Six of the best tapas bars in Leeds

Ambiente, The Calls.
Ambiente, The Calls.
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Spanish-style restaurants are all the rage right now. But while they might be trendier than a beard in Shoreditch, they’re more than just a culinary fad. And, as Chris Bond points out, tapas fans can eat very well in Leeds.

PINTURA

The newest addition to the tapas scene in Leeds, this Basque-inspired bar and kitchen opens its doors to the public for the first time today. Set up by those clever people who run Cielo Blanco, Oporto and Jake’s Bar, Pintura offers delicious tapas dishes such as salted cod, octopus and pig’s cheek, and ‘Pintxo’ - tasty bite-size morsels from the Basque country. Split over four floors it includes one which is home to a dedicated ‘gin bar’ serving over 30 varieties of gin. I’m not a betting man but I reckon this will become a foodie hot spot faster than you can say ‘Pedro Ximénez.’

BILBAO

Nestled in the dark arches of Granary Wharf opposite the Doubletree by Hilton, Bilbao brings a welcome slice of sun-drenched Spain to West Yorkshire. Modern-looking and sleek, but at the same time warm and intimate, it’s the kind of place you can stop off for a drink after work and before you know it you’re tucking into platters of cheese and Iberico ham, followed by calamari and padron peppers. With some of the tastiest, and best presented, tapas this side of, well, Bilbao, and an impressive cocktail list, what’s not to like?

EL BARETO

This cosy neighbourhood spot in Chapel Allerton is usually packed to the rafters on an evening at weekends - and it’s easy to see why. If it wasn’t so popular you might call it a ‘hidden gem’. But while a lot of tapas restaurants talk about having an authentic atmosphere and being “the true taste of Spain”, this family-run bar actually feels like it is. If you’re a fan of traditional tapas stalwarts like patatas bravas, chorizo and paella, and want to feel as though you’ve just stepped into a bar from a side street in Barcelona or Seville, then this is the place for you.

ZUCCO

I’m throwing a bit of curveball here by including an Italian-inspired restaurant, I know. But in Venice they actually have their own style of tapas, called cicchetti, and a few years back I spent a very pleasant morning drinking thimbles of wine and wolfing down slices of wafer-thin pizza surrounded by local fisherman. Here at Zucco, though, there’s not a lasagne in sight. Instead it’s all about “sharing plates” like pan fried sea bass with mixed potatoes, and braised beef pappardelle with grana padano, which can be washed down with a glass or two of vino.

VIVA CUBA

What other bar or restaurant in the city can boast Fidel Castro’s signature among its proud possessions? Not many. There’s something about this quirky, perennial Leeds favourite that has enticed punters back time and again over the past 14 years. Located in a former Yorkshire Bank building on the outskirts of the city centre it has become a popular port of call with visitors from Cuba, and as well as soaking up a flavour of Havana on Kirkstall Road you can tuck into all kinds of hearty tapas and sample some authentic Cuban cocktails. Viva indeed.

AMBIENTE

This Call Lane tapas bar, which occupies a Grade II listed building (formerly a warehouse), has retained the bare brick walls, stripped floors and exposed steelwork. Since opening in 2012 it has become a popular haunt with tapas fans, for as well as offering traditional nibbles like Manchego cheese, salted almonds, marinated olives and boquerones (white anchovy fillets), you can also find modern twists on classic dishes. Ambiente prides itself on being something of a sherry specialist and regulars here are on a bit of a mission to convert Loiners to the joys of Amontillado and Manzanilla.

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