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Kendells Bistro

Hazel Davis is seduced by the French down at Clarence Dock

Published on January 14th 2010.

Kendells Bistro

I’ll try and aim for clarity here but, to be honest, the evening’s a bit of a haze. One of those hazes which comes from being wooed with sexy lighting, sumptuous food, and flattering service. It was a balmy night in Leeds and, walking through Clarence Dock, everyone was out in their summer clothes and heading for a night of recession-busting hedonism in the way that only the Knightsbridge of the North can.

From the moment I walked in, I was smitten. It might have been the disarming smile from the Audrey Tatou-alike waitress, it might have been the gentle garlic wafting towards my nose, or it might have been the subtle French chanson caressing my ears.

I was headed to Kendells. Nestled in Leeds’ 'theatre quarter', opposite the College of Music and next to the Wardrobe, the restaurant attracts a pre-theatre, BBC, perfume-and-books crowd. Formerly the Cactus Lounge, it’s already got a passing trade of People Who Like To Eat Well.

From the moment I walked in, I was smitten. It might have been the disarming smile from the Audrey Tatou-alike waitress, it might have been the gentle garlic wafting towards my nose, or it might have been the subtle French chanson caressing my ears.

My companion and I were greeted warmly and shown to a cosy little table. The seating arrangement at Kendells is artfully chaotic. Nothing here is rigid, from the casually placed candles and little trinkets to the waxy wine bottles. But it all works so very well and lends the impression that one has wandered into a secret bohemian Gallic soirée. Large exhibition posters adorn the place and there’s a huge mural on the far wall. The toilets, though tucked out the back where it’s a bit less French and a bit more Leeds industrial, are riddled with nice touches such as lavender hand-cream, free squirts of perfume, individual towels and, on the ladies, a large photographic print of bare 1920s bottoms.

Due to the ever-changing nature of the menu – everything is prepared fresh each day – there is no fixed list and instead choices must be made from a huge blackboard. Despite the fact that the menu is full-on, no-holds-barred French tucker, it’s not at all intimidating for an oik like me with a poor A-level grade in the subject. Everything is translated and my own pathetic attempts to order in French were gently translated by the waitress back into English.

Starters were a mix of melt-in-the-mouth light, and hearty. I chose a light croustade (£5.90) with poached egg, mushroom and hollandaise sauce, very moist and just enough to whet my appetite for the main. My partner made like the French and had a boudin noir (black pudding and apple puree) (£5.50).

For mains, I opted for the very British chicken option – poulet l’estragon, a chicken in white wine and mushrooms (£11.50), and my partner had queue de boef (oxtail). Prepared off the bone, it was delicious. We had sides of (no translation needed) pommes dauphinois (£2.90) and GCSE French haricots verts (£2.50). The dauphinois potatoes, unlike most British efforts, were not crackly with melted cheese but moist and floury and garlicky to the point of no French kissing later.

I was disappointed that the ile flotante (floating meringue on crème anglaise), which I had been coveting from a neighbouring table, had finished. Instead I opted for a petit pot au chocolate (£5.50) which was doused in Cointreau and so good it was bad. My partner had the creme brulee (£5.50), which is a risky choice, but he pronounced it “just right”. The satisfied crunch was evidence enough.

Throughout the meal, the waiting staff were attentive but not intrusive, pricking their ears up when a glass was clinked or a throat cleared. Complimentary bread was brought constantly and drinks were replenished sufficiently.

For our gluttony we were awarded two glasses of complimentary wine, Floc De Gascogne (fortified wine with raisin juice and Armagnac). If we weren’t woozy before, we certainly left the place with the sort of smile you’d see on two German officers’ faces after an evening of wrongdoing out the back with a couple of French waitresses.

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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