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Art's Café Bar

Felicity Clarke struggles to keep a straight face in this bohemian enclave

Published on January 14th 2010.

Art's Café Bar

It was all a bit X Factor in town one Friday evening as I bowled down Briggate to meet a friend at Art's Café Bar. Outside Harvey Nicks a beaming soul mistress was doing a cracking version of The Jackson Five's 'I Want You Back'. Further down, a youthful mop-haired type was leaning against a lamppost strumming and snarling 'Live Forever'. There were two others in between and the distant warbling of '(I've Had) The Time of My Life' travelled over the arcades.

Sheer intrigue forced us to order, which was a mistake as it's a very silly dessert, from its name to its execution.

Boosted by the karaoke pop performances, the bright early evening sun and that Friday feeling, I entered Art's Café Bar full of anticipation for the evening ahead. Greeted and seated in the top section of this bright little café cum bar cum restaurant, it all boded well.

At Art's Café Bar they've been pioneering their unique brand of polished bohemia for over ten years now. They've had a spruce up since I last came when canary yellow was the order of the day.

This has been swapped for a similarly lurid shade of apple green complemented by dark wood furniture and panelling, orchids, yukka plants and changing art on the walls. It makes for a pleasant, informal combo. We took it all in over drinks – a large glass of Touraine Sauvignon (£4.50), a crisp dry with gooseberry notes, for me and a bottle of Birra Morretti (£2.90) for my companion, and made our food choices.

To start we shared the ham hock terrine, apple jelly, marinated beetroot and homemade brioche (£5.50). Once we'd negotiated our way through the maze of cress, this was a taste and texture delight. A thick tablet of terrine flaked into big chunks was combined with sweet fruity jelly, earthy beetroot, herb oil and a couple of slices of light, fluffy brioche. It all worked together a treat.

Starter cleared, an interim ensued in which we noted the recently cranked-up music. The bland sound of late nineties trip hop hung in the air. I like good trip hop (see Massive Attack, Portishead) but this was the unrelenting tail-end of a lazy chill out compilation. It felt a little at odds with what Art's is about.

For the main I chose a special of pan roasted salmon served with chive mash, asparagus and tomato, tarragon and onion dressing (£12). A large fillet of salmon was cooked well, although slightly dry, with a smooth mash resting on asparagus spears of almost tree trunk proportions. This was the scenery though, the starring role went to tarragon. Like a precocious stage child, this flavour wasn't going to give up the limelight, no matter how I tried to style what was on my fork.

My friend went for rib-eye steak, bearnaise sauce, fat chips and a croquette of beef marrow (£13.95). Steak was good, chips were quarter potatoes. Again tarragon vied for attention but the flouncy herb couldn't outperform the phallic meat-fat machismo of the croquette. My male companion described it as a satisfying stodge sausage.

Art's menu does sometimes border on pretension. The dessert list includes carpaccio of pineapple and mango with ginger and orange candy. Orange, thyme and earl grey granita (£4.50). That's their full stop mid dish, not mine. Sheer intrigue forced us to order, which was a mistake as it's a very silly dessert, from its name to its execution.

Slimy, syrupy slithers of mango and pineapple (the carpaccio), sugared shreds of orange peel like you get in marmalade (the candy) and a ball of grainy earl grey tea-flavoured slush puppy (the granita). We only managed a spoonful each but it gave us a good laugh.

Like the food, service started well then went downhill. When we arrived it was pretty busy, mostly couples and a few lone diners, and our waiters were friendly and attentive. I don't know what happened (pissing ourselves at the dessert may not have helped) but by the end we were one of only two tables remaining yet we were entirely ignored.

The slide in standards is a bit disappointing. Art's was at the forefront of independent creative café bar culture in Leeds. It's still up there but it felt like there was something lacking when I visited. Neither the food or atmosphere lived up to the Art's promise, like the vibrancy was missing.

We left and Call Lane was buzzing with weekend revelry. As we observed Bananaman entertainingly accost two sexy mobster ladies across the road, part of me couldn't help feeling Art's had been the most staid component of my Friday night.

Rating: 11.5/20
Breakdown: 6/10 Food
3/5 Service
2.5/5 Ambience
Address: Art's Café Bar
42 Call Lane
0113 243 8243

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DrakeAugust 13th 2008.

Of course, the founders left three or four years ago and now run the rather lovely Vaults in Ilkley.

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