The Collective, Leeds: Our reviewer gives top marks for 'innovative' restaurant with chef following in his revered father's footsteps
I was not surprised when chef Craig Rogan told me he had decided to branch out on his own. He has been the power behind the Grill at the stylish Dakota Hotel in Leeds since 2019, and I have thoroughly enjoyed his food on several occasions.
However, given his lineage, I always felt there was more to come. His CV is non-too shabby and includes many notable names, including his father’s revered three-Michelin-starred restaurant L’Enclume in Cartmel.
So, this is why, a few weeks back, on a very miserable, wet Friday night, I was sitting in the Collective on Boar Lane in Leeds, watching Craig buzzing around his new kitchen, thinking there’s a happy chef if I ever saw one. He looks well suited to his new role.
The Collective is home to Craig’s new venture and is best described by founder Dale Wynter as an interior design cum café-bar inspired by the Los Angeles art scene. This innovative and immersive design destination blurs the lines between home and hospitality and includes a relaxed café amid the beautiful objects to buy.
However, until now, in the evening, they only hosted pop-up food events, one of which was with Craig earlier this year. That successful sell-out event is what led to their exciting collaboration. Craig had always hoped to open his own place one day and given the synergy between the Collective and his food, it looks like this is that place.
Throughout the day, they (not me) describe the food here as a place to fuel creativity where the people of Leeds can feed their mind, body and soul. Sounds intriguing, and I, for one, am already planning on going back to try some of the aspirational menu, which includes many of my favourite ingredients such as the baked egg Shakshuka with Yorkshire Cheddar or a plate of Woodland mushrooms on toast, perhaps the salt-baked beetroots – yum.
Then, in the evening, the lights are dimmed, the tone becomes softer and even the music changes; it is then that the kitchen starts to weave its magic with two Tasting Menus, five-course for £50 and £80 for eight, which, though not cheap, is superb for this quality of food and cooking. There is an a la carte Sunday menu, too.
We start with a crisp Parmesan croquette topped with a shredding of charred fried Cavolo Nero. I immediately pick up on the distinct deep flavour from the croquette and the greens’ fabulous precise seasoning and crisp texture. Alongside these is a small bowl filled with pebbles (I do check that they aren’t edible - you never know), two seaweed crackers with salty cod roe, and a drizzle of sea buckthorn.
Next comes a soft, warm chunk of bloomer bread with the most moreish beef butter and sea salt, a pairing so addictive I have to restrain myself. But thankfully, I am soon distracted by what Craig describes to us as he puts it on the table as a psychedelic cottage pie. His description is apt as the potato on top of the ox cheek is a most gorgeous, soft violet colour and a purée of lovage, a lovely green that could easily have come straight from a Farrow and Ball colour chart—another wonderful marriage on the plate.
Hen of the Woods (Maitake) mushroom followed with charcoal and cheddar, yet another stunning dish where, if I understand this correctly, is cheddar with activated charcoal, which gives an unusual and delicious sort of seasoning. I don’t quite get the chemistry here, but he does, and it works.
A pretty dish comes next and, at this point in dinner, is vying for the top spot with the Hen of the Woods. The dish is fresh white crabmeat with nduja, radish and cucumber, and the brown meat is worked into (in Craig’s words) “a fab sauce” - and it is. Where the last dish was dark and broody, this is playful and bright, with light flavours and gorgeous colours from the slivers of radish pickled cucumber, ginger garlic and a little sea purslane.
From someone who rarely eats chicken unless I know it is reared humanely and naturally, this next dish blew me away. Craig’s chicken with bilberry, bacon fat and walnuts was insanely good. I would never have thought that bilberries would complement the lightly crumbed poultry, never mind with bacon fat and a superb chicken sauce, but they do.
We both have been blown away by the skill and presentation we have had thus far and hope that this will continue with the two desserts left to come.
First came white chocolate, milk and brambles. The chocolate comes as a tall milky drink and is possibly the only element of a dish I wasn’t sure about. We are recommended to take sips of this alongside the raspberry and blackberries, which also come with frozen chocolate, raspberry powder and a bramble gel. I loved the fruits and the sharpness of the powder, and to be fair, this does work.
So does the coconut, pineapple, and acid orange, which can be best described as a deconstructed cheesecake with pineapple mousse, a coconut crumb, and pineapple gel, with the acid coming from the Calamansi - a hybrid citrus fruit.
This was easily one of the highlights of my reviews this year. Everything pleased from the staff on the ball and so out to help to the mix of industrial decor with the beautiful. I loved the tables, many of the chairs, and the tasteful, carefully curated objects artfully displayed throughout. The central bar and open kitchen dominate the room; nothing is hidden.
But above all, I am thrilled for Craig. I know this is just the start, and there is still much to tweak and figure out. However, I’m so glad to have this unassuming, hugely talented chef out front and shining, and I wish him and the team great success. I can’t wait to come back.
Craig Rogan at The Collective, 33 Boar Lane, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS1 5DA. Tel: 0113 466 0382