For those of us whose idea of a good night out involves drunkenly bellowing the words to Livin’ On a Prayer into a microphone in front of a group of like-minded friends or colleagues, the section of East Parade where it meets Greek Street in the city centre will need no introduction.
Until earlier this year it was home to OK Karaoke, a sticky-floored nightspot possibly hamstrung by its position in a no man’s land between competing areas of the city.
Since its closure, a new proposition has sprung up on the site - La Rambla, a tapas and wine restaurant intent on bringing the “true spirit of Spain to Leeds” and touting the authenticity of its food.
The city isn’t short of options for Spanish-inspired cuisine. Among others, there’s already Ambiente on The Calls, a branch of the somewhat uninspiring La Tasca chain just round the corner on Russell Street, and five minutes walk away on the edge of the Trinity centre the lavishly-appointed, modern and slightly pricier Pintura, with food more influenced by Spain’s Basque country.
Further north, there is the well-regarded and always busy El Bareto in Chapel Allerton, where Oliver has tried unsuccessfully on several occasions to get a table in the last two years.
Signs of Barcelona’s influence are everywhere you look inside La Rambla. On one wall are pictures of Gaudi’s Casa Batlló, while at the bar in big letters are the names of some of the Catalan capital’s best known landmarks, Park Guell, Barceloneta etc.
Then, of course, is the name La Rambla itself, a nod to Barcelona’s best known thoroughfare and tourist hotspot (think Briggate but several times longer and with a surfeit of flower stalls, hawkers and confused looking tourists trying to find their way to the Sagrada Familia).
The general ambience is that of a more traditional tapas restaurant, rather than anything more avant-garde or envelope-pushing. There are upturned sherry barrels being used as tables and Latino pop music in the background, with the décor a mixture of wood, patterned tiles and warming colours on the walls.
It feels like the kind of place where, if so inclined, one could hunker done with a bottle of red wine and a cheeseboard and while away the afternoon. A slight downside is the state of the toilets, which like those of their predecessor, could do with a facelift.
The cuisine itself relies on tapas standards, served simply in small plates or bowls, but to good effect. We order six small plates in total, plus a cheeseboard, and it all arrives at our table within a few minutes, good service even on a quiet Tuesday night.
The tabla de jamon y queso, essentially a board of cheese and ham, is described on the menu as offering a “selection of cured Iberian meats (Spanish sausage, salchichón and sobrassada”) but when the board arrives we can only ascertain one, a slightly thicker cut, served with slices of what we assume is manchego, with a sweet quince sauce.
Patatas bravas, the classic Spanish dish of fried potatoes in a slightly spicy tomato sauce, is more on the picante side than we were expecting but enjoyable all the same. Despite being very simple, it can be easy to get wrong, but La Rambla’s version gets full marks.
Pork meatballs, or albondigas, are also tasty enough and come in a nice vegetable sauce, while the croquettes of the day, in this case ham, pass muster by virtue of being crunchy on the outside and flavoursome and gooey on the inside.
The latter dish is served on top of a few completely unnecessary salad leaves, which at no point do we consider eating.
Gambas al ajillo, otherwise known as prawns drenched in olive oil with garlic and guindilla hot peppers, are nice and chunky with plenty of bite.
Next up is monkfish in a salsa verde green sauce, which is meaty and well-cooked. Without delivering anything that knocks your socks off, the food is fresh and flavoursome, with a nice home-made quality.
The only dish we weren’t totally positive about was the berenjena y queso pintxo, pieces of aubergine and cheese with a balsamic reduction served on an overly large piece of toasted bread.
It may have been that by the time we got round to eating it, with so many other things to try, it had got a bit cold, but the aubergine seemed a little chewy and rather a chore to eat.
The waiting staff are clearly Spanish and natter away to each other in the mother tongue when not serving. Sensing they were keen for a diner to give it a try, I ventured a few words of schoolboy Spanish when ordering a second glass of wine and it seemed to be well received.The wine list itself has a decent selection of red, white and rose options. I opt for a glass of Ramon Roqueta tempranillo-cabernet, a good match for the stronger-tasting food on the menu, and a Vega Del Pas, a Spanish sauvignon blanc.
The price of the dessert, £6.25 for five not-huge donuts with a small bowl of chocolate sauce, encapsulates why tapas is considered by many to be less-than brilliant value.
But having said that, our total bill for two people, with one of us not drinking, was a few pence over £61 – not a cheap evening out but far from the most expensive meal you could have in Leeds city centre.
And the obvious advantage of tapas is that if one of the small plates proves to be not to your liking, there are plenty of other options to choose from. A very solid addition to the existing tapas options in Leeds, the biggest compliment Oliver can give is that La Rambla wouldn’t feel out of the place in Barcelona itself.
Address: 9 East Parade, Leeds city centre, LS1 2AJ
Phone: 01132 434 941
Opening times: Monday to Sunday from 11.30am to 11pm.