We often get asked by our guests where our favourite places to dine in Leeds are and I always struggle to answer. Partly because we’re boring and are going out less, or because we’re only going out to other supperclubs! One place that does stick in my mind is Chino Latino, which I went to for my birthday about three years ago. I was pleasantly surprised by the innovative pan-Asian flavours. So… my friends are about a month away from baby D-day so they are desperately trying to do as many adult things before it’s too late. Yesterday was the last day at work (before maternity leave) for the preggers one so it seemed apt to have a celebration meal at Chino’s.
First off we met for cocktails in the Queen’s Bar in the Queen’s hotel (mocktails for woman with child!). I can safely say that the Queen’s do the best martinis in the whole of Leeds. They come complete with Cointreau, which is a stroke of genius and makes them really tasty. However it transpires that because I like my martinis shaken it’s not actually a martini at all. The process of shaking chemically changes it into a ‘Bradford’. So I’m not martini man at all but Bradford man! Susie and I have more in common than I thought, haha!
Anyway, based in the Park Plaza opposite the train station (in the building that has seen countless restaurants fail!), Chino’s is an unassuming place from the outside and if you were not aware of all the awards it has won (including this year’s Oliver award for best city centre restaurant) then you would probably walk on by. Its decor is clean and sleek but everso noughties nightclub with dimmed lights, polished concrete, chainmail curtains and splashes of red LED! It does, however, feel special.
The menu is an odd one. Luckily it’s not too long and confusing but it does have a startling array of starters (or small dishes) and fewer main courses. Our server explained that we could opt for a series of tapas style dishes rather than a traditional 3-course meal. My partner and I opted for the 5-course tasting menu for two as it seemed to have on it a lot of what we wanted to eat anyway, plus it was unbelievable value. Chino’s is not a cheap eatery. Starters are typically £10 to £15 and main courses anything up £29, so even picking two dishes could set you back more than the price of the set menu.
Sometimes I worry that choosing the set menu will mean you get less than a standard portion. This was not the case with Chino’s as the food was plentiful and beautifully presented. We started with California rolls of soft shell crab. I love sushi and should eat it more often. I can’t say that the crab was a particularly strong flavour but it was delicious nonetheless. Our friends who were not having the tasting menu had the tempura of soft shell crab (which came as a pile of battered claws – amazing!) and the marinated tofu, which was so simply presented it was almost like a work of art. We continued with edamame beans with rock salt. The salt was beautifully flaky and I could have sat there and eaten a whole bowl of it. The beans seemed an odd element to the tasting menu and I could have lived without them but I guess I had some of my five a day! The star of the starters (part one!) were tiger prawns in a sweet chilli, garlic and coriander sauce. They were soft and juicy and full of flavour, yum!
Next up were grilled scallops, which came in a sticky soy sauce and what I think was wasabi pea crumbs? As I’m getting older I’m getting a bit funny with textures, so the jelly like nature of the scallops was nearly too much for me. It was a treat to have such huge ones though! Finally, to end the starters we had samosas of pork, crab and glass noodles. The pork was the overriding flavour in this dish and whilst not something I would have picked normally they were very pleasant. The dipping sauce they came with split the group. It’s hard to place what it was – I think it was green peppercorn. Whatever it was I thought it was very harsh and not very nice.
The main courses were definitely what I would have picked from the menu and was very excited about. They included sirloin steak that was presented on hot rocks. As it was brought to the table a sauce was poured over to create steam and drama! The second dish was the amazing black cod with miso, which I had last time and have been waxing lyrical about ever since. The steak was lovely and light and juicy and came with pretty little sweet potato chips. The cod was thick and meaty and the miso sauce was heaven. It’s the right side of sweet for me and my only criticism is that there should have been more of it! Both came with steamed rice, which we didn’t really need (unless they had provided me with more miso!).
After what felt like a bit of a long break the final flourish was the dessert platter. This came on a huge mirror with bubbling dry ice for more dramatic effect (Heston eat your heart out!). Our desserts included a tasty ‘chocolate sushi’ which was a bit like a mini roulade; passionfruit cheesecake; chocolate pots; strawberry sorbet; prune sorbet; and various tropical fruits. It was great to have a little try of what was on offer but everything was a bit too sweet for me. Last time I had an amazing passionfruit sorbet, which sadly was nowhere to be seen. I loved the attention to detail though.
Finally we paid the bill and were brought out little petit fours, which I have no idea what they were, but they were frozen treats of some kind. Overall the meal was absolutely stunning. The flavours were confident, powerful and interesting. The presentation was thoughtful and out of this world. Despite my little niggles I thoroughly enjoyed the meal and would certainly return. It is pricey, so this isn’t a place that I could come back to too often, but I think that what we paid was fair for what we got (£120 for a 5-course menu for two people with wine and tippage). This is one for special occasions and we all agreed that it might feel a bit odd just popping in on a school night or something like that! The service generally was good. There were a few little hiccups but our server, in particular, was in control and really polite and helpful. So is it the best restaurant in Leeds? Well I’m certainly glad that after all these years I’m still as impressed as I was last time, so maybe it is?!