“ Address: 8 Third Avenue / Hove BN3 2PX / England / Telephone: 01273 778 558 „
Reviewers Update March 2009
Before you read this review and get over-excited I have to impart the sad news that Leone's is now closed. It's sad but true!
"Dolce Vita in the Heart of Hove." This apparently is the " better known " title for "Leone Ristoranti Italiano and Oyster Bar". How and why it came by this alternative name is unclear but certainly dining there could be said to be one of life's sweeter experiences! As you enter, it's like stepping back to a more elegant age. It is not so grand that you feel uncomfortable but it has a stylish aura quite different from the usual Ristoranti you can find on any high street. But you would expect this in a building which started life as a luxury Victorian villa and which is now part of the three star Langford's Hotel, although under private management. With its highly polished wooden floor and furniture, high ceilings, ornate cornices, marble pillars, rich drapes, classical ceiling fresco, plethora of dark green foliage and ranks of tables (some 100 covers), all laid up with crisp primrose yellow and white table linen, it's a setting seemingly more suited to afternoon tea dances to the strains of a palm court orchestras than to the excellent Italian cuisine on offer.
I first came across Leone's when I was searching for a venue for a dinner party for fifteen to celebrate my parents' Diamond Wedding Anniversary on Boxing Day last year. I was determined to find somewhere a little more special than the host of brasseries, tapas bars, pizza & pasta "palaces" and other various traditional and "ethnic" eating establishments by which I am surrounded in this part of Hove and had set my heart on a plush hotel environment. However I could not find one which was open to non residents on Boxing Day evening apart from the Grand where a buffet and Jazz band were on offer at £150 per head! Leone's seemed the best option and came highly recommended by a contact ( friend of a friend!) at Langford's Hotel. As it was such a busy time of year and I was feeling a little desperate, I rang up and booked it " blind". I knew Langford's was a comfortable venue as I had attended a civil partnership ceremony there earlier in the year but was still a little uneasy about my choice and just had to hope that this unknown establishment would provide that X factor I so wanted for what was, after all, a very special occasion.
I needn't have worried! As my Mum and Dad insisted on paying, I was concerned that there would be a ceiling on the price and equally concerned that guests would not feel obliged to chose the cheapest options. I, rather cheekily, asked Marcello, the owner manager, if he would agree a fixed price menu, and he was happy to oblige and let me chose a selection of dishes from the menu ( 4 starters, 3 main courses and any of the sweets of the day) without even wincing at my choices, although some were far from the cheapest options! I won't reveal the menu because I think Marcello's profit margins for that evening would have been pretty slim and I would hate any wag to quote our deal to him as a precedent . Suffice it to say we had a wonderful three course meal for £20 a head. The service provided by Marcello and a waitress was friendly and efficient but not intrusive and we got everything that was promised and even some festive crackers thrown in. All the guests were really impressed by the quality of the food and, as most of them regularly dine out in Brighton and Hove, they are in a good position to judge the relative merits of eating establishments! The two friends whose civil partnership I mentioned earlier left determined to book their first anniversary celebration there.
I returned with a friend last week to sample their luncheon menu. It's limited to a choice of three starters and three main courses but extra vegetarian dishes are available on request. Between us, we sampled four of the options. My companion opted for the Zuppa del Giorno (soup of the day - Minestrone) and Linguine Puttanesca ( linguine in capers, olives and tomato sauce). My choice was Formaggi Fritti ( deep fried brie served with cranberry sauce) and Pollo al Pesto (Chicken breast in pesto sauce) which was served with sauté potatoes carrots and broccoli. The other options were a prawn and crab salad starter and red mullet fillets in saffron sauce. As before, Marcello served us quickly and efficiently ( always there when we needed to catch his eye but never appearing to hover!) and we did not feel hurried or hassled! It was a Friday lunchtime. There were very few customers and it should have been quiet because no background music is piped at Leone's but four Hove ladies of quite advanced years and obviously ex-colonial stock kept us amused with their very audible conversation even though our table was a good ten yards away from theirs! Their talk of postings in far flung corners of the Empire, hotels in Kenya, the parks of Hiroshima, their cooks in Africa and ayas in India might have annoyed some but amused us because one expects to experience such Hove stereotypes but, in fact, rarely encounters them. The only thing they lacked was the blue rinses on their immaculately coiffeured tresses! I mention it only because such " ladies who dine" will always seek out the best venues and they were obviously quite at home at Leone's! Our verdict: not only was the food excellent but also great value for money. At £8.95 per head ( which includes a glass of wine) the bill worked out cheaper than at the brasserie we usually frequent which really cannot claim such an luxuriant ambience, where the food choices, although acceptable, are obviously bought in from frozen food suppliers and quantity is ranked above quality!
Leone's full menu is extensive, interesting and quite exotic with unusual options and ingredient combinations I have not discovered elsewhere . Apparently all dishes have been created by the head chef who is Marcello's business partner. They pride themselves on their "hand made pasta, home made desserts, fresh meat, fish and vegetables" and you won't find a solitary pizza on their restaurant menu although I see they do feature on their new more down market takeaway menu! It's not the cheapest of restaurants but it's reasonably priced for a more unusual dining experience. The website http://leonebrighton.com/index.html. gives full details of their starter and main course options. (Don't be misled, the efficiency of their restaurant service far exceeds that of their speed in updating the website which still (in February ) includes their Christmas and New Year menus!) Just to give a flavour of what is on offer, I have added a selection from the menu at the end of the review but, in brief, "Le Carni" on offer includes steak, chicken, parma ham, lamb and veal whilst "Il Pesce" choices include prawns, lobster, tuna, sword fish, sea bass and salmon. The pasta menu contains no mention of bolognese or carbonara but includes various preparations involving tagliatelle, linguine, ravioli, gnocci and risotti.The choice of sweets is not included on the website but these seem to change on a daily basis and I have known them to include the usual suspects - tiramisu, profiteroles, icecream - and a more unusual "cheesecake" with sponge layers and raspberry coulis Where Leone's really scores is on presentation. This could be said to be after the style of nouvelle cuisine, with garnishes and delicately trailed sauces, but it is not so elaborate as to make the diner uncomfortable or reluctant to disturb the chef's creation or offered in such paltry portions that one can feast one's eyes but fail to satisfy one's appetite! Meals at Leone's simply come complete with that decorative edge which makes the generous servings look that much more appetising.
I have not yet experienced all the delights Leone's boasts. There is an Oyster Bar where a separate menu is available. My only experience of the bar is that it appears to be well stocked and serves a decent glass of house wine. ( In fact I have not been offered a wine list at Leone's but I assume one is available.). Here you can order a number of seafood dishes apart from the oysters which come with a choice of sauces and accompaniments: six for £8.95, 12 for £15.95. As I write on 14th February , I am compelled to observe that this has to be a good option for Valentines. Oysters in the bar followed by a main course and sweet in the more subdued lighting of the main restaurant would be quite a romantic proposition even to an old, hardened cynic like me! According to the website there is also a " secret garden" presumably to the rear of the restaurant. If this is anything like the pleasant hotel gardens next door, which I have experienced, it will make a great summer venue for dining alfresco. The wide terrace to the front of the property would certainly be pleasant on a warm evening but in these winter months the chairs and tables are just there to accommodate those nipping out to smoke. Even if it's chilly, it's far more pleasant than wandering on the pavement whilst inhaling nicotine relief! The last untested "delight" is live entertainment on a Saturday night but another reviewer writes that the resident lady singer is " very good" but not so loud that you can't have a conversation when she is performing!
In the interests of balance I must confess that not all seem to share my enthusiasm for Leone's. The friend who accompanied me for lunch was impressed but initially aghast that I should have chosen this location as she had an "unfortunate and unhappy" experience there some years ago ( she did not go into details!). However I managed to ascertain from locals ( I have only lived in the area for 20 years and so do not qualify as such!) that Leone's, in its present incarnation, only opened in October 2007, having been closed for three years. On a local "eating" website, another anonymous reviewer criticises the slowness of the service and holds that "the food wasn't that brilliant -everything seemed to be covered in a thick sauce - which is always a bit suspicious". However this diner was one of a party of 40 so maybe this stretched the staff a little or he timed his visit on a bad day.
Two other reviews on the same site are far more complimentary which makes me feel that my positive assessment is vindicated but I also have some reservations. Firstly Leone's does not appear to cater for the family market especially those with younger children. I saw no evidence of high chairs or booster seats, no childrens' menu appears to be on offer and the ordinary menu does not contain many meals which I feel would tempt younger palates. Certainly I would feel very uncomfortable if accompanied by young children, unsure they would find the food inviting and fearful of mishaps caused by the tugging of the pristine tablecloths and unmonitored arms sending the tall glasses flying! This is not necessarily a criticism because I am sure, many, like me, would welcome the absence of babies and tots. I am not averse to the company of kids. I can coo at them with the best of them and smile indulgently at their more unruly behaviour. But there's a time and a place! Plenty of other establishments welcome youngsters and now and again it's a pleasant change to visit a venue where you are more likely to enjoy a peaceful and sophisticated dining experience.
However I am more critical about other factors. The first is the lack of vegetarian alternatives on the menu. I am a carnivore but I have non fish-eating, veggie friends and I would definitely avoid inviting them for an evening at Leone's. The second concerns the apparent difficulties of access and lack of facilities for the disabled. Although the premises are at ground floor level, there are several steps up to the terraced entrance and no ramp. In addition, the only toilets I was directed to were down a flight of narrow and twisting stairs and far too narrow to accommodate a wheelchair. It's quite possible that a disabled loo is available for use in the connecting hotel premises but there is no mention of any accessibility options on either of the websites.
Reservations aside, Leone's is still a little gem in many respects! Part of its beauty is that, although it's situated in central Hove, it is unlikely to attract hordes of tourists spilling over the Brighton border and stumbling on it by accident, because it's off the main thoroughfare (Church Road) where the majority of the eating establishments are found, on one of Hove's grand Victorian streets, imaginatively entitled Third Avenue. This runs from Church Road, very near Hove Town Hall, to the seafront. Leone's (No 8) is on the West side and is clearly identifiable by the deep blue canopy (illuminated at night) on the front terrace, through which you walk to the entrance. There is no on-site parking but the avenue is wide enough to pick up and drop off passengers without holding up the traffic. Parking provisions in Hove tend to change quite regularly but at present, whilst pavement side parking is restricted to residents, meter parking is available in the centre of the Avenue. There is a municipal ( low rise!) multi-storey car park about five minutes walk away, near Hove Town Hall. But I am lucky because, weather permitting, I just stroll half a mile along the seafront, a pleasant constitutional to aid the digestion, and I am home!
Leone's publicity boasts that it " exhudes sheer sophistication and pure indulgence, in an ambience that oozes style unsurpassed." I wouldn't go that far but I would definitely recommend it to non vegetarians with average mobility, as a comfortable impressive venue with character, offering friendly, efficient but unobtrusive service, a menu with more unusual options and well cooked, tastefully presented dishes at reasonable prices. I will definitely return as often as I can justify the expense!
**Starters** prices £4.50-£9.50
Carpaccio di Manzo (beef capriccio with parmesan shavings and horseradish dressing)
Gamberoni Esotici (pan fried prawns in mango sauce)
Fritto Misto (deep fried baby squid, whitebait and king prawns with tartare sauce)
Fegatini del Colosseo (pan fried chicken liver with pancetta and brandy)
**Meat and fish courses**prices £12.95-£18.95
Filetto alla Leone (fillet steak on red onion marmalade)
Pollo al Grappa (chicken breast in grappa sauce)
Agnello alla Aniello (grilled rack of lamb with garlic & rosemary sauce)
Mille Foglie di Pesce Spada (slices of swordfish staked with carrots and courgettes)
Branzino Pilato (pan fried sea bass on a bed of spinach & lobster)
** Pasta dishes ** prices £8.50-£12.95
Tagliatelle all'Aragosta (with half lobster)
Ravioli al Granchio (crab & ginger ravioli in tomato and basil vinagrette)
Gnocchi ai Funghi e con Formaggio (potatoes dumplings with dolce latté and porcini mushroom sauce)
Leone Ristoranti Italiano and Oyster Bar
8 Third Avenue
Telephone: 01273 778588
email : email@example.com