Sometimes, there is just too much choice in the world.
Take coffee for instance. Now, when Oliver is choosing from a menu, I like to peruse and deliberate - shall I see how well the chef creates a classic or shall I try something completely different? The process can take a while, but it’s all part of the experience.
Ordering a coffee, however, should be an instant decision. But instead, it’s a myriad of choice: Americano - with milk? Skinny or full fat, or soya, along with mochaccino, cappuccino - pass me a serviette, I’ve just spilled it down my chinos…
So, ladened with bags on a particularly successful shopping trip mid afternoon in Leeds city centre, I didn’t want to have to make a considered hot beverage purchase. Luckily, I’d just settled into a seat at Casa Colombiana, in the Grand Arcade, and the decision was simple.
You see, when I first discovered this place I was told that it only serves four types of coffee - black with sugar, black without sugar, white with sugar and white without.
Refreshed by the cuppa, and relaxed by the vibrant and friendly atmosphere of the bustling Latin American eatery, I vowed to come back to sample the food. For weeks, I walked by the busy venue at lunchtime, always on the way to somewhere else and remembering to try it, until finally, one Friday night, I had my chance. Walking in at 9pm to an empty restaurant, I had to double check it was still serving. “Of course, take a seat, anywhere you want,” said the waiter. He explained that they had a big party booked in the soon-to-be opened bar upstairs, which used to be home to a number of craft and art galleries and shops - and is now open - but we would be more than welcome.
Sitting down at the table closest to the open kitchen area, my dining companion and I ordered two beers - one Desperados and one Cusquena (£3.75 each) - as we simultaneously looked at the menu and chatted to the staff in the open kitchen and the owner, who checked in on us from time to time and entertained us with his musings, anecdotes and friendly demeanour.
For the para picar, or starters, I opted for the maduritos con queso - plantain and cheese fritters (£3.95). Being a cheese lover I was intrigued to try this combination. Not quite knowing what to expect, I was served a mild, creamy, firm cheese, wrapped in a strip of plantain and fried. The sweetness of the plantain and its soft texture was a fantastic companion to the firm cheese - I could have eaten them all night. My partner ordered papas fritas - chips to you and me (£3.50). However, these were Latin America style with chunky wedges of potatoes served with a rich tomato sauce and a smattering of salsa -with coriander and a heady dose of chilli, which packed a punch.
At one point the waitress cleared away my dining partner’s beer bottle, which, by the look of shock on his face, still had a good few mouthfuls in there. Yet, without a word, it was returned, although this time with an apology and an embarrassed laugh - all was forgiven.
For the platos principales, I plumped for the Albondigas de Carne - meatballs served in a special salsa (£8.50). This was a rustic, filling meal - so much so that the accompanying trimmings - arroz, papas fritas, ensalada and salsa fresca - rice, homemade chunky chips, salad and fresh salad, didn’t get much of a look in as I made sure to polish off the succulent meatballs, which were served with a robust tomato sauce.
My dining partner ordered Llapingacho (£11.50) - grilled steak, which he noted was nicely cooked, chorizo, potato cake, a fresh and crunchy salad and some light, spicy, hot and fresh salsa.
As filling as the starters and mains was, I was determined to have the cake I spotted in the window as I walked in, and a coffee. The one I had my eye on was an interesting looking layered cake, with caramel, (£3.50). When I saw the receipt I saw it was described as Hojarasca. Intrigued by the name, I Googled it. Finding pictures of autumnal leaves on the floor left me puzzled, until further investigation revealed it is referred to as a cake of a thousand leaves.
The smooth sweetness of the caramel, with its soft and chewy texture, married well with the pastry layers, and was a heavenly end to the meal. Dousing it in cream only doubled its delight. And a coffee - white with sugar (£2.15) kept the sickly sweet sensation to a minimum.
I was quite smug in thinking I had chosen best, until my partner was hesitant to share his torta de cafe (£3.50) - coffee cake . He found it to be nicely flavoured and not too overpowering - and declared it would complement an after dinner coffee or aperitif nicely.
Following further discussions with the owner and a trip to the toilets upstairs (and an excuse to have a quick nosy at the new bar area) saw us leave Casa Colombiana at midnight. The meal had finished some time before, and the service had been a nice balance between swift but not rushed, but time slipped away from us as we lost ourselves in the great ambience of the restaurant. This has been created by the surroundings and the staff, who made us feel so welcome and taking the time to check everything was okay and staying for a chat when we asked about the restaurant, despite them clearly having a busy night with the party.
My partner summed it up well, saying the atmosphere feels as laid back as a good holiday, and that looks - and tastes - the part too.
Along with a bottle of San Andres Valle Central Merlot Chilli (£14.95) and a large glass (£5.50) the meal came to £64.55.
Address: Grand Arcade, New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6PG.
Tel: 07799885463 or 07710958118
Opening times: Tuesday to Thursday 11am-7pm, Friday and Saturday 11am-midnight, Sunday 11am-5pm