It felt a little meaningless telling the waitress who greeted us as we walked into the Brasserie at West Park that we had a reservation.
We’d arrived about 10 minutes late, but we needn’t have worried about someone else snapping up our spot.
‘Just choose where you want to sit’, she said, gesturing to the room full of empty tables.
Only one other couple was inside when we arrived - at prime time on a Friday evening. They left shortly afterwards.
Fortunately other diners did start to drift through the doors in dribs and drabs, although the place never approached being full. The two waiting staff on duty were able to cope more than comfortably with the small number of diners. A lot of people appeared to be having burgers - presumably one of the options available with the ubiquitous voucher deals.
Hopefully, given that this was one night of the week when business should have been brisk, the relative quiet was just a one-off.
Based on our own evening, attempting to pinpoint the reasons for the dearth of trade was tricky. The service was good, as was the food.
My dining partner suggested the restaurant was experiencing something of an identity crisis. The last time we had been we enjoyed well-executed, high-end British cuisine at high-end prices in identikit brasserie surroundings exemplified by the subdued lighting, wood floor and glasses hanging from a rack above the bar.
Between times, there has been an attempt to freshen up the interior furnishings (multi-coloured chair backs to replace the simple browns from our last visit being one example).
While promising a ‘seductive and classic brasserie menu’, the food, too, has undergone a facelift, with several dishes that have more of a ‘fusion’ feel, showing influences from the Far East and North Africa, alongside some classic options.
The prices remain at the upper end of the scale.
While there’s nothing wrong with updating a menu to keep things interesting, there is a sense that the restaurant is a little uncertain of its place in the market.
A little like its location - in the half-way house between the bustle of Headingley and the ring road - there’s a sense that its approach is neither one thing nor the other.
Having said that, there was little to criticise during our visit.
Service was friendly and efficient and there was little more than a ten-minute wait after we’d ordered for our starters to arrive.
I had the Thai fish cakes, two substantial balls of white fish, moderately spiced and covered in a crispy coating. The ginger and chilli jam gave it a pizzazz that was nicely counterbalanced by the fresh sweet pickled salad.
My dining partner’s duck spring rolls were eye-catchingly presented like a scale model of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur - standing on their ends and pointing proudly skywards. Plenty of tender breast meat filled the perfectly crisp wrapping and the sea of plum sauce was genuinely fruity and pleasingly sticky.
The selection of mains had a distinctly ‘world foods’ influence, including five spice pork belly and miso marinated salmon and prawn toast.
My partner had the chicken satay skewers - two . The meat was moist and succulent, the peanut sauce was rich and sweet, the coriander jasmine rice, served in a perfectly formed mound, was fluffy. But, priced at £14.50, her expectations had been raised for something out of the ordinary. This was not a dish beyond the reach of most adequate cooks and was substantially more expensive than you’d pay for similar in a good Thai restaurant. A little underwhelming.
My Moroccan spiced lamb chump, in contrast, was a delight.
Coriander, cumin and garlic blended tantalisingly to enhance slices of lamb that were perfectly pink and oozed natural flavour. The jewelled cous cous that the meat came with was spot on and the accompanying spiced, minted tzatziki, served in a small pot, added a welcome dash of cool moisture . All in all it was a dish that complemented the balmy spring evening to a tee, although the price tag (£15.50) was again nudging the boundary of what you’d consider reasonable.
Having hopped from Asia to Africa for our first two courses, we returned very much to Europe for our desserts, which were much more what you’d expect from classic brasserie fare. The selection of five were all priced at £5.95.
My white chocolate cheesecake was a modest slice of indulgently thick, creamy, teeth-chatteringly sweet topping carried on a crunchy biscuit base. The fruit coulis was vibrant and fresh.
For her pudding my dining partner had the Bailey’s chocolate mousse. No less thick, no less indulgent, it was a boozy bowl-full of rich, well-judged .
Having being initially pleasantly surprised when the bill came in at under £60, I then spotted that the waitress had missed off the bottle of wine we had. The correct figure, which also included a beer, was £73.50.
Perhaps the initial figure would have more accurately reflected our experience.
Everything was, as my dining partner put it, ‘pleasant’. The food was tasty enough, the service was friendly, the surroundings are inviting.
A restaurant with real ambition, however, would rightly blanch at such understated praise. We certainly left feeling like something was missing.
The relative paucity of people didn’t help the atmosphere and the prices were above what would have been fair. While the website promises “a fresh balance of options, flavours and textures to stimulate the senses”, the attempts to liven up the menu give the impression of a business that’s searching for its place in the market.
The sooner it finds it, the better.
Address: 269 Otley Road, West Park, LS16 5LN,
Tel: 0113 275 6333
Open: Monday 6pm–close, Tuesday–Friday noon–2.30pm, 6pm–close, Saturday–Sunday noon–closex.