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Food & Drink: Where everybody knows your name

RESTAURANT REVIEW Robert Cockroft at The Foundry, Leeds

"What you up to Norm?" owner Sam Malone would ask the chubby regular as he entered the TV sitcom bar, Cheers. "My ideal weight if I were 11 feet tall," would come the reply.

"How's life treating you Norm?" barman Woody would inquire. Norm's wit rarely missed a beat: "Like it caught me sleeping with its wife."

Most people would like to know a Cheers bar, a refuge that offers decent food and drink in comfortable surroundings where the welcome is warm, the advice wise, the wit keen and the atmosphere easy.

It's pleasing to report that this new wine bar-restaurant goes a long way towards satisfying those ideals.

The pair behind it, manager Phil Richardson and chef Sean Davies are, like the one-time owner of Cheers, football nuts, and the opening ceremony was performed by Ken Bates. If that's not a big enough clue to where their loyalties lie, a glance at some of the pictures on the wall should.

This, however, is no theme bar put together by a couple of catering innocents. Richardson, familiar to many as the former front-of-house man at Leodis, is an experienced hand. So is Davies. They worked together for a time at William and Victoria's in Harrogate before Davies left to run restaurants in Spain.

They have managed to create an enterprise that feels as though it has been around for years, and part of it, of course, has. It's the latest arrival in the 40m Round Foundry development in Holbeck where Matthew Murray developed machinery that helped to power the industrial revolution.

The wine bar, a long, rectangular former shed with exposed 18th century brickwork, sits among apartments and offices in a part of town that has been rescued from shabbiness and elevated to chic. Across the way is the Pickled Pepper, a cafe-deli run by Richardson's wife.

First, though, find your restaurant: It lies in a handsome, stone-flagged courtyard off Sawmill Street near Water Lane. Then try to get in: At least four or five of the floor-to-ceiling arched windows look like doors. The correct one is that which least looks like an entrance.

Perhaps The Foundry's unobtrusive location and gentle demeanour, the opposite of Bibi's glitz, appealed to the three TV personalities who had chosen to drop by this particular evening. Perhaps they also appreciated the gentle retro theme that links the fittings, including an ornate oak bar, and the menu.

While the dining area resembles a Parisian bistro and the menu has a touch of cuisine grandmere, there's a strong sense of Englishness about the cooking. Its faith in tradition, and comfort, should certainly win it friends among the business community.

Starters include coarse country terrine with Cumberland sauce, cream of white onion soup, globe artichoke with hollandaise sauce, melon with parma ham and devilled lamb's kidneys with toast.

It's the sort of stuff that Jeeves would advise Bertie Wooster to enjoy at his London club. Nor is there anything among the main courses to foment revolution. They range from that old crowd-pleaser, crisp roast half duck with port wine, to poached salmon with bearnaise, roast chicken breast with chestnut stuffing and cranberry, pan-fried calves liver with bacon and onions, beef casserole with cheese and mustard dumplings and roast pheasant breast with bacon, bread sauce and meat juices.

It's the sort of menu where you'd happily try everything, not routinely the case these days. Some chefs would rather fall on their Sabatiers than appear to compromise their creativity by programming dishes that might have appeared to their parents or great aunts.

So the place is great, the buzz is keen, the menu is terrific, the service is relaxed but well-schooled, the wine list is clued up (plenty of choice by the glass and two dozen Champagnes including Krug ros at 200 for any footballers' wives who call), and Carol Vorderman is looking a million dollars over in the far corner.

And the food? Sound but not yet spectacular. The place had been opened only a couple of weeks when we called and some basics needed attention.

If country terrine is underseasoned in the first place, then tugged straight from a cold fridge, it's no surprise it tastes of nothing but, well, a cold fridge.

And that crispy roast duck, while a pleasant change from the "would you like it pink or still moving," school of cheffery may have come straight from the oven but the flesh had a slightly boiled flavour.

The rest though was fine. A warm salad of black pudding with bacon was topped with a perfectly poached egg, the onion soup was a revelation in the precision and punch of its flavour, a fillet of halibut was carefully timed to keep the texture light, and a rack of Yorkshire lamb with an aromatic garlic cream arrived with a rosy centre. Hardly seasonal, but just right for a winter's night.

Among puddings, brandy snap with oranges and caramel is a dish that Phil Richardson admits he's revived from his early days at Linton Springs. This really is a retro experience: A whole dairy of cream must go into it. Nor is there much calorific relief elsewhere with banoffi pie and treacle tart with vanilla custard – though few, I suspect, will complain about that.

The complaints, in fact, are more likely to come from diners trying to get a table. These two soccer fans have forged something of unusual interest in The Foundry. Get there before the crowds do.

The Foundry Wine Bar, Round Foundry, Foundry Street, LS11 5QP. 0113 245 0390. Open lunch Monday to Friday; dinner Monday to Saturday. Car park off Water Lane, disabled access, music, smoke free dining room. Three course dinner for two with house wine: About 60.

 
 
 

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