Ambiente

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Another new opening in Leeds, this time a tapas-style bar/restaurant situated in the Calls part of the city. Housed in the building that was previously River Plate, the owners of Ambiente have titivated the previously quite tired restaurant, put up a few Spanish posters and hey presto, we have a tapas joint that to be fair, does looks the part.

With a sister restaurant in nearby York, Ambiente comes highly recommended by the usually reliable Trip Advisor and as it’s been open a few weeks we thought we’d try it out for a light midweek dinner.

We booked a table only to be confronted by a quite empty restaurant at 7.15, but people came in dribs and drabs after then until it was about half full. Leeds already has some perfectly acceptable tapas places already – Sandinista, La Tasca, Azucar, Dos Amigos and Viva Cuba who, in their own way, are all good enough for our needs. So any new place has to be delivering over and above what we have already to stand any chance.

And does Ambiente do this? Sadly no. The menu reads like a beginner’s guide to Tapas and when we order the prerequisite Pimiento de Padron whilst we perused the menu, what arrived definitely weren’t the peppers in question, although our waitress insisted they were. Not wanting to get pedantic about padrons we left it. Not a good start then.

We ordered a wide selection of dishes, which were all reasonably priced for the Leeds market (i.e. not cheap) and they came as they were being cooked in true tapas style and looking back on it, there weren’t bad per se, they were just all right. There was some weird thai flavours happening in the prawns and the baked egg pot and aubergine with fennel were declared winners. Everything else was by the numbers tapas which is easily surpassed by the large chain La Tasca which says something (and they have proper Padron peppers too).

Service was not particularly good either with our waitress struggling to open a bottle of wine, insisting Padrons were flat and red and putting my coat on the coat hooks where she said ‘the restaurant cannot be responsible if anything happens to it’ and then leaving it there.

These are all small things but they make a difference. Whilst it’s early days and the food probably deserves another chance, I’m not sure we’ll be rushing back anytime soon. They have to up their game if they want to survive – currently at least four other tapas bars/restaurants are ahead of them in Leeds and we know it’s survival of the fittest out there.

Footnote: We left with that unsatisfactory tapas feeling – we’d not actually had any proper cured meat (the meats on the menu in Ambiente did not light our fire) and headed out to the superb Friends of Ham, where that was sorted out sharpish as the photograph below testifies.

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Barrafina

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If you are a regular viewer of this site you will notice that I have recently been going down to London quite regularly and the posts reflect that. However it was not until last Wednesday that I managed to get to my favourite Tapas actually perhaps my current favourite restaurant, Barrafina on Frith Street in the heart of Soho. Yes you have to queue (1 hour) along the side as you can’t book but the buzz and anticipation is worth it, particularly as the obligatory Gitana with Padron peppers keeps you going. I am not going to eulogise about the dishes AGAIN, specials menu and a selection dishes are pictured below, traditional meats etc are of the very highest calibre.

YOU MUST GO!

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La Tasca

Hot on the heels of our delicious week in Tenerife we were invited to try the new winter menu at La Tasca in Leeds. Unfortunately we were unable to attend the paella masterclass with the Group’s head chef (they are part of a rather large chain) up from London. We were subsequently invited to come and try the menu on a normal evening. We’d never been to La Tasca before so we took up the offer with no preconceptions.

First impressions of La Tasca are good – light, bright, modern interiors very much like the sort of contemporary place you might find in Valencia or Madrid. Midweek was fairly quiet and it’s location is certainly a very competitive one – Greek Street is wall to wall restaurants, most of them chain operations.

To start we shared a plate of cured meats with manchego, bread and olives. All very good I have to say with bread nice and fresh. We then ordered from the new menu a range of tapas dishes – pigs cheek, padron peppers (our favourite of course), pork and chicken meatballs and a chicken & chorizo affair. Feeling greedy we also ordered a seafood paella which we were assured wouldn’t be too much food – I always over order with tapas.

Service was quick and attentive but then they did know I was a blogger which I always think makes a difference. All the food came at the same time which worked OK, but we did say that we’d be happy to have Tapas then paella, but no drama. I do like how in Spain all the dishes come out randomly spaced out time wise depending on how bothered the chef is! We’re a bit too wedded to our three courses in this country for my taste, but hey.

Successes were: pig cheek (tender and sweet) padron peppers (although under seasoned) and the seafood paella. The other dishes were a little bland for me and I wasn’t expecting the paella to be close the standard of the one recently in Masia del Mar in Tenerife, but it was pretty good actually – although the shellfish on top were dried out by the heat.

We came away thinking we would definitely return to La Tasca, particularly on a weekend lunchtime where we thought it perfect for a lazy lunch and few glasses of wine. It brings me back to the old debate about chains versus independents again but my view has always been that if a chain restaurant is doing a good job and filling a gap in the market then it will succeed. And I do think that La Tasca is doing that very well indeed. Although city centre mid-range restaurant competition is fierce, there is very little ‘Spanish’ competition in the city (other than South American Tapas places like Viva Cuba), it will continue to flourish under its new brand and revived menu.

La Tasca is a bright, breezy and unpretentious city centre restaurant perfect for everything from a tricky first date or office leaving do. It has the backing of a chain to get the ingredients and service right and although the food isn’t the best in Leeds, it’s of a high standard and certainly caters for a certain crowd that will keep coming back for more on this evidence.

 

 

Portuguese holiday diary

We had a lunch stop in Tavira a few years ago when we were on our way to El Bulli, Hotel Benazuza and found the little harbour town quaint enough to say we would come back for longer. Well we eventually got around to it and booked a week at The Hotel Pousada an old converted monastery. D found the place on the Internet and the pics looked nice but the reviews for a higher end hotel were mixed. I must admit that having stayed in old conversions before I was a little apprehensive, anyway there was absolutely no need as the place was fantastic! A sanctuary has been created that is characterful but with a contemporary finish. The service from the staff is excellent.
We were at Leeds/Bradford airport for 6 am and didn’t bother with breakfast so as soon as we had unpacked we headed into the town for lunch. There are a number of waterside cafes and we just picked one that looked friendly, Saveur – Sabor. D opted for the king prawns in garlic and butter and I went for “the road” a selection of 5 tapas which were meatballs, chicken wings, chorizo, octopus and a tuna/potato salad. A couple of small carafes of local rose to wash it idown sitting under a parasol in the lovely heat and voila we were on holiday finishing off with a perfect cafe gourmand.
After the obligatory read on a sunbed and a few dips in the pool followed by a nap we were ready to try the hotel restaurant.
The whole place is on the quiet side as everyone seems to whisper, perhaps the monks are still in charge. We asked to be seated in the open roofed courtyard which is very atmospheric, we watched the sky get darker and waited for the stars to come out.
I ordered a curried octopus starter dish and D went for the goats cheese starter. The octopus was very mildly flavoured and very good but they served rice on the side which in my opinion wasn’t necessary. For mains D ordered the lamb and I decided on confit of cod. D’s lamb came with Mediterranean vegetables and sliced crispy potatoes everything was presented superbly and was superbly cooked but there was enough lamb to feed two hungry blokes. My confit of cod was truly sublime, served on asparagus spears acting as a rack on top of a green risotto. The asparagus was soggy but the cod and risotto was the best I have ever tasted in my life. We shared a bottle of Rose and the bill was only €85 which did make us feel guilty as it was worth more.
The following day was spent at the hotel with a late breakfast in the courtyard and then reading, writing, swimming (only two work calls and 4 emails were made….). In the evening we had a walk around the town which was reasonably busy for this time of year. We had decided to try another outdoor cafe by the fish market which looked seaside authentic. We were seated, drinks were brought out, we ordered clams for a starter and sardines for me and chicken piri piri for D. The waiter came out to inform us that there were no clams on the days catch and they had run out of the piri chicken. We decided to cancel and go back to Saveur – Sabor which was awkward BUT and this is top draw service, the waiter said no problem the drinks were on the house and to come back when the piri chicken will have had time to marinate properly, how great is that?
We then had lots of cheap wine and paella plus made two new friends……

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On Sunday we had a very lazy relaxing morning around the pool, reading writing, swimming and other forms of hard work! Early afternoon we decided to wander into town via the old castle ruins that were a 100 yards from the hotel. The view from the precarious ramparts is superb and the gardens are very pretty. We walked over to the church but as you would expect the on a Sunday the church was full of worshippers so we looked around it another day. Around the back of the church is a lovely courtyard with hibiscus trees for shade and we fell upon a restaurant called A Ver Tavira which is stunning with great views from the veranda, as you would expect we decided to stay right there. The food did not live up to the look and setting but we had a lovely afternoon, my salmon with Algarvian carrots was decent but they did a “Sunday roast” which was dry and boring.
We did eventually get to town late evening and took a table at a cafe called Brisa do Rio, D had a pork and prawn kebab which was lovely if too big and my clam with “black ham” stew was wonderful. We got chatting to a Portuguese couple who were holidaying from Lisbon and had travelled 15 km for the fish. Conversation as was a regular occurrence came around to the economy and it is really evident things are very tough for Portugal, we can count ourselves relatively lucky. A local resident provided music via an open balcony above the street and we were the only two tables in the middle of the street at 1 am, a wonderful day.
Out of all the places our favourites was Saveur – Sabor for simple and eclectic great food (try the raclette) and the hotel Pousada for fine dining (except steaks as they are not like UK).
We hope to return next year.

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Tapas at Sandinista

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A quick cheeky lunch grabbed in between meetings in town with my old mucker Streety. There was a three for two offer on I think. Either way it was very agreeable and he first time I’d been to Sandinista which I thought of more as a bar.

Streety declared it the best Tapas in Leeds – and as far as Tapas goes it was up there for sure. Not a patch on Spain, but that’s to be expected. And the UK bar is set sky high by Barrafina in London.

All in all very nice if slightly pricey if you’re greedy like we were.