Sunday, 5 February 2012

Art's Café, Leeds

I'd describe Art's Café as one of the workhorses of the Leeds dining scene, and that's meant very much as a compliment. It's not new, there are no big name, high profile chefs involved, they don't even have a Twitter feed as far as I can tell [edit: they are on Twitter: @artscafeleeds, as Clare helpfully pointed out]. It's been quietly going about the business of serving good food since 1994, and those 18 years experience shone through in my first meal there last night.

It's a convivial place to be. On a Saturday night the music was turned up above background level, not intrusively loud, but combined with a full house enough to give the room a pleasing, lively atmosphere.

The menu is short and probably best described as modern British, with some simple and some more ambitious sounding dishes. My main of seared venison haunch steak, buttered green cabbage, honey roast parsnips and parsnip puree, chocolate sauce and roast hazelnuts was a lovely wintry plateful, perfect for a snowy night.

The venison was excellent, a substantial steak already sliced to reveal a dark, ruby rare interior. It was very strongly flavoured too, rich and intense, the gamiest venison I can recall eating. The strong tasting meat matched the sweet, earthiness of the parsnips very well. Both ways were cooked beautifully too, particularly the wonderfully smooth puree.

I'd have been happy to eat an abridged version of this dish, as I'm not sure the last two items were really needed. The hazelnuts were nice but didn't really lend anything extra to the whole. As for the chocolate sauce, I'm actually quite surprised to see it there, I'd forgotten about it until I just checked the menu online. I don't recall noticing any flavour of chocolate in what to me just tasted like a very good meat reduction.

Across the table the quite complicated sounding seared monkfish with duck leg & smoked bacon bolognaise, courgette & pepper spaghetti, basil emulsion was also declared a success.

I finished with sticky toffee pudding with Horlicks caramel and vanilla ice cream, which was the real deal. A huge brick of proper pudding of the dark, date filled variety, a lake of toffee sauce and a nice, malty ice cream. I'd have liked it served a little hotter, but other than that it was great. I tried my companion's panna cotta, and that was good too.

With a decent bottle of Puglian red the bill came to just over £57 including an already added 10% tip. Automatic inclusion of tips is never something I'll be a fan of, but that's a minor gripe when it's 10% rather than the almost standard nowadays 12.5%, and also when the service was excellent throughout.

I don't often have much to say about service, but it was particularly good at Art's. Well-versed and efficient, casual and friendly, but not the least bit intrusive. It just felt right.

Good food and wine, great atmosphere and service, fair prices. Long-lived, reliable, quality restaurants are an asset in any city, and Leeds has one of those in Art's Café.


42 Call Lane

Arts Cafe on Urbanspoon

p.s. Thanks to those who reminded me about this place on Twitter.
p.p.s Sorry about the lack of photos, sometimes it's good to focus on the moment, and not worry about the future blogging opportunity.

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