A restaurant to celebrate…

Dessert from Anthony's
Dessert from Anthony's

My wife has had a good week; amongst other things she was shortlisted for a literary prize. I was talking about this with Emma Culturevulture recently and “are you going out to celebrate?” came up, followed by “where would you go?”

Ah, now. Where we would probably go is El Gato Nero, in Ripponden. Note, not in Leeds.

Something I have bemoaned for years is that there are no outstanding independent restaurants in Leeds city centre. There are a couple of decent-ish restaurants, a handful of gastropubs or bars that do food, a lot of “well, it’ll do” places that are inevitably chains with a global branding behind them, or places that get prepared meals delivered by those large 3663 grey vans and differ only in presentation and their ability to accurately use a microwave. And before anybody shouts “Anthony’s” at me, I’ll come onto that in a minute.

Let’s start with the decent-ish places. These are ok quality but expensive although they often do early bird specials; Sous le Nez, boutique hotel restaurants (specifically Malmaison), Chino Latino, 42 The Calls, Gaucho and Bibis. Anthony’s is very expensive, a level higher than anything else and if it’s not won a Star by now one has to ask if it ever will, and if it doesn’t can it justify the prices? I love the idea of it but when it was just one restaurant it was quirky and boutique-y and great, and then it expanded into a cafe, another cafe, and the basement of the Corn Exchange and now it feels like a branded chain instead of the quality restaurant that it was. I really want to like it, and when I ate there I loved the food but… it doesn’t feel like how it used to. The Corn Exchange is practically deserted these days, too, and I wonder just how much bad will was caused by the turfing out of the indie retailers that were there before the refurb and Anthonys-ification of the place.

Perhaps I should point out that I am not a big meat eater and really only go to places that have veggie options that make me go “ooh” when reading the menu.

There’s a couple of places that I’ve yet to investigate in this category like Kendall’s, The Fourth Floor at Harvey Nicks, that sort of thing. I am quite keen to give Kendall’s a go. Piccolino’s, but I’m never really sure about Italian restaurants; a good 70% of their sales are pasta – and that’s what we’d be ordering – and pasta has a sense of “well, I could do this at home” about it. But Piccolino at least advertises that they make all their pasta on site, a point in its favour.

There’s plenty of bars that do food; Arts, The Reliance, North, The Living Room, The Wardrobe, Sam’s, The Cross Keys and Midnight Bell; these all do decent food. They’re bars, though. Or rather, they come across as bars; Arts in particular is a bit of a curate’s egg in this regard because it is obviously a restaurant but feels far more like a bar. Anyway, while they do decent, even very good food they’re not somewhere I’d go for a celebration dinner – an intimate tete-a-tete isn’t easy in some of these places. And sometimes there’s a bit of a ‘tude going on, as if they’re doing you a favour by serving you. Not everywhere, and certainly not all the time, but it’s enough to put you off.

Chains are all over the place here; many of the places I’ve already mentioned, Jamie’s, Brasserie Blanc (no disrespect to either of these chaps or the quality of the kitchens or food, which is good, but a chain is a chain is a chain and somewhere is an overlord who can dictate how the place is run who may have never set foot in it), Pizza Express, Blackhouse (and what was there before it? Est Est Est), Cafe Rouge, Nandos, GBK, Loch Fyne, Wagamama; reasonable places, all, but not necessarily stellar. And by definition, not indie. The food and decor is the same wherever you go and you could be in Peterborough, Wolverhampton or Aberdeen if you eat there. No matter how much the place may brand itself as hip and creative and each “location is unique” it still feels somewhat grey and corporate, like bankers performing raps to get down wi’ da kidz.

Yes, there’s Casa Mia and Da Mario’s and Red Chilli and Brio and Indian places galore and these are fine, in fact often better than fine places, but they don’t feel special; the little details are sometimes lacking, the food isn’t quite at that level that makes you start laughing because you’ve rarely put anything in your mouth that’s this exciting. Akbar’s is brilliant and I love it to bits but it’s loud and packed out and gleaming and sometimes that’s not what you want. A great, intimate, reasonably-priced bistro in the city centre shouldn’t be too big an ask, should it?

Asking people if Leeds has a foodie scene can cause outrage. Of course it does! Except… not. Where are all the indie supermarkets, the artisan bakeries, the little cake and tea shops, the specialist butchers, the people who can point to each sausage they sell and name the pig (or ostritch, or deer) that it came from? They’re all in the ‘burbs, in Headingley, Meanwood, Chapel Allerton, Otley, Ilkley. Along with some of the better restaurants of a sort that I’d like to see more of in the city, too.

Ah, well. Maybe, one of these days, we’ll see something new, and exciting and like Rascasse or the little bistro on Lower Briggate, within the bounds of the inner ring road. But in a world of chain places and restaurants that only survive through what is made on the bar, I’m not holding my breath.

In searching for a restaurant to have a celebration, perhaps what I need to find is a restaurant to celebrate.


    1. Seconded. I’ve been to Kendalls about 10 times over the last few years and have found the food, service & atmosphere to be great each time.

  1. I’d certainly consider Chaophraya if I had something to celebrate. Went there for my wedding anniversary this year and it was excellent. The bar, in particular, really feels like you’re on holiday somewhere.


    Also, but not in Leeds, I’d recommend the 3 Acres pub/restaurant/hotel. It’s seriously (old-school) classy and the food is unbelievably good.



  2. Just to add to the free publicity they’re getting: Kendall’s. I went and it was good; friendly, sweet service, good booze, unbelievably giant portions (probably something that I would change) and the food was honest and tasty. I think it might need a tiny wee *punch* just to fuzz it up a bit – it was very honest and sometimes a bit too home cooking – but it’s definitely got the rest of the criteria you want for your restaurant.

    I think having those places in the suburbs isn’t such a bad thing: maybe it encourages residents to explore those areas? Also, I can imagine the city centre spaces are expensive to rent, maintain, and might not (surprisingly) pull the numbers in that restaurants need. Having great restaurants in smaller suburbs makes them more accessible in that they might be a bit smaller, quieter, sweeter, care more – would a fairly sized place in the city centre lose that provincial appeal? Practically (transport, places to go afterwards, etc) it’s a pain in the arse but there you go.

    But also! For grub: Fuji Hiro. I’ve got mixed reviews but every time I’ve been there I have loved it, whether on my own, two of you, or when we got hammered, had noodles and then went bowling. Just mega.

  3. I’d say if you’ve never been to Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor to give it a try. Yes, it’s reasonably pricey, but they often have deals on Tuesday-Friday, and I think if you want a celebratory night where you’re not watching the pennies and want to indulge in really great food, it’s a winner. Not a huge amount of veggie, but the chefs are pretty good at adapting and I’ve known them to do whole prefix menus for veggie/vegans given enough notice on your booking. Plus, they do live music there too. 🙂

    As a vegetarian though, I’d always ALWAYS recommend Hansas. I’ve lived in Leeds 6 years, but only been a handful of times, to keep it for special occasions. The service has always been great – they really know their food, and each time I’ve asked the waiter/waitress to order for me and never been disappointed. Their food is second to none. In fact, I’m surprised it wasn’t mentioned in your blog – By far my favourite restaurant in Leeds, and independent to boot. Winner!

  4. I agree that Kendalls is a lovely place to go and has a romantic intimate feel for that special occassion. I have to admit if we are in Leeds we stick to the old faves like the Cross Keys, Sams Chop House and Akbars. But I am definatly going to try some of the suggestions above!

    Like Mike I also bemoan the lack of good tea/coffee shops in Leeds city centre, besides the lovely Tiled Hall at the Art Gallery there is little on offer particularly ones that stay open after 6pm. I live in Chapel Allerton which is fabulously served by great places like Sunshine Bakery and Seven but the lack of places to go for a nice cuppa in town means that we very rarely venture out of the burbs on a weekend. Last weekend we went to the movies on Sunday afternoon in town and there was a distinct lack of places to go for a coffee and a bit of cake afterwards, we ended up in Cafe Nero downing a coffee in 15 mins because it closed at 6pm.

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