Kate Ryrie enjoys unpretentious tapas in a Venezuelan basement
It’s been four months of weeknight fiestas for Leeds’ newest tapas venture, where vibrant flavour and welcoming smiles rise to meet you from the underground.
Tucked away in its slightly unexpected York Place venue, La Taberna is the night-time sister of partner restaurant, Caracas, which has been serving up Venezuelan dishes in the heart of Leeds’ business quarter for several years.
An oasis of calm below the booming city streets
Now though, change has arrived, and continues to work its magic every day, as the evening rolls in, and Venezuela becomes Spain. Terracotta bowls of olives appear, gambas begin to sizzle, and potatoes bathe in that signature spicy sauce.
We descend the steps to La Taberna on an autumnal night, taking heed of its existence only from the black and white sign that hangs inconspicuously above the railings. Inside, it’s warm and rustic – wooden chairs and tables, sandy yellow and orange tones, bare brick (or wallpaper that looks like it) and the gently bubbling chatter of diners, many of whom are Spanish.
We order our drinks from co-owner, Guido, who grins sheepishly as he brings over a pint of Estrella and a glistening glass of sangria, as well as tap water that’s topped up throughout the meal, with no need to ask.
The menu is small yet balanced. There are five starters, five meat dishes, five veggie dishes and three fish dishes, plus two specials chalked onto a blackboard in the centre of the room. Choosing isn’t difficult – this is no overwhelming process of frantically perusing a zillion tiny dishes in the hopes of the authentic tapas experience, this is selecting the best combination from a single, simple page.
We enjoy discs of cured meat (£6.95) paired with earthy marinated olives (£3.95) to start with, and opt for a further five dishes between two for our main meal. The beef stew special (£5.95) doesn’t disappoint, served in a rich sauce and sprinkled with crispy cassava flakes to give it an edge. We opt for brocheta de pollo (£5.50) too, which boasts tender skewered chicken and the simple fresh flavours of grilled peppers and courgette.
On the fish side of things, a sizzling bowl of king prawns in garlic and chilli (£6.25) oil presents as a well-executed classic, and a plate of calamares fritos (£5.75) gives us the deep-fried, aioli element that every great tapas experience demands. And in the name of great tapas experiences, we tuck into some spicy patatas bravas (£4.50), to round it all off.
The drinks choice isn’t extensive, but makes a good match for the thoughtful food menu – a white and a red rioja served by the glass, Estrella on draught, sangria (in pitcher or half-pint) and all the soft drinks you’d expect. We even get a complimentary glass of Anis (fiery aniseed-flavoured Spanish liqueur) to wash it all down in style.
The atmosphere is warm, straight-forward and relaxed – after three of our dishes arrive, the other co-owner, Vivi, asks if we’re ready for more, or if we’d like more time to enjoy what’s already out. No Tetris-ing too many plates onto the table and struggling against the clock as food gets cold to be seen.
With reasonable prices and some of the most flavourful, unpretentious tapas I’ve tasted this far from Spain, La Taberna certainly is a Leeds secret. An oasis of calm below the booming city streets, this Tardis of a tapas joint is well worth a trip.
La Taberna, Britannia House, 16 York Place, Basement, Leeds LS1 2EU
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Cured meats 7, olives 8, beef stew 8, calamari 8, gambas 8, patatas bravas 8, chicken skewers 8
Attentive, warm and friendly
Authentic, nice levels of music, tables spaced well