It’s the new venture from a MasterChef finalist and a trusted Yorkshire chef but, asks Jill Turton, can Home live up to the hype?
The website for Home, Leeds’s latest major opening, promises – or maybe it should be warns – “where diners arrive as customers and leave as friends”. Indeed, from the moment we arrive we are asked for our first names, given theirs, and shaken solemnly by the hand. All very intimate.
And all very different from when this upstairs Kirkgate premises used to be Darbar, a mildly exotic Indian restaurant where you were saluted by a doorkeeper in full turbaned Maharajah rig and led into an interior that combined Islamic arches with a tableau of hand-painted ceramic tiles depicting Whitby and the Dales.
Obviously the preservation order got lost in the post. It’s all long gone in favour of contemporary teal blue and taupe panelled walls, a parquet floor discovered beneath the ceramic tiles, well-spaced tables in white linen and a forest of on-trend bamboo lampshades.
And that swooning website: “What the team at Home love doing most is making people happy… to create wonderful dining experiences that our guests will fondly remember forever.”
Up to a point. All this love doesn’t stop Home demanding an irritating £50 deposit per person when booking dinner, or £30 per person for Sunday lunch with no refunds should you have to cancel (though you can transfer to another date).
Almost inevitably for “fine dining” these days, Home’s main offer is a no-choice, ten-course menu for £70. They do allow for dietary requirements but have no time for picky eaters: “We do not accommodate substitutions based on preferences alone.”
So having stuck to the rules, booked online, paid the deposit, confirmed by email that, yes, honest, we will be coming and with no dietary requirements, we finally make it to the promised land of Home, the love-child of Mark Owens and Liz Cottam, he with serious pedigree as former head chef of Ilkley’s Box Tree, she the sparky lass from Leeds who made it to the 2016 MasterChef semi-final.
Passing on the ten-course menu, we went for Sunday lunch, “a decadent interpretation of our favourite meal of the week” at £50 for five courses. A little amuse bouche to start, something on crisp chicken skin and a mini goat’s cheese tart and then lunch proper began with a bang, a miniature rabbit suet pudding, peas, cabbage and gravy. If your last memory of suet pudding was school dinners, try this. Yielding suet pastry wrapped around slow cooked rabbit, soft peas, tender cabbage and a gentle cream sauce. It’s like being wrapped up in a cashmere blanket.
Next, a Jerusalem artichoke puree hiding a seared scallop topped with a shard of bacon sustains the gold standard. Then their take on “cauliflower cheese”: roast cauliflower, pickled cauliflower, a mini “dosa” filled with a delicate cheese sauce, some finely chopped hazelnuts and finished with slices of fresh black truffle. We end up wiping clean the plates with a finger.
From there to the end, if the dishes are more conventional they are consistently good. Yorkshire pudding is served with a mild horseradish cream, onion marmalade and “gravy”. It’s not gravy, i.e. meat juices thickened with flour, but an intense reduction of meat juices served rather self-consciously in an old medicine bottle. Personally, I prefer proper gravy but the dish is still generous and the Yorkshires are exemplary.
Roast pork loin is soft and tender, served with a couple of crisp bread-crumbed “beignets” of slow-cooked shoulder cleverly hiding an acetic kick from some tiny capers. The accompaniments are roast rosti-like potato, a round of sharp apple given a touch of cinnamon and served with a similar rich reduction of pork and apple sauce.
Dessert, brought to us by Liz Cottam herself who has been bouncing round all the tables with a Tigger-like zeal, is a riff on lemon meringue pie. A puddle of lemon curd, some pieces of broken meringue then it goes off piste with a petit lemon marmalade cake topped with lemon jelly, strands of lemon balm and lemon ice cream.
And there we are, a posh Sunday lunch, elegant, original and filling. What’s not to like when there’s such fine food in a handsome room? Well, there are no wines by the glass on a pricy list, though they did offer a couple when asked. Then there’s the service charge added to your bill at the London rate of 12.5 per cent. To be honest, I could have done with less of their hyper service for my 12.5 per cent, all the conversation-stopping refills for every inch of water drunk, all the punctilious relaying of cutlery, all the questioning of our enjoyment, all those handshakes and finally the vacuous small talk: “Have you had a busy morning, Jill? Are you going anywhere nice after this?”
I acknowledge they’re a young, good-hearted team, eager to please, with high ambitions and genuine talent, and no doubt a big investment to make work, but having promised “relaxed fine dining” it wouldn’t hurt to relax things a little further, trust us to choose our tips, and we’ll leave as even better friends.
Home Restaurant, 16/17 Kirkgate, Leeds LS1 6BY. 0113 430 0161, homeleeds.co.uk. Price: Dinner for two including bottle wine and service approx. £185. Open: Thursday to Saturday, 12-2pm and 7-8.30pm; Sunday, 12-3pm.