A chef’s state of mind

Ipsum Vinoteca is a very special place, not only because it is a dream become reality and we put 200% into it, but because we do have a different ethos or philosophy or model whichever way you like to call it and I am aware that we will never been able, neither I want to, please everyone, as much as I want people to understand the importance of what they eat whether they choose us or another establishment with a similar ethos or approach to food.

According to the latest statistics the UK has become the second country in the world after the USA for number of obese and much more could be done on an individual level,  it should not be anymore about quantity and price but quality, provenance, origins.

Food is not just what is on the plate but is a choice of life, we all like the environment, we don’t like plastic anymore, we look for venues that have replaced their plastic straws with paper ones, we hate sugar or salt, still when it is about the food we eat, our fuel, that thing that allows us to enjoy our only life, we rarely wonder or ask where it comes from or how it has been made and the impact it had on the environment and will have on us. Good food add years to our lives, bad food takes them off.

At Ipsum part of our ethos is to use the best ingredients we can get hold of, locally sourced, we work with a very limited number of suppliers and we can trace our food from farm to plate and we are very proud of it, quality is imperative for us, from our bread to our meat or fish, and it has always been since we opened at the end of 2014.

Ipsum allows me to play, I call it playing, and study food, the kitchen is my play room and school class, and the restaurant is where the study, the learning and the play get into the plate and part of the study, learning, is make the best of these amazing ingredients.

Our way of cooking or playing with food is not everyone taste and for many people a venison steak is a venison steak or a beef sirloin is a sirloin, for us local grass fed meat tastes better, and for them there are plenty of restaurants with a different approach. ,We  could certainly buy cheaper meat or frozen fish, stop offering our 48H fermented bread, but it goes against our principles. I grow up in a family where it has always been about fresh, local and in season, my mum still makes pasta, tomatoes sauce, biscuits; my grandad used to make wine and extra virgin olive oil, I used to help them and appreciated what goes into making them, not just a lot of physical work, but love, passion.

Eating is a joy, is about taste, is about slow eating as well as slow food, is about discovering new flavours, is about feeling better, not feeling stuffed. Good food makes you look better, it gives you energies and allows you to leave life to the full, this is eating at Ipsum.













Celebrate authentic Italian sparkling wines at Ipsum Vinoteca

Ipsum Celebrate Spumante

Prosecco is everywhere and everyone is jumping on the Prosecco bandwagon, each new Prosecco call itself “premium”, to justify a higher price and avoid becoming involved in the price war, despite all coming from the same wineries, because Prosecco, thanks to the EU, has to be produced in Italy, specifically 3 regions, with only a few wineries with the capacity to produce millions of bottles.

Only a few days ago a Cava producer started selling its own “premium” Prosecco, the whole word is crazy about Prosecco, the amount of cheap Prosecco being bottled and sold keeps going up, with wine drinkers wanting to pay less and less for it and plenty of bars and restaurants offering ice cold tasteless sparkling wine labelled as Prosecco, still the love for the wine is there.

A couple of decades ago it was the Asti Spumante until the quality reached its lowest and the sugar its highest, and Spumante became and still is synonymous with cheap, sweet, Italian sparkling wine, if offered Prosecco or Spumante, 9 people out of 10 will choose with no hesitation Prosecco, without knowing that Prosecco is a spumante and the latter is simply a type of wine. Prosecco is a Spumante made with Glera grapes with a denomination, all other spumantes, with the exception of Franciacorta and Trento, have no denomination and therefore, each wineries give them the name they like.

A spumante can be made with any grape and there are grapes that are better suited than others, there are grapes that produce sparkling wines that offer much more than Prosecco, and at Ipsum Vinoteca we have decided to show you that by offering Spumantes by the glass, we will rotate our big selection, despite stocking a very good, small producer Prosecco that will still be available by the bottle. #onlyatipsum #wherelse #leeds

We know the provenance of every single ingredient on our menu

I haven’t written anything on here for way too long, every time I’m ready, I have something to write about, something else happens and I have to postpone. I’m now sat on the plane back home after another food fair, exhausted of tasting and talking, and I have decided to write instead of closing my eyes and let the plane take me home.

This is my second food fair in the last few weeks and I’m honestly tired, from an outsider it may look that going to a wine or food fair is all about drinking and eating, but I can guarantee it is not, not only the travel but also the talking and tasting, no actual eating or drinking, except in the evening but by the time the day has finished and it is time to go out for dinner, the last thing you want to do is go out and have a late night, your mind is already set on the next early morning.

Said that I love going to fair because not only I can discover new products, but get to talk to producers and people that do the same job I do from all over the world and learn a lot.

In the last trip, on one of the dinners, I sat on a table with two meat experts from Holland who spend their time travelling the world selecting meat, what a fascinating job, visiting farms and abattoirs, I was such an interesting and learning evening for me, I learned so much about meat, we spent the whole evening talking about cows and pigs, tests and different country legislation. They told me of how strict is the Dutch legislation, that there is a meat scandal almost every day, we may not know about it, but it happens almost in daily basis, the last two had just happened in Brasil and Argentina, I told them I had not heard about them, and they responded saying that the majority of them get sorted quietly, without any scandal, and the only reason they are discovered is because they constantly check the meat they receive.

The issues they face are almost always related to drugs injected or fed to the animals to speed up their growth or give the meat a better look, I also said them that we only use local meat and they told me that English meat is very good, has a very good reputation, and the best way to guarantee the quality of the meat is by knowing your suppliers and visiting their farms, they said good meat cannot be cheap.

At Ipsum not only we know and trust our meat supplier, which is local, and always buy the best meat, and like a now retired former Michelin star chef told me, we put our heart in what we do, we dont cut corners and offer only the best, we love what we do and put everything we have into it, including sourcing the best ingredients and never stop looking to make things better. 

We all go shopping and we always read the label wanting to know the provenance and origin of the food we are buying, at Ipsum we can proudly say to know the provenance of every single ingredient we use, from our meat and fish to our vegetable or our bread, if you want to know, just ask and we will be happy to tell the story behind it


The best mozzarella this side of Naples

Battipaglia precisely. Yes, our buffalo mozzarella comes every 2 weeks from Battipaglia, the capital of the buffalo kingdom. As you know at Ipsum we love sourcing the best ingredients and we decided it was time to add the buffalo mozzarella, the real thing, to our selection and get it straight from the Caseificio as to have the best quality and as fresh as it gets.

One of the perks of working in a restaurant is that you get to taste all products before anyone else, and in our case the perk is even bigger because we get to taste plenty of it until we find the one we like and the buffalo mozzarella has been no exception. Before choosing our mozzarella we tasted mozzarella from about 50 different caseifici, after having done the homework and selected only the ones that met our quality requirements, and what a tasting. Luckily, we all love buffalo mozzarella but we almost got to a point of starting to refuse to eat mozzarella, it was mozzarella for breakfast, lunch and dinner, from Monday to Saturday for a couple of weeks.  Not only fresh mozzarella, but also smoked and burrata and cheeses made with buffalo milk.

Eventually, exhausted, we found the one we wanted and started to import it and it comes every 2 weeks, 2 days after being made, as fresh as it gets, and if you have been in at Ipsum recently and seen our new wine bar menu, you may have noticed that we offer plenty of dishes that have it, from salads to sandwiches, from starters to pasta. And our mozzarella has been such a big hit that is available for you to take home, pop in or just give us a ring and will save some for you.

Our 10 tips for healthy Italian cooking and eating

At Ipsum Vinoteca we don’t just love Italian food, but we are advocate of good and healthy food. Andrea, the owner, has put together 10 tips to prepare your food like Ipsum do.          

1. Keep it seasonal

We have said it many times and it is all over on our menu, only use seasonal and fresh ingredients, not only they will give plenty of flavour to all of your dishes, but also full of nutrients and vitamins, and by doing so, you will be able to discover plenty of new ingredients and will enjoy your food even more. This is one of the basis of Italian cooking

2. Pasta and sauces

When cooking pasta, there are 2 basic principles to bear in mind. The first one is to cook the pasta al dente, if you are  not familiar with the concept, bite one and if you still see a white line inside, then the pasta is “al dente”, not only is like Italian eats it but it is also healthier, it has a lower glycemia index. Secondly, each shape of pasta has its own sauce, without going too much into detail, the rule of thumb is the thicker and bigger the pasta, the richer should be the sauce. Lastly, a good pasta keeps its “cottura”, cooking, it does not start breaking as soon it is served. A special mention for homemade pasta, making pasta is not difficult and homemade pasta can be kept on the freezer, so you can abound, and does not need defrosting. This is the pasta we use at Ipsum and our chefs run masterclasses.

3. Use extra virgin olive oil

Italians love extra virgin olive oil, we use it everywhere, from salad to cooking, we only have extra virgin olive oil. Olives are grown everywhere in Italy and extra virgin olive oils are different, like grapes, depending on where they are grown, have a different taste, northern olive oils are more delicate, southern’s richer. Virgin olive oil is high in good fats and omega 3 as well as containing anti-oxidants and  should give you that peppery taste on the back of your throat, if it doesnt, then it is not 100% extra virgin olive oil  

4. Vary your dishes

This is very easy if you follow tip number 1, follow the seasonality, and your food will never be the same again

5. Make eating an occasion

Whether a full meal or just a snack, Italians take their time, they are never on the go. Food is not about being fed, but about appreciating and enjoying what we have on the plate, eating is sitting around a table all together and talk, talk and talk. This is one of life’s and Italian’s pleasure.

6. Cook from scratch

If you cook from scratch not only you will appreciate your food much more, but you will know exactly what is in it and you’ll be able to vary and make your daily food more interesting, and once you have done it a few times, it come easily and naturally, and you wonder why you never did it before, like going to the gym, after the first few sessions, you can’t live without. We also think, please note that there is no research to backup this, but simply looking at Italians in general, that if you cook,  you tend to eat less and healthier

7. Watch your sauces

Italian don’t flood their dishes with sauces or creams, not only they increase substantially the number of calories count, but change the flavour of the dishes all together and too often spoil it covering all flavours. Always remember that you want to taste the food you cooked, whether pasta or fish or meat, and not just the sauce unless it did not come out as you wanted and need to cover it up.

8. Dessert

Italians, more or less, love desserts, from ice cream to panettone, we have something for every season and time. Yes Italy also grows a lot of fruit, so, Italians tend to love their fruit as well, which is healthy, but if you do love desserts like we do, just make them yourself so you know exactly what on them and make it a treat 

9. Salad dressing

In Italy there is no such a thing as salad dressing, Cesar dressing or similar, for Italian salad dressing is plenty of olive oil and vinegar, and depending on what in the salad, it could be a good balsamic vinegar, you only need a few drops and want it to be thick and not watery, or a good wine vinegar, tastier and healthier

10. Buon appetito

Finally enjoy your meal, if you have followed the other tips, be proud of what you have done and enjoy your full of flavour, healthy meal, bite after bite and share it with the people you love, and if you can, if you are not driving and can afford a “siesta”, do like Italians always do, have a glass or two of good Italian wine during their meal

Why a short menu changed daily

I have already written about the food at Ipsum but never about the reason behind our daily changing menu and often we are asked this very question, so here I am explaining it. I have known chefs for years, and spent plenty of time with them and always look at them with admiration, seeing a chef that loves his job, is a not only exciting but  makes you wanting to become one, I even thought about that but then decided to stick with wine, still a lot to learn,  but in all these years I have learned plenty from them, with  the most important lesson for me being “get the best ingredients available and dont mess too much with them”, like one of our guests wrote on his review on tripadvisor, we are followers of Escoffier’s advice: “Surtout, faites simple”. Not only, due to this constant exposure, food for me has become much more than what I eat, it has almost become a religion, an obsession, a way of living.

And when opening Ipsum, I wanted to make my obsession, the Ipsum obsession, we spent days thinking how to achieve it, and for us, the only way was to keep the menu very short and changing it constantly, only then Ipsum would have been able to deliver what we wanted, with no limits or constraints given by a fixed menu. We decided to use the best Italian ingredients and decided to import them directly from Italy, could not find the quality we wanted here, and the best, locally sourced, fish, meat and vegetables.

Our fish is delivered daily, only fresh fish, from a local fishmonger, we don’t know what the fish is until delivered, the meat is from a local farm, only the best meat including our 65 days matured grass fed beef and lamb, and seasonal and fresh vegetables from the local market and then the bit I love the most, that keeps me excited and awake at night, the constant research for special ingredients that make our dishes standing out, cooking is our passion.

We also spent plenty of time looking for similar restaurants, we wanted to know their experiences, learn from their mistakes, but we could not find any place offering such a small menu changed daily, we had to learn the hard way, it took us 6 months for people to start understanding our concept, and now, after 2 years I read of similar places, apparently this is now the new trend in the south of England.

Sorted the ingredients, next on the list were the type of food, but this was the easiest part, we wanted to show a different taking on Italian cuisine, our interpretation of “Surtout, faites simple”. Eating out is a treat, an occasion, I remember when I was a child, the whole family would go out to celebrate, to mark an occasion and as such we were always looking forward to it, so our menu was going to reflect this, keeping in mind our being Italians, we did not want to forget our roots, our cuisine, which in a way was exactly what we were trying to do, a very good olive oil and the best seasonal and fresh ingredients freshly cooked.

The menu needed to be short and without any limitation and so we could not have any fixed ingredients, we wanted to be free to change our menu according to the product availability, we did not want to be forced to offer something that wasn’t at its best, there are factors that neither us or our suppliers can control, so we needed a short menu that could be easily changed. At Ipsum the food is what we are, our stories, our past and hopes for the future, our feelings and emotions, it is never the same, constantly evolving with us.

Eating out is now officially cheaper than eating in.

Yes, eating out is officially cheaper than eating in. It started with the happy hour many years ago, set menu, set price, the new trend is bottomless menu, first only drinks and now food as well, eat and drink as much as possible in the allocated time, is this the future of eating out? 

Eating out has become so cheap that if we were to buy the raw ingredients from our local shop or supermarket it would be more expensive, let alone the time required to cook and wash up, why bother eating in if we can go out, get fed as much as we want, and be back home on time for the movie without fighting for who has to do the washing up.

Currently, more and more restaurants are offering bottomless food and drink sessions, yes, session, like gym sessions, come in, lift as many times as possible your fork and glass, and go home. Eating out is becoming about eating and drinking as much as possible paying the least possible, is not anymore a pleasure, a treat, an occasion, a celebration.

In the past we have accused and still do, big food giants and corporations of serving unhealthy or of unknown origins food, but this latest trend seems to have infected small as well as big, and every new establishment that joins in, add something to the plate making the whole offer more and more unsustainable and unreal. Suddenly we stopped asking ourselves where the food comes from, what meat or fish we are given, we just go because it looks too good to be true, and drinks are included and plenty, doesn’t matter if the following day we wake up with a headache. And our children? They can come as well. I recently heard an advert saying that children can eat with a pound, one pound, but, hold on, they are given a salad with their main course if they want to, to make us feel less guilty because there is one of their 5 a day, and then we can’t believe when we read that  1/3 of children are overweight or obese. 

At Ipsum we care about our food, for us is important not only to offer the best quality available but also to know its provenance, we know the origin of every single item on our menus, it gives us confidence and we think it tastes better, for us food is not just about being fed, it’s about enjoyment, pleasure, laughter, good times and friends or family. We would love to be able to offer happy hour menus or even better, bottomless food, but we would need to go against our principles and, frankly, we don’t want to. We are passionate, we are proud and we love what we do and, we may not be here tomorrow because we don’t join the trend, but at least we have been true to our principles.

Give consumers what they want, including cheap and bad wine

We have just finished revealing the wines behind the numbers of our blind tasting and I am pleased to discover that the winner, according to the experts in the group, is our Chianti, which scored better than the other Chiantis bought from Asda, Lidl, Aldi and B&M.

The idea came following my previous post about Italian wine appellations and a comment mentioning a Chianti from Lidl at £3.99, I offered to host a Chianti blind tasting and the challenge was accepted. Ten people, very different profiles and palates including wine experts, 5 Chianti and a Chianti riserva that we left out the tasting, and opposite results when comparing experts’ and ordinary Joe’s scores.

Whilst I always knew that supermarkets wines were worth the prices they were sold at, and I was certain they would not have scored well, my biggest surprise of all was to discover B&M and taste their Chianti, a hurry up, drink now, I said right now, bargain at £2.99, a once a good Chianti, that has now passed its best and on its way down, but still only visible to an expert palate, and much better than the Chiantis from the other supermarkets.

Until tonight I had no idea of what B&M was and I had never come across a review for any of its wine in a paper or online. Following the tasting I visited their website and could not find the Chianti we tasted but found some of the usual supermarkets suspects, whether it was one off or other “drink me tonight” wines can be found need to be seen.

The other surprise was to find that ordinary Joes’ highest rated wines were the ones scored the least by the experts and the experts’ poorest wines were Aldi and Lidl, £3.99 the first £5.99 the second.

Until the tasting I always blamed supermarkets, even in conversations between professionals, for selling cheap wines or like someone likes to put it, just decent enough, but these, including the Chianti from Asda, were not even decent enough, not worth their prices, when I suddenly realised that the ordinary Joe actually does not like good wine, it is not used to good wine, supermarkets are actually selling cheap and poor wine because is what their customers want, and they know it, they are selling what their customers tell them during their focus groups, and unless we start educating the ordinary Joes, there is no point in blaming supermarkets for supplying cheap and poor wine, once the education process has started, the same supermarkets will be forced to improve the quality of their wines, but until then, supermarkets are simply giving what their customers want and we like it or not, is cheap and poor wine.

The bread and Ipsum Vinoteca

At Ipsum we love food and love working only with the best and freshest ingredients and the bread is no exception.

Being Italian, the next thing after milk is the bread. We start eating bread at a very early age, bread with olive oil, with fresh tomatoes, with an omelette, bread is part of our growing up.

I still remember, like it was yesterday, in the cold wintery nights, after school, running to my grandma’s house only to have a few slices of fire roasted bread with plenty of their “made” extra virgin olive oil and fresh tomatoes. I can still smell the roasted bread in the small kitchen with my grandfather sat on his chair in front of the fire, sipping their own made wine and telling me stories of when he had to emigrate to Argentina just after the war or stories from Second World War and as a kid, this was all I wanted and needed, stories and bread.

The bread we were eating at the time was homemade bread, made by my grandma,  bread that would last a week, 10 days, bread that would not make any mould, for Italians bread is more than just bread, like wine is more than just the alcoholic drink, they are family, sharing, friends, home. 

I recently read that Mirko Romito, a three Michelin Star chef, has decided not only to start making bread like my grandma used to, but make a course out of it in its tasting menu. Mirko started working with a bakery like we do and is now making his own bread, lets hope we can follow his steps, he is from the same region I come from, maybe it’s in the genes.

Since we opened we have been looking for an artisan bakery that would make the bread that reminded me of my grandma’ bread, we did our research, created our recipes, we knew what we wanted, we approached all local bakeries to see if they wanted to work with us but were not interested, the bread we wanted is 48 hour fermented, because it is lighter, easy to digest and taste better. We started looking further afield, and then further, until we got to London, where we found an artisan bakery that makes the bread we want how we want it.

Our bread comes every week from London, to make proper bread a proper bakery is necessary and we dont have the equipment yet, we dont like to compromise, we dont want to offer supermarket’s bread or make ours quickly, if not fermented long enough, the bread is heavy, not easy to digest, we want to offer only the best, and that includes bread as well, even our gluten free bread is artisan made and taste different

Getting our bread from London is costly and I hope one day to work with a local bakery if we can’t make ours, but if you thought even for one minute that all breads were the same, think again, and come to taste ours.

Wine appellations, are really nonsense?

Are wine appellations really nonsense? Are appellations the reason why Lidl sells Chianti at £3.99? Will it make any difference if instead of the “appellation” the label will have the grape? Does the problem lie somewhere else? Is the amount, as quantity, of wine produced to be blamed? I had already touched the subject in several of my posts and always said I would have written a proper one but never got round to it until now. A couple of days ago, I found on my profile facebook a post from Robert Joseph about appellations entitled “The nonsense of appellations. Smartly labeled DOCG Chianti at £3.99 in Lidl” in which he blames the concept of appellations, the whole discussions that generated from it is only visible to us, however, it made me sitting on my computer and write my thoughts on it.

I could not agree more than creating a new appellation now, it is useless and expensive and the same resources could be more profitably invested in promoting the wines and the wineries involved and when it happens I always share my opinion, however, appellations that are already amongst us and we are familiar with, for me are brands, like Coke or Nike, and can be powerful brands if administered as such but like all brands, their value dilutes if not.

Until 20 years ago wine was either an Italian or a French affair, with Spain taking a bite, but now, wine is a worldwide business and while the new worlds does not have the traditions Italian and French and Spanish have, where wine is much more than just a products, these countries have transformed wine into a commodity. Merlot, Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc are just like commodities and people buy commodities based on their price, the cheaper the better, there is no substantial difference between wineries that justify a premium, with a very few exception, and price is the only benchmark.

The classic example is chardonnay, until 6 or 7 years the most drunk white wine in the uk, due to the over oaking of some supermarket wine used to cover poor quality grapes, ageing or oaking is a good way of doing so, is currently the least favourite wine with many people just steering off the grape all together. The same people that used to love Chardonnay, now drink cheap Pinot Grigio because contrary to chardonnay, when drunk at 4 degrees like the majority of drinkers like it, has no flavour, it is just like cold water, they have substitute one commodity with another.

Why did I start here? I started here because Italy or France or Spain or any other country that has appellations has something that no other country has and for me this is a brand, it is up to them to make it a highly profitable one or misuse and damage it. A classic example, and the same wine used by Robert, is the Chianti. Chianti is a fantastic wine when properly made, however, for the wine drinker on the street, is the cheap wine that comes in a flask. Is this the fault of the appellation or the wine makers that did not understand that needed to move away from the flask and start presenting the Chianti like a proper wine? There was a time for the flask, but that time is now long gone. When I say wine makers I don’t mean just wine makers, but also the organizations that should support them which Italy is full. Why the Chianti consortium has not created a rule preventing winemakers to use the flask? When visiting Florence or Tuscany in general, shops still sell plenty of flasks with cheap Chianti on it for the tourists to buy that if drunk once at home, taste of vinegar. If the consortium allows this to happen, then they cannot expect that the same tourist at home will spend its hard earned money to buy a bottle of vinegar. In Florence they bought the souvenir not the wine.

Italy is full of appellations, way too many, probably some of them could be written off and are worthless, but appellations like Chianti or Barolo or Brunello di Montalcino and many more are priceless, no other country can produce a Chianti or a Barolo or a Brunello di Montalcino, they can all make a Sangiovese or Nebbiolo, however their brand has been diluted by short sighting and it is wrong to just blame the producers, most of them have never heard of marketing or branding and only know how to make wine, they been making it all their life and too often think their wines are the best in world.
Italian wine industry is made by mainly small producers, the majority of which, do not have the knowledge and resources to create a brand. In today world, to create a brand, does not matter what your product is, first requirement is big financial resources and long term planning, and Italian winemakers due to the lack of marketing skills and the necessity to make space in the tanks for the next vintage, never thought of their appellation or their winery as a brand, but just as a business making and selling wine, and unfortunately, the world is full of companies ready to exploit it.

When appellations were created, together with the consortiums to run them, their intentions was to guarantee the quality of the wine, but it never worked, the legislation behind them has never updated to include the changes in the industry and there are too many contrasting parties, wineries pro as well as against the flask, all sat on the same table and consortiums are not run properly, often without the right skills with the only results of not being able to take decisions.

Appellation are brands, but a brand is only worth something when it justify a premium on the eyes of the consumers, otherwise is worthless, currently Italian appellations are worth little and until a change in the way the consortiums are run and a change in the way the different appellations are granted, nothing will ever change and gradually Italian appellations will be worth less and less and the chianti or the pinot grigio or the prosecco will become cheaper and cheaper until will disappear all together but the problem are not the appellations but the people behind them.