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Leoni's - Dining at 10:30pm always

Jonathan Schofield tunnels back in time at Leonis and likes it

Written by . Published on May 14th 2007.

Leoni's - Dining at 10:30pm always

Leonis should be listed. It’s an intact example of an ex-pat Italian restaurant from the 1970s and 1980s.

There’s the obligatory bar in the form of a Tuscan outhouse complete with tiled roof, a crazy collection of prints and terracotta bits and bobs. The only items missing are bottles covered in melted candle wax: the only thing out of place is the screen playing Latin American MTV.

The latter indicates the change that has been taking place in Leonis. The ownership changed not so long ago from Italian to Chilean and it’s beginning to show, but so far only with the TV choice and some items on the menu.

I swear that the Southern US expression of ‘chicken-shit’ didn’t start as a term of abuse simply as a statement of fact

It’ll certainly remain recognisable to people who’ve been eating in Manchester for years. I have a friend who used to come here when Leonis, in a very restricted Manchester scene, used to be a place of choice for wining and dining significant others. She then used to go onto somewhere called Drummonds on Peter Street.

Never heard of Drummonds, but Leonis is a survivor. Part of the attraction must have been the secretive basement location. It’s still moody in a kitsch way, perhaps with the ghosts of all those liaisons. This is given edge by the underground location which always makes it feel 10.30pm, even though it might be 1pm outside. Almost last dance time – the moment of seduction - back in the eighties.

You choose food from the specials board or à la carte. We combined the two, sharing the Moules Muniere (sic) for £5.95, aka moules mariniere, and as good as what you’d get in most cafés in Brittany for the same price.

Off the à la carte my dining partner had the Salmon Riviera (£9.95) which came with prawns, tomato, white wine, garlic, cream and a pleasingly silly name.
“How is it?” I asked.
My dining partner surveyed, munched and swallowed.
“It’s loose,” she declared.
“Morally?” I enquired, enjoying the idea of an ethically slack salmon.

“No,” she said, “of course not. It’s loose in texture, too creamy and fluid. I don’t mind it though: it’s worth the £10, more or less.”

Looking at it I wasn’t convinced. Not that I cared too much because my food looked very good. And it tasted better.

Its title, Chicken skewers, lacked elegance but it was big in scale and relatively modest in price at £8.95. It came with saffron rice, a crisp salad gently doused in oil and a coriander and chilli dip which carried subtlety and punch. For lunch you really wouldn’t need much else.

The dish had been recommended by the charming waiter otherwise I wouldn’t have touched it. The word chicken generally depresses me.Chicken usually means dreary, crappy, foul fowl that has been reduced to hormone-laden cotton wool in battery sheds. I swear that the Southern USA expression of ‘chicken-shit’ didn’t start as a term of abuse simply as statement of fact. The other poor relation of the meat world is said to be pork in which case cover me in scratchings please and call me Perky. Maybe not Pinky.

But every now and then a chicken clucks into view which can be adored. This is because either it’s been lovingly raised on a one to one basis by tuned-in farmers with flowers in their hair who’ve given it the right to roam and fed it corn so they can sell each beast for £1000: or because it’s been prepared beautifully in a clever kitchen

Leonis skewered beasts fall into the latter category, cooked just so, tender but still full of texture, with a subtle oregano and lemon marinade grilled into them. Together with the coriander dip they make a good team. The chicken dish showed the Latin American influence. Leonis should keep reinforcing these as they develop the menu.

The big let down was the pudding which was called Cassata Siciliene (£5.95), and was bought in and had the consistency of one of the exposed bricks on the nearby wall.

The house white was a sallow little number too but the espressos were fine. Then it was time to leave. After all it was 10.30pm and we’d only come for a quick lunch. Fortunately it was only 2pm in the real world.

Leonis isn’t glamorous anymore – it’s a surprise it ever was - but it’s fun in an odd little way. It will never be a destination but if you feel like you want to dress up in Slade/Pan’s People outfits and take a significant other then it might be worth dropping in?

At least it seems to come from the heart. And in that, if nothing else, it pesses all over places like Pisto – to go all Reverend Spooner on you.

Manchester Confidential pays for its own reviews.

Rating: 14.5/20
Breakdown: 6.5/10 Food
5/5 Service
3/5 Ambience
Address: Leonis
55 Bow Lane, Off Cross Street
0161 835 1254

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8 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

GeorgeMay 14th 2007.

Old school, basement fun - you can't beat it. Leonis rocks in a retro fest way.

AnonymousMay 14th 2007.

Hmm... do these people by any chance work for Leonis?

Jonathan - EditorMay 14th 2007.

Joan, you can only review what you receive. The attracion of Leonis is that it is quirky and old school, but as I said, it's never in a million years a destination place. For the Tempest try Luso on Bridge Street, Sam's on Chapel Walks, San Carlo on King Street West, or for casual dining Grinch on Chapel Walks.

JoanMay 14th 2007.

Really surprised at your glowing Leoni’s review Jonathan. I was there a few weeks ago for pre-theatre dinner in a party of ten. In an empty early evening restaurant we were placed in a corner table where I had a wonderful view of the fluorescent tube in the chiller and an earful of unbelievably dull Latin music. Three times I asked for the speaker to be turned down, three times it was turned down, and three times it managed to crank itself up again. My starter, Tonno e Fagioli, was a flavourless combination of that soggy watery sort of tuna you get in the cheap tins and overcooked beans. I think I had the ‘Drunken Chicken’ for the main course, but it wasn’t memorable. Everyone else enjoyed their food so perhaps it was just as well that it was me who checked the bill as we rushed to get to the theatre on time. £58.50 seemed excessive for 3 sparkling waters. I’ve never seen the inaccuracy of a restaurant bill admitted so quickly, saving us £5.00 per head. It turned out well though as it put me in just the right mood to appreciate the vitriolic dialogue of ‘Virginia Wolf’ at the Royal Exchange, and nine people each feel they owe me a drink. Does anyone have any suggestions for our pre-theatre dinner for ‘The Tempest’?

SimonMay 14th 2007.

Loved the place took the family for a bithday treat excellent food and good value for money

EmMay 14th 2007.

Leonis is my favourite restaurant in Manchester.A lovely intimate romantic feeling - the perfect place to dine with your favourite person 0)

camavaMay 14th 2007.

food bland, inexperienced and unfriendly staff, over priced and wine that tasted as if it had been nade in someone back yard.Wont be back

JamesMay 14th 2007.

I've never been in Leoni's cause it looks so random from the outside. What a fool I was though eh, definitely going to try it out next time I'm out for a random meal in town.

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