Meet the Chef

Born into a world of passionate cooking and gregarious hospitality, Lavanta restaurant in West Park, Leeds is the life time ambition of our Chef Proprietor, Orhan Girgin, realised after more than forty years in the making.


Orhan grew up in the heat of the family restaurant in the coastal town of Mersin in the south of Turkey. His great grandfather Enver Girgin was a cook; his grandmother Tahire came from Bolu famed for producing the best Turkish chefs. His mother Semra was obsessed with Gallic cuisine having attended French high school whilst his father came from the south of Turkey bringing classic European dishes to the Mediterranean table.

Orhan’s earliest memories are of banquets of grilled meats and fish, sundried vegetables, salads, raviolis, pastry’s and endless meze plates prepared with the freshest local produce and served loud and long into the night. Here are all the ingredients for Lavanta restaurant today.

The family were also shrewd entrepreneurs. His uncle Sukru is credited with having introduced package tourism to Turkey in the 1960’s when he secured the first contract with Thomas Cook to run a holiday park and coach tours along the coast, no doubt delivering valuable business to the family restaurant en route.

At 17 Orhan attended catering college and studied hospitality at Marmara University whilst paying his way working in hotel and restaurant kitchens but here the dream of opening his own restaurant might have ended when he dropped out in his first year to pursue a holiday romance with an English girl.

Following her back to Leeds in 1995 he recalls his shock at the cold, damp weather and the incomprehension of a chip butty, but Orhan persevered enrolling at Thomas Danby College to study Professional Cookery . From there he joined a local restaurant, working his way up to Commis Chef garnering a string of awards under his 20 year tenure including ‘Restaurant of the Year’ two years running, a Sunday Times nomination in the ‘top four Mediterranean restaurants in the country’, acclaimed reviews and listings in the best UK food guides.
So in October 2015 Orhan finally opens his own restaurant:

”It has taken much hard work and sacrifice but cooking is my drug, my adrenalin and Lavanta is my dream since a small child. Honest, delicious food, excellent service, a warm friendly atmosphere and happy, satisfied customers who always want to come back for more. I want them to say Lavanta is the best restaurant in Leeds!”

Orhan has created a menu that features a wide range of his favourite Mediterranean, as well as classic European dishes alongside British adaptations with seasonal specials all prepared with the finest ingredients and freshest produce available; from pistachios grown in the famed Gaziantep region of Turkey by the Cici family, to lamb reared in the Yorkshire Dales.

So that’s Orhan story, or very nearly. What of following that holiday romance to Leeds all those years ago and does he not yearn for the climate and family back in Turkey?