Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Hummingbird Kitchen and Bar, Chapel Allerton, Leeds

Like my meal at Hui Wei the previous week, dinner at Hummingbird didn't quite add up. This time it wasn't the ordering that was at fault, rather what arrived on each plate that resulted in a meal that was disjointed and incoherent. Some of what I ate was really very good, but some things were awful.

After drinks at the bar that included a well kept Kirkstall Brewery pale ale we decided to kick things off with a bottle of Gavi.

Our waiter forgot to fetch the bottle after we'd ordered starters (sorry, small plates) for which he duly apologised with the phrase 'my bad'. You what? Oh you mean you're sorry. Fair enough you've fetched the wine now, are you American? He wasn't.

I thought the world had moved east nowadays and that the Chinese were in charge. Apparently not, American cultural creep is alive and well. My bad? What next, Prom night? Prom night as in end-of-term-disco-succumbed-to-grasping-commercial-avarice. Oh yeah, we've got that now according to the news. Brilliant.

Apologies, rant over, onto the food and I promise not to comment further on the waiting staff's turn of phrase. Not for a few paragraphs anyway. The cod cheeks, my first choice starter (small plate, my bad), were off so I went for the pan seared baby squid, scallop mousse, chorizo croquette, squid ink dressing.

It was the appearance of this, as opposed to the taste, that was a little unnerving. I shan't elaborate, just look at the photo. Bit weird if you ask me. On a positive note the squid itself was tender and the mousse inside very smooth. Returning to a less positive one the chorizo croquette didn't taste much like chorizo.

Some of the other starters deserve a mention, a slow cooked beef hash and a summery pearl barley rissotto with broad beans were both declared a great success.

I've had the crispy chicken with fish combination before and enjoyed it, so was intrigued by the ambitious sounding main of pan roasted hake, prawn paella, chorizo dressing and crispy chicken, at least until our waiter described it as a 'deconstructed paella'. Eh? I'm really not sure about this fad for 'deconstructed' stuff. What does it even mean?

I think I might open a restaurant serving nothing but deconstructed dishes. It will be a cunning ruse designed to persuade people it's all about culinary cleverness, when really it's just 'cos I can't be arsed cooking stuff properly. Deconstructed Shepherd's pie sir? Certainly sir, here's your mince and tatties, best get a shift on we need your table back in two hours.

There's a very good reason a paella is usually served 'constructed'. If it's not then it isn't a paella, it's rice and seafood and meat and some seasonings. Of course, as all this rattled around in my brain I ordered it anyway.

Predictably enough what arrived was three different things on a plate, not interacting with one another in any particularly successful way. The fish was excellent. A large fresh fillet, delicately cooked to just flake and well seasoned. The other stuff was rubbish. The paella had the taste and appearance of overcooked, mushy savoury rice and the chicken drumstick was dry and tasteless. The fourth thing, the chorizo dressing, was definitely on the plate (that would be the orange wet stuff) but didn't taste of anything.

The other mains around our table were better than mine, pork and lamb dishes both being declared very good and not having anything obviously silly on the plate as far as I can tell. I tried a bit of pork belly and it was lovely, with the winning combination of soft moist flesh and proper crackling.

The theme of messing around with a classic to little advantage continued with pudding. Lemon meringue pie brought pastry that was past its best, a nice, tart lemony filling and hardly any meringue. What's the point of lemon meringue pie with hardly any meringue? There were just a few strips of dry, crumbly stuff scattered on the top, none of the unctuous gooey loveliness you'd hope for.

At this point I should say something nice about our waiter for a change. He knew his stuff, being well versed on the range of drinks on offer and suggesting a lovely Pedro Ximenez sherry to have as a dessert wine and digestif. An espresso martini type concoction that one of the others had at this point was also delicious.

We finished up quite quickly after pudding, the lights had been dimmed and the volume cranked up, presumably the bar takes precedence late on weekend nights. Including service we paid £40 each in total, not bad given that it included some pricey drinks.

I think the problem with Hummingbird is that they're trying to be all things to all people. It's a friendly suburban restaurant attempting to combine attempts at fine dining with being a noisy late night bar. It doesn't quite work for me. Someone in the kitchen can cook meat and fish really well, but whoever is in charge of the menu is getting a bit carried away with themselves. Simplify things a bit and they'd be on to a winner. Mind you they're probably on to a winner anyway. The place was heaving so what do I know.


Stainbeck Corner
Harrogate Road
Chapel Allerton

Hummingbird Kitchen and Bar on Urbanspoon

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