IN the cold evening sunshine, Gretchen and I pace around the Corn Exchange, waiting for 7pm. We are starving and early for our dinner reservation - lured by the promise of live jazz music and half price tapas into booking a table later than our growling bellies would have liked.
When the sun goes behind a cloud, Gretchen starts to shiver and so we decide to give in and head for the dark door on a tiny Duncan Street that leads down to our dinner. The stairwell is almost pitch black but lit up with large cartoon tribal paintings that haunt the entrance like a ghost-train and give the impression of a terrifying culinary roller-coaster to come.
The cheerful waitresses suggest otherwise, however, and skip across the low-lit grunge-art filled bar to offer us a table. The place is empty but the music is loud and colourful lights give Distrikt the feel of an after-hours member’s club.
The tapas itself is fresh and interesting - no pretense of being ‘traditionally’ Spanish, more like mini servings from a modern Anglo-European menu.
We look at the four-page cocktail menu with glee. I ask for a ‘Pooh-tini’ - a honey-dripping rum blend - and Gretchen goes for a ‘P.S. I Love You’ (£7), which involves an awful lot of cream and every kind of cream liqueur. Not sure if we’ve accidentally ordered pudding first, we are saved from sugar-rushes by the waitress’ apology that Pooh-tinis no longer exist. A little put out, I ask for a Calcutta Sling (£7), which tastes like Calpol.
To accompany our drinks is a slate of mixed seasonal veg and bread (£6), perfectly arranged and seasoned with the right balance between salty and sweet. Gretchen pines for more bread - two slim slices leave the veg a bit lonely. But some nuts on the side add to the foraged, gourmet badger-banquet feel of the whole menu.
After being told the beetroot and goats cheese salad is also unavailable, we order a tomato and shallot (£3) replacement, which glistens with juice and shallots diced so finely we forgive the disappointment.
The tapas itself is fresh and interesting - no pretense of being ‘traditionally’ Spanish, more like mini servings from a modern Anglo-European menu. Spiced lamb medallions (£4.50) are tender against the crisp rosti.
The red pepper and goat’s cheese arancini (£3.50) look like pickled cartoon brains but taste soft and addictive. Orange creme friache unexpectedly balances warm ratatouille (£4), usually homely and soothing, but here so grown-up and neat. A plate of harissa chicken wings (£4) looks out of place in its larger proportions but they disappear fast, with some excellent lime aioli.
On to dessert, and we are again informed that half the menu is unavailable. But a roasted banana (£3.50) arrives, reclaiming his place as a top Leeds dessert, and some balsamic strawberries (£3.50) ooze with punchy under-sweetness. Both are crowned with huge dollops of freshly whipped cream, underlining the freshly-made, locally-sourced, personal nature of Distrikt. Which perhaps explains the disappearance of half the menu.
As we are leaving, three underage musicians have begun to blast jazz hits a few feet from our table and the possibility of conversation is cut-short. But in the darkness, with the green lights and twinkling dishes, it probably wouldn’t have mattered. At £20 each, we crawled our way back above ground to the final strands of sunlight with bellies very satisfied indeed.
7 Duncan Street
0113 243 3674
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