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Anthony’s at the Corn Exchange

Rosie Birkett meets Leeds' most precocious chef and restaurateur at the opening of his new food emporium

Published on January 14th 2010.

Anthony’s at the Corn Exchange

Anthony Flinn has always been ambitious. At the start of his cooking career, aged just 20, he moved to Spain without a word of Spanish and set about becoming the first Brit to ever grace the payroll in one of the world’s most famous kitchens at Ferran Adria’s El Bulli.

It wasn’t until 2004 that Flinn blasted onto the British food scene. Fresh from his time in Spain, he opened (with the help of his father and business partner Anthony Snr), his first solo fine-dining venture Anthony’s – bringing molecular gastronomy to Yorkshire and finally putting Leeds on Britain’s food radar. Fast-forward four years and Flinn, now 28, has just opened his fourth and biggest venture in the city – his 13,200 sq ft Anthony’s at the Piazza in the Corn Exchange.

Saturday night saw the great and good of Leeds gather for the grand opening, and under the twinkling lights of the building’s newly refurbished roof, guests circulated the floor taking in the new additions to the old property.

The sprawling brasserie sits in the central expanse surrounded by various retail units all under the Anthony’s banner. There's a cheese shop (which is temperature controlled to protect the speciality cheeses), a chocolatier selling Flinn’s homemade chocolates, an ingredients shop, a bakery and a patisserie. At the far end a vast open kitchen (where chefs were spotted putting together the intricate canapés of goats cheese and octopus bon-bons) gives guests the theatre of the kitchen as they eat.

When I caught up with the man himself on the night, he was looking a little less calm than last time I saw him, his sharp black suit replaced by immaculate chef’s whites.

“I’m feeling numb right now,” he said. “I don’t even know what the time is – I’ve been running around like a blue arse fly.

“I’ve just taken my mum on a tour but I don’t think I’ll realise what we’ve done until I wake up tomorrow morning. It’s one thing to open it, now we’ve got to run it.”

The transformation of the Corn Exchange from a retail outlet selling quirky fashions to a high-end food emporium has caused a stir in the city, especially among the flocks of displaced retail outlets. I asked Flinn what the response had been so far.

“People are gobsmacked at what it is,” he said. “It’s everything it’s supposed to be, and it’s not just about the building itself – it’s the concept.

“It’s about connections, synergies and relationships within the building,” explained Flinn, who is taking local sourcing to a whole new level, using the food produced in the separate units to service all his restaurants in the city – Anthony’s, Anthony’s at Flannels and The Patisserie in the Victoria Quarter.

It’s certainly an impressive portfolio – but this Corn Exchange venture is bringing the Anthony’s brand to the masses. It operates out of arguably Leeds’ best-loved building and serves top-quality British classics like bangers and mash, rather than his trademark white onion and espresso air risotto.

As the guests around us supped on Veuve Clicquot and necked the fresh oysters being handed out, it all seemed a world away from the doom and gloom of the current financial backdrop.

Was he nervous about opening amidst a global recession? “We’re confident,” he said. “It’s good because it sorts the winners from the losers. Those restaurants that have been churning out the same old rubbish year after year are going to the wall.”

And with such a burgeoning empire in Leeds, I was curious to know if he’s thought about opening in Manchester? “We’ve talked about it – we’ve talked about opening all over the place. If I hadn’t opened my own restaurant I would have gone to London. That was the plan after I finished at El Bulli. But then me and my dad had a conversation about setting up on our own – and I’d always wanted my own restaurant.

“We wouldn’t have been able to finance that in London – the plan was always Leeds. We set this up as a family business and the rates and rents in Leeds allowed us to do that.”

Tonight Flinn had a certain twinkle in his eye – it’s that same twinkle you see in the eyes of children across the country on Christmas day just after they’ve opened their presents – a mixture of excitement, pride and satisfaction. What, in all this, was his favourite bit?

“Definitely the cheese shop,” he said. “It’s just what I’ve always wanted, we’ve got hundreds of different cheeses from all over the world. My favourite at the moment is the Stinking Bishop.”

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Shoe GalNovember 26th 2008.

Looks absolutely gorgeous, congrats

DigNovember 26th 2008.

Are you from Leeds Bowks? Round of applause if you are mate.

BowksNovember 26th 2008.

Anthony is quickly becoming a pioneer of epic proportions in Leeds and this venture does nothing to dispel that thought. I hope the restaurant (where it all started) remains as consistent as ever as that will set the tone for the rest of the empire!!!

BowksNovember 26th 2008.

Evidently not from leeds. Not sure that this broadband lark will ever catch on on the wrong side of the pennines!!!

PhillyNovember 26th 2008.

Appalling service from badly trained staff. Not sure why Antony would wish to associate this circus with his flagship restaurant which has always been a joy to eat at (if a little predictable having not technically moved on much in innovation and originality over the last couple of years). The Corn Exchange is such a beautiful building and this place could be so much better with a bit of care and attention and much better training.

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