"There's admirable hubris in taking over the venue of a doomed venture and using it for the exact. same. thing"
Confession time. I, Thom Archer, spent way too many of my teenage years playing The Sims. Rather than hanging around on parks, flagrantly ignoring “don’t try this at home” warnings and not snogging girls like all of my friends, I spent several summers sat at a desktop computer, building houses for ungrateful tenants who’d throw tantrums over the placement of flamingo lawn ornaments, or piss themselves on their antique rug.
According to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours theory I should’ve been pretty close to an expert when it comes to interior design, but even with unlimited funds (thank you, “rosebud” cheat) and infinite architectural and decorative combinations, I always ended up with the same result; a 13 year old boy’s idea of aspirational interior design (egg chair, big telly, heart-shaped bed).
There’s admirable hubris in taking over decrepit corpse of a doomed venture, and use it for the exact. same. thing.
Having been chewed up and spit out by property development game myself, I admire the imagination and vision of would-be restaurateurs who visit vacant lots and are able to envisage there being anything besides knackered branded fridges, and old Nisbets catalogues piling up on the doorstep.
On the other hand, there’s admirable hubris in the ones who take over decrepit corpse of a doomed venture, and use it for the exact. same. thing.
A few years back, Simon Miller, former MasterChef contestant and head chef/owner of La Casita in Ilkley and Boston Spa decided to look into expanding his tapas empire Leeds-ward, and in the Summer of 2016 he opened his third restaurant on Horsforth’s Town Street, in the lot previously occupied by Medusa, or, to give it its full name, Medusa Bar & Tapas.
To be fair, Medusa played fast and loose with their interpretation of “tapas”, leaning more towards Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavours and ingredients that perpetuate the myth that tapas is defined by portion sizes and jaunty-shaped crockery. La Casita, for the most part, sticks to Basque and Catalonian source material more faithfully; pork comes from Iberico pigs, sauces and glazes are pungent with sherry, there’s no attempts at “fusion”. Considering “fusion” dishes usually exist as a way of shoehorning some yuzu juice they got from SousChef.com into anything possible though, that’s no huge loss.
So there’s the usual suspects, like paella where al dente rice dyed is Springfield-yellow by saffron, dotted with slick aioli, seafood pick'n'mix, and (frozen) peas (shame). The platonic ideal of patatas bravas remains audibly crispy despite being draped in tomato sauce and more garlicky aioli. A terracotta dish of roasted mushrooms in a cream sauce absolutely lairy with sherry, to the point where you can almost see the vapours emanating from the bowl.
It defeats the point of going for tapas when everything you order falls into one of three rigidly-defined flavour profiles (Tomato, Tomato & Garlic, or Garlic) because the kitchen’s using the same three sauces for all the dishes. With that in mind, Hake with chickpea and chorizo stew conscious that we’d probably get a ladleful of the bravas sauce with a few bits thrown in - but instead we got an earthy, rich stew with provincial moxy all of its own.
Dish of the night goes to Mejilla Ibericá, nuggets of slow-roast pork cheek in a PX sherry glaze that makes them glisten like my chubby forehead after covering a hundred yards of La Ramblas, unctuous with almond puree. It feels as current as anything you’d eat in one of the trendy city centre tapas joints.
The other deviation from the classics isn’t quite so successful: deep fried balls of shredded duck with the texture of a tuna sandwich that’s been left on the buffet table a few hours too long. If you want something deep-fried, go for the Manchego croquettas, which taste exactly how they sound, in the best way.
It wouldn’t have taken a huge amount of vision to see a kind-of tapas restaurant and realise its potential to be the real thing, but La Casita’s homecoming wasn’t a swaggering “move aside, let us show you how it’s done”, either. They turned a pretty dingy bar-that-also-does-food into a welcoming restaurant, with an attractive dining room where you can eat reliable renditions of holiday memories, there's deep fried Manchego, and there's sensibly-priced wine, so there’s no shortage of things to admire.
If you’re looking for somewhere to start or finish your night in Horsforth, you could do worse than Hemingways, a rum bar and kitchen that’s cropped up in the time since my last intermittent visit. I can’t speak for the food, but the cocktails are made with care and knowledge, and the service is anything but earnest (sorry, couldn’t resist)
La Casita Factfile
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San Sebastian Sour £7
Cantabria Sling £7.5
Duck bon bons £6.25
Pork cheek £7.5
Manchego croquettes £6
Patatas Bravas £4.4
Gailur Rosada 250ml £6.6
Enate Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlo 250ml £7.7
Raspberry parfait £2.5
White chocolate honeycomb parfait £2.5
Lacuesta reserva 50ml £3
Address: 8-10 Town St, Horsforth, Leeds LS18 4RJ
(Duck bon bon 2, Pork Cheek 8, Manchego croquettes 7, Mushrooms 8, Paella 6, Hake 7, Bravas 7.5, Raspberry parfait 6, White chocolate parfait 7)
Lush dining room, great features, and a decent buzz of locals