Posted on: 28/06/12
Yorkshire Evening Post Restaurant Review
THEREíS the lovely rich red tones on the walls, the black and white tiled floors and rustic looking furniture Ė everything necessary to create that Hispanic feel.
Everything, that is, except for the two massive TV screens taking pride of place on the main wall of Azucar.
Authentic? Itís hardly up there with an acoustic guitarist gently strumming in the background or the occasional chicken clucking its head round the restaurant door. Itís a taste of Spain with something just a little bit tasteless.
Grumble over, this relative newcomer to Leeds, has been around just enough to establish itself as one of the best places to go for tapas - and with some justification.
The food is pretty good and the surroundings, in the main, make the overall experience that little bit special.
That may owe much to the fact that the business is one great big collaboration. Thereís Stephen Hawkins, whoís already created socialising hotspots like neighbouring bar, Oracle, and OK Karaoke. Heís bolstered by the culinary skills of the boys from Viva Cuba! who bring their firm reputation for tapas to the table. Last but not least is Howard Marks, whoís left his mark all over the place and, to be fair, does know quite a bit about travelling to and from The Americas.
In line with this collaborative aspect, Azucar is a great example of a place which is greater than the sum of its parts.
For example, we were served by a lad called Ben who admitted to us it was his first day in the job and asked us to excuse any hiccups. And there were one or two hiccups but everything was duly excused and, by apologising from the start, made himself instantly endearing. See what we mean? The service is relaxed (everyone wears black jeans and t-shirts here) and they donít constantly revisit your table to the point where you feel like asking if they wouldnít just like to pull up a chair and join you.
But everything came at speed, was nice and hot and whenever we needed help they were pretty attentive. It wasnít first class, but it did the trick.
The same goes for the food. We ordered most of the menu of tapas, determined to provide a comprehensive overview. We were also hungry and downright greedy.
It was a foolish decision in hindsight since, frustratingly, we couldnít finish the whole selection. Our advice would be to remain selective, just pick out a few dishes each and make sure you donít get anything too samey.
We found that our array was rather meat-heavy, which isnít a surprise given that this is tapas, but a little imagination on the part of the chefs might mean they could deliver something more than the usual patatas bravas, calamares and meatballs. For vegetarians the tapas menu might prove particularly challenging.
Thatís not to detract from the quality of the food, the chorizo was beautifully marinaded and the chilli had a nice kick to it and was obviously made with high quality meat. In terms of drinks we decided not to go for wine or beer (though there is an extensive selection of both available) but, in keeping with the environment, we opted for cocktails.
We can heartily recommend the mojitos which achieve what few other bars readily achieve, which is the perfect blend of rum, mint and sweetness. The dark n stormy is also a must-try: Goslingís Black Seal rum, spiced with fiery ginger beer and a squeeze of fresh lime. And they arenít too badly priced at around £6 to £7.
The food is not too expensive either. Expect to shell out about £5 per tapas dish, some are slightly more, others less, but youíre looking at nothing over £7.
But to reduce this restaurant to merely being a tapas haven misrepresents the place. Itís not just a Central American adventure with a small selection of burritos and fajitas, thereís also a smattering dishes from further afield, such as the Moroccan lamb fillet or the Argentinian spiced steak.
But, once again, be in no doubt that this is a meat loverís paradise and doesnít apologise for the fact.
If you go crazy, as we did, then youíll most likely end up with a bill between £80 and £90. If youíre careful about what you pick and have a couple of cocktails each then youíll probably end up with a tab closer to the £65 mark, which is good value compared to plenty of inferior restaurants selling similar food.
The good value element here, it should be pointed out, is not in Azucar being the cheapest tapas-based restaurant around, but it certainly offers food with more depth of flavour and it comes in more generous portions.
Also worth noting is the location which is smack bang in a city living fortress by the waterside. Itís on the edge of the heart of Leeds and if you want to go onto a neighbouring bar youíre looking at somewhere where the younger, cooler crowd hang out. While Azucar can just about appeal to everybody, it does slot in particularly well with its fashionable neighbours.
This is never more apparent than in the summer when their substantial terrace becomes a place to drink and be seen drinking. If that isnít your bag, then this ambience might not endear you to the place.
If, however, the quality of the food is paramount and you quite fancy a more vibrant atmosphere with relaxed service then Azucar might just be a good option. Just donít go there if you want to escape the television for a night.
5A Brewery Place, Leeds, LS10 1NE
Opening times: Tue, Wed and Thursday, 5pm to 11pm. Fri, 4pm to late. Sat and Sun, 2pm to late. Closed on Mondays
Tel. 0113 2435761
SERVICE ................................ ***