Restaurant review: Bilbao Bar, Dark Arches, Leeds

Little Oliver.
Bilbao Bar, Arch U, Dark Neville Street, Leeds.  5 July 2016.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Little Oliver. Bilbao Bar, Arch U, Dark Neville Street, Leeds. 5 July 2016. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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Visiting long lost friends is often a fraught experience. Sometimes they have changed beyond all recognition. Frequently, they no longer resemble the memory you have of them. Occasionally, this transformation has been more than skin deep, creeping into and affecting their entire outlook. Which can lead to disappointment.

Visiting long lost friends is often a fraught experience. Sometimes they have changed beyond all recognition. Frequently, they no longer resemble the memory you have of them. Occasionally, this transformation has been more than skin deep, creeping into and affecting their entire outlook. Which can lead to disappointment.

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Back in 2014, Bilbao Bar was the new boy on the block. It was exciting, different, innovative. It made people sit up and take notice with its quirky take on Spanish tapas, it’s beach-chic look and dishes that sizzled, dazzled and delighted.

And I’m happy to say it still does all of those things. In spades. If anything, this vibrant little bar has grown into its looks. Sure, some of the decor has changed - the cushions which looked like driftwood have been replaced by a soft mauve backrest, the tables are now thick, solid wood and the painted walls hung with tasteful prints have been swapped for wallpaper which consists of pages of poetry - but the ethos remains the same, a focus on great food and drink in what has to be one of the most relaxed settings in Leeds.

Situated down at Leeds Dock, ensconced in Arch U, one of the many yawning vaults that comprise the Dark Arches, it sits at the end of a little row of bars, meaning you could quite merrily spend the entire night just wandering between them.

We actually visited Bilbao Bar during the very busy Leeds Waterfront Festival, which meant the entire Leeds Dock was thronging with people. We had the children with us - boy and girl aged seven and five - and while the other outlets in that short row proved too rowdy or were just far too packed, we found Bilbao Bar to be perfect. It was busy, don’t get me wrong, but we found a place to sit and, importantly for a family pit-stop, there was no conversation-drowning music blaring out.

If anything, this vibrant little bar has grown into its looks. Sure, some of the decor has changed but the ethos remains the same, a focus on great food and drink in what has to be one of the most relaxed settings in Leeds.

Service was impeccable, the atmosphere convivial, relaxed. Drinks - a pint of wonderfully crisp Estrella and soda water cordials on the table - we went wild on the tapas, ordering tyxistorra a la sidra (spicy chorizo cooked in cider), a truly wonderful dish at £5.45. Then there was patatas bravas with garlic mayonnaise and “atomica” sauce (£4.95). I made the mistake of thinking the sauce wasn’t hot to begin with, but quickly discovered it was one with a built in timer.

There were also prawns which sang songs of the sea, Romesco chicken that conjured images of a simple life, perhaps lived on a vineyard, two lots of bread and oil with balsamic vinegar (sumptuous), an omelette, light and fragrant, and ham and cheese croquets, little balls of food heaven. Total bill for four: £51.50. This could well be a friend for life.

Bilbao Bar

Arch U, Dark Neville Street, LS1 4BR, tel: 0113 345 4323

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Scores: 5/5

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