Cast your mind back a couple of weeks, before the present heatwave and we were in the somewhat damp grip of your average British summer and Oliver was in search of some serious sun. But with the holidays further away ever, one had to improvise.
Alas, the taxi driver dropped my partner and I a little short (to say the least) of Leeds Bradford Airport - to be precise, we alighted in Horsforth at La Bistro Mediterranean Kitchen. And it was pouring down.
Racing the few metres to get out of the driving rain, we were stopped in our tracks when an apologetic sign on the door said the restaurant only took cash.
Five minutes later, following a dash round the corner to the nearest ATM, we finally made it inside our destination, albeit soaking wet. Being a Friday night, every table was taken and we were shown to the bar at the back of the bistro.
As a small eatery, every available space was taken with tables and chairs - with no waiting area for people to sit and relax while a table became free. Being 15 minutes early, we had no choice but to stand dripping at the bar with our drinks.
As we waited, we were handed the menus. ‘When you’re here, you’re family’, stated the message and this was something we saw in action as the manager welcomed some of the diners like old friends and shared jokes and smiles with the different groups of people. So far, so cosy.
The menu read ‘When you’re here, you’re family’ and that’s certainly how we were treated.
Bang on our reservation time of 7.30pm, we were shown to our table, with our waiter appearing shortly afterwards to take the order. Not wanting to miss out on any of the tastes this bistro, we ordered the La Bistro special mixed meze platter for two, which came with haloumi cheese, cheesy peppers, hummus, tzatziki, calamari, cheese rolls, grilled garlic sausage, salsa, olives and salad with homemade bread.
While all delicious, the standout dishes were the cheesy peppers, crisp and flavoursome with a rich cheese sauce and ripe peppers, and the calamari, which my partner exclaimed was done to a turn and lightly seasoned.
However, my dining partner was also fancying a taste of Italy and ordered the insalata caprese tri colore of beefsteak tomatoes topped with avocado slices and fresh mozzarella, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar - a classic dish that could not be faulted.
One to the main and I opted for the lamb skewers, marinated in olive oil, lime juice, herbs and tomato puree and char grilled before being served with a mixed salad and bulgur rice.
The rice was given scant attention as I tackled the lamb. I regretted not following the waiter’s recommendation to have it served medium and instead requested medium-well done, as while some were beautifully juicy, other pieces were a little dry.
My partner, however, was more than happy with his seabass. Having thought the starters would be too filling, his selection of a lighter option - fish stuffed with spinach and feta cheese and chargrilled was described as being very moist, full of flavour with delicious seasoning and lightly wilted spinach.
In fact, all of the food was not overly fancy, just simple, well prepared and a good combination of carefully chosen ingredients. It was delicious, simple Mediterranean food well done - just as it should be.
As full as I was, the dessert display proved too tempting to ignore and a large piece of creamy cheesecake was soon brought to the table along with a latte and liqueur coffee. This, along with a bottle of Mirabello pinot grigio dell venezie and an additional glass of white wine brought the final bill to a reasonable £78.70.
In the time that my dining partner had excused himself from the table, he had found out the staff at La Bistro, which opened in March, were as Mediterranean as the menu, hailing from all corners, including Turkey, Greece and France. It gave the place a truly international feel - not to mention a good source of tips and information for some great holiday destinations...
Horsforth has become an enclave for Med-bars and restaurants of late and this is no bad thing - the town itself is a dining destination. If one place doesn’t suit you, you’re guaranteed there’ll be another close by that will.
Replying to the chef’s welcome in his native tongue earned us brownie points, as, just before we asked for the bill, we were offered a complimentary drink our choice. When we ventured to ask why, the waitress said ‘because the manager liked the look of you.’
But that wasn’t the biggest surprise of the evening, which was left right until the end and Oliver has to say, in all its years, we’ve never experienced service on quite such a personal level.
At the end of the evening, in true holiday fashion, we were drinking a shot of Raki at the bar and talking to the boss.
As we bid farewell, it looked like we would be heading back out into the rain and the owner looked horrified at this. We declined an offer for him to call a taxi, as we explained we were just a short walk from the restaurant, besides which it was barely raining - then he made us another offer.
Without taking no for an answer, he proposed to take us home in his car and after some deliberation, we agreed and within a few minutes we were home and dry. Now, Oliver is certainly not saying this will happen to everyone, nor are we recommending anyone get into a car with a stranger but given we were not alone and in fact, had a male friend with us, we opted on this occasion to take the manager up on his gracious offer. Now, things like that only ever happen when you are on holiday.
La Bistro, Horsforth
Address: 124 Long Row, Horsforth
Tel: 0113 345 0110
Opening times: noon-10pm