ON the way to Art’s, I am already in love with the chef, the genius behind the tumbler of perfection which is Art’s millionaire shortbread.
I do not see how a person who dreamt that up could ever fail. At anything. Ever.
This is not bias, but a simple recognition of a superior being. Anyway, anyone walking into the wooden-floored, high-ceilinged, art-lined cafe would be struck with similar confidence. There is a lightness and sophistication about the place that takes you further from the vaguely inebriated smokers lining Call Lane than one doorway should allow.
"Vegetarian options usually constitute the short-straw in restaurants with such complicated menus, suggesting the chef thinks himself too talented to bother messing around with vegetables."
Seated in the back at a beautiful wooden table we are left to inspect the current exhibition of local artists’ work hanging around us. Sketchy figures striking awkward poses and troubled faces are juxtaposed across colourful backgrounds. The characters are as coolly understated as the rest of the decor and coax me and Roebuck further into the sort of languid conversation that seems fitting in this kind of place.
Although the drinks selection is limited, Art’s lives up to the ‘bar’ part of its name, delivering an eye-glazingly good Espresso Martini (£5.65) and their own invention, ‘The Art of Mixing’ (£5.65) - a white wine spritzer with gin and a cucumber kick of freshness.
The menu reads like a fantasy English summer picnic, with potted crab, rabbit terrine and plenty of peas and mint. Raspberries turn up next to venison; grapefruit appears with beetroot. I choose some red pepper gazpacho with cherry tomatoes and pesto (£4.95). It glows fuschia on the white plate. Eating it is like being washed in sunshine - refreshing and seductive at the same time.
Roebuck’s homemade bread (£3.95) is sliced an inch thick and served with a generous bowl of oil and balsamic vinegar. It is soft inside and crusty at the edges, the balsamic is thick and sweet. The only downside is the seeping fear that this level of quality cannot possibly continue.
Vegetarian options usually constitute the short-straw in restaurants with such complicated menus, suggesting the chef thinks himself too talented to bother messing around with vegetables. But here no such line could be drawn, and we opt for two meat-free dishes for glutinous, rather than ethical reasons.
Huge, crispy spring rolls (£9.95) stuffed with bright green peas, mint and feta somehow remain delicate, especially dipped in lemon creme fraiche. Roebuck receives an (also huge) chestnut, sweet potato and leek crumble (£9.95) - a dose of Christmas in the Spring; so English and wholesome. A minor blip is that we both burn our tongues on the scalding food, but I blame our impatience for that.
After all those generous portions, Roebuck and I are barely capable of speech, but I insist that we try some pudding. I am dying to know what else the maker of the millionaire shortbread is capable of. We share some lemongrass panna cotta (£4.50) that is (luckily) rather small. It is smooth as silk beneath the sweet poached pineapple and mango, topped off with little flecks of mint.
I have nothing bad to say. Just endless, satisfied, gratitude. And some advice - go there. Don’t ever eat anywhere else. With such large portions, a starter would be sufficient and so the costs are put in perspective. But with an early bird price of £15 per person for three courses, Art’s are selling heaven off cheap.
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.
Arts Cafe Bar & Restaurant
42 Call Lane Leeds LS1 6DT
0113 243 8243
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