Since I wrote this post, Pintura has sadly closed.
All my friends are used to my food-obsessed ways by now, including my long-lost university pals. This means that as well as getting to catch up with some of my oldest (as in longstanding, not age!) friends, they make sure I get the chance to try some foodie fun up north. Last time, it was the Olive Tree Greek restaurant in Chapel Allerton. This time, as I prepared for my visit to Leeds, they informed me we were off to Pintura, a basque kitchen and bar in Trinity – a part of the city centre that wasn’t even there during my days of snakebite and black and student nights.
One look at the menu and I was hooked. Tapas influenced by the pintxos bars of San Sebastian. And gin. Big goblets of gin cocktails. Hell yeah!
I smelled Pintura before I saw it, and I think that might have been enough to lure me in even if we hadn’t already been heading there. Despite being in the middle of Leeds, it did a good job of feeling far more Spanish, with booths of tables and benches, and people feasting on tapas at the bar. From what I could see, there’s three storeys of dining, with chefs cooking away behind the bars in full view.
The waiting staff were good, giving us a spiel about the idea of a ‘steady flow of food’ (for anyone who hasn’t had tapas before), and talking us through the menu. While some of it might have seemed unnecessary, the knowledge and care they showed, including giving special advice to the pregnant among us (yes we’re at that age!), was a nice touch, and so often missed out.
We munched on bread and olives and quaffed gin and cocktails while we decided. The menu has plenty of the standard tapas dishes you see everywhere, with a delicate smattering of mouthwatering additions that I haven’t seen before. Obviously, being in a group, we had to compromise, so there’s a few things I need to go back and try, but I managed to wrap my lips round a few real treats.
We started with a Seleccion de Embutidos, a huge board covered in a selection of all the cured meats and sausages they do, a few hams, a chorizo, some duck and some cheeses. I loved the Jamon Iberico Bellota – 100% acorn-fed Iberico ham – that was so thinly sliced it was transparent. The house duck, smoked in nearby East Yorkshire, was another one that hit the tastebuds. The cheese included the standard Manchego, but my favourite was one called Mahon, somewhere between a hard and soft cheese and made from cow’s milk apparently.
From this we moved on to the hot tapas dishes. Of course, there were the typical dishes of Albondigas, or meatballs, as well as Patatas Bravas, fried potatoes with ‘sauce for the brave’. We also had a Tortilla Vasca, a Basque-style runny omelette that we had un-runny due to those with child among us.
Calamares fritos were crisp and tender, but it was the jet black squid ink alioli that took that dish beyond a common-or-garden tapas dish. And I actually don’t remember tasting the slow roasted aubergine with honey and toasted pinenuts, although I’ve got a picture of it.
So what was good? Plenty, trust me. The Carrillada de Cerdo had caught my eye straight away – Iberico pig cheek with cauliflower puree, and crispy ears. The cheek was fall-apart tender, with the creamy puree contrasting well with the crispy ears. I could have eaten it all night long.
The Basque-style risotto with smoked cheese and truffle oil was creamy and rich, glistening in the light like a mound of golden goodness, and tiger prawns were big, meaty and coated in olive oil, garlic and chilli.
The meatballs were tasty and well-seasoned, and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the Croquetas de Idiazabal. These smoked-cheese croquettes looked like any average potato croquette but when cut open, oozed rich smokey Basque cheese and were lip-smackingly good.
While it didn’t seem much at first, we were soon full and didn’t order any more. There were a few dishes I’d love to try, like Morcilla – Basque black pudding with crunchy hen’s egg and piquillo ketchup – and Bacalao con arroz negro – home-salted cod with squid-ink paella and confit green peppers. Needless to say I’ll be going back for those.
A few of us couldn’t resist the desserts, and shared a beautiful Valrhona chocolate mousse with orange blossom, cleverly served in a plant pot complete with chocolate soil on top. As full as we were, it was a great size to share, and I’m glad I didn’t have to finish the lot myself.
Yes, of course there were other desserts I fancied, but again I’ll be going back to try the baked cheesecake, and the Crema Catalana – a dish I previously managed to get oh-so-wrong!
Finally full and unable to fit anything else in, we finished off the evening with some of Pintura’s great gin cocktails before wobbling out of the door feeling rather great and stuffed with good food and drink. All in all, the alcoholics among us (who definitely didn’t hold back on the cocktails) paid £45 a head, and the non-drinkers £25. Not too bad for a slap up feast in my view. I said earlier that the service was good – so good, in fact, that the waiter managed to upsell me to a gin he thought I’d enjoy, that also just happened to set me back far more than my previous choice. Fair play to him I say, and more fool me for falling for it. It’s not like it wasn’t delicious.
Most of the girls who live up in Leeds had been to Pintura several times before, and I can see why. It’s a great atmosphere and a cut above an average tapas bar, bringing a little bit of the Basque country to Britain. I know I’ll be back at some stage – gotta get my hands on that Basque black pudding!
We paid in full at Pintura. I got busted by the waiter for being a blogger when I started taking notes of what he was saying, but it obviously didn’t influence him favourably since he flogged me an even more expensive gin 🙂