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La Grillade

Hazel Davis shares secrets over frog legs in a Leeds institution

Published on January 14th 2010.

La Grillade

What better way to enjoy a French restaurant than have your friend come out to you over a frog’s leg?

We’re in La Grillade, on Leeds’ Wellington Street, and my old friend (let’s call him Florian) is telling me about his first gay experience. I can’t say I’m surprised but it’s testament to how comfortable we are in our surroundings that he has chosen now to tell me.

I am delighted for him, but hey it’s the twenty-first century, and I am more interested in the menu, to be honest. At lunchtime on a Tuesday, La Grillade in Leeds is abuzz with dishy businessmen (so we’ve both got something to look at, at least). The restaurant is a cute little bistro set underground in wine-cellar surroundings. Quarry-tiled floor and off-white brick walls make for a lovely rustic feel and I can’t remember if the music is soft accordion but in my memory it is, so it shall be writ as such.

Almost everyone here is suited apart from us. But still we don’t feel out of place. This is not a show-off joint but La Grillade, in the basement of the former Wellesley Hotel, has been a Leeds media-business institution for 25 years, since Guy Martin-Laval took the reins.

I have told Florian (he lives in Batley and is about as French as Ray Winstone) that I’m not paying for lunch unless he tries the frog legs. One of us has to and it’s not going to be me. To his credit he does. I choose the much safer option of salade de chèvre chaud (toasted goat cheese, on a bed of green salad) (£7.25). And I’m mighty glad I do. It’s seriously delicious and served with a nice moist salad.

Out of loyalty to Florian I try his frog legs (£6.50) but they are – in his words – minging. They look like small chicken legs but are much larger than either of us expected. The meat is, yawn, like chicken but much slimier and fishier. It’s a first for both of us and perhaps a last. Having never ever tried frog legs before, I can’t honestly say how these compare but they are well-presented and the waiter stands, amused, watching our reaction.

The mains are more successful. I opt for a safe old escalope de saumon aux epinards (grilled salmon with white butter and spinach sauce) (£14.80) and Florian – in a bid to rescue some of his masculinity after screaming like a bitch at the frog legs – plumps for the steak minute grillé (£8.50). There is silence for a while as we appreciate. Florian’s steak comes with some dainty woven crisps. He describes it as tender and just bloody enough. My salmon, which is crispy on the outside and lovely and tender on the inside, comes with a nice side salad and the sauce is light and tasty.

Service at La Grillade is efficient and friendly with a wry smile and a raised eyebrow. Coats are taken and tablecloths cleared of crumbs as soon as they are dropped. There is an extensive and impressive wine list, of which neither of us partake as we ourselves are both Busy and Important Media People. With cars.

For dessert we both choose chocolate mousse – his the dish of the day, a white chocolate mousse with a raspberry (I think) coulis, and mine the ordinary bog-standard chocolate mousse (both £4.50).

I adore mine. It’s really just mousse but it’s light enough to be incredibly moreish and heavy enough to be satisfying. We order cappuccinos (£1.90 apiece). I nearly order an espresso and I wish I had because the resulting coffee is watery and weak and too hot. It’s a disappointment.

We stay for a long while just chatting – after all, he has just revealed a huge secret to me – and nobody bothers us to pay up and get out. If we glance at them they smile indulgently and only come over when we actually physically move from the table. It’s been a long, leisurely, revealing and delicious lunch.

All Leeds Confidential reviews are paid for by the company and are impartial. They reflect the dining experience on the review visit. 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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