The arrival of La Casita in Horsforth is nothing short of momentous. The tapas restaurant’s reputation goes before it. It was winner of this year’s YEP Oliver Award Best European restaurant, beating off stiff competition.
That award went to its Ilkley branch, where head chef Simon Miller, who has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, together with his talented team, has created something verging on the sublime - a Spanish taverna in the heart of Yorkshire.
But the Horsforth one could be even better. While the former has the feel of an atrium, being situated in one of the old shops off a glass roofed arcade, the latter feels much bigger and yet somehow more intimate. Much work has gone into the revamp of the building, which is split level, with dining tables spread throughout, opening up toward the rear into a broad space, with a small outside area, showing they’ve really thought about the layout and made use of every available inch. This clever design is evidenced again in another outdoor seating area, with perhaps two or three wooden tables, running down the side of the restaurant, a quiet little refuge for those who want to keep to themselves.
There’s a retro feel to the interior too, the walls covered in dozens of distressed drawer fronts, which make for an interesting feature. All these little things add up to a bigger whole. Like the food, which is, of course, tapas.
We were promptly seated and drinks orders taken - one crisp, dry Estrella at £3.80 for a pint and a very drinkable bottle of LB1 white wine at £17.
It’s almost a pleasure to peruse some menus, as is the case here. They are bold uncomplicated affairs, almost proud of themselves one might say, black lettering on cream card, providing for dozens of combinations.
Tapas is for the gregarious. It oozes passion, with deep-set flavours which make you want to fight over the dishes
Part of the pleasure with tapas is in the choosing. My dining partner and I agreed to order three dishes each... but which three? There’s the rub, because the more you read, the more you want. So, we end up horse-trading over some and swapping this one for that and in the end, throwing the previously agreed maximum completely out of the window.
To begin we ordered mixed breads (£2.85) and some Manzanilla olives marinated in rosemary, garlic and red peppers (£3.45). Nothing wrong with the olives (in fact, everything right with them) but it was the bread which sang. It came with tomato salsa and balsamic and olive oil for dipping, so was perfect for whetting one’s appetite.
After that came a frenzy of dishes, including giant toasted corn, all sweet and hot and creamy (£2.60), chicken wings in balsamic and sea salt (£4.30), which is one of those dishes you just have to dive in and get dirty with. Then there was slow cooked daube of beef with mustard, truffle and wild mushrooms, one of the more expensive dishes on the menu but such a delight to eat, the meat light as you like, the mustard delivering a real punch. What else? Well, there was tortilla with garlic aoili (£4.90), octopus and chorizo stew with saffron potatoes (£7.50), again expensive but sumptuous all the same. Patatas bravas put in an appearance at some point in a lightly smoked tomato sauce (£4.40), as did three other dishes, which for some reason were listed under the ‘early bird tapas three for £13’ heading on the final bill but by that point we were ‘food blind’ for want of a better phrase and so I can only hazard a guess at what these dishes were. I know one was definitely the roasted king prawns in garlic, chili and spring onions and another was meatballs lightly spiced in tomato sauce.
All of it was good. The octopus stood out for me, the broth giving off a really deep, rich, meaty flavour that hit the top of the mouth and tickled the sides of your tongue - like a really great stew, it just left you wanting more. The prawns, too, were fine and juicy but really there wasn’t a bad dish on the table.
Tapas is definitely for the gregarious. Done well, it oozes passion, packing in deep-set flavours which make you want to fight over the dishes. Devouring them becomes almost a journey, with forks darting to and fro, between which flavours are savoured, analysed and discussed.
But tapas can also be deceptive, because while each dish might only be £4 or £5, or in some cases £7, if you’re not careful the bill will creep up on you later and surprise you.
But we were in the midst of battle, our blood was up and so we soldiered on valiantly, heading straight for dessert, which comes mainly in the form of parfait, with about half a dozen options, from raspberry to blackberry and sloe gin.
We went for white chocolate parfait (£2.50) and Santiago tarte (£4), a delicious almond and lemon sponge served with vanilla ice cream.
Together with an Americano at £2.40, the final bill was an entirely unsurprising £84.10 - not bad at all when you consider almost £20 of that is wine.
So, criticisms. Service was a little disjointed in parts, we had three waitresses so there was a lack of continuity and as the place has only been open since April, we’re putting this down to teething problems. Was there anything else? Well, maybe - one of the dishes - the chicken wings - were wrongly served with aoili to begin with but to their credit, when this was pointed out (my partner hates mayonnaise), they took the dish straight back and made us a new one.
In short, La Casita, Horsforth is a real treasure. It has slipped effortlessly into the old town, so it feels almost as though it’s been there longer than it has but my guess is it will be around for a long time to come.
Name: La Casita, Horsforth
Address: 8-10 Town St, Horsforth LS18 4RJ
Phone: 0113 258 5781
Tel: 0113 258 5781
Opening times: Mon-Sun 10am-10pm