The Escape Horsforth: Meet the family behind the Leeds restaurant serving dishes for every taste

From pizza and pasta to Sunday roasts and burgers, The Escape offers something for everyone.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 19th February 2022, 4:30 pm

The Horsforth restaurant, owned by head chef Ilmi 'Castro' Lala and his cousins Dash and Kastriot, serves British and Mediterranean cuisine in a warm and homely atmosphere that has had customers pouring in since it reopened in April.

Castro, as he is known in Leeds, grew up in Burrel in Albania before moving to Greece in his twenties.

He now has more than two decades of experience in the kitchen - but he didn't start cooking until moving to Leeds in January 2000.

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The Escape owners Ilmi 'Castro' Lala and Dash Ndreu, who serve something for every taste (Photo: Simon Hulme)

The 50-year-old told the Yorkshire Evening Post: "I decided to move to the UK for better opportunities and started working as a kitchen assistant at Est Est Est restaurant in Cookridge.

“The head chef John Richold motivated me to become a chef, he taught me everything about preparations, fresh ingredients, cooking scales and managing kitchen teams.

“I owe him greatly, without his support I wouldn’t have reached this point.”

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Castro cooking his rack of lamb dish, one of his favourites on the menu (Photo: Simon Hulme)

Castro was promoted to head chef in 2003, before following John to Leeds bar and restaurant group Arc Inspirations two years later - where he stayed for more than 13 years.

He praised the "motivational" team who became good friends and inspired his dream of launching his own restaurant, which he finally achieved in January 2020.

Castro heads up the kitchen team and creates The Escape's menus, while his cousin Dash runs the front-of-house operation.

“I’ve wanted to have my own restaurant for a while," Castro added.

"It’s a dream come true.

“When I was creating the menu, I wanted it to be a restaurant for everybody - there’s pizza, pasta, Sunday roasts, burgers, salads and healthy dishes.

"We also have a vegan and gluten-free menu and a selection of wines and spirits.

Customers can expect a warm welcome, everybody who walks through the doors will see a happy face and it will feel like home."

Castro and Dash hit a roadblock just three months after opening their New Road Side restaurant when the first lockdown was enforced.

They managed a busy summer in 2020, before the shutters went down once again.

“It’s been frustrating," Castro said.

“We spent a lot of money buying the restaurant and refurbishing and we didn’t know how long it was going to take to get back to normal life.

“But with our strength, and the help from the Government, we managed to get through and we were very busy when we reopened in July 2020 - especially during the Eat Out to Help Out scheme which was great advertisement.

“It got a lot of people out to try our food and they’ve kept coming back again.”

Now back in full swing, The Escape is bustling with diners who Castro praised for keeping the restaurant afloat during the last two years.

“Working as a chef is tough but rewarding," he added.

“I enjoy it the most when it’s busy and all the customers are happy. If they go home happy, then I go home happy as well.

“I want to say thank you to all our local customers and our team members, without their support we wouldn’t be where we are now."

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