Sunday, 29 January 2012

El Bareto, Chapel Allerton

A first for LEEDSFOODLEADS - A guest post by a mystery guest!

On arrival, the warm and intimate bar served as a welcome contrast to the howling gale outside, and my dining companion, (“T”) and I ordered a lager (Mahou) and a glass of house red before being fortunate enough to secure a spot by the window. When we were eventually taken downstairs after another round of drinks and some complimentary peanuts, initial thoughts were that the dining area was surprisingly large. However, when seated, the illusion of space was exposed somewhat when it became apparent that the dining furniture was not particularly suited to the taller guest.

Nevertheless, the warmth of the welcome and enthusiasm of the staff encouraged me to regard the surroundings as atmospheric rather than cramped and, indeed, after some more of the meaty house red, it became part of the conversation (try saying Lilliputian after a few drinks!).

We were served by an attentive waiter who asked whether we had dined with them before. We had not, so he went on to explain that they recommended around 5 tapas dishes between 2, as the portions were generous. We therefore ordered 6 from a nifty tick-the-number menu, lest the average diner was of a size befitting the tables.

What we got was mixed fare – the marinated olives (£1.50) were presented nicely, but tasted like they had come from a jar. Likewise, we found the patatas bravas (£3.50) to be uninspiring. However, the rest of the meal was much better and more in accordance with the bonhomie of this family-run restaurant.

If the waiter hadn’t asked us whether we had been there before, he might have guessed when I tried to cut apart the home-made bread topped with tomato, garlic and olive oil (£3.50). A slight mis-judgement as to the force required to separate the bread at the table way down below resulted in me using the bread to thrust its accompanying salad over the side of the plate which was itself sloped upwards at an angle sufficient to launch said salad through the air and on to T’s leg. Indeed, it was impressive to note that even the salad moved in a sort of slow-motion tribute to the laid-back Iberian lifestyle which El Bareto invokes.

To her credit, and possibly also because she was enjoying the evening up to that point at least, T helpfully laughed and tucked into the chorizo in cider (£5.90) – the dish we both agreed was the best of the bunch.

Other dishes we enjoyed were the chicken livers (£6.50 and originally chosen as something of a dare, but which were nevertheless nice) and the grilled prawns, (£7.50) principally due to their dressing, as opposed to being either fresh or grilled.

After paying the reasonably-priced bill, we were hailed a cab as we finished our drinks to the sound of some live music before venturing out into nearby Chapel Allerton for a few more.

Overall, the impression was one of a nice, family-style restaurant with enthusiastic staff and a pleasant atmosphere. Even though there were a couple of dishes which didn’t quite hit the mark, our satiety meant that the waiter could return triumphantly to collect both those and the remains of the rest. An enjoyable experience – occasional mishap aside!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Viva, Leeds City Centre

On Leeds Bridge sits Viva, a traditional Italian restaurant with a nice old-fashioned feel. We decided to give it a try on a recommendation, so a last minute reservation was made for a Saturday night.

The owner (at least we think he was the owner!) meets you at the door and a firm handshake is followed by the offer of a drink. The wine list was mainly “by the bottle” and only house wine served by the glass. I decided to risk it and it was ok but not brilliant, so my second glass later on was a rose (harder to be awful, I find, than white).

For starter, I had the mussels. Very tasty in a garlic and wine broth – I do like the version where they add cream to the sauce, but it can sometimes be a bit heavy for a starter.
A had the calamari, which he was very positive about, especially that they included the tentacles and not just the usual “squid rings”.

Main courses were spaghetti al pesto for me, served with pine kernals, parmesan, caprino cheese and olive oil. Also, small sliced potatoes are added to the mix, a rather strange contribution to a carb-overload but it worked well.

A had a pizza – the Dolcelatte – with pepperoni, mushrooms and gorgonzola cheese. Very good pizza.

So the food was pretty good Italian fayre. The service, however, was rather rushed. When I was eating my starter, I saw a waiter’s head peer round the corner several times, to see if I was done with my mussels, and when I had finished, it became clear why. The main course was served straight away, with literally no break whatsoever. Now this might be down to the fact we had booked late, and they were “squeezing us in”. But it was the most rapid service I had ever seen! This is a good thing if you are having lunch and need to rush back to work, but is not so good if you are out for the evening and are in and out in less than an hour.