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The Leeds Kitchen review

Xanthi Barker puts James Martin’s Alea venture through its paces

Published on April 13th 2011.


The Leeds Kitchen review

After spending eight hours breathing ammonia on a delayed coach back from London, my stomach had reached the level of chronic nausea seemingly impenetrable to food.

I glimpsed Martin through the kitchen-window and tried not to gawk. He looked huge; like he’d taken one of Alice’s pills and got stuck in the kitchen.

Fine-dining seemed out of the question. Hopefully TV chef and Yorkshire lad James Martin would soothe me with his culinary genius, and not twist my stomach into even tighter knots. I chewed my way through an entire pack of cherry menthol gum and headed to Alea Casino, where The Leeds Kitchen is oddly situated.

Slick-haired, suited women sat beside the curved black doors that hid the restaurant and casino floor. I was scared that I would be met with a room full of oiled-up, g-stringed waiters and waitresses, such was the high-end strip club vibe.

I thought James Martin was a home-cooking family man? My accomplice Orson and I donned our seediest smiles and attempted to ‘slink’ across the threshold.

Inside, the casino was deserted. The restaurant, however, was rammed. We were guided from grinning waitress to grinning waitress and into our seats, beside a floor-to-ceiling window onto Clarence Dock. The decor was sleek and dark; vintage French film posters lined the walls. Definitely more wannabe-Bond film than strip club.

I glimpsed Martin through the kitchen-window and tried not to gawk. He looked huge; like he’d taken one of Alice’s pills and got stuck in the kitchen.

When I saw the menu (promptly delivered by another grin), his rugby-player proportions were explained. Everything was protein-packed with the roast, frittered or braised remains of a different animal. Hunting for the vegetarian option, I found only cheese, more cheese, and a little cream soup. Orson’s eyes glazed with carnivorous glee.

A basket of warm bread and perfectly soft butter took the edge off my traveling fatigue, along with the lemony twinkle of the house Sauvignon Blanc (£19.50). The waitress suggested it with a giggle that did not lie. Her menu guidance was much appreciated by Orson, who was having trouble deciding between the colourful fish dishes.

After half an hour wait, the starters arrived; much more Yorkshire than the decor. A liquid silk cauliflower soup (£6.25) for me and a chicken liver terrine (£6.50) for Orson, served with a little jam-jar full of Black Sheep Ale mustard. The cute presentation and smooth marbled surface disguised the terrine’s robust meatiness, and Orson’s emasculated frown became a nod of satisfaction. The luxurious look of my soup, however, masked a salty punch that was redeemed only by the sweet crunch of the apple fritters.

Having no alternative animal-free main course, I was landed with a Coverdale cheese souffle (£11.50), whilst Orson flouted the waitress’ advice and chose a salmon fillet with fennel pollen and borage leaves (£14.75). Jealous of how delicate Orson’s dinner looked, I was overwhelmed with the saltiness of this dish too (perhaps Martin is trying to make up for vegetarians’ lower rate of heart disease?).

Although it was cloud-light as a souffle should be, the flavour was worryingly reminiscent of desperate days trying to escape hangovers via microwave macaroni cheese. The salmon lacked the bold intrigue of its description.

Dessert was offered to us free of charge to compensate for the enforced starvation preceding the starter – a nice touch. My sugar-driven heart cried forgiveness. Orson had his tongue-twisted by an electrifying lemon tart while I opted for the signature dish - a white chocolate and whisky croissant butter pudding. It arrived like a fluffy Taj Mahal, glistening with tangled textures. Layers of croissant gave way to white chocolate fairy-light custard, dream-like against the cool ice cream.

When Martin came over with the statutory grin to say hello, as he had to all his customers, all I could manage was a “wow, thank you” as I tried to scoop the last drops of pudding from my plate.

Back outside the casino, no clue of The Leeds Kitchen could be seen. Clarence Dock was silent and deserted. But the neon ‘Alea’ sign winked eerily in the dark, heralding the Coverdale cheese-induced nightmares to come.

Rating:15.5/20
Breakdown:3.5/5 food
5/5 service
7/10 ambience
Address:The Leeds Kitchen
Alea Casino
4 The Boulevard
Clarence Dock
Leeds
LS10 1PZ
0113 341 3202

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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