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Sous le Nez en Ville

Jonathan Schofield goes underground and gets a lot of sauce from a Leeds dining institution

Written by . Published on March 6th 2008.

Sous le Nez en Ville

Sous le Nez en Ville, has been around for fifteen or so years, roughly the time it takes for its website to load. And it loves itself something rotten: any reflective surfaces are for staff to admire their suave demeanours.

The menu reads beautifully, lots of fish and lots of meat – loads of choice. It took us a while to mull it over, discuss, compliment and pick holes: which makes a change, from the perfunctory documents waiters often chuck at customers.

The self-love was apparent when a friend and I arrived. “Have you reserved a table?” asked a man who looked like the restaurant manager. “No,” I said, “is it a problem tonight?” He didn’t reply, but looked me up and down with amused condescension, got the reservations book, pursed his lips and said, “Ah yes, we have some room.” The place, early on a Thursday, was half full and didn’t get much busier all evening. The man had probably checked his bookings ten times already. Very annoying. Bollocks in fact.

Then again Sous le Nez has form. It’s won armfuls of awards and hundreds of glowing entries in books such as the Good Food Guide 2008. In the latter it’s even managed to gain a new food definition, ‘French style meets Yorkshire portions’: which I’m not sure compliments either the French or Yorkshire. It’s also, given the lunchtime trade and regular evening attendance, gained a place in the hearts of Leeds folk too.

Looks-wise the place is classic city basement, dark panels, woods, with paler paint shades, prints from French artists, little curtains and so forth. The subdued lighting, always necessary in a restaurant, and the low ceiling, makes the place comfortable lunchtime or evening.

The menu reads beautifully, lots of fish and lots of meat – loads of choice. It took us a while to mull it over, discuss, compliment and pick holes: which makes a change, from the perfunctory documents waiters often chuck at customers.

First up I had deep fried brie (£5.50) with warm pepper and mango chutney. The brie under the over done crust was perfect, but the rest wasn’t a success. The chutney concoction turned out insane, or at least schizophrenic, overpowering visually whilst bland to taste.

Then again veggie stuff isn’t really Sous le Nez’s forte. My companion was having better luck. Her French black pudding (£5.95) with apple rosti, parsnip crisps and smoked pancetta jus, was worth the trip down the stairs. A nice balance was struck between tangy and crisp and fluffy and moist. The black pudding played centre stage of course but equally good was the apple rosti, a nest of sweet and sour contrast to the blood above.

My companion drew the short straw with the main though. This was the char-grilled venison steak (£14.95) with potato galette, red onion marmalade, lavender and elderflower sauce, petunia oil, herbaceous border and a full range of Penhaligon’s spring season eau de cologne. Ok I’m joking with that description after the lavender and elderflower sauce, but the worthy strengths of the venison choked the subtleties of the latter. This was because of more split blood.

It says on the menu that the venison is ‘cooked pink’: a clever tactic designed to avoid a scene when madam from Otley finds that cooked meat derives from a living beast. But having this bloody character, according to my friend, the mademoiselle from the moors, means that any lavender and elderflower character, even that of the red onion, ends up as canon-fodder saturated in the bloody juices of the deer.

I went for the roast Gressingham duck breast (£14.50) with braised red cabbage, celeriac puree, and orange cinnamon syrup. The duck was heavenly, it clearly had gone happy to its death knowing how handsomely it would service human tastebuds. Skin just right, flesh just right, texture spot on, cooking to a T – blast off. Lovely stuff.

The celeriac and the red cabbage were fitting bed-fellows too and everything was hunky dory. Even the orange and cinnamon syrup was all right. Not brilliant, but all right, blurred, not defined enough to really help things along, but not offensive.

For some reason when we’d arrived we’d hankered after Chablis - a house version of the latter was a splendidly sharp number, which filled the craving. Indeed the winelist is a real feature of Sous le Nez. Gordo, will no doubt be spending a lot of time down here when he starts to bother Leeds in the near future. A straightforwardish pudding of steamed treacle pudding (£4.50) with vanilla custard was a stunner, filling and sweet as the night.

It had been two years since I’d last visited Sous le Nez en Ville. It was a comfortable and popular place back then and nothing’s changed now. However I don’t remember the restaurant, which translates, of course, as ‘under the city’s nose’, being so up its own arse. Nor do I remember all that pissing about with fruit, flowers and spices either, but it was very enjoyable in a buzzy city way and largely remains so now.

The positives still outweigh the negatives. It scores highly for atmosphere and drinks and would score a lot more for the food if it didn’t keep falling on the blunt side of very good. That the food comes big, and you leave full, is definitely a good thing. More finesse and a little less on the plate would be even better.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
3.5/5 Service
4.5/5 Ambience
Address: Sous le Nez en Ville
The Basement
Quebec House
Quebec Street
0113 244 0108

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5 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

kevMarch 3rd 2008.

Sams Chop House is better , by miles !!!!!!!!!

DaisyMarch 3rd 2008.

I love this restaurant and used to go all the time as a student! I also dont think there is any harm in learning about places outside of Manchester - we dont live in London after all and surely its not unthinkable we might travel the 40 mins on the 62 to try something new??!?!??!

AnonymousMarch 3rd 2008.

I agree with Kev. Sam's is far better. It has no airs and graces and the staff don't look at you like you're not worthy of spending your money in their restaurant. Steve and Jackie usually go out of their way to make you feel at home. The food is superb, honest wholesome and locally sourced. Oh and you can also just relax in the bar with a pint of one of 3 of their own beers if you don't want to eat.

LeeMarch 3rd 2008.

I love this restaurant and eat there almost every time I'm in Leeds, I think the review is fair, but you didn't mention the great value early bird menu!It also has a place in my heart as one of the waiters once asked us if we wanted 'still, sparkling or Yorkshire water?'.

LeeMarch 3rd 2008.

Sam's is great too, but the types of food are totally different and you (well, me anyway) do occassionally want airs and graces if you're going out for a special occassion.

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