Leeds Leads: Pop-up review – Jono Hawthorne at Aperitivo

In which Zoë Perrett eats the entire menu at a residency from one of Leeds’ best chefs. Spoiler alert: he absolutely smashed it

Chef Jono Hawthorne heads up the kitchen of Feed, an excellently-reputed neighbourhood restaurant in whose insta-feed we’ve been drooling over for months.

We’ve never been though, because it seems that moving to the suburbs last year made us fall victim to that mentality whereby any neighbourhood that takes more than five-minutes in an uber to reach is far too distant from one’s own. From our house in Kirkstall, Pudsey is practically a foreign land.

We are, of course, fools – especially because we’re in the industry and should really be bounding across rivers and mountains in search of superior scran.

But then Jono goes and does us a right favour, announcing a three-night residency at Aperitivo, which despite being practically at the end of our own street we still haven’t been to either. When that realisation dawns on me, I really do have to question my life choices.

Anyway, the past is the past. In the present, we arrive at Apertivo with two small, ravenous children. As they bicker over olives and suck down pineapple mocktails, we dive straight into a textbook dry martini and a light white negroni, gaining ourselves a few more suburban points as we discuss how well the restaurant’s turquoise and bronze wallpaper would work in our spare room.

As you may have guessed from the name, Aperitivo is the Italian offspring in the stable of Vice Group – the company also behind Feed. Jono’s pop-up menu stays with the theme and reads as a list of non-stop bangers; nicely concise enough that we can try it all.

We collectively fall upon a tangled mound of parmesan churros like vultures. With crisp exteriors, creamy interiors and a savoury flavour that’s further enhanced by an avalanche of grated parmesan, they’re one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth for ages.

Pizza-like wild garlic flatbreads feature the foraged herb both blended with butter and pulverised into a pungent, verdant pesto, and a pre-bake dusting of semolina has rendered the bases extra crunchy. These things are good enough to grace the tables of Black Axe Mangal – that’s high praise indeed, and if you don’t already know, I suggest you google it and plan a pilgrimage.

Jono’s known for his cheeseburger spring rolls, and recently posted a picture of a fancied-up plate of potato smiles his girlfriend reckoned looked like something he’d come up with, so I know he’ll take the likening of the ox heart pepperoni to spicy Peperami as the compliment as which it’s intended. Unlike those lunchbox snacks, though, this stuff is soft enough to almost make me reach for the phrase ‘melt in the mouth’ – except if I did, I’d have to immediately retire from writing about food.

So that’s the snacks; so good, we’ve made the rookie error of going to hard before a single main course hits the pass. Across the table, LB lets his belt out a notch and we lock eyes and nod: we’ve got this.

Featuring LB’s all-time favourite combo of fennel and chilli, Jono’s smoked sausage rigatoni is right up his street. With a sweet, almost-fruity smoky flavour, not only is it delicious – it’s also sufficiently spicy to deter greedy children from making his tea their own. Now that’s a winner dinner.

Cacio e pepe is a dressing most commonly seen cloaking long strands of pasta like spaghetti, tonnarelli or bucatini, but here Jono’s teamed the sauce with gnocchi; the diminutive potato dumplings proving themselves excellent vehicles for the pecorino and black pepper sauce whose simple ingredients belie its rich, beguiling flavour.

The kids, meanwhile, are tucking in with just as much gusto as we are; one to a mammoth slab of ‘Jono’s Mum’s lasagne’, the other to lamb rump and the piquant hotchpotch of olives, pickled cabbage and pearl onions on which it sits.

It’s not often that side dishes are worthy of note, but here we’re absolutely enamoured with some crispy purple-spouting broccoli that’s been deep-fried, dressed with anchovies and almonds, and plonked on a puddle of bearnaise. Deep frying broccoli – who knew that was A Thing? Well it is, and now it’s going to be a regular Thing in our household.

Pudding is a very stupid idea, but we have it anyway because a) we have to check the standards stay high and b) we want it. A scoop of pistachio ice cream brings a nu-skool twist to a slab of ‘old school treacle tart’, while Jono’s take on tiramisu is best described as a massive cloud of joy studded with boudoir biscuits and hiding a heart of dulce de leche.

Life might be a rollercoaster but meals usually are, too; featuring plenty of highs and lows and occasionally leaving you feeling a bit sick. By contrast, this one’s been pretty near-flawless end to end. It might have taken us ages to get round to getting ourselves fed at Feed, but we’re already making a date.

That’s right Jono, we’re getting our passports out and coming to Pudsey.


Aperitivo, 293 Spen Lane, Leeds LS16 5BD
To visit the website, click here

Follow @chef_jono_ on Instagram

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