I find it hard to believe it is nine years since I last reviewed Crafthouse in Leeds, the uber-cool place to eat in the newly opened Trinity Centre, a site which it would be hard to imagine Leeds without now. The dining scene in Leeds has moved on exponentially since 2013, both in style and approach, so I wondered how Crafthouse had fared.
The restaurant’s position on the fifth floor with fabulous views over Leeds is a real plus to this place. However, the lift, entrance and reception disappointedly looked a little tired from how I remember it, and I was hoping that this would not be the case in the restaurant. The owners of Crafthouse and Angelica, D&D, are consummate operators, with an explosion of stylish venues in the UK, Paris and New York in recent years, and I hoped Leeds wasn’t being left behind in their expansion.
The turmoil over the cost of living and fears of restaurants being shunned because of the crisis was not evident on the Tuesday evening of my visit. The place was rammed, and we followed a party of 17 checking in just ahead of us.
The significant change here, though, is the turnover of head chefs – I don’t know why. Bridlington-born Lee Bennett kicked it all off, and other notables have come and gone. However, the incumbent is the hugely talented Simon Jewitt, from Harrogate. Sadly, not there that night, but I could only hope his chefs would do him proud.
Simon’s menu is enticing and, though Yorkshire’s provenance is scant, given that it once was its premise, it is full of delicious-sounding things. Unknowingly, we both went for dishes that appear on their weeknight Graduation menu, which offers three courses for £35. So when we compared the prices, the puddings effectively were free; maybe this is why the place is so busy?
The wait for our much-anticipated starters of a Whitby crab and English pea salad and a mushroom and oxtail tart, poached quail egg, white onion and truffle espuma was long. The staff were flying around everywhere, constantly checking on us, but we weren’t too bothered; this is a lovely place to sit and chat.
The wait was worth it. Picture perfect plates of food with squeaky fresh crab, punctuated with tiny bites of preserved lemon and a soft sorbet to dip brown crab crackers into. The tart, too, was gorgeous, with the oxtail and mushrooms great partners, packing a precise, earthy punch of flavour together. However, the quail’s egg had us laughing as it was huge; I cringingly hoped a poor quail hadn’t laid it. The egg was, in fact, a hen’s (phew) and, even though perfectly cooked, it overpowered the delicate tartlet.
I had pondered long and hard over the main course, passing over Nidderdale lamb, Dover sole, stone bass with new season asparagus for brown butter poached Skrei cod, Jerusalem artichoke, monk’s beard and smoked mussel sauce with a breaded cheek. The cod had a good texture and taste, even if the surface was a little overcooked. The fat slices of artichoke, though, were tough and overcooked, and the mussel sauce, disappointingly, devoid of smokiness.
However, Soanes chicken breast, sage and onion hash brown, oyster mushrooms and glorious IPA pickled onion, all on a parsnip puree, was a joy and far removed from the previous dish.
Moving on. Our (free) puddings were gorgeous to look at and eat with a salted caramel tart, rum and raisin jam, an unusual crunchy cornflake ice cream, and a beautifully fragrant, silky rhubarb and custard crème brûlée.
So, putting the cod dish to one side, we had a thoroughly enjoyable dinner, and yes, I like this place as much as the first time I came here. I want do a shout-out, though, for our waiter Ryan. Despite being rushed off his feet, his obvious embarrassment that a quail’s egg had grown to an alarming size, and my questioning about organic and vegan wines, he could not have done more to help us. That level of service, not just food, makes a restaurant excellent, and critics forgive errors from the kitchen.
Open Monday: 5-9.30pm, Tuesday: 12-2.30pm and 5-9.30pm, Wednesday to Thursday: 12-2.30pm and 5-10pm, Friday to Saturday: 12-2.30pm and 5-10.30pm, Sunday: 12-4.45pm.