Bilboa bar, Leeds

We are spoilt for choice with tapas in Leeds but Bilboa should not be overlooked! I came here with a large group of women and the service was fantastic. They were the perfect combination of seamless efficiency and friendly attentiveness. We were welcomed by a friendly member of staff who guided us to our table and talked through the menus, making recommendations.

The menu has the classics on there that you want such as spanish omelette as well as different things t make them stand out, such as ox cheek in rioja. I went for the ox cheek, a special of scallops with black pudding and some chorizo in cider. Great flavours, decent portions and fast service. Happy customer!

The gin selection was good, with some of my favourite spanish gins including Gin Mare and Nordes. A gin and tonic was a little pricey at £10.50 but my glass was full and the garnish was almost perfect, missing an olive in the Gin Mare.

The waiters glided in and out of sight as and when needed and nobody seemed to be waiting long for anything, pretty impressive considering the size of our group. More impressive was the fact that they sorted us all out with individual bills and again this was done with no fuss in an efficient manner.

Great place, great food, great service, great gin list. I shall be back.

Atmosphere 9/10
Quality 8.5/10
Service 10/10
Value 8/10
Unique 8/10
Overall 8.5/10

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Hessian, Oakwood, Leeds

I recently stopped off at the new Hessian cafe for a cappuccino, just to have a nosy at the new addition to Oakwood parade. After browsing the menus and meeting a member of staff there, I knew I would be returning.

Bank holiday weekend seemed like the perfect time to try it out for lunch. We were greeted by warm and welcoming staff. It was great to see a familiar smiley face from Sunshine Bakery amongst the staff crew, I hope he will be a permanent fixture. Hessian is only a small venue and it was bank holiday but I was pleasantly surprised to see how busy it was in there. I love that the menus are small, less pressure on the staff means better quality produce. The food is everything I love, healthy, hearty and wholesome. I love the Mediterranean theme.

I really like the decor and the feel of the place. The small dining area in front of the open plan kitchen has a real cosy, living room feel to it. The only drawback of this is that it is quite cramped and when it’s busy it can get really loud. The chef had a system where he rang the bell when a dish was ready for service to collect. It was so bustling in there that the waiting staff kept missing the bell.

We drew the short straw somewhat with the service. One of the best things about Hessian is the staff team. They are smiley, friendly, helpful and just the right level of chatty. Apart from the man who was serving us unfortunately. He was pleasant enough but it really seemed like he’d rather be anywhere else but there. I had ordered a salad that came with grains, when the salad came there were no grains. I raised this with our waiter and he seemed surprised, went away and came back and said “We ran out of grains, that’s why there weren’t any”. I can think of better, more apologetic ways of putting that message across. I believe a good staff team communicates and the waiting staff and chef should work together to ensure that everyone knows what is and isn’t available before the customer orders. I heard other customers order things and their waiter/waitress knew what was and wasn’t available. There did seem to be quite a lot of things they had run out of but they are new, it was a busy bank holiday and it was late in the afternoon. Overall, the rest of the staff are lovely and fit in well with the welcoming attitudes shown in the other venues on Oakwood parade.

I ordered the grilled halloumi salad which comes with super grains (if you’re lucky), avocado, leaves, roasted red peppers and honey and mustard dressing. My husband ordered Jamon, picante cheese, roasted red pepper and pesto grilled melt. We were both happy with our food. We had ordered polenta wedges but they had run out and in the end we were nicely full anyway. One thing to keep in mind is that they serve the food when it’s ready so you may not eat at the same time, we didn’t. I’m assuming that is usual practice but I’m not sure. Our waited didn’t mention it but as mentioned, he wasn’t exactly on the ball. I also noticed that they offer gluten free bread, always a bonus in my book.

We had some lovely drinks. A nice beer, gin and tonic and a gorgeous espresso martini. I’ve had great espresso martinis and I’ve had some awful ones and this one was definitely up there with the good’uns. The drinks are quite reasonably priced too, £5 for a prosecco, around £7 for a cocktail or gin and tonic.

Overall, I really like Hessian and hope it stays around. I can’t wait to come back for the evening menu and to sample some cakes. I did notice a message on their Facebook page apologising for not offering ‘the full Hessian experience’ over the bank holiday weekend. I think that’s fair enough and goes to show that they are a staff team that care.

Atmosphere 8.5/10
Quality 8.5/10
Service 8.5/10 (based on overall from both visits)
Value 8/10
Unique 8/10
Overall 8.5/10

Pintura, Leeds (Gluten Free friendly)

I have to admit that this is my third visit to Pintura and I love it more and more each time I go! This time was a little different as I wanted to see how easy it is to dine out when you are gluten free. Luckily I am gluten free at the moment by choice and not by necessity, but while I am doing it, I want to experience it fully. All I can say is that if everywhere is as helpful as Pintura was then we are getting it right as gluten free friendly society.

When the server had finished talking through the menu, I asked her which options were gluten free. She asked me if I was gluten free or Coeliac. Big tick. I responded and she replied saying that she would just check with the chef. Moments later, she comes back with my menu, altered to show what I can and can’t have. I was delighted to see that I could still have bread and dessert as I had completely written those off! I could even have cake!

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So, on to the food. We went for the garlic and tomato bread, Chorizo, Sirloin steak and fries, Marinated prawns and a pork special. The bread was delicious and you couldn’t tell any difference with it being gluten free bread. I said so at the time to my husband who replied saying he had forgotten that it was gluten free. The chorizo was gorgeous, it had a powerful taste without being overpoweringly strong and acidic like it can be. The texture was nice and soft, a good quality Chorizo. The steak was melt in your mouth and so tasty. My only criticism of this dish was that it came with fries and mustard but nothing to dip the fries in. Luckily I had alioli left over from the prawns. Also I would have liked some more fries as there wasn’t much when sharing between two. The prawns were beautifully fat and juicy, really tasty. I couldn’t taste any garlic in the alioli and would have liked it to be stronger, but that’s my personal preference. The pork trio special was a lovely treat. It came with steak, fillet and a rib, with a celeriac puree accompaniment and some sort of jus type thing. It also came with a separate tiny little crunchy apple, like a very mini toffee apple. Well that just made the evening for me! My only criticism of the special is that it’s pretty hard to share a small rib. Then came the desserts, chocolate mousse and Spanish almond cake, gluten free cake! The desserts were delicious, I didn’t want the cake to end. I’ve had the mousse before and it is deliciously rich and I love the way that it’s presented.

You can’t talk about Pintura without talking about gin. Their gin list is immense. I think it’s best list I’ve ever seen outside of the gin festival brochure. In fact I’m sure it is. A fabulous mix of local and international gins. I love the way that they actually give you a brief description of the gins, rather than just listing the names. They also offer some favourite gin and tonic combinations and of course they are all served with premium tonic, in a decent glass, with a garnish. Another big attraction for Pintura is the service. The staff are just so nice! I have thought this each time I’ve visited. A server came over to see if we needed more drinks. I asked for a Slingsby Rhubarb which is a favourite. The lady told me how she likes to drink it and offered to have one made up for me. I accepted the offer and let me tell you, Slingsby rhubarb with Double Dutch cucumber and melon is an absolute dream!

The other thing that I have yet to mention is the decor. Pintura is just a really lovely place to be. The entire place has a relaxed vibe, particularly the gin bar downstairs. They have managed a unique combination of modern, trendy, urban, relaxed and something almost vintage. I even loved the toilet!

I would urge anyone to go. It makes a fantastic date night but also somewhere to relax with friends and family. I can’t wait for my next trip, I have several gins left to try!

Atmosphere 10/10
Quality 10/10
Service 10/10
Value 9/10
Unique 10/10
Overall 9.99/10

(I really want to give it full marks but there were just a couple of teeny tiny little tweaks required. My full marks are hard to come by!)

 

Vice and Virtue, Leeds

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A recent trip to the theatre gave me the perfect opportunity to visit a restaurant from my ‘On my radar’ section, Vice and Virtue.

Blink and you miss it, Vice and Virtue is situated in a building in the Northern Quarter over the road from Sandanista. The building used to be home to a strip club and although they have done their best with it, there are still some reminders left behind in the bar, such as the stage and the rope barrier.

That said, the bar is cosy and well stocked. The cocktail list is good, varied and creative. We had a strawberry and basil gin cocktail and a rhubarb flavoured gin cocktail, which was called Yorkshire Lass. Both were dreamy! The barman was very friendly and enthusiastic and offered to make us whatever our hearts desired.

Being pushed for time, we moved quite quickly to the restaurant upstairs. The friendly barman happily gathered our drinks and carried them upstairs to our table for us. The dining room was also cosy and well laid out. It was pretty quiet as we were the only people there, but it was only 5.30pm. The staff upstairs were just as friendly and enthusiastic as the barman downstairs. We were presented with several tasting menus at various prices to peruse. They do an extremely reasonable pre-theatre menu at £23 per person. I was, however, tempted by the classic menu at £35 per person. There were also two other more ‘prestige’ menus available.

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Let’s start with the food -tastes great, looks great, creative, exciting. I love it when a meal surprises me (in a good way!) and this didn’t fail. The amuse bouche paired quails scotch egg with a blackberry coulis. Egg and blackberry you say? together? but wait…it works! Smoked oyster – delicious. The first dessert came with half the plate covered in red powder. I fast reverted to a child and had to dip my finger in it and taste it. I was smacked in the face with a blast of zing raspberry, just delightful. I wasn’t sure how I would feel about Thyme ice cream but it was actually really nice and went well with the treacle pave. The pave itself I wasn’t that keen on. It was well executed but just not for me. The orange curd was absolutely gorgeous.

The staff here really stand out as being friendly, passionate and creative. I wanted a gin and tonic and asked the staff to surprise me with which gin they brought. The waiter immediately took on the challenge and with a look of excitement expressed that they relish the opportunity to get creative. I was assured that they were working on something special for me at the bar. Moments later I was presented with a beautiful copa glass of Old tom gin with rose liqueur and elderflower tonic, decorated with a rose head and petals. It looked and tasted absolutely beautiful.

I really liked it here. It’s different and it’s creative and it has a good vibe. Furthermore, it has potential to be even better and I would bet that the staff know that and embrace the challenge with passion and excitement. I’m looking forward to seeing how this place develops. My only concern is that it’s not somewhere you would walk past and drop in so it relies on people actively seeking it out. I’ll be doing my best to recommend it to people, I’d love to see this place a bit more busy.

Atmosphere 8/10
Quality 8.5/10
Service 10/10
Value 9/10
Unique 9/10
Overall 9/10

 

 

Mr P’s Curious Tavern – York, August 2016

There are not many places that I visit and think, I wish I owned this. In fact, off the top of my head I can count three. Mr P’s Curious Tavern is one of them. I walk through the door and I see cute and cosy interior, a man carving from a Jamon leg and a gin bar. I’m home! I love the details in the venue, down to the paper coasters, the stack of old books on the bar and the beautiful gin glasses. It wasn’t until I sat down and saw the menu that I realised this was an Andrew Pern venture, and then I got really excited!

The decor is cosy and homely but with a trendy twist. The small bar area downstairs is a place where you could spend hours on a chilly winter afternoon. The atmosphere provides a peaceful escape from the busy streets of York in any weather, however I see this little diamond glittering in the winter.

I dropped in on a Saturday lunchtime with friends, originally just looking for a good gin, but became sucked in by the tempting menu. We decided to have a couple of dishes each, it’s not the cheapest of menus. I had the Hand-dived Scallop, Scrumpy Reduction, Celeriac, Fresh Black Truffle and Steak Tartare, Smoked Bacon & ‘HP Ripple’ Ice Cream, Fried Bread ‘Sprinkles’. It took me a while to decide as everything sounded tempting and limiting my decision to two dishes was no easy task. Slightly easier though, than choosing from the extensive Gin list! I opted for a Herno Old Tom, beautiful.

The service was slow, despite it not being ridiculously busy. The waiter explained the tapas system where dishes are brought out as they are ready, so we expected that we would not all be eating at the same time and we were okay with this. At least we thought we were. There were a couple of occasions where despite knowing the system, we still checked that certain dishes were coming, as the wait seemed to drag on longer than we expected. We waited so long for my friend’s final dish that the rest of us asked for the bill and my friend considered cancelling it so that we could all leave. We chased it up and waited another ten minutes before the dish arrived and my friend had to eat alone while we waited. Not a great experience. On saying that, they did take the cost of the last dish off the bill. I thought this element of their customer service was spot on. We timed it quite badly as the waiters that served us were new to the job and didn’t know the menu well at all. I would have preferred all waiting staff to be better briefed and to have experienced the menu. A man working behind the bar, however, seemed very knowledgeable and passionate about the bar products. A rare but necessary element of a thriving bar.

There is no doubt that the food is good quality and the menu is fairly unique. The presentation is immaculate and each dish was welcomed by my party with oohs and ahhhs. In terms of value for money, it depends how you do it I think. I felt that I had paid a lot of money, experienced some beautiful food but left hungry. My scallop dish, for example, tasted beautiful but cost £9.50 for two scallops. Having eaten in many Michelin starred restaurants, I’m used to small portions, however I’ve never left a tasting menu hungry. Mr P’s do offer a tasting menu and I think perhaps this is the way to go. At least go when you can afford to splash out a bit and get a few dishes each to fill up on. In terms of a quick lunch, I would opt for something cheaper and more filling, like the charcuterie boards with bread.

Atmosphere 9/10
Quality 8/10
Service 5/10
Value 7.5/10
Unique 9/10
Overall 8/10

What would I change?
Not much really is my answer.
Ensure that the staff have tried each dish on the menu so that they can recommend effectively. Staff passion encourages customer passion
Improve speed of service and make sure that waiting staff communicate efficiently between the kitchen and the customer, chasing up dishes and checking that the customer is informed.

Would I return?….Yes. Big fat yes. The place is quite new and the staff are getting to grips with it all. Once the staff are in a position to guide customers and recommend dishes that suit their budget and time allowance, I struggle to think how a customer could leave here unhappy. Personally, I can’t wait to return.

UPDATE: Unfortunately, you can no longer go in Mr P’s curious tavern for just a drink, due to their license. I’m sure you could just get a snack, sharing board or tapas style dish to make up for the food bit. It’s a bit disappointing if you wanted to pop in for a decent Gin.

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