Knocking somewhere as homely as this suburban favourite feels as cruel as picking your granny up on her dress sense.
Which is awkward because The Mustard Pot is a perfectly good place to eat, but it isn’t perfect. The trouble is that when it comes to going out for dinner it falls between the two stools which many a gastropub have found themselves jammed between.
If you’re eating after 7pm you expect to find yourself in a more formal environment, somewhere tailored to dining rather than propping up the bar with a pint or having a raucous evening of banter while necking oodles of booze.
That’s not quite what you get here.
At The Mustard Pot the cuisine may well be upmarket (albeit upmarket pub grub) but the environment still feels somewhat at odds with the undeniably aspirational cuisine.
While we were tucking into our three courses a table of students came in and started playing a board game at the nearby table rather loudly. Which is all good fun, but not quite the sort of accompaniment you want with a meal.
On the night we visited the place wasn’t even that busy, it’s almost scary to imagine what it would be like enduring dinner while trying to make yourself heard amid a packed pub.
To be fair they haven’t tried to create an environment which is overly food- focused. The chef here hasn’t put together too fiddly a selection of fine dining dishes, but a well executed collection of cosy perennials.
And that’s pretty much the ambience in this place too: the imposing former family home, previously Clough House, dates back between 300 and 400 years, depending on which part of the building you’re in. It was created at the top of the hill that is now Chapel Allerton and provided views across what was, at the time, Chapeltown Moor.
This heritage shows in the interior too, which seems to have barely changed over the centuries. Still intact are the giant fireplaces, wood panelling and sash windows, all highlighted by subtle lighting and only the occasional interruption of modernity. But don’t get the impression it’s some sort of museum, the truly modern aspect is the crowd who slot in perfectly with the tablet-carrying clientele you’ll find sipping European lager in most bars and restaurants in Chapel Allerton these days. The combined effect is all very lovely and, like the food, very reassuring.
It’s all quite relaxing too, and that goes for the service. And when we say “relaxed” it isn’t a euphemism for “slack”. It really was just relaxed. Most of the staff here are dressed in jeans and t-shirts and don’t exactly address you with curtsying diffidence – which is good. It certainly didn’t mean a vast impact on speed and efficiency, even though, at times, they were a little slow in bringing the food to our table.
But then, at least they don’t build your hopes up too much, there’s no waiting on the doorstep with an eager smile as you walk through the door. Here you grab a seat and order at the bar or, if you’re after food, they will take your order at your table. As with the atmosphere, however, if relaxed service isn’t your bag then it’s probably best not to contemplate The Mustard Pot.
So, just to clarify, the food probably sits somewhere between the aforementioned posh pub grub or gastropub categorisation. We’re talking ribeye steak served with hand cut chips, or grilled home-smoked haddock or fish and chips or perhaps ale-braised ox cheek.
All of which is markedly above your average tap room food, but not quite reaching the heights of a gastropub.
For our starter we shared a main of bangers and mash which was wonderful: really big, juicy, meaty sausages with delightfully creamy and light mash which had us half full before we moved onto the mains.
My dining partner went for the smoked haddock and found it to be perfectly cooked and seasoned and accompanied by a well-judged ‘proper’ parsley mash and grain mustard with a poached egg. My own main was a beautiful beef pie with great chunks of meat in a decent pastry and a passable gravy.
But, as good as it all was, nothing seduced us. Nothing jumped out and grabbed us by the throat demanding our attention. If anything that was hogged by a first rate sauvignon blanc at £16.90 a bottle – and it’s never a good sign when the wine overwhelms what you’re eating.
The saving grace, however, was the cheese and biscuits platter to finish which was very impressive.
For a three course meal at The Mustard Pot you’re looking at around £30 to £35 a head, perhaps closer to £40 or £45 a head if you throw in coffees and a pre-meal drink. It isn’t cheap for a pub, but nor is it gastropub prices. Most mains are between £10.50 and £16.50 and most starters between £4.50 and £6.50. The wine list is very reasonable and varied too.
But is it worth it? Yes and no. While The Mustard Pot has an undeniable charm and does serve up impressive food and drink it still doesn’t feel like somewhere to dine. It feels like somewhere to grab a bite to eat or graze – the perfect destination for lunch. But it isn’t somewhere that’s ideal for an evening meal in terms of top cuisine, ambience or service. If you drop in during the day paying £30 for a slap up lunch isn’t too bad value, but by night you’re left feeling like you’d be willing to pay more if it would secure an enhanced experience.
If they want to make a serious stab at cornering evening trade they need to show a little more commitment than this.
20 Stainbeck Lane, Chapel Allerton, Leeds, LS7 3QY
Open: Fri & Sat, noon-1am. Thurs, noon-12am. Sun to Wed noon-11pm
SERVICE ................................ ***