Stan Graham heads to Ambiente Tapas for lunch this week, where he tries a range of their offerings and even teaches us a thing or two about the Spanish language.
Ola! That’s Spanish for Ey Up! you know. There are a few differences in my choice of venue this week. Normally I just get off the bus in Vicar Lane and see where fancy takes me but this week I had a look on that font of knowledge relating to all things Leodian, viz Leeds Living website, where I came across a small item saying that Ambiente Tapas do a special lunch menu. Say no more! Another oddity is that I try not to do tapas bars alone, as the point of them seems to be sharing. As I have previously explained, tapas were originally small snacks served with sherry in Spanish bars, but over the years have grown into small meals. When I looked on the establishment’s website I saw that the lunch menu offered a choice of three dishes for £9.95 so the variety was there even if I dined alone.
On entering I was greeted by the extremely pleasant staff, one of whom showed me to a table and proceeded to explain the ‘concept’ of the restaurant. It transpires that rather than being strictly Spanish tapas, the food is more fusion small plates.
I opted for three items from the lunch menu, or tapas rapid, as it is headed. I also ordered a plate of bread with oil and balsamic dip as an appetiser (£2.50). I asked about the house red and was told that the special wine of the day was called Parcela 12, named after the piece of land in the vineyard where it is produced. It was a bit more expensive than I would normally pay at lunchtime at £8.00 for 250ml, but I have to say that it was one of the best wines I have tasted in a long time and nice and light for a lunchtime libation. Some light reds can be insipid or acidic but this was neither, being beautifully smooth and fruity.
The bread also came as a surprise – there were two flavours: onion and tomato. The soft texture of both the crust and middle was a drastic change from the normal sourdough or baguette which seem to be breads of choice in restaurants nowadays. There was a tad too much balsamic vinegar in relation to the oil for my taste but that is a minor quibble.
The three items I chose from the menu were not the ones that I would normally have ordered, but I wanted to test the range, so I had panceta de cerdo which is slow cooked belly pork with cumin and sea salt. For a sample of the fishy section I opted for calamares fritos, deep fried calamares on a bed of rocket leaves and aioli, whilst from the vegetable section I chose patatas bravas, described on the menu as ‘triple cooked potatoes dusted with a special blend of spices and generously drizzled with aioli and tomato sauce.’ The potatoes were perfectly cooked but the sauce was a little tame. I am used to having to be a lot more bravas when eating the patatas as there are usually chillies lurking beneath the surface, but this was a straightforward, albeit very rich tomato sauce. The calamares were in a light, crisp batter and the contents just right. Overcooked octopus can be like eating elastic bands but these were just right.
By far and away the star of the show was the belly pork. The meat was tender without falling to pieces and the fat was amazing. It was unctuous and rich with a touch of crispiness, but not full blown crackling. The whole thing melted in the mouth. I could have happily spent the afternoon demolishing a few plates of this as well as the rest of the bottle of red. Unfortunately, there were desserts to be tried so I had to move on.
The desserts were twists on familiar themes and I opted for tocinillo del cielo which translates as Heaven’s Little Pig but is known as Heaven’s Custard and, as with all of the other items on the dessert menu, was priced at £5.95. Really it is the Spanish version of creme caramel but was beautifully presented, topped with spun sugar. Delicious.
I refrained from ordering the rest of the bottle of red and settled for a black Americano. Probably as well really and only £1.60. Should you find yourself at a loose end I can certainly recommend Ambiente Tapas for lunch whether, like me, you dine alone or, like a couple of other tables, you are in a party.
Until next time, Adios. That’s Spanish for tarrah.
Photography by Stan Graham