IT’S been a long time since Oliver stepped foot in the Malmaison Hotel in Leeds, so it was exciting to revisit the swish venue after all these years.
Stepping inside, there’s an air of exclusivity to the place, as it’s nestled under the Swinegate hotel and some might not even realise it’s there.
Walking down the stairs and through the bar area, we are immediately met by a lovely waiter who gives us a choice of two tables.
Once seated, we soak up the candle-lit surroundings, which we both agree remind us slightly of La Grillade, before its sad demise.
The brasserie has low ceilings and dark wooden tables, with various pieces of artwork adorning the walls. It echoes the French feel of another Leeds stalwart Sous le Nez, and makes for quite a romantic environment.
As well as the decor, there’s another element that we immediately appreciate - the service.
Our attentive waiter takes our coats for us and asks if we would like to see the wine list.
There are bottles ranging from the moderate to the extremely pricey.
We settle for a £20 bottle of rose.
Within minutes, our tap water and wine are brought to the table, and the specials read out to us.
We are left for a while to decide on our starters.
Ranging from £5 to £9, there’s soups and salads, plus dishes such as beef carpaccio, prawn cocktail and creamed brie.
I opt for the chicken lollipops, which include satay, Moroccan spiced croquette, Thai bon-bon, tandoori and BBQ chicken variations, which comes served with sweet chilli and aioli dipping sauces, priced at £8.50.
It’s one of the pricier starters, but sounds so delicious and different that I can’t refuse.
It arrives at the table looking like a work of art.
Each of the skewers are stood in a metal arch, which is sat on a wooden chopping board where the two large bowls of dipping sauces are perched.
It looks exciting, so I’m disappointed when I take my first bite.
All the variations of chicken are sadly over-cooked, and I struggle to gnaw the dry chicken meat from the skewers.
The pots of sauces are tasty but there is so much of it and simply not enough chicken, and I fail to make a dent in them.
My dining partner goes for the duck starter, which was one of the specials, but is told it’s sold out.
So he instead chooses an old favourite of his - chicken liver parfait.
Priced at £6.95, it comes served with spiced pear chutney and warm toasted brioche.
It looks good but I can tell he’s not massively enjoying it.
After asking for his honest opinion, I’m told it’s pretty tasteless,and he can barely pick out the chicken liver flavour.
Onwards and upwards, we think, as we’ve been looking forward to this meal for a few days now.
Hopefully the main courses will win it back.
There’s a range of main dishes as well as selections from the grill.
A rump steak with fries starts at £19.95, and ranges up to a whopping £37 for a T-bone steak, not including sauces, which are an extra £1.50.
There’s also a good choice of burgers, which come served with fries for around £15, and other mains include sea bass, chicken tikka, fishcakes and vegetarian options of salads, pasta or a risotto dish.
Sides include garlic and chilli baked mushroom, honey roasted autumn vegetables, creamy mash, buttered farm carrots, macaroni cheese, broccoli, rocket and parmesan salad or tomato and onion salad for £3.50 each.
Handcut fries, aioli and bloody mary ketchup cost a bit more, at £3.95.
For my main course, I go for rump of lamb ‘forestiere’, with crushed new potatoes, mushroom and jus vinaigrette at £16.95.
Again, when it arrives, it looks spectacular.
Five big juicy slices of pink lamb are drizzled with an enticing green, herby looking sauce with the vinaigrette circling around the plate.
I can’t wait to tuck in, but the lamb is quite tough and chewy. It’s slightly off-putting, and I struggled to find many potatoes or mushrooms.
My companion chooses one of the specials for his main course, which is venison served with garlic mash, priced at £21.
He seems fairly pleased with his meal, but isn’t particularly blown away, and for the price we were expecting something a little bit, well, special.
So, it all comes down to the desserts, and we are both willing this to redeem what has so far been just an average meal.
I go for the hot chocolate fondant with malt ice cream for £5.95. It’s one of my favourite desserts and I was keeping my fingers crossed that this would be a winner.
But despite being cooked perfectly, and being deliciously gooey inside, it’s barely luke warm.
Despite getting the technical bit of cooking a fondant right, somehow the temperature was completely amiss.
My dining partner went for the hot chocolate with marshmallows, white chocolate and vanilla ice cream.
But there was nothing ‘hot’ about it.
It looked good, served in a white cup with plenty of cream on top, but the hot chocolate sauce was cold and the ice creams again lackedflavour.
We sat in the brasserie for a while, soaking up the ambience.
Because despite the disappointing food, everything else was so right.
We couldn’t fault the service, the location, the decor.
But the vital thing that needs to be right is the food, and that’s the only thing that wasn’t great.
With the bill coming to £93 including service charge, we left feeling disappointed.
I hadn’t visited Malmaison in a while, and sadly, I don’t think I’ll be returning any time soon.
Address: Malmaison, 1 Swinegate, Leeds, LS1 4AG.
Tel: 0113 398 1000