DRIVING out into suburban Leeds on a Saturday night is peculiar.
It’s so counter-intuitive that you feel you might have accidentally wandered into the opening sequence of a bad horror-film. Houses disappear. People disappear. Cars speed up, whizzing past so quickly the eerie silence becomes almost constant.
When we finally reach 166 Town Street, we almost walk straight past the place where we’re supposed to be eating, assuming the building is just an extra-large house. Then we notice a painted sign that seems to mark it out as a country pub.
Inside, the experimental menu and smartly dressed clientele plead otherwise. It seems we have stumbled upon a big-night-out in Horsforth. On one side, Bar 166 is brimming with short-skirts, striped shirts and cocktails, whilst through the glass wall the dolled-up middle ages sit down to dinner. Neither glam nor grown-up, we are led like children to our over-sized table, the waiter clearly confused when we ask for some drinks.
Pumpkin and cumin gnocchi involves an upsetting amount of spice coating what could be the deep-fried thumbs of chubby children.
He brings us two glasses of Australian Chardonnay that, contra my disbelief at the description, does actually taste ‘creamy’ and we pour over the unusual menu. There are both standard and ‘special’ dishes, all fine-tuned versions of English classics that sounded extremely promising.
The promise continues to make our tongues ache as the beautifully presented starters arrive. A roasted vegetable stack with red pepper jus (£5.90) is colourful against its black slate and Gretchen’s goats cheese and thyme panna cotta (£5.90) looks delightful. But the aubergine is near-impossible to cut through and the panna cotta is reminiscent of phlegm - perhaps these dishes were not intended for consumption at all.
The panna cotta also has nothing of goats cheese about it; unless the goat was severely anaemic. Strangest of all are the home made crackers it’s served with - a little like triangular communion wafers - these will make another cameo appearance later on.
Main course is a braised beef wellington (£13.90) for Gretchen, who is pleased with the minimal latticed pastry and plenty of tender meat. It comes served with truffle mash that definitely trumps everything else. Pumpkin and cumin gnocchi (£11.90) involves an upsetting amount of spice coating what could be the deep-fried thumbs of chubby children. My stomach turns and I pray for pudding.
It would take a serious screw-up to disappoint me with any dish involving sugar and fat, but the last hour has been so expensive and underwhelming that I am nervous.
My prayers are answered, if not by a suburban sugar deity, then at least by instantly appearing, large servings. The sticky toffee pudding sauce is piercingly sweet, and the smattering of raisins is welcome in the thick sponge. The mango crème brûlée (£5) has a perfectly faint hint of mango and is smooth enough to make up for being nearly liquid.
But for some reason the communion-wafer crackers have returned. This time covered in icing sugar. Incognito, they are no easier to swallow. Besides, the disguise is terrible. So terrible we begin to feel sorry for the little triangles. Definitely time to leave.
It’s all a bit Masterchef-left-out-in-the-rain. Or just food left out in the rain. Who knows? Outside it is a balmy evening and there is just enough time to get back into town before the sun has finally set.
Food - 4/10
Service - 4/5
Ambience - 3/5
166 Town Street
0113 258 2661
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