If you love strong, robust Mediterranean flavours served with verve, you are unlikely to find somewhere better in Leeds than El Bareto.
In fact, after a divine dining experience at this charming Spanish restaurant and bar, I may never, when I’ve got the choice, eat at any other tapas restaurant again.
El Bareto sells itself as a cosy, traditional, family-run eatery with an “authentic atmosphere” and “the true taste of Spain”. Any restaurant boasting a “true taste” of anywhere really needs to deliver – and this hidden gem does so in abundance.
We had phoned in mid-evening, tentatively hoping to secure a table on a busy Friday night. We were advised the restaurant was fully booked but we could be squeezed in at just before 10pm. Embracing the laid-back approach of the seasoned continental diner, we willingly accepted.
As we drove into the suburban parade of shops where El Bareto nestles, I noted the outside of the venue is quite deceptive, giving off an almost wooden-shack like feel.
We walked in at about 9.30pm to find the tiny upstairs bar packed to the rafters. It was cosy, not uncomfortable, and we enjoyed a round of drinks surrounded by lively, boisterous conversation.
As we waited for our table, we pondered the ‘off the beaten track’ charm of El Bareto.
The cosmopolitan draws of Chapel Allerton central are just down the road, but the unassuming location in Gledhow Valley Road suits this restaurant well, stopping it from being buried in a sea of run-of-the mill, trendy wine bars and making it a genuine destination restaurant.
Our waiter showed us to our table, which was tucked away in the downstairs dining area. I noticed the stairs leading us down to our table were slightly creaky, but this only served to emphasise the traditional, homely setting and unpretentious design.
The restaurant area is intimate, seating no more than around 50 people. The decor is dark, muted and unfussy, with booths and wooden benches which are practical rather than luxurious. With the relatively small space, we wondered if the menu would reflect the same, and if we were going to be dining on basic ‘pub grub’ with a Spanish twist. But we needn’t have worried.
Our fellow diners were clearly enjoying themselves thoroughly, which was a good sign.
Our waiter came over straight away, introduced himself and asked us if we had been there before. He then talked us through the El Bareto experience, helpfully advising us how many dishes it would be suitable to order, pointing out that sizes of tapas portions can vary from restaurant to restaurant.
We liked the attentive, thoughtful but unobtrusive service from all the staff, who seemed to be having as much fun as their customers.
The ordering process at El Bareto is simple. You are handed a paper menu with a choice of 50 tapas dishes covering the full range of flavours of Spain. There is also a selection of paellas (available on certain days only) and daily blackboard specials.
We had been advised around eight or nine dishes would be ample to satisfy our hunger and our curious tastebuds, so we ticked the relevant boxes on the menu and handed it back to our waiter.
Everything arrived piping hot as it was when cooked, meaning we were able to pick our way leisurely through a variety of flavours and textures.
We had opted for a selection of potato, chicken, prawn and vegetable tapas, but there are also lamb, beef and duck-based options available, as well as several traditional frittatas (omelette) and paellas (rice).
Our Patatas Bravas (£3.50) were tasty, crispy cubed potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce, and the discs of crispy Alioli Potatoes in a Garlic Sauce (£3.50) were also hits with my two companions.
As both potato dishes arrived together, my guests were worried about loading up too early on the carbohydrates.
However their concerns were soon allayed, as the other dishes came out quickly in succession.
One of my companions remarked that the Lemon King Prawns (£6.90) were “amazing, cooked to perfection and juicy”. Another standout was the Garlic Chicken with Potatoes (£6.90), chicken breast which had been flattened and cooked in a light garlic sauce and served with potatoes. The meat was so tender it melted on touch.
The Chicken in Spicy Homemade Batter (£6.90) was a nice surprise, as the crunchy textured balls served with sweet chilli sauce were reminiscent of a more Oriental menu. The chicken was again melt-in-the-mouth tender, and the crispy coating was delicious.
We had also opted for an Oven Baked Pepper with Vegetables and Cheese (£6.50). This was so hearty and full of flavour, I kept wanting to dip in for a little bit more. We had also ordered the Salmon and Goat’s Cheese on Toast (£5.50) and the Garlic Mushrooms (£5.00), both delicious and warming. One nice surprise was that the restaurant was able to offer some halal meat on request, which made my chicken-loving halal-eating guest particularly happy.
We couldn’t resist trying a couple of desserts, and opted for two house specials, the White Chocolate Cheesecake (£4.25) and the Creme Caramel (£3.75). Both were beautifully made, sweet without being cloying and – like the rest of the food – packed with flavour.
Friday nights are live music nights at El Bareto, and as we ate we enjoyed a pleasant acoustic set which added to an already buzzing atmosphere. I especially enjoyed the sudden burst of Bohemian Rhapsody on Spanish guitar.
Our bill for the night – including drinks and coffees – came in at £75, fantastic value for three people.
El Bareto may be small, but it has a massive Spanish heart that its owners wear proudly. A genuine delight, and one to be revisited again and again.
Address: 120, Gledhow Valley Road,Chapel Allerton, LS17 6LX.
Opening times: 5.30pm to midnight Mon-Sat
Tel: 0113 2666946.