You know those films set in a picture perfect little town where “all is not what it seems”?
Where everything is apparently flawless and beautiful but you just know, right from the word go, that there’s something going on behind the scenes?
There’s always a pair of blissfully ignorant interlopers who invariably fall foul of the vampires/pod people/robot wives who are pulling the strings as well.
Well, I must confess that’s a little bit how my companion and I felt visiting the city centre’s Chino Latino.
For starters, and I doubt I’m alone, I must have walked past the entrance hundreds of times without even giving it a glance.
Sitting, as it does, just off City Square, you’d think it would not be hard to see.
But the small, nondescript front, done out all in black, with the towering Park Plaza hotel looming above, make it quite easy to miss.
However, the modest-looking exterior belied what lay inside.
As we made our way up the steep stairs to the restaurant floor, we really hadn’t expected the stunningly swish layout at the top.
Stylish, very spacious and contemporary, with shiny black and reds everywhere and low, red lighting throughout, it really did seem as though we’d stumbled upon a suspiciously perfect venue and I found myself looking everywhere for the cracks – something that wasn’t aesthetically faultless.
I couldn’t find anything.
We were greeted by not one but two members of staff (who were much too warm and friendly to be pod people) and shown to our seats by a window overlooking the street.
Before diving straight into the food, we decided to choose a couple of drinks from the cocktail menu, where there’s a big selection, many of which we’d never heard of (Passionate Turkey, anyone?).
Our second waiter was more than happy to explain what went into which, though, and it added to the ritzy, inner city feel of the place.
Looking at the food menu, we began deciding from a varied list of modern Asian dishes and were informed by our waitress that they “encourage sharing”.
To that end, the menu isn’t really split into the usual starters and mains, which was slightly confusing as were weren’t entirely sure what we were ordering and when.
My companion decided to start with the grilled scallops.
Served with wasabi peas on a long, shallow dish, the dish was in keeping with the visually flawless theme and looked like something straight off Masterchef.
Taste-wise it matched up, with the scallops soft and perfectly-cooked with just the right amount of fiery spice from the wasabi.
For my own starter, I chose crispy duck, which was served with cucumber, chilli, spring onion and hoi sin sauce.
The portion was huge (almost main course sized), with pancakes as well – but I had no problem finishing it all as the duck was crisp, tasty and without any fat whatsoever.
There’s plenty of smaller dishes to pick from if you do want to go down the traditional three course route, with a great choice of seafood, sushi and tempura.
Still with no sign of a horrifying twist in the tale, we moved onto mains.
My companion, so impressed with the scallops, stuck with seafood and ordered seabass.
Cooked with black beans and wine, the fish fell apart at the slightest touch and was absolutely packed with flavour.
For my own main I went for sirloin steak, which was brought beautifully presented, still sizzling away on hot rocks, with a little cup of soya, poured on at the table and garlic.
Tender, juicy but surprisingly light for steak, the hot rocks helped seal in the flavour and I could easily have eaten a bit more.
We also ordered a portion of rice noodles which were the only weak point of the mains and were a little bland.
There were lots of other really interesting-looking choices among the bigger dishes though – again with lots to tempt the seafood-lovers alongside plenty of meat dishes.
Desserts looked just as tempting as the rest of the menu and, unable to pick a single option, we decided on the dessert sharing platter.
After a short while, our waitress brought over a large, circular mirror, with a selection of tiny desserts all arranged around what looked like a bowl of water.
When she then produced a little kettle from nowhere, we immediately thought this was it – the moment the perfect facade would finally slip and something weird and a bit sinister would occur.
Instead, she poured dry ice into the bowl, enveloping the whole table in mist (and making us feel a little like contestants on Stars in Their Eyes).
It might sound a bit flashy and over-the-top, but it actually made for a very special, unexpected little touch.
As for the food, each little bite was fabulous – with a mix of nibbles including chocolate sushi roll, fresh fruit, passion fruit sorbet and fresh fruit – all of which are available as desserts on their own.
There was quite a lot there, even for two but for £12, considering you got a bit of everything, it was very good value.
That being said, the bill, along with our drinks, came in at just under £100 – with the potential there to spend a lot more – which was round about what you’d expect from an upmarket city centre venue.
And with nothing in the way of terrifying, unforeseen twists, we just had to accept that we’d simply found a very special hidden gem.
Chino Latino, Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 5NS
Opening hours: Lunch, Mon-Sun 12pm-2pm Dinner MOn-Sat 6pm-10pm
Tel 0113 3804 080
SERVICE ....................... ****
***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD *** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR