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Restaurant Review: Ambiente Tapas and Sherry Bar

Tapas Wheel Starter from Ambiente

It’s rare these days to find a restaurant that plenty of people have been to but no one has a bad word to say about. But that’s the reputation that Ambiente Tapas and Sherry Bar had to live up to when we visited there last Saturday.

We had tried to go earlier in the year when the restaurant first opened as a pop up on Calls Landing in place of the River Plate restaurant in the centre of Leeds. But try as we might we couldn’t find an opening – this place was really in demand.

So we did our usual trick and forgot about it for a few months until last week when we realised it really was time to try the tapas that everyone spoke so highly about.

Upon arrival we were seated quite close to the bar and door area. When we asked if we could be seated a little further into the restaurant our waitress was absolutely lovely and found another table for us right away.

I’m glad we asked as from our new location we were away from the Piccadilly Circus that was the bar area and we could properly enjoy the lovely relaxed atmosphere of the restaurant. There were people and groups of all ages and when Jimi Hendrix came on over the sound system I knew this was a good place to be!

The menu looked amazing. I have to say I could have eaten everything on there – even the vegetarian dishes looked good enough to eat. And for a sworn meat-lover, that’s a compliment. I know it’s wrong to badmouth the veggies but I kind of feel that I can, having been veggie for 8 years back in the day (and yes, it was a bacon sandwich that did for me. And the day after I stopped being a veggie I ate a bacon sandwich for breakfast, big mac for lunch and roast beef for dinner. And yes, it was one of the greatest days of my life).

So, back to the menu. In the fear we would order the wrong things – or worse, not order enough (the fear that haunts all greedy people like us!) we spent a ridiculously long time looking over what was on offer. But with the help of the paper menu and the pen provided by our very understanding waitress, the actual ordering took milliseconds.

We kicked things off with the wheel of tapas that comprised anchovy fillets, manchego cheese & Serano ham served on white bread arranged around a small bowl of olives. It was simple but delicious with plenty of garlic and the anchovies had a lovely deep, earthy flavour.

Tapas Wheel Starter from Ambiente

Tapas Wheel – like a mini starter, fish dish, mains and cheese course…. and all before the main event!

A goldilocks-like amount of time later (not too long, not too short but just right), our 7 main dishes started to arrive.

The deep fried baby octopus (the octopus of the day or ‘pulpa del dia’) was first onto the fork. They were nice and crisp and cooked just right so the octopus hadn’t gone chewy and we definitely made the right call eating them first as they were way better hot than cold.

Octopus from Ambiente

Deep fried baby octopus

Next to arrive was the Panceta de cerdo – slow cooked belly pork with cumin and sea salt. I loved this dish! The taste of the cumin completely lifted the pork and cut through the fat of the belly. I could have eaten these tasty little cubes all day long.

Slow cooked pork belly with cumin and sea salt

Slow cooked pork belly with cumin and sea salt…mmmmmm…..

The pan fried monkfish cheeks with tapenade and Serano crumbs was very tasty and the quails eggs on top of the spiced courgette, aubergine and tomatoes were delightful. And the patatas bravas were… well… patatas bravas.

Monk Fish Cheek from Ambiente

Monk Fish Cheek with Tapenade and Serano Crumb

Courgettes, Aubergines and Quails Eggs from Ambiente

Courgettes and aubergines topped with quails eggs

Patatas Bravas from Ambiente

Patatas Bravas

Unfortunately we had to send the quail back as it was raw inside but I’m going to put this down to a blip as everything else was cooked really well. And the second quail that arrived was perfectly done with a bit of pink in the middle. Not only that but the chorizo and lentil stew was rich, intense and full bodied without overpowering the delicate meat.

Quail with Lentil, Chorizo and Garlic Stew

Quail with Lentil, Chorizo and Garlic Stew – way nicer the second time it arrived

But for me the winner of the night were the meatballs in chilli and lemongrass sauce. Admittedly, they didn’t look the most appetising (think little brown lumps swimming in a yellowy sauce. Then don’t think about what it could look like). But you forget all of that the second you taste a mouthful. They sound like they shouldn’t work, they look like they shouldn’t work but my god, they totally work. And I can’t even begin to describe how!!! So with these awesome powers of description maybe I should rethink this whole food blogging thing. Maybe.

Meatballs in lemongrass and chilli sauce from Ambiente

Meatballs in lemongrass and chilli sauce

This was all washed down by a nice bottle of Cerro anon, Rioja Reserve 2006. It said 2005 on the wine list but what’s a year between friends. It was a robust red that stood up to all the big meaty, chilli and garlic flavours.

I have to say, when the dishes all arrived I genuinely thought we had under-ordered and that fear started creeping up my spine. But the food, although small in size, is very rich and equally filling so we found ourselves well satisfied.

Raspberry Parfait

Raspberry Parfait – a bit frozen but nice flavours

But there’s always room for pudding! To finish Tom went for the Raspberry parfait (looked and tasted ok although maybe had been in the freezer a little too long) and I went for the cheese for a change. And for a change I can’t remember most of them on the plate but suffice to say they were ok but not inspiring.

Spanish Cheese from Ambiente

A selection of Spanish Cheeses – there’s manchego at the front but don’t ask me about the rest!

Our table was booked from 7.30 and we left at around 10pm and during that time plenty of groups came and went. Families and couples early on and bigger groups and younger couples as the night went on. We were really surprised at the number of people who were dressed up in full going out gear and clearly starting the night with a bit of tapas. I’m not sure I could have kept up with that pace, but then again I’m not sure all of those girls in small dresses and heels could have put away the amount of food I did over a 3 hour period so there you go.

I couldn’t say that Ambiente was completely flawless but equally I can see why so many people have so many nice things to say about the place. And whether it’s a bite before a big night out, a family celebration or a first date, it’s probably going to have something on the menu that takes your fancy.

Ambiente Tapas and Sherry Bar on Urbanspoon

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