One restaurant closes, another opens. Jill Turton lunches at Shear’s Yard in Leeds’s hip Calls district.
It began life as a ship chandler’s that long ago made sails for the barges plying up and down the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Much later Shear’s Yard was scrubbed up to became one of the new wave wine bars that took over The Calls in the early 90s, and latterly it was home to Livebait, the seafood chain that last year went into administration.
Good news then that the Arts Café people from round the corner leapt in six months ago and took it on because it’s a great room. They’ve ripped the place apart and put it back together again, keeping the best of the old red brick and giving it a cool new look with roof lights, exposed steel beams and if cement is still the design statement du jour, then there’s that too, tons of it on the walls and poured and polished on the floor. There’s more industrial chic from the dozens of bare light bulbs strung across the room on chains, literally the highlight of a successful and attractive remodelling.
It’s all terribly cool and a sharp contrast to the cosy Arts Café which arrived in The Calls affecting a mildly Bohemian air without quite convincing us that we were in Greenwich Village. What they share is good value casual eating out. The menu of starters, mains, sandwiches and various meat, fish and veggie boards, priced between £6 and £12 at lunch, rises to nothing (excepting beef fillet) more than £16 in the evening.
The lunchtime menu also manages to offer some original vegetarian choices. I’m not a veggie but I genuinely appreciate kitchens that take non-meat eaters seriously. The day we went there was 50/50 equality for vegetarian dishes and one of those – at £11.95 – was, most unusually, the most expensive item on the entire menu.
That dish was bubble and squeak croquettes with wild mushrooms and kale, black garlic emulsion and roast kohlrabi. More of that later. Elsewhere were starters of white onion soup and cauliflower fritters with poached duck egg and watercress. Among the mains was a Thai style bean burger, a ciabatta sandwich packed with roast garlic, baba ganoush (aubergine dip), Yorkshire Fettle (Euro regs say they are not allowed to call it Feta), roasted courgette and balsamic.
Don’t worry, flesh eaters, there’s meat and fish, too: ham hock terrine, beef bourguignon, steak sandwich, salmon and crayfish sandwich and a burger which was the one duff note in a satisfying meal. It looked OK in a sesame bun with tomato, cheddar and sweet pickle but the meat was dense and overcooked. A side of ultra crisp, triple cooked chips almost made up for the burger’s shortcomings. Almost.
No reservations about a generous mound of whitebait with lemon mayo which was as good and crisp as whitebait gets. The battered cauliflower florets topped with a runny egg was another faultless starter. But the dish of the day was the aforementioned bubble and squeak – two well-flavoured croquettes on a big, glossy mound of kale gorgeously infused with wild mushrooms and garlic sauce. The little pieces of kohlrabi didn’t taste of much but added texture and bite. In fact there was so much going on that my meat-addicted guest had to admit that he didn’t miss his meat at all.
Puddings were as gently ambitious as the mains. Here was sticky banoffee pudding with Yorkshire tea ice cream or white chocolate panna cotta with rhubarb jelly, rhubarb compote and rhubarb and champagne sorbet and blimey – did I say gently ambitious – what about chocolate and smoked beetroot delice, beetroot meringue and whisky and coke ice cream? Yes, that’s one dish not three.
What arrived was a slab of something dense and chocolatey, topped with something rhubarby. I didn’t get the smoke in the smoked beetroot, but the Barbie pink meringue was melt-in-the-mouth and the whisky and coke ice cream (that’s Coke as in Coca Cola by the way), worked deliciously with the rhubarb and chocolate.
It’s been a while since I’ve eaten at Arts probably because I’ve never been that blown away by its cooking. Perhaps I should return pronto because the menu there as here is the creation of their joint executive chef Jamie Clinton and it certainly works in Shear’s Yard.
It was good, too, to encounter a refreshed venue and a refreshed menu in The Calls quarter where one or two old pacesetting favourites are showing distinct signs of tiredness. That this injection of quality comes from an independent enterprise and not a chain or celebrity chef franchise is all the more admirable.
• Shear’s Yard, 11-15 Wharf Street, Leeds LS2 7EH. 0113 244 4144, www.shearsyard.com. Open: Tuesday to Friday, 12-3pm & 6-10pm, Saturday 12-4pm & 6pm-10pm, Sunday 12-5pm. Price: £30 plus wine and service.