sicilian white went down rather well, too. In fact, we were sufficiently impressed (or light-headed) to book a table for the very next night.
This new enterprise is the dream child of Georgia Hanna, from the United States, and husband Joe, from Hull. Having lived in Florence for five years, they harboured a long-held ambition to open an Italian restaurant in the UK. Then they got sidetracked running a gourmet burger takeaway in Hull. That’s quite a detour but now they have bagged this former shop on Bridge Street and, after chasing around the planning process, change of use and listed building consent, then gutting and rebuilding, they have at last realised their dream: a wine bar with authentic Italian wine and food, and a distinct independent identity.
The wine list is long. Italian naturally. In comparison, the food menu is short: antipasti – a board of meats and cheese; a few crostini topped with nduja and red pepper; tomatoes and basil or lardo with orange and hazelnut. There are fried dishes like the courgette flowers, four simple pasta dishes then more substantial mains like spicy octopus with potatoes or braised oxtail. The kind of dishes that might have been on the menu of York’s late Le Langhe that closed in 2016 and for which mourning continues largely unabated.
The signs were promising when the chef popped out of the kitchen to tell us they had a special of spaghetti with truffles. When Le Langhe and Otto’s associated deli closed, the city lost its only source of truffles that I was aware of. In winter, if your taste and wallet were big enough, he would sell you an Alba white truffle at £280 for 100g or in summer the cheaper but less heady black truffles at around £45.
Naturally we ordered L’Uva’s truffled spaghetti, simply prepared with Parmesan, butter and shavings of the musky summer truffle. Truffles are never going to be cheap and this course was a hefty £17. While it was very good, it couldn’t quite match Otto’s truffled pasta made with his own silky strands of papardelle that perfectly mopped up the buttery juices. No more wistful mentions of Le Langhe this week. Promise.
The courgette flowers were excellent again, the piquant stuffing just as good as the previous day and to sustain our reckless batter quotient, we added a plate of fried mixed vegetables that were equally light and crisp.
A classic Venetian salad of baccalà mantecato – mild salt cod cut through with olive oil and served with crisp polenta, curly endive and salty shards of crisped cod skin – was a pleasingly balanced dish, elegantly plated and just right for a summer evening with a repeat glass of Grillo alongside.
Lardo crostini scored more high marks. If pork fat on toast doesn’t sound like anything you should pay £6 for, the flavoursome snowy white cured back fat – bacon without the meat – is delicious, especially when it melts a little on the warm toast and comes with orange and hazelnuts to cut through the richness. Continuing to drink very well, we enjoyed a dark berry Puglian Nero di Troia.
We had a few qualms elsewhere. A thick, juicy roast veal chop was ill served by some slithery porcini. A side dish of rosemary new potatoes was overcooked. Heavy cheese sauce rode roughshod over a plate of chicory.
But we did like L’Uva. It has much higher ambitions than being another off-the-peg Italian. It passed my key test of showing some soul in the kitchen and wins deep respect for getting off the ground at all in these tough times. Be warned though, a 4pm glass of Sicilian white with courgette flowers might become dangerously habit forming.
L’Uva Vino e Cucina, 5 Bridge Street, York YO1 6DD. 01904 626900; www.facebook.com/luvavinoecucina; open: Tuesday-Thursday, 4-10pm, Friday and Saturday, 12.30-11pm; price: dinner for two including bottle of wine and service approximately £90.