IT is surely one of the most respected names in the Leeds dining scene.
And it certainly has one of the best locations in the city.
Brasserie Forty 4 was one of the original waterfront eateries, situated in a beautiful converted warehouse on the Calls.
The building may be the same, but the sights from its windows have changed very much over recent years.
Today it overlooks the bright lights of Brewery Wharf and the modern pedestrian bridge which links the development to the city centre.
Despite now having a more modern waterside view, Brasserie Forty 4 still feels like stepping into one of the city’s old classics.
Inside it is all exposed brickwork, wooden floors and steel beams, a look which matches perfectly with the setting and ambience.
So it was with some expectation that Oliver took a table on a busy evening.
It is next door to glamourous hotel 42 The Calls and clearly draws much of its clientele from there.
On the night we visited we overheard several staff members enthusiastically telling diners about the history of the building.
We’d received a similarly warm welcome when we arrived at the small bar area.
The gentleman who greeted us remembered us making the booking several days earlier and we enjoyed a drink in the bar while our table was readied.
All of the tables in the bar were taken, which confirmed our previous suspicions that this place was likely to be packed at the weekends.
After a short wait we were shown to a good table close to the gorgeous views over the water.
Perusing the menu, we were a little surprised. It all sounded nice – but not ‘knock your socks off’.
Many of the starter options were bistro classics, like the chicken liver parfait, but there was also the odd eastern influence, such as the tempura vegetables with pickled ginger.
Then there was eggs benedict, which I’d always thought more of a breakfast dish. In fact I’d seen it being tucked into for a breakfast at a hotel elsewhere the day before.
We decided to skip starters and instead tucked into the lovely warm rolls and tasty accompaniments of not only butter but also tapenades of green olive and red pepper.
Main courses were heavy on the meat – they included two duck options, steak, fillet of beef and oxtail faggots, though there was also a vegetarian choice.
However we both fancied something a little lighter.
I went for the chicken, leek and mushroom pie with white wine sauce (£12.50) while my dining partner opted for one of the fish specials – roast cod on spring onion rosti with a parsley cream sauce (£14.95).
My pie came in an individual dish topped with a puff pastry lid. Underneath was a mix of creamy sauce, pieces of chicken and sliced mushrooms.
It was tasty and the chicken succulent, but the flavours got a little samey as the dish wore on.
Our mains were accompanied by perfectly cooked vegetables including mange tout and green beans. I’d not ordered a potato side dish, having not expected to need it, and while the pie portion was ample, that may have added a bit of interest.
My dining partner thought his fish was delicious, cooked to perfection with crispy skin and moist within.
A generous piece of cod topped a nice rosti but he thought the creamy sauce won out on taste.
Our desserts were also good. My first choice option of blueberry and almond tart with lemon curd ice-cream had run out so I went for the raspberry crème brulee with shortbread biscuit (£5.60).
It had the crucial crunch, that solid layer of caramel on top, and a few raspberries beneath created a welcome tartness from the sweetness of the custard.
It was a good example of the dish, my enjoyment only slightly tempered because I’d really fancied my original choice.
My companion’s apple and blackberry crumble (£5.60) came in a large individual dish with its own jug of vanilla custard.
He thought the flavours were lovely, his only criticism being there was a bit too much topping to the amount of fruit.
Prices for the mains we thought were fair, though starters cost from £5.50 to a rather expensive £9.50.
Our bill, which included a still water, one Peroni and a large glass of a good Sauvignon Blanc (£6.20), came to £58.36. A 10 per cent service charge was added automatically.
The first bill we were brought also included a glass of wine which we’d ordered but had never actually arrived.
That was the worst in a few minor service glitches.
It all started very well – everything was brought quickly and professionally. One of the more senior waiters came to speak to us when my first dessert choice was not available.
However there was a delay in clearing our dessert dishes and we had to ask for hot drinks. After that our order for peppermint tea was clearly forgotten. We had to ask twice and waited quite some time for it.
Then there was that second glass of the Sauvignon Blanc. We hadn’t reminded them because by the time we realized it wasn’t coming, we weren’t that bothered.
But when we got the bill, the non-existent glass of wine was on it.
We pointed it out and it was swiftly removed, with a quick apology. No explanation for the lack of it being served at all was forthcoming, though from where Oliver was sitting it seemed quite obvious.
Various members of the serving team obviously had differing roles and it appeared that if you asked one of them for something that another was responsible for, the message didn’t always make it to the right person.
That all added up to an evening that, while very enjoyable, had a few incongruous elements.
The food wasn’t quite as knockout as the surroundings and the service not just as good as the welcome.
All in all, Brasserie Forty 4 remains a stalwart of the better eateries in Leeds city centre.
The atmosphere is top class already and a few tweaks to the food and service could put it among the best.