The Time Ball Buildings has to be one of the most eccentric shop front façades going. When watchmaker-jeweller John Dyson got his hands on 126 and 127 Briggate in 1865, he decided to bring a bit of ornate grand to the area with a huge time ball clock installed into his shop front alongside gorgeous gilding and a compass spire. Talk about visual merchandising. There was a full restoration in 1980 but sadly Dyson's jewellery business expired in 1989 and for the past four years the Georgetown Restaurant has inhabited this stunner of a building.
Such an outlandish Victorian front requires a suitably characterful restaurant behind it and Georgetown is nothing if not eccentric. To start, the whole premise is unusual. It's a colonial Malaysian restaurant. Now the word 'colonial' is worrying. Not only does it dredge up some of this country's more shameful historical antics, it also suggests that this is not going to be Malaysian cuisine but some kind of colonial translation.
Then again, maybe not. Maybe it's the setting that recalls the decadent days of colonial adventure and the cuisine is an authentic culinary escapade of its own. Stepping inside, this is what I hoped as I was instantly seduced by the grandeur of the place. It's got a seriously swish old school style with chandeliers, gilded mirrors, flowers and drapery decking out the beautiful mahogany structuring. We were led to an immaculately set table as the gentleman at the grand piano tinkled the ivories in a classical lounge manner. If only I had been wearing a flapper dress and wildly gesticulating with a long cigarette holder, it would have been perfect.
Somewhat in awe of the surroundings it took a while to bother with the menu, but when we did it made for an interesting read. The introduction features ridiculous colonial pomp such as 'You will be served nibbles, Kueh Pie Tee, delicious top hats filled with tasty chicken'. It's mostly spared from the food menu itself which is split into Malaysian Malay, Malaysian Chinese and Malaysian Indian, representative of the region's main influencing cuisines.
To start I went for the ikan goreng (£4) of Malay fried fish and an aromatic herb salad with sweet chilli pickle. I imagined chunks of fresh fried fish delicately coated in spices with lovely leaves and a sharp pickle. Sadly, what I got was burnt fish, limp lettuce and chilli ketchup. My friend's mandarin tim sum (£4) was also rather woeful with a tacky texture, tinned tuna taste and served with the same chilli ketchup. Even ignoring the aesthetic blights of kiwi, orange and lemon slices, the starters were a sorry affair.
Mains were a bit better. My pandri perratal (£11.50) was a very hot pork curry with ladies' fingers (or okra to call it by its less mangy name) offset by cool yoghurt rice. I could have done without the pickled beetroot and slices of underripe mango, but overall it was fine. The chettinad koli (£10.25), however, was not. The presentation really beggars belief with boulders of burnt chicken circling a mound of curry sauce-topped rice. And the sad slices of cucumber and tomato; why? The okra and aubergine in their rich spicy sauces were the highlights of an otherwise dry and dreary dish.
I'm reluctant to mention dessert. Billed 'Nanas JB', it was a small scoop of vanilla, drizzle of maple syrup and a quartered ring of pineapple for the princely sum of £4.75. Yes that's right, the best part of a fiver for a child's portion of pineapple and ice cream.
Despite the entertaining rhetoric of the menu, the food at Georgetown was entirely disappointing, from its weird presentation to the poor quality and value. It feels like a botched British translation that they get away with due to the fantastic setting.
And this is what's especially galling – the building deserves better. When we weren't faced with food, we actually had a great time at Georgetown Restaurant. We played name that tune with the live piano, identifying 'Kiss from a Rose' and the bit in Fantasia with the dancing flowers while we supped a crisp sauvignon blanc and enjoyed a uniquely sophisticated ambience. The service was pleasant but unintrusive (sometimes seeming slightly embarrassed) but the food really let the experience down. This is a much-loved Leeds landmark and inside it's serving at best odd, at worst risibly bad, meals. I very much doubt John Dyson, whose name is proudly plastered about the place, would be too chuffed about it.
Venues are rated against the best examples of their kind: fine dining against the best fine dining, cafes against the best cafes. Following on from this the scores represent: 1-5 saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9 get a DVD, 10-11 if you must, 12-13 if you’re passing,14-15 worth a trip,16-17 very good, 17-18 exceptional, 19 pure quality, 20 perfect. More than 20: Gordo gets carried away
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