RIGHT now there is a plethora of bars and restaurants trying to elbow their way into the trendy Leeds city centre scene.
There seems to be venues popping up almost every week, each one trying to reel in young punters with loud music, swanky cocktails and even swankier decor.
Some venues are even trying their hand at both in a bid to cash in on Leeds’ nighttime economy.
More often than not though, one side will let it down – either the drinks or the food – and it’s a tricky mix to get right.
But there is one who’s been on the block for a while and has been hitting the right note for years – and it’s right under your noses.
Blink and you might miss it, as Chino Latino’s main entrance is a small glass door on City Square that is almost swallowed up by the huge Park Plaza Hotel towering above it.
We chose the alternative entrance – through the main hotel reception and up in the lift.
Once inside, the suspense was building because I had quite high hopes.
Chino Latino bowled me over when I visited a couple of years ago.
The sleek red and black interior and dim lighting oozed sophistication and the bar next door added just the right amount of inner city buzz.
Would it live up to these fond memories?
We were greeted by a friendly waiter who took our coats and led us straight to our table before he took our cocktail orders.
The cocktail menu is great and offers something for even the fussiest cocktail conneiseurs.
The food menu, on the other hand, is a little confusing, with sharer options of taquitos, sushi and sashimi available but also general starters and mains on offer.
My dining companion and I decided we weren’t really in the sharing mood, and I went for the grilled scallops starter, served with yuzu aioli and wasabi peas.
At a hefty £12, it’s certainly not on the cheap side, and for two scallops it’s not particularly cost-effective.
But it is the pricier starter on the menu, with other choices ranging from £3.50 to £10.
When the scallops arrived, they looked absolutely delicious.
Cooked to perfection and served with a splash of soy sauce, a herby crust, aioli topping and some salad leaves to garnish, it was a little mini masterpiece.
The scallops were meaty and huge, and were more filling than they looked, whilst the wasabi peas added just the right amount of kick.
My dining partner went for the chicken sui mai starter with button mushrooms and a teriyaki sauce, which was priced at a much more reasonable £5.
The two portions had a light pastry coating, the chicken tasted fresh and it went down a treat despite looking a little on the dry side.
It was only at this point that our cocktails arrived and despite the waiter’s apology it was disappointing, as the bar and restaurant area weren’t especially busy.
Then came the main courses, which weren’t so easy to decide on, despite there being a succinct selection of dishes.
Prices start from £7 for pad thai noodles and go all the way up to £25 for the Wagyu picanha rump steak.
I went for the middle of the price range and chose the seabass with asparagus and fresh lime at £14.
When it arrived I was a little confused as it came in a black bean sauce, which wasn’t stated on the menu, and no lime.
Nonetheless it tasted great and was delicate yet full of flavour, with the fish perfectly cooked again.
My partner went for the lamb cutlets, marinated in Korean pepper paste and wasabi cream at £11.
This was the star of the show and was presented beautifully on the plate.
The juicy lamb was bursting with flavour and the Korean pepper paste added a welcome punch.
The only downside was the size, as the two cutlets didn’t prove very filling for my dining partner.
Due to the confusing menu, we also ordered the pad thai noodles – a main course – as a side, which wasn’t really to my taste and was a bit disappointing, but were snapped up by my hungry dining partner.
The other sides included rice or salad for around £4, which all seemed a bit dry for main courses that didn’t really have much sauce.
By this point we’d ordered a couple more cocktails, one of which arrived with a huge, whole chilli inside.
The sickly sweet cocktail was a little odd with the overpowering chilli and, needless to say, it went largely untouched. But the other cocktails were a hit.
For dessert, we both went for a chocolate fondant, served with a scoop of white chocolate ice cream.
The gooey chocolate centre oozed out of the fluffy sponge and the white chocolate ice cream was the perfect accompaniment, giving the dish the lift it needed.
We were pleased to see the impressive dessert platter was still on the menu, which we had enjoyed on the previous visit.
The platter of desserts comes served on a mirrored tray with dry ice and really has the ‘wow’ factor.
With two cocktails each, the three-course meal came to just over £105, with service charge included.
We noticed that whilst the menu had changed slightly, the prices for many of the dishes had gone up by a few pounds, and this was a little disappointing and contributed to a heftier bill.
Overall, Chino Latino has the right mix of cocktails and food in a great location.
Although it wasn’t the perfect experience we’d hoped for, it is still an excellent choice for a date or a special dining experience.
Just beware that being in such a swanky place comes with a big of a hefty price tag.
Address: Chino Latino, Park Plaza Hotel, Boar Lane, Leeds. LS1 5NS.
Opening times: Lunch: Mon - Fri 12pm - 2pm. Dinner: Mon - Sat 6pm - 10pm.
Tel: 0113 380 4080.