THE Reliance, or The Reli as it’s called by those of us too lazy to bother with a third syllable, is a bar and restaurant found on the far reaches of North Street, on the edges of Little London, across from a creepy abandoned apartment complex and an odd little park that you wouldn't want to traverse after dark.
It’s actually only about three minute’s walk from both the Merrion Centre and the Headrow but something about it seems much further away from the city centre than it actually is.
It really is a lovely place to drink. It’s shabby, in an arty way, with high ceilings, comfy mismatched furniture, and amazing floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides that fill the place with light. It’s quite beautiful at the end of the evening, right before sunset, though sunglasses might be called for depending on where you sit. There are interesting wines and beers and, while not cheap, the drink prices aren’t outrageous, either.
The food is as unpredictable as the service. This meal is not one I would want to repeat but I’ve had some amazing food from their kitchen on a few occasions."
Drinking, however, was not the point of the evening. We were here to eat. It was much busier than I expected for a Tuesday, so we were asked to wait at the bar for a few minutes until a table became available. I was a little disappointed – while you can eat anywhere in the bar, there is a dedicated dining room at the back that I wanted to avoid. Why sit in the dark on a glorious, sunny summer day?
We didn’t have a choice, though; no one in the bar looked like they were moving on any time soon. So wait we did, with a pint of Elland Road Nettle Thrasher (£2.90) for me and a pint of the Reliance’s own bitter (£2.40) for my dining companion (heretofore to be known as 'MDC'). They were both excellent, especially the Reliance’s own.
After a very few minutes we were led to our table to find a basket of bread and butter and a little dish of black and green olives with herbs and slivers of lemon zest. We got down to the business of menu-perusing. A few of the starters caught my eye, like the mackerel gravadlax and the asparagus with a deep-fried duck egg, but I made a mistake. A very, very large mistake. I decided to try kidneys (devilled, on brioche with cream sauce, £5.25) for the first time.
Let me first say that I have a personal policy to try anything and everything at least once. Oysters? Yes, please. They are now my favourite thing in the world, in spite of my initial reservations. Cold slices of pig’s lung in a spicy peanut sauce? Okay. Not sure if I would do it again, but it was an interesting texture and the sauce was great.
And plenty of average everyday English people eat kidneys; it’s not as if the idea was completely beyond the pale. These appeared atop a slice of home-made brioche smothered in a dark brown sauce, topped with a bit of parsley, looking for all the world like delightful little mushrooms.
I’ve been thinking for a while now about how I can describe the texture. It started out a bit rubbery but almost immediately collapsed between my teeth with a kind of membranous crunch – like the snapping of a million microscopic elastic bands. And the taste was...exactly what I suppose I should have expected a kidney to taste like, had I actually taken the time to think about it.
But these were my first kidneys, so lets assume their texture and taste were exactly as they should have been. I must still take issue with the sauce, which was muddy-tasting and in desperate need of something bright – maybe a hit of lemon? And the brioche, which had the taste and texture of a nice Victoria sponge, needs a very serious re-think. I made my way through half of the dish, but I could go no further.
MDC went for the Charcuterie Board with Bread and Pickles (£6.45) which included air-dried Northumbrian Ham, The Reli’s own salami, and a home-made terrine of ox tongue and gherkins. It was all very nice, if a little sparse. The brown bread included was in one big wedge, which looks lovely and rustic but is inconvenient without a bread knife. Slices would have been preferred.
After the kidney debacle, I ordered a small glass of a very nice, very affordable dry Italian white wine (£2.40) and I was quite looking forward to my main course of home-salted cod with saffron potatoes, bouillabaisse sauce and aioli (£13.50). The fish itself was cooked perfectly, but it was served over an inexplicable pile of uncooked spinach leaves. The three tiny potatoes were a bit undercooked and the bouillabaisse sauce was just tomato puree with some herbs. Bouillabaisse is a fish and shellfish stew, so it seems safe to assume a sauce bearing its name would have some evidence of either or preferably both.
Perhaps a fish or shellfish stock was used in the preparation of the sauce. If so, it was a pointless endeavour, because the flavour simply wasn’t there. There was no aioli whatsoever, which was a disappointment.
MDC had the Wild Garlic Free Range Chicken Kiev with New Potatoes, Fried Shallots, and Peas (£12.95). The huge, golden-brown breaded chicken breast looked amazing, and the garlic inside tasted nice, but there was no oozy pool of butter like you’d expect in a proper Kiev. The peas looked a bit desiccated and wrinkled, as well.
This is the kind of thing I’d happily have at home on a weekday night, with a big bottle of ketchup on the table and the TV on, but there was nothing that made it special enough to justify paying thirteen quid for it in a restaurant.
Pudding? Sorry, I almost never order pudding (though I’ll happily have a bite of yours), and MDC demurred, as well. I did have a coffee Americano (£1.80) which was very nice indeed. The service was friendly and the waitress was knowledgeable about the menu. From my experience, the service here varies wildly- sometimes it’s great, but there have been times when it was so sarcastic and surly that I swore I would never return.
The food is as unpredictable as the service. The meal I’ve described in this review is not one I would want to repeat but I’ve had some amazing food from their kitchen on a few occasions. Once, a rabbit ragu with home-made pasta that I spent an entire weekend trying to recreate at home, another time a beautiful fillet of trout served over perfectly cooked Jersey Royal potatoes and surrounded by a bright-yellow saffron cream sauce that nearly had me licking the dish.
What these dishes had in common is that they were both specials from the chalkboard, which is something they do on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. I think they might really pick up their game (and their staffing levels) on a weekend because it seemed as if the two people in the open kitchen were in a bit of a lather keeping up with what may have been an unexpectedly busy Tuesday night.
The Reliance is, and will remain, a great place to drink. I’m not ready to give up on the food yet, but it might be a while before I go back – and when I do, I’m sticking with the specials.
ALL SCORED CONFIDENTIAL REVIEWS ARE IMPARTIAL AND PAID FOR BY THE MAGAZINE. £1000 to the reader who can prove otherwise, and dismissal for the staff member who wrote a review scored out of twenty on a freebie from the restaurant.
Food: 3/10 (but I know they have the potential to do better)
76-78 North Street
Leeds LS2 7PN
0113 295 6060
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