Oliver doesn’t usually go in for spontaneity; visits to restaurants destined for review are usually planned well in advance.
But, in the case of Sandinista, the Latin-themed tapas bar on Cross Belgrave Street, Leeds, unseasonably bad weather and a trip to the theatre came together to provide a good enough reason to abandon our carefully laid plans.
Getting a car parking space near the Grand Theatre is a hit and miss affair, the few spaces at the top of New Briggate are at a premium but yet, each time I visit the area, I persist in chancing my luck in the hope I’ll manage to bag one of the coveted few.
This time we were incredibly lucky, just as we arrived a motorist was pulling out and the very last space was ours for the taking.
Unluckily however, at the moment we left the car, a squally wind accompanied by a cloud burst threatened to soak us, so we ducked into the nearest restaurant, which just happened to be Sandinista, abandoning our plans to walk further into the city centre.
Only one other table was occupied which was rather disconcerting but as it was only 6pm on a Monday night not unduly surprising.
Faced between a half-empty restaurant and the worsening weather outside, the restaurant will win every time.
Sandinista is a rough and ready sort of a place with tatty scrubbed wooden tables, brightly coloured walls covered with interesting murals, posters and plaques and a small, cluttered bar clad in dark wood.
Benches and chairs are made more comfortable with scatter cushions and the whole place exudes a pleasant and relaxing atmosphere.
The staff are young and friendly and greet customers like old friends.
We initially sat ourselves by the door so we could indulge in a spot of people watching through the picture window but soon moved further into the interior as the wind howled through the open door.
Once settled on our bench near the bar we decided to celebrate bagging the parking space and our impending night out at the theatre by indulging ourselves and so ordered a couple of cocktails while we decided what to eat.
I ordered a daiquiri, my partner a mojito, both were tasty although my daiquiri just had the edge and, if I’d not been driving home later that night I’d happily have had a couple more.
As we’d only got just over an hour before curtain-up we couldn’t spend too long looking at the menu nor order anything that was going to take an age to arrive.
With help from out waiter we went for nachos with chilli as a shared starter (£6.95) and a selection of tapas dishes: rump steak (£5.95); smoked sausage and prawn jambalaya (£5.95), chorizo hash pan (£4.75 ); lentils and goat’s cheese sofrito (£4.50) and a selection of bread and oils (£3.25).
We added on a side order of olives so we’d have something to chew on while we waited for the food to arrive.
These, as it turned out where the biggest disappointment of the night. Though big and juicy they tasted like they’d been pickled in brine but were served drizzled in oil – not a nice combination at all.
The nachos we’d ordered as a starter looked good and there were no complaints about the top layer of chips.
But once we’d delved down a layer or two they were cold and dry and there was no enough sauce to coat the portion we’d been served.
The chorizo hash on the other hand was a real winner. Chunks of potato, smoked sausage and a large fried egg on top were served in a cute little cast iron skillet.
A combination that was quite delicious and one which I tried to replicate at home with some success. In fact it’s now become one of our family’s favourite suppertime treats.
Another dish that failed to impress was the jambalaya. Though tasty and substantial there was a distinct absence of prawns – we fished around for a while and came up with a couple but these were such little tiddlers they hardly counted.
The spiced sausage made up in some way for the disappointment.
We both enjoyed the lentil and goats cheese sofrito. I’m not a particular fan of goat’s cheese but the pairing of the lentils and the flavoursome sauce worked well together and softened the taste of the cheese.
Lightly cooked strips of rump steak were a nice diversion but they were gone all too quickly as we fought over who should have the last piece.
A substantial bread basket with oil for dipping filled us up nicely and was useful for scooping up every last morsel from the dishes.
Opting for tapas as an early pre-theatre treat is one which I’ll certainly replicate.
There was just enough to satisfy our hunger without feeling overly full and the prompt service meant we were actually early for the show.
One last surprise sent us on our way with a spring in our step. As I asked for the bill and apologised for having to cut and run as we were going to the theatre, our waiter pointed to the sign on the wall which offered a 20 per cent discount to theatre or gig -goers.
As it was we’d no complaints about the bill which came to a respectable £54.30 including the cocktails and a large glass of merlot – and that was before the discount which brought it down to £43.44.
Address: 5 Cross Belgrave St, Leeds, LS2 8JP
Tel: 0113 2430395
Opening times: Sunday-Friday, 11am-3am, Saturday 10am-4am