THE World Atlas of Beer predicted that of all the countries in Europe, Spain’s beer culture would advance furthest in the five years after its publication in 2012.
That prediction has proved uncannily correct, with a country which was once a beer backwater – known best for big brands like San Miguel and Cruzcampo – now embracing a drinking culture which is sweeping the continent and spreading out from the traditional beer heartlands of Britain, Belgium, Germany and the Czech Republic.
You might easily think this has happened due to the numbers of British expats colonising the country’s sun-soaked coast, but according to the Atlas, this change is being driven by Spaniards travelling elsewhere in Europe and realising exactly what they’re missing out on at home.
One of the best places to sample Spanish culture is El Bareto, tucked away at the northern end of Gledhow Valley Road, in shop premises which were once a dusty old model-makers’ store. In summer, when drinkers spill onto the wooden terrace outside, it really looks like an enticing place to drink, an oasis of pleasure on a parade of beauty parlours and fast food outlets.
In the depths of November, it still looks the part, with the lights of the bar glinting through the extravagant greenery that shields El Bareto from the urgent traffic passing by on Harrogate Road.
From here, you step into a small drinking area where a remarkable conversion has turned very unpromising premises into a convincing corner of Iberia. A shelf around the top of the walls carries an impressive display of spirit boxes; wooden furniture and subdued lighting create the illusion of a bar off the beaten track in some quiet rural backwater.
Perhaps El Bareto took its lead from the wonderful Further North, a half mile up the road, where the basic Rally and Speed Shop was transformed into a tiny but perfect little bar which has now proved so popular that the drinking space has been extended upstairs.
At El Bareto, its popularity is underlined by an array of certificates and accolades on one wall, including being named as best restaurant in Chapel Allerton by the residents association. In a crowded market place, it’s no mean achievement.
The room is dominated by a panel-fronted bar topped with fonts which dispense some of Spain’s best-known beers, a choice that is augmented by further Spanish and cosmopolitan choices in the fridge. These include 6.4% Alhambra Reserve from Granada and the uber-powerful Mezquita (7.4%) from Cordoba. And on a memorable evening of cold beers and hot spicy tapas, we manage to work our way through most of the card.
We start at the bar, and the sharp refreshing Estrella Damm and licorice-accented Mahou which take the edge of our thirst as we take a first look at the menu.
From here we head down the narrow central staircase to the flag-floored restaurant beneath, where the theme of rustic Spain is maintained with beamed ceilings and wooden benches dotted with thin red cushions for a little extra comfort. Monochrome prints of Spanish villas, towers and churches are dotted around the walls, light provided by yellow wall lanterns and flickering candles on each table.
Here we are brought a wonderful array of tapas – meatballs and spicy patata bravas, grilled squid, garlic chicken, stuffed peppers and creamy jalapeno croquettes. Our next round of drinks includes soft Alhambra, which has a suggestion of Seville oranges and a significant bitter finish which proves a perfect counterpoint to the spicy tapas.
Address: Gledhow Valley Road, Leeds, LS17 6LX
Opening Hours: 5.30pm-midnight Mon-Thurs
Beers: Mahou (£3.50), Estrella Damm (£3.20), San Miguel (£3), Becks (£3) plus bottled beers including Alhambra Reserva (£3.20), Mezquita (£3.40), Corona (£3), Guinness (£3) and Magners (£4.50)
Wine: Excellent choice from £3.30-glass and £13.30-bottle
Food: Great choice of tapas from around £3.50 each either in the bar or downstairs restaurant. Booking advised.
Entertainment: Live music every Friday evening by duo Maya and Lawrence, jazz last Thursday of the month, TV
Disabled: Ramp access to main bar.
Events: El Bareto offers an outside catering service
Parking: Small shared parking area to the front
Telephone: 0113 2666946