Being away on business on a Monday night is often a chore, not least because many restaurants either close on a Monday, have no atmosphere or give the Executive chef the night off. This usually adds up to disappointment and sends me heading for staple go to safe bets.
Last Monday night was quite a pleasant surprise and an extraordinary contrast to expectations in that fine northern powerhouse that is Leeds. I’ve spent quite a lot of time up there over the years and would definitely say in my book Leeds over Manchester everytime.
I was staying at the Marriott and wanted somewhere within walking distance so consulted the ever faithful via Michelin guide in search of inspiration. I do believe that this is a more reliable yardstick than the populist votes of Tripadvisor which work well with hotels but can often be distorted by volume traffic rather than quality when it comes to restaurants.
Careful analysis lead me to Crafthouse restaurant in the Trinity Centre. A handy 5 minute walk from the hotel but not somewhere you would find easily being on the top floor of this huge shopping centre! This slightly unorthodox location gives rise to a stunning rooftop location with panoramic views over the city. From the moment you arrive, there is a sense of style and elegance from the minimalist reception and cloakroom area to the stylish bar with open kitchen.
I elected to dine early at 6:30pm having had an early start and wanting to enjoy the experience. I was pretty much the first diner and thought that I might well have the restaurant to myself. However, within 30 minutes it started to fill up and was over half full with a buzzing atmosphere. Friday’s and Saturdays they do over 200 covers in this 144 seat restaurant so do book early to avoid disappointment.
I was drawn also by the lure of their tasting menu with matched wines. Kornel, one of the two waiters looking after me had a generous knowledge of wine and took interest in my particular favourite styles. He then gave a synopsis of the tasting menu, after which I decided to go off piste and create my own. I have to say , he and his colleague Sarah, a charming girl with a beguiling Geordie brogue could not have been more accommodating. Great service always enhances a dining experience.
They helped me navigate the a la carte and refine my choices and also accommodated my request for a half portion of the English cheeses to follow my main course. And so to the food…..
I had real trouble picking the starter it was a close run thing between the crab and the smoked venison terrine. In the end the crab won it!
Starter: East Coast Crab, yuzu, avocado purée, radish, keta salmon caviar, ginger biscuit thins.
The coarse texture of the crab contrasted with the smooth avocado purée, whilst the richness of the crab was offset by the hint of citrus from the yuzu.
To partner the crab, Kornel my waiter, suggested a Cote du Rhone from D&Ds own vineyards. This wine is the creation of D&D’s own sommeliers in conjunction with Christian Voeux, head winemaker at the legendary Chateauneuf du Pape producer, Chateau La Nerthe. It’s a heady mix of fat flavours, with stone fruit and enough acidity to balance out the richness of the crab. A blend of 40% Rousanne, 30% Grenache Blanc and 30% Viognier. The name of the blend “Les Trois Bises” translates as “The Three Kisses” and takes its inspiration from the local custom to greet with three kisses instead of two and the trio of local grapes. Cotes du Rhone Les Bises 2014 White
Next up was surprise number one of the evening. Although the smoked venison and partridge terrine hadn’t actually made it onto the main menu, it was a sub that evening for the Goose terrine, the chef wanted to ease my angst of choice of starters by offering me a complimentary one! I was overwhelmed! Then I tasted my first mouthful and it truly blew me away!
Complimentary Starter: Smoked game terrine of venison and partridge, with a truffle brioche crouton, pickled chanterelle mushrooms,burnt butter powder, and Asian artichoke.
Here two completely different meats fight a duel of rich complexity over light and delicate subtlety and it’s sublime. The deep smokiness of the venison contrasting with the lighter flavours of the partridge. There’s also a beautiful and delicate balance of texture and flavour. For example the radish like crunch of the Asian artichoke and the soft and chewy texture of the pickled Chanterelles.
The wine partner for this was another D&D sommeliers/Christian Voeux collaboration. This wine is titled” Les Gamins” which translates as ” The Kids” and is indicative of how the team feel about the project , like kids in a sweet shop! This is a blend of 60% Grenache Noir, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre. Les Gamins, Cotes du Rhone 2014. This wine was young, full of blackcurrants, vanilla and aniseed.
Main Course: Glenfalloch Venison Loin wrapped in pancetta, spinach purée, lemon and parsley crumb, black salsify sticks, potato deep fried with almonds garnished with cacao nibs
The venison perfectly pink and succulent with a hint of added richness from the pancetta, delivering and accentuating its sweet earthiness. The dish was further enhanced by the sweetness of spinach purée and the texture and crunch of the almond encrusted deep fried infused fondant potato. Delicious!
I continued with a further glass of “Les Gamins” which also worked extremely well with this dish.
Cheese Course: Yorkshire Blue, Yarg, Rosary Goat’s Cheese, Wensleydale
Served with crackers, iced celery and a sharp, shiny quince jelly, this was a delightful quartet of English cheeses with a Yorkshire slant as you’d expect. Highlights here were the Yorkshire Blue which was like a creamier Stilton, not dissimilar to a recent creamy Cropwell Biahop I recently tasted and the Rosary which was fresh and light with a hint of goaty sharpness.
Surprise two came in the form of Kornel and I having a discussion about what should partner the cheese. I was waxing lyrical about white Burgundy and he in the Tawny Port camp. We settled on a 10 year old Warre’s Otima Tawny Port. Then he came back with a smile on his face and told me that they had a bottle of 30 year old Taylor’s Tawny, which had been used for a special staff tasting and one measure left. He generously offered me this with his compliments. It had a dark rose colour and had been softened and mellowed with age. It’s rounded smooth finish made every mouthful a delight!
Dessert: Sticky toffee soufflé with baked sticky toffee crumb, vanilla ice cream, caramel sauce.
The serving of this was as much a spectacle as the taste! Sarah brought the Soufflé to the table then carefully inserted a dessert spoon into the raised crust, whilst pouring in the piping hot liquid bronze that was the caramel sauce. To top this off the vanilla ice cream was placed like a cap on a well and then slightly sunk into the hole in the crust as it melted. Pure theatre!
Surprise number three came in the form of a dark mandarin coloured liquid in a glass. Straight away I knew that it was not of the grape but my palate had not been educated in the heady world of Sake so I had to concede to Kornel on this one. It was a plum infused Sake and was the perfect partner to the richness of the Soufflé.
There was yet one more surprise in store as I settled up and thanked Sarah and Kornel for their excellent service and a very enjoyable evening. They explained that it was the Executive Head Chef, Lee Murdoch’s evening off and so Sous Chef, Joe Carroll, was running the pass. I had the chance to meet this accomplished young star and its a great sign of the training and confidence that Lee has in his crew that they can deliver food of this quality. Lee’s wife is from the Phillipines and that I guess also explains the eclectic Asian influence on his modern British cuisine.
As I descended back to the ground floor I reflected on an amazing dining experience which further reinforced the many good thoughts I have about Leeds!