Lavanta on Otley Road, West Park (although some might argue it’s Far Headingley) has been part of the local dining circuit for about three years.
Chef owner Orhan Girgin worked for many years behind the scenes at The Olive Tree but his culinary credentials reach even further back, having been raised in the heat of the family restaurant in the coastal town of Mersin in the south of Turkey. His great grandfather Enver Girgin was a cook; his grandmother Tahire came from Bolu famed for producing the best Turkish chefs. His mother Semra was obsessed with Gallic cuisine having attended French high school whilst his father came from the south of Turkey bringing classic European dishes to the Mediterranean table. So reads the biog on the restaurant’s website.
We get to meet Orhan about ten minutes into our visit on a dreary November evening as the rain lashes the outside of the neat looking building on the corner leading up to West Park Roundabout. He is pure joy. Dressed in his chef’s whites, he clearly come straight from the kitchen and he makes a bee line for our table, principally because we’ve made an unusual request. Can he cook us a dish to take away (in addition to serving those of us who are here). Of course, the answer is yes but Orhan wants to double check our timings and while he’s here, takes the time to ask how hot we want the dish and whether we want anything to go with it. It’s all very effortless and, well, a joy, actually. But he’s not done yet. Having taken down the details of our ‘to go’ order, he moves immediately to take our order for the evening but there’s no need, we’ve already given that to the waitress. It’s refreshing to find an owner/chef so accommodating, so approachable and energetic. If you could bottle what Orhan has, you’d make a fortune and not wanting to cast his staff in a negative light but his confident yet deferential demeanour seriously puts them in the shade. But one man can’t do everything and so back to the kitchen he goes, with a smile and a wave.
Which brings us back to the night in question. The welcome we received was lovely, no tension. We’re seated just off from the window, which makes for a nice change, as we’re the first ones in. More soon arrive and it’s clear Lavanta doesn’t struggle for custom. Nor should it, with one of the best suburban locations going, situated on the A58, passed by thousands every day and still managing to hold onto that ‘villagey’ feel, thanks to the free parking just outside and the quaint little nuances this part of Headingley/West Park still offers in terms of architecture and street layout. Prior to Lavanta (which means lavender, in case you were wondering), there was
West Park Brasserie, Lime Tree and Pip’s. Lavanta seems to be holding its own. The drill here is Mediterranean sharing platters of meat and fish, with lashings of grilled vegetables and salads.
We kick off with hummus (£3.50) and halloumi (£5.95), both good, the hummus in particular, which has a delivers a nicely judged hit of garlic but not too much to overpower. The halloumi: salty, meaty and moist.
Couple of pointers on the service front. We had to ask for napkins and water for the table (as did the table next to us), which should be brought as a matter of course. I’m not a fan of the essentially meaningless ‘Is everything all right with your meal?’, because if it isn’t then people will usually pipe up but other than that single, cliched moment, service was good but not great.
It’s always a struggle trying to catch the eye of your waiter, sometimes to the point where you just decide to get up and go ask, as the alternative of waving one’s arm or sticking it up in the air like some needy school kid just doesn’t bare thinking about, not least because if you do get ignored again, that’s an even bigger social fail. Waiters need to be like croupiers, keen eyed and savvy. I imagine if Orhan somehow managed to clone himself, it would all be seamless.
One main came in the form of the Lavanta burger (£13.95), a beast of a thing and all the better for it – it’s two homemade steak burgers with melted cheese, garlic sausage, onions, pickles, ketchup and mayo sauce on brioche bun that somehow managed not to fall apart, served with hand cut chips, which were really rather nice.
The other dish was the Chicken Brochette (£15.95), marinated chunks of skewer-roasted chicken served with sautéd potatoes, rice and chilli relish. Decent.
To finish off there were creme brulee (£5.95) and ice cream (£3.95), the former an absolute dream. And no sooner had we completed that course and paid the bill, our dish to take away arrived right on cue. The final bill, together with drinks and a curly kale side salad (£3.50) came to £102.13.
Address: 269 Otley Road,
West Park, Leeds LS16 5LN
Telephone: 0113 274 5525
Opening times: Monday to Thursday 5.30pm-10pm,
Friday & Saturday noon- 10.30pm, Sunday noon-9pm