Sylva, Oakwood, Leeds

I have been looking forward to coming to Sylva since I saw the striking new building at the bottom of Princes Avenue. I’ve been driving past, waiting for some signs of life so that I can go and explore!

Today I finally managed to get myself down there to check it out. It’s a nice sunny Sunday afternoon, I thought I’ll go and have a G&T in the new place, Sylva, or Cafe Sylva according to social media.

You can’t help but be taken by the impressive architecture. The building itself is stunning. There is a downstairs cafe area and an upstairs bar area and never the twain shall meet it seems! Arriving shortly after 4pm, we were advised that the downstairs cafe area was closed and it was just the bar upstairs that was available. We walked upstairs to the open plan bar area. The space is really beautiful, gorgeous ceiling, large outdoor patio are and some small outdoor roofed nooks at the side. The furnishings are nice, good quality sofas and chairs, nice coffee table and a large bench table. Although the furnishings are nice, the space doesn’t seem to be used that well. The seating is very limited although the space is massive. It just doesn’t seem to work somehow.

On the tables were a drinks menu and a cocktail list. I understand from a conversation that I overheard at another table that food is not served until after 6PM. Being by the park, I imagine it would be a good idea to start serving food as soon as the bar opens to allow for those wanting a late lunch or snack. At the very least, have food menus on the tables, stating the serving times. Let your customers peruse the menus over a couple of gins, I’m sure they won’t mind waiting for the kitchen to open while knocking back a G&T and thinking about what they will order. Having looked at the menus online, the food looks interesting but pricey, I’d like to go back and sample the quality. Particularly after seeing that they stock Brown&Blond and Love rouge, two of my favourite local treat makers. Disappointingly, after being there for half an hour, I saw a member of staff take a delicious looking cake downstairs to the closed cafe area. Come on people! gin and cake! you know it makes sense! Keep that cake by the bar!

One thing is for sure, these guys know about gin. The gin list is small but perfectly formed and they are fully stocked with fever tree mixers and clearly understand garnishes. Our gins even came in matching glasses appropriate to the gin. Winner!

It was pretty quiet when we arrived but started to fill up somewhat during the time that we were there. The sun was going in and people were making their way there from the park for an afternoon pick me up. I didn’t see any children in there but I did see a man with children enter, be met by a member of staff and then turn away and leave. I understand that it’s a bar but on a Sunday afternoon, you could get a bit of extra custom with some more families in, particularly if you left the cake upstairs. I also saw what looked like a cracking hot chocolate, which would keep the kids and parents happy!

Overall, I like Sylva, I really like it. I love that it’s so Yorkshire themed. There is just something missing though. It’s almost like an exclusive club that nobody really knows about. It’s like a small, cosy local but it’s too large and lacks the personal touch from the staff.  The staff are pleasant and attentive enough but again, there is just something missing. Talk to me about the gins, recommend a cake, let’s have some interaction. I will be going back because it’s a nice venue, the gin is good, the food looks interesting and it’s over the road from Preston bar and Hessian so why not.

If I were to suggest any changes, they would be:

  • Have food menus on the tables
  • Start serving food earlier
  • Use the space fully rather than restricting upstairs and downstairs to certain times
  • Take care with music selection – either you want a chilled vibe or a party vibe but mixing it up can be unsettling to the customer
  • Never ever take away the cake!

Atmosphere 7/10
Quality 8/10 (based on drinks only)
Service 7/10 (could have been quicker considering it was pretty empty)
Value 7/10
Unique 8/10
Overall 7.5/10


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