Restaurant review: Viva Cuba, 342 Kirkstall Road, Leeds

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Oliver usually has very strict rules when it comes to sharing.

Some might call it being just plain greedy.

But as far as Oliver is concerned once you have made your choice from the menu then you are quite simply stuck with it.

And woe betide the dining companion who dares to cross that invisible line across the table.

Oliver is always quick to prevent any attempts to pilfer some of his food – particularly if his dish looks more appealing than one picked by his dining partner.

But when Oliver paid a visit to Leeds’s very own little taste of Havana he was forced to tear up the dining rule book and throw it out of the window.

It has been nearly three years now since Oliver decided to venture into Viva Cuba.

My dining companion and I left behind the miserable wet streets of Leeds for a warming welcome in the former home of a branch of the Yorkshire Bank.

From the outside the restaurant’s unassuming nature just goes to show that you should never judge a book by its cover.

Nestled on a main road just a stone’s throw away from a MacDonalds restaurant, a giant cinema complex and a brand new nightclub it is not the first choice of location for Leeds’s very own answer to Cuba.

But the warm welcome and the thriving atmosphere make this Hispanic haven special.

Despite the long-absence my dining partner and I weren’t disappointed.

It was almost like visiting an old friend who you have not seen in a few years but it feels like just yesterday since you last saw each other.

Not a lot has changed since our last visit – but as the old adage goes, if it isn’t broken then don’t fix it.

The only noticeable change was that the restaurant was certainly in the festive spirit complete with Christmas tree and decorations.

Oliver was particularly impressed with the sparkling lights that furnished the banister around the balcony for the upstairs eating area and small bar.

Sometimes Christmas decorations can be far too outlandish but these added just the right amount of sparkle to the intimate atmosphere.

Oliver and his dining partner decided to visit at around 7pm on a Friday and luckily we did not have to wait long for a table.

Sometimes the queue for a spot can practically hang out of the door.

But I think we timed our visit just right because within half an hour a queue was nearly doing exactly that.

We were shown upstairs to a small bar area furnished with black leather sofas and small tables.

In the middle of each table was a flickering candlelight which just added to the cosy atmosphere.

We waited for around 10 minutes until our friendly server beckoned us to our table downstairs in the main seating area.

The restaurant itself has an intimate, romantic feel with the flickering candles on the table.

And the window blinds are pulled to block out any of the light to help heighten the atmosphere.

Pictures and paintings, which Oliver believes were collected in Castro’s homeland, adorn the luscious red walls.

The decor is complemented by the dark wooden tables and chairs.

And Viva Cuba’s reputation is certainly not one to be sniffed at especially after it bagged itself an Oliver Award.

The restaurant was already particularly busy with Christmas party groups, couples, and friends all gathered sharing their love of tapas.

The menu is quite lengthy and there were at least 40 different mouthwatering dishes we could have chosen.

Options ranged from the classic Patatas Bravas, which are cubed potatoes topped with a spicy sauce, to the Lomo de Cerdo, which are marinated medallions of pork loin fried in garlic and olive oil.

After a lengthy debate about what to order we decided to settle for a slightly greedy six dishes to share.

Perhaps we were being slightly ambitious but nevertheless when our meals arrived they were certainly a feast for the eyes.

After some slight Tetris-style work from the waitress, my dining partner and I were left spoiled for choice about which dish to delve into first.

We chose the Calamares Fritos a la Romana which were lightly battered squid rings which were seasoned and came with a small side salad.

The squid rings almost melted in your mouth and were a great starting point.

Next came the Caribbean classic of chicken and rice which was snaffled in a second.

The diced lamb which came served in a sweet and spicy Caribbean-style sauce almost caused a fight on the table.

My dining partner and I almost battled it out for the last tender juicy piece of lamb out of the dish.

Another stand out dish was the special Galician winter beef stew which is a Spanish classic.

The beef was succulent and warming and certainly helped to blow away the week’s cobwebs.

We also picked a seafood paella which was tasty and perhaps a little too filling.

Half way through our meal Oliver started to feel like he was losing his battle after his greed commenced to take hold.

We still had a platter of cured meats and sausage, which came served with bread, olives and cracked pepper, to work our way through.

But Oliver and his dining partner proved that even with the art of sharing, our eyes were both certainly bigger than our bellies.

Our meals, including a soft drink and a pint, tipped the scales at just over £37 which was extremely good value for money.

On the way out we made a mental note of some of the other dishes for our return.

But Oliver has already told his dining partner that he refuses to share the lamb with him again – it’s all mine.

Factfile

Address: Viva Cuba, 342 Kirkstall Road, Leeds, LS4 2DS

Opening times: Mon- Fri 5.30pm-11pm, Sat 5pm-11pm, Sun 5pm-10.30pm.

Tel: 0113 275 0888

Website: www.vivacubaleeds.co.uk.

Star Rating

Food ****

Value *****

Atmosphere ****

Service ****

The Skyrack, left, and The Original Oak public houses at Headingley, Leeds.

Pub review: Original Oak, Headingley