There’s something about eating while high above the ground that adds an extra frisson to the whole experience, but in Leeds the combination of food and panoramic views are hard to come by.
The city has the rooftop SkyLounge above the DoubleTree hotel, which markets itself more as a bar, while talk of a rotating restaurant at the top of the proposed City One complex never got off the ground.
This all means Crafthouse, which opened last year alongside sister bar-restaurant Angelica at the new Trinity Leeds shopping complex, has the Leeds ‘eating on high’ market pretty much to itself.
Luckily though, its relative altitude is far from the only reason to visit the Leeds outpost of the D&D restaurant empire.
Crafthouse swept the board at the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Oliver awards in March, including taking the prize for Overall Winner. But more than a year on from opening, are standards just as high?
Reassuringly, the wealth of adulation the 144-cover restaurant has received doesn’t seem to have gone to its head. Though not exactly cheap, its a dining destination that still more than justifies the money and the effort of making the vertigo-inducing ride in the elevator from Boar Lane.
On stepping out of said elevator on our visit, it’s clear Crafthouse is somewhere that gets the details right, but not ostentatiously so.
Fittings and fixtures, dominated by dark oak and marble, give a feeling of permanence and quality, while huge windows looking out at the city centre in one direction, or at Trinity Leeds itself, stop it from feeling gloomy.
Those whose seats face south, out over Boar Lane, probably have the best deal, as it’s hard not to be distracted by the rotating electronic adverts for watches and lipstick, next to the Everyman Cinema, when looking in the opposite direction.
Being Sunday night when we visit, only one part of the restaurant is in use, but there’s a mixture of clientelle including large family groups, couples and even children taking their dads out for Father’s Day.
Waiters and waitresses buzz round in waistcoats, shirts and jeans, a less formal approach than the setting would suggest and one that helps put the diner at their ease.
Service is friendly and efficient. The only slight blot on the copybook is when a waiter spills a little of the wine as he pours it out. We assume someone will come and wipe it up, but no-one does so we do it ourselves. Not a big problem.
The wine list is extensive, with more than 30 house offerings from £5 a glass and up to £47 a bottle, while there are several pages of other possibilities from around the globe.
Helpfully you can get a carafe of wine, always a good option if one party is driving. We went for an Argentinian Torrontes, with a distinctive, fresh, lemon-y taste almost like that of a really good, strong craft beer. The pre-meal bread, always a portent of the quality of the food to come, is excellent and features a couple of artisan mini-loaves including one whose tangy taste suggests beer has been involved in the cooking process.
We liked them so much we asked where they came from and what they were. The waiter didn’t seem to know, but a few minutes later another basket of bread was deposited on our table. Having tried the good value set menu, three courses for £22.50, at an earlier visit, we go a la carte from what the restaurant describes as its “regularly changing seasonal British menus”.
The scallops in my risotto starter are perfectly cooked, fleshy and ever-so-slightly chewy but flavoursome. The rice dish itself includes samphire and what I assume to be saffron, it’s quite heavily peppered but a good accompaniment.
On the other side of the table, smoked salmon from the Staal smokehouse in Beverley, served on a warm potato pancake, is light and fresh-tasting, with good quality, non-greasy fish.
For main course, I opt for meat cooked on the ‘josper’, described as an “elegant combination of a grill and an oven in a single machine”.
However it works, it cooks a slab of meat in a highly satisfactory manner. My 200g rump steak has nice char lines, is tender and with the right amount of pink flesh to enjoy, served without frills alongside chunky chips and with a small pan of peppercorn sauce. Big chips, always easy to get wrong by not cooking in the middle, are soft all the way through.
My partner goes for a more elegant, though no less tasty, option of the slow-braised lamb rump and shoulder. I note the lamb, previously sourced from Swaledale, now originates from a farm 70 miles south in Denby Dale. With the obligatory smear of aubergine puree, and a surprisingly flavoursome ratatouille with finely-chopped vegetables, and beautifully rich gravy, this dish is a fine thing to behold and eat.
Possibilities for desserts include an elderflower and vanilla cheesecake, creme brulee and strawberry trifle with hibiscus jelly. We can’t choose between them, so plump for a dessert selection of five different dishes.
Considering the price is only twice that of a normal pudding, we’re surprised, though certainly not disappointed, when five are put down in front of us, each not far short of a regular dessert.
The creme brulee was perfectly done, but a coconut souffle was the real highlight. Tasting beautifully sweet with a hint of dark chocolate, it was light as a feather and melted in the mouth.
Our bill comes to £96, plus obligatory ten per cent tip, not something you’d do every week but justifiable given the quality of the fare.
It turns out the views from the restaurant are a moot point, as visitors can simply go upstairs to Angelica where even more of the city can be seen. But based on this experience, you wouldn’t need to need to look out the window for a great night out at Crafthouse.
Address: Level 5 Trinity Leeds, 70 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 6HW.
Opening times: Monday-Saturday, midday to 11pm, Sunday midday to 10pm
Tel: 0113 897 0444