There’s something about tapas which demands sunny days, tables outside and leisurely lunches enjoyed with pitchers of Sangria. Something about these little dishes, so familiar and yet so foreign, conjures up that feeling of relaxation, of being slightly drunk in the middle of the afternoon, of that feeling your skin gets when you spend more time outdoors than normal – slightly windswept, slightly sunkissed (or sunburnt…). I was surprised, therefore, to find that tapas was the perfect antidote to a cold winter’s day in Leeds. Walk into Bilbao Bar in Granary Wharf and you instantly forget the snow and piercing wind that you battled to get there – all those summer holiday feelings come flooding back.
A small little restaurant tucked away inside the arches, the soft lighting, the blackboard drinks menu and the smells of tapas cooking transport you straight to Spain and in winter that is exactly what you need. The staff are relaxed and very friendly, noticing that you need a drinks top-up before you do – which impressed Paul no end! The food menu is small but perfectly formed – with the traditional dishes that you expect mingling with some more unusual and exciting ones. A word of warning, however – don’t let your hunger get away with you when ordering, these were the biggest portions of tapas I’ve ever seen. Five between the two of us was more than sufficient. Drinks-wise, the gin lovers amongst you will be impressed by their selection – with the usual culprits being joined by some Spanish gins. The cocktail list was small but perfectly formed – and I can recommend the Yorkshire Margarita for starters.
My one criticism would be, however, that rather than the traditional way of serving tapas – with all of your dishes crowding for room on the table so you can pick and share and mix to your heart’s content, each dish was bought out separately, one at a time. If you’re sharing dishes this might not be a problem, but Paul and I have very different tastes which meant that only one of us was really eating at any one time, which felt a little odd.
The food, however, was delicious and, as I mentioned, very generously served. I wish we’d been able to try more dishes, as there were so many that I was tempted by – so we’ll definitely have to go back to give those a go. This time around, I opted for Patatas Bravas (obviously) and ‘Tartar de aguacate, langostinos y salmón ahumado’ (or avocado, prawn and smoked salmon tartar to you and me), and we shared a board of Iberico Ham, which was carved right in front of us and served with catalan style bread. The ham was perfectly salty, meaty and more-ish, the perfect starter. The tartar was very fresh and tasty, but I think the standout dish for me was the Patatas Bravas – usually an after-thought, Bilbao Bar’s had a delicious smoky sauce, unlike any Patatas Bravas I’ve come across before, and the potatoes were sliced rather than cubed which gave them a good crispy-skin-to-fluffy-inside ratio. I stole a little of Paul’s Chorizo cooked in Cider, which was succulent and flavoursome but gone before I could knick more than one piece!
So if you fancy a little escapism this winter – paired with some tasty tapas and a potent cocktail or two – then you know where to head. I’ve got my fingers crossed for another good summer, however, so I can enjoy Bilbao Bar in the sunshine – exactly how tapas should be.
Disclaimer: We dined for free at Bilbao Bar in exchange for this review, but I am always honest with you. Maybe it’s the Yorkshire Margarita talking, but those genuinely were the best Patatas Bravas I’ve ever had. I’m cooking a roast as I write this but I still feel like sacking it off and going back for more.