4 St Martins, Leicester, LE1 5DB

Review: Sumptuous Small Plates at Sonrisa, Leicester #AD

DISCLAIMER: THIS MEAL AT SONRISA WAS PROVIDED FREE OF CHARGE IN EXCHANGE FOR AN HONEST REVIEW

When Delilah Fine Foods closed its doors for the final time in early 2019, the city of Leicester collectively shed a tear. The delicatessen was hugely popular with locals and visitors alike, meaning that whatever restaurant or business replaced it on St Martins had very big shoes to fill. Enter Sonrisa. The excitement surrounding the opening of Leicester's newest Argentinian eatery was palpable: when bookings for the restaurant's dress rehearsal opened on 7th May, they sold out in just sixteen minutes! Sonrisa is certainly the hottest ticket in town and I was delighted to be invited along to discover why!

Sonrisa Leicester small plates dinner review

The Venue

Sonrisa certainly has transformed its Grade-II listed city centre venue, bringing a real slice of Buenos Aires to Leicester. The bar and main seating area is airy and open plan, with well-spaced seating that makes it ideal for social distancing. The decor is characterised by vibrant colours. I especially loved the statement lighting fixtures: the red fringed lampshades hanging in the bar area were gorgeous! The bench seating where we spent our evening was really comfortable too. While Sonrisa's downstairs area was spacious and open, there was a more intimate mezzanine upstairs for customers to enjoy as well. Other eye-catching features include the beautiful skylight surrounded by hanging plants, and the open kitchen, which gave us a great view of the chefs at work from our table. The restaurant's name "Sonrisa" means "smile" in Spanish, but did Leicester's newest dinner venue bring a smile to my face? Let's find out!

Leicester Argentinian food Sonrisa review
Sonrisa Leicester food review

The Premise: How it Works

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few years, the concept of small plate menus is a no doubt very familiar one. Tapas-style restaurants where appetizer-esque plates can be ordered à la carte for sharing amongst a group have been popular in the US food service industry since the turn of the century. This style of communal dining has taken the Midlands by storm too, with The Cosy Club, Leicester and Rico Libre, Birmingham (among others!) embracing the small plate.

Sonrisa brings its special brand of Argentinian flavour to the mix, enabling you to select from a range of over forty distinctive small plates. Once you've placed your order, everything is brought out to you as soon as it's ready. Everything was very well timed during our visit: we received our full order in three batches of dishes. By the time one set of plates was ready to be cleared, the next were brought over very promptly. It worked very well, even though we visited Sonrisa on a Friday night and it was very busy by the time we were ordering our puds. As well as being efficiently served, the small plate menu also meant that it was possible to try a wide range of dishes, your palette was never oversaturated by a single flavour. I loved the Sonrisa set-up!

Sonrisa Leicester Argentinian food review

Service

I just had to dedicate a full section of this post to the service that we received at Sonrisa, as it really made the night special. My husband and I were looked after by the lovely Sam during our visit. She was honestly wonderful: cheerful, enthusiastic about the food, and she took a genuine interest in making sure that we were having a great time. Her service was very thoughtful and attentive and she couldn't do enough for us: everything from pouring us some more wine when our glasses ran dry to ensuring that we were well-informed about the dishes that we were ordering. We lacked nothing the entire evening thanks to Sam.

If I'm being really nit-picky, the only aspect of the service that slowed things down was receiving the drinks. At the beginning of the night, it did take longer than we'd normally expect to receive the bottle of wine that we ordered, especially as all that was required was taking the staff taking it down from the shelf above the bar. Sonrisa's bar team are likely to still be in training, however, so we couldn't penalise them too much. I'm sure they'll be super speedy in no time!

Sonrisa Leicester review food
Leicester Sonrisa food review dinner Argentinian

Drinks

As huge lovers of Argentinian wine, there was very little deliberation required when my husband and I sat down with the drinks menu: "an Argentinian Malbec, please!" I sampled this variety of ruby-red wine for the first time at the opening of Leicester's Tamatanga restaurant back in 2019 and I've been a big fan ever since. There were several Malbecs on offer at Sonrisa, but we opted for a bottle of the Punta de Vacas (£23.95), which is made from 10-20 year old vines in the Lujan de Cuyo and Maipu regions of Argentina. The wine was light and fruity rather than rich, which made it much too easy to drink! We polished off the bottle in no time and would certainly recommend it.

Having been very impressed with the wine, I turned my attention to Sonrisa's cocktail menu, selecting the Kon Tiki (£9.00). I'd seen plenty of shots of the restaurant's signature theatrical cocktails on Instagram and I couldn't wait to try them for myself. I opted for the Kon Tiki because it was billed as being "set ablaze for your pleasure"! Unfortunately any impressive visuals could only be enjoyed if you were seated directly at the bar. When the drink made it to our table, it had already been set alight at the bar behind me, without me being able to see it. Perhaps the cocktail showmanship can take place at the table itself in non-COVID circumstances. As for the taste, I found the cocktail a bit lacklustre in this department as well. I couldn't detect the coconut or pink grapefruit, only the acidic cranberry juice. I wouldn't rush to have it again.
 
Sonrisa food review wine Argentinian Leicester
Leicester Sonrisa food review cocktail Argentina
Left: Punta de Vacas Argentinian Malbec   |    Right: Kon Tiki cocktail

Platitos / Small Plates

Embracing Sonrisa's small plate philosophy, we went all out when ordering platitos! We started off with the Valencia Almonds (£3.50) which arrived beautifully warmed and seasoned with sea salt and rosemary. Next came the Pane Con Tomate (£3.50), a piece of toasted Galician bread loaded with chopped tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. The simplicity of this kind of dish leaves no hiding place for poor quality ingredients and Sonrisa did not disappoint. The tomato was fresh and sweet, reminding me of a delightful Italian bruschetta that I sampled in Sorrento. The only thing that could have improved this dish was having the bread slightly more toasted - mine was a bit soggy when it reached the table.

Finally, we sampled two types of croquette, Wild Mushroom (£3.95) and Cured Beef (£4.75). I was a huge fan of the mushroom variety: the filling of the croquette was creamy and satisfying. The portion size felt just about right - any more would have been too heavy on the stomach. The beef croquettes, however, caused us a little confusion! My husband was convinced that they tasted of bacon, so we weren't entirely sure if we'd received the correct dish. Regardless, he still really enjoyed them. Both croquettes were served alongside beautifully sweet roasted peppers, which gave a nice contrast to the indulgent fillings. 

Leicester Sonrisa food review dining Argentinian
Leicester Sonrisa food review dinner Argentinian
Left: Clockwise from top - grilled octopus, green beans, tender stem broccoli, lamb cutlet    |    Right: Pane con tomate and potato fry in foreground, cured beef croquette in background

Carne / Meat

The meat dishes are, understandably, the most expensive on the Sonrisa menu, so my husband decided to get just one: the Lamb Cutlet (£11.25). According to him, the lamb was cooked beautifully and the meat slid off the bone. The mint chimichurri in which it was smothered was tangy and fresh. He also really enjoyed the butter bean ribolitta accompaniment. However, he did comment that when combined in one mouthful, the richness of the tomato-based ribolitta did somewhat overpower the delicious flavour of the meat. The only thing that would put him off ordering this dish again was the price. While the meat was of excellent quality, paying £11.25 for just one lamb cutlet did seem a little steep. 

Mariscos / Seafood

If there's one type of seafood I can never resist, it's calamari! Sonrisa's Calamari (£6.50) definitely hit the spot: it was thinly sliced and tender, lightly coated in fine, crispy breadcrumbs. The roasted garlic and lemon aioli with which it was served was the perfect complement. Had it been socially acceptable to lick the plate, I definitely would have! Having never sampled it before, I was also really keen to try the Grilled Octopus (£7.25). This came served on a bed of creamy potatoes and roasted red peppers - the whole dish was cooked to perfection. I had concerns that octopus might be quite chewy in texture but this wasn't the case: it was truly succulent. Again, my only complaint was with the portion size. While there were plenty of potatoes and peppers on the plate, splitting the small segment of octopus in half with my husband meant that we had just a single mouthful each. Given the price point, we were a bit disappointed. 

Leicester Sonrisa food review dinner Argentinian
Tender stem broccoli and green beans in foreground, lamb cutlet and grilled octopus in background

Verduras / Vegetables

The dishes that packed the biggest punch for me in terms of both flavour and value were the veggies. I love being able to select a few healthier options while dining out, so I was delighted to see Green Beans (£4.50) and Tender Stem Broccoli (£4.50) on the Sonrisa menu. There were no issues with the portion size here, as each dish was generously loaded. Both were served al dente, with the vegetables retaining their delicious natural bite. The green beans were tossed in a fresh tomato concasse and scattered with pine nuts, while the broccoli was served with lashings of parsley butter. While the accompaniments did add moistness to each plate, they didn't saturate the vegetables and left each dish feeling light and satisfying. I'd head back to Sonrisa for the veg alone!

Ensaladas / Salad

"What your favourite kind of salad?", I hear you ask. "Chips!", I reply. No, I'm not kidding - the first item on the Sonrisa salad menu is the Potato Fry (£3.50), a stack of chips topped with parmesan, black pepper and truffle oil. Parmesan isn't a cheese that I'd immediately think to pair with chips, but it worked incredibly well with the aromatic truffle oil. The chips were well cooked: crunchy on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. As with all of Sonria's dishes, they came very attractively presented. I'd definitely order them again. 

Leicester Sonrisa food review dinner Argentinian
Leicester Sonrisa food review dinner Argentinian
Left: Tucking in to the pane con tomate    |    Right: Calamari in foreground, Valencia almonds to left and wild mushroom croquette in background

Postres / Dessert

We decided to round off our Sonrisa experience by making a few selections from the dessert menu. The options available were slightly more generic than I was expecting. Instead of traditional Argentinian sweets smothered in Latin American dulce de leche, the Sonrisa dessert menu has distinctly European influences. On offer were affogato and polenta cake (which originate in Italy), sticky toffee pudding (a very English treat), and chocolate fondant (a French delicacy). Undeterred, I opted for the Muscovado Pudding (£5.50) which I was really impressed by. The sponge was light and delicate, and the sticky toffee sauce had just the right amount of sweetness without being sickly. It was complemented nicely by the cool vanilla ice cream. My other half ordered the Chocolate Fondant (£6.50) which sadly was a bit of a let-down. The fondant had been overcooked, meaning that it was solid in the middle and very dry. The coffee ice cream with which it was served wasn't enough to save the dish.

Leicester Sonrisa food review dinner Argentinian
Leicester Sonrisa food review dessert Argentinian
Left: The Sonrisa bar   |   Right: Muscovado pudding in foreground, chocolate fondant in background

Final Ratings

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at Sonrisa. I think it's a great addition to the Leicester foodie scene. While I don't think it's a place that I can stretch to visiting on a regular basis (there are better value eateries in the city), I'd certainly head there again to celebrate a special occasion. 

Food: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Value: ⭐⭐⭐
   Ambience: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Service: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Which Sonrisa dish would you most like to try? Let me know in the comments below.

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