Strano: Madcap Italian Pop Up In North Leeds

‘Strano’ is the Italian word for ‘strange’, and this pop up restaurant has certainly earned its moniker. Having now attended three different Strano events, I can attest that they’ve been increasingly weird (and wonderful) visual and culinary experiences.

For our first foray into Strano we came a bit late to the party, booking in for its second incarnation which was held above the ’Jam’ hair studio in Headingley, Leeds. The vestiges of a former bike shop and vintage brick-a-brac store had been transformed into a funky little vintage styled bar with leather armchairs and a suitcase full of vinyl records to take for a spin. Upstairs in the eaves of the building the space had been kitted out with a full kitchen (installed only the day before) and a simple and cosy restuarant area for the lucky 50 or so patrons with mismatched vintage chairs, exposed brick and some carefully positioned copper studio style lighting.  Our hosts were Italian by heritage but Yorkshire in accent and they were enthusiastic champions for unique and high quality food and drink with a flair for the theatrical.

When the first course came out on a giant ceramic hand, featuring salad in a shot glass and crostini with chicken skin as a base instead of bread (amongst other delicious bites), we knew we were in for a wild ride. The exquisite cooking didn’t let up over all seven courses. We had black pizza, crab spaghetti served with a teapot of broth and a tiramisu inspired desert which you compiled yourself.

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We were so bowled over by our first experience, that we dragged out friends Paul and Katie along to the next excursion into Strano strangeness. They probably wondered what on earth they were letting themselves in for as we started to hear twitter rumours of blue surgical gloves and bibs being required. On arrival we were introduced to a short film clip from an old Italian comedy which involved mass spaghetti eating. This had apparently inspired the chef to let us get up close and personal with the food by offering a starter of spaghetti with no cutlery. Later course involved miraculous things with bone marrow and an Elvis inspired dessert was a calorie laden feast in homage to the peanut butter and jam deep fried sandwiches.

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The seven deadly sins night was scheduled for Valentine’s weekend and we signed on for all seven courses (committing sin #2 from the get go). The location had switched up to a little room above Salvo’s restaurant in Headingley (where the guys who run Strano are based), but the décor didn’t disappoint. From the ceiling hung a giant bird with a disco ball in its beak, a vintage vesper was perched up on a shelf, and the long bar became a performance space for the chef to venture out of the kitchen and flambé prawns to an audience.

The weirdness ratcheted up a notch (all credit to the twisted imagination of the chefs) with one course involving a coin toss with the loser getting a duck in dirty bathwater (consommé, orange and vodka – cue battle between brain and tongue the former insisting you shouldn’t like it, the latter seduced by the wrongness of it all). There were chips dusted in ‘crack’ (dehydrated big mac powder – I kid you not) and courses served in Heinz spaghetti tins.  We were stunned, full and very very happy.

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Sadly we’ve had to miss the last two sessions; one which reportedly contained an elephant in the room (?!) and the other inspired by the Grand Depart, but we are keeping our eyes peeled via facebook and twitter  for the round of strangeness to be announced….

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