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A first-time visitor to Leeds could be forgiven for thinking the city has little more to offer than café/bars and chain restaurants – all fine in their own way, but short on personality and local individuality. So fly beneath the radar to zero-in on the best places to eat in the city, from Anthony’s for creative fine dining to the glamorous Fourth Floor Café at Harvey Nichols. Then there are the enduring Leeds institutions: Raja’s for curry; La Grillade for the best steak-frites this side of Calais, and Salvo’s where the legendary queues for wood-fired pizzas have been snaking round the block for 35 years.
Anthony Flinn took the city and the critics by storm when he opened here in 2004, via Huddersfield Tech and a season or two at el Bulli. He’s still the city’s most celebrated chef/proprietor, noted for his meticulous, high-thrills, perfectionist cooking and intricate dishes with titles such as ‘espresso parmesan air’ or ‘duck five ways’.
It’s not cheap, but pan-Asian dining doesn’t get cooler than the first floor of the Park Plaza Hotel. Begin with a caipirinha or one of around 50 cocktails in the trendy back-lit cocktail bar, then feast on sushi rolls, Malaysian curry or Chinese dim sum – all served by friendly, laid-back staff.
It may be part of the DoubleTree by Hilton group, but the City Café wins its place for rising-star chef Leah Jenson’s way with oxtail and foie gras ravioli or venison three ways. It’s not all posh stuff either – she is equally talented when it comes to fish and chips or bangers and mash.
Richard Walton-Allen, long-time executive chef at Harvey Nicks, now works for a ‘social enterprise’ company that helps young people back into work. In 2012 they acquired this gracious old bank building – a bright, relaxed and contemporary space that shows off Allen’s penchant for freshness, seasonality, local ingredients and keen pricing.
The gastropub phenomenon never quite took off in Leeds, except in Holbeck Urban Village, where this faded old boozer was given new life with chandeliers, exposed brickwork, a spiral staircase and a menu of solid classics: slow-cooked duck leg, confit pork belly, steak and chips and a couple of veggie options.
Calling it a café sounds like inverted snobbery for Leeds’ swankiest department store Harvey Nichols, but the open kitchen, Formica tables and extended hours give it a relaxed feel. Despite the departure of Richard Walton-Allen to Create, it remains one of the most appealing dining rooms in Leeds with rooftop views and a contemporary menu.
It’s nothing fancy, it’s been around for years and the menu is set in stone, but La Grillade delivers the best boudin noir and red meat in town served by a real live Frenchman with attitude. This rambling cellar bistro is still a magnet for visiting celebs.
It was an audacious move at the start of the recession when Anthony Flinn took over Leeds mighty Victorian Corn Exchange and opened up a restaurant, Champagne bar, food shop, cantina and (latterly) a US- style Rib Shakk. He put mainstream dishes such as steak and chips on the menu, with keen prices to match. Good food, terrific location.
There are newer, glitzier Indians in town, but Raja’s on Roundhay Road is the oldest and arguably the best. Bikram Pal Singh has been sending out north Indian curries from his open-plan kitchen for nearly 30 years. With a real clay tandoor and nothing over a tenner, you can’t go wrong.
Head out to the suburb of Headingley for Leeds’ favourite Italian. For years, Salvo’s held on to a no-bookings policy and the queues were legendary. Now you can book for pizza, pasta and Italian mains with a hearty twist, all served with genuine verve and gusto. Added treats and takeaways are available at Salvo’s Salumeria a few doors away.