Tavernaki restaurant in Leeds: Greek and Cypriot food full of flavour

Greek and Cypriot restaurant Tavernaki Bistro is one of those places that feels like it's been around forever but less often noticed.

By Yorkshire Evening Post
Sunday, 15th March 2020, 6:00 am

Under its former name, Souvlaki, the Great George Street spot was about long before Leeds started shouting loudly (as it has done in recent years) about being a great northern foodie city with a top selection of global cuisine to choose from (which, to an extent, it has).

But as a resident of the city for more than a decade now, it's taken me too long to give it a try.

When I mentioned to a colleague that I'd been, she wondered why there aren't as many Greek restaurants as there seem to be Italian in the UK - and on the back of this visit, I have to agree that I wish there were.

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Tavernaki, Great George Street, Leeds.

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For a wet and windy work night amid confirmation of an actual pandemic, the calm inside Tavernaki was more than welcome.

We hadn't booked in advance but were led straight in to the half-filled restaurant, and were initially invited to sit on a two-seater, which was a bit of a squeeze next to the neighbouring pair.

The waiter - the only one serving, who was attentive but unimposing - intuited our unease, and cheerfully offered another table.

Souvlaki.

The decor is comforting and pays tribute to the theme - photos, memorabilia and produce from Greece and Cyprus are placed around the room, but the space feels uncluttered, relaxing and a fire was on the go.

Cooks can be heard putting a shift in from the half-concealed (sort-of) open kitchen.

What’s the menu like?

Ample and accommodating. There are vegetarian, seafood and meat starters, as well as mains in all three categories. There's an early bird menu (Sunday to Thursday between 4pm and 7pm which offers two courses for £16.95 or three courses for £18.95), platters and meze.

Souvlaki - cuts of meat marinated in a lemony Greek herbs and olive oil - are available in pork, beef and halloumi variations.

Expect lots of feta, halloumi, pita and tzatziki throughout the list but with plenty for meat-eaters to consider.

Now onto the food

For my starter - which I actually asked to come with the mains after the waiter had asked, maybe mindful that my co-diner wasn't having one - I choose feta saganaki. This is cheese folded with filo pastry and, here at least, cooked in the oven, topped with honey and cinnamon, and it was delicious. The honey balanced beautifully with the salty cheese, and the pastry itself was sticky, crispy golden brown with a moreish sweet-savoury smack of flavour.

My friend decided on the pork pancettes - slices of pork belly, marinated with herbs and olive oil, served with tzatziki, house salad and potatoes. From my side of the table, this was a treat for the eye, though according to him tasted a bit bland.

The pork souvlaki I chose as a main had a good flavour, and if (just very) slightly dry, the generous mound of salad, tzatziki, chips and pitta bread - on a night like that when comfort is required - compensated.

Room for dessert?

Not this time - though the rich honey that smothered the fat feta parcel ensured we didn't go without a taste of something sweet.

For those that are interested, desserts such as the traditional baklava - a mixture of almonds, pistachios and wrapped in filo pastry and honey - and ravani - sweet semolina cake - are available.

And the drinks?

We both started with a cola, then with his meal my friend had a Palax, an "artesan lager" from Rioja, Spain. Wine and other usual drinks are served, alongside cocktails and

How much was the bill? Was it value for money?

The bill was £49.72 and although the food is not fancy, from my perspective it was worth the price. Diners who fancy something flavourful and unfussy - but rooted in tradition - should give it a shot.

Rating: 6.5/10