When you type ‘Portugese food’ and ‘Leeds’ into Google, the list will inevitably feature a certain peri peri chicken emporium several times, and not much else.
So it’s nice to see a new Portugese player on the Leeds scene in the form of Cantinho do Aziz.
It opened just five months ago, and if our visit is anything to go by, it’s well on its way to making a name for itself.
Hidden away in one of the dark arches near the railway station, the restaurant itself is small and might be a bit difficult to find for someone not familiar with the city.
Inside, it’s ever so slightly claustrophobic, like sitting in a tin box.
Add to that the minimalist look and the placement of the toilets plonked in the middle of the upstairs dining area and the first impression is far from ideal. Admittedly, geography and the awkwardness of the locations will be a factor here, but still, we made sure we weren’t sitting on the table that the toilet door sits directly behind.
But we realised very quickly that it’s not about the decor. It’s all about the food, and here Cantinho do Aziz is a winner.
The menu is actually quite an eclectic combination, with the dominant Portugese dishes interspersed with hints of African soul food flavours inspired by the Lisbon-born and raised owner’s roots in Mozambique and even a bit of Brazilian flair thrown in.
We discovered during our visit that this restaurant is one third of an international family project. The current owner told us his brother runs an outlet in Lisbon, while his sister has opened a venture in Miami.
Lots of exotic sounding names will scream out at you on the menu, but actually the concepts behind them are quite simple.
The variety of stews and fishy concoctions will be a dream for seafood lovers, and there is plenty for the carnivores too with a variety of specialist burgers and steaks.
The menu is actually not overly fussy or long, with just 20 or so dishes, which we were told change every few months,
I started with the Gambas al Alhinho (£5). This was six fat, juicy and perfectly cooked fried prawns, swimming in a gorgeously garlicky butter sauce. The flavour was much more delicate than I had expected. The inclusion of a wedge of charred fresh lemon gave the dish some added zing.
For my main I chose the fabulously named Wuco Coco and Amendoim (£8), chicken breast and vegetables in a coconut and peanut ceram sauce.
Although tasty, it was slightly cloying, but just a tiny bit of a fiery chilli sauce accompaniment stirred in did wonders.
The chicken breast was meltingly moist, and the vegetables cooked just right.
However there wasn’t a need for both chips and rice, and we had to ask for a doggy bag. Presentation was sloppy but comfortingly unfussy.
My companion adored his ‘Cafreal’ chicken wings starter (£4) which came coated in a thick peri peri sauce and with skin on, The marinade was pungent and deep, not one for those of a delicate palate.
His main of Bife a Aziz (£10) was a lot less fiery. Presentation was again a no-no, but it tasted, according to my companion, absolutely delicious. Normally a fan of heavy spicing, he found the creamy, well seasoned sauce just the right accompaniment, alongside the perfectly set fried egg.
We also shared a slice of Cookie Cake (£3.50) a tiramisu-like dessert made of layers of crushed biscuit and creamy filling, which was a pleasant and a surprisingly light end to the meal.
Our bill, which included a soft drink each, came to just £36, which we thought was extremely reasonable.
The early bird offer, on exactly the same all day menu, works out even cheaper so it’s worth going along earlier in the day if you can.
It was a quiet weekday evening, and the restaurant was not particularly busy, although as we arrived, a large group of about 10 people was just finishing up and had clearly had a brilliant time.
Service was quick and friendly, and the owner himself was on hand to chat and serve us. However half an hour after we arrived, we were the only diners left, so it was probably not the best occasion to evaluate overall service quality.
Cantinho do Aziz is all about food for the soul, and a welcome addition to the city’s dining scene.
It’s definitely still got a way to go if it aspires to fine dining standards, but I get the impression this is far from the owners’ minds.
Address: Sovereign Place, Leeds