The northern edge of Leeds city centre may not be the obvious location for a foodie enclave.
Yet head up Briggate and cross the bridge over the inner ring road onto North Street, and there you’ll find two of the city’s most enduring venues.
One is longstanding vegetarian indian restaurant Hansa’s and the other is hip bar and restaurant The Reliance.
It’s testament to their popularity that even before 7pm on a Friday night, both were packed.
Our date was with The Reliance, which has built up a reputation that sees it busy throughout the week.
It has a look that’s now familiar gastropub territory, but you get the feeling that The Reliance led the way rather than following.
Slightly distressed decor, mismatched furniture and trendy, non-uniformed serving staff are all present and correct.
But underneath the trendy exterior, the people behind The Reliance are serious about food.
That’s clear in the frequently changing menu, including daily specials, much of which is sourced locally and its provenance clearly signposted.
They’ve also gone one step further with the charcuterie, another trend on the foodie scene from the last few years that has come to Leeds with the likes of Friends of Ham.
At The Reliance, an array of artisan cured meats aren’t just served, they are created on the premises.
We were seated five minutes after asking for a table and though when we sat down in the restaurant at the back of the building just before 7pm it was only half full, an hour later the place was packed.
It gave the large, airy room a fun and relaxed atmosphere. This isn’t fine dining, but nor does it profess to be.
With the food however, they mean business. We were very tempted by the crab and cod cake starter with smoked chilli jam, or the Reliance bacon, peas and spring onion on toasted sourdough.
Mains run the gamut from burger and fish and chips (well, rare breed beef burger and Erdinger ale battered haddock) to chargrilled lamb chop with tabouleh and chimichurri.
However as they extremely helpfully display the puddings on the blackboard next to the specials, I could employ my normal technique for food choices and work backwards from dessert.
That led to my meal starting with the potted home smoked Whitby Mackerel with beetroot, horseradish and toast (£5.95).
Arriving not long after we’d ordered, it looked impressive with the fish in a mini Kilner jar, sitting on a wooden board with a generous helping of toast and pretty beetroot shaped into a quenelle.
This mackerel was unlike the more familiar oily variety, being smoky, buttery and delicately flavoured. The sweet beetroot set it off fantastically and even the few salad leaves accompanying it were coated with a delicious dressing.
My companion had opted for the smoked haddock and sweetcorn chowder (£5.95) from the specials board as his starter, though it was available as a main too.
He wasn’t disappointed. A steaming hot bowl of creamy soup was presented in front of him and he enjoyed the intensely-flavoured, thick chowder, featuring chunks of potato, flaked fish and corn kernels.
For my main course I’d stuck with fish and chosen a dish described by our waitress as “lovely and simple”.
A whole grilled plaice was topped with sauce vierge (£13.95), a melange of finely diced tomatoes, basil and shallot.
With a squeeze of lemon, that was it, and that was all this delicate fish needed.It was perfectly cooked and the sauce was a perfect partner to it, complementing the flavour without overpowering it.
On the side we had some chilli fried green beans, chosen after our initial waitress (who sadly became busy elsewhere later) consulted with the chef after advising us that we wouldn’t need any side dishes.
As Oliver has previously reported, this kind of honestly from serving staff is to be welcomed, rather than the constant ‘upselling’ found at some eateries. In this case, she double-checked and returned to tell us we actually might want some extras, and was absolutely right.
Even better, the green beans were delicious in themselves, with a slightly spicy kick.
Across the table, my dining partner had chosen the rabbit stew with courgettes, aubergine, fennel, red peppers and basil polenta (£13.95).
It was another hearty dish, perhaps better suited to winter, but that didn’t put him off. He found the rabbit to be tasty and tender, and a good match for the Mediterranean-style stew.
His only criticism was the number of bones in the dish, which he found a little tiresome after a while – though the restaurant couldn’t be blamed for a bony bunny.
Despite the generous sizes of the dishes, my dessert plan was not going to be derailed – even if we did have to ask the waitress for more time before ordering.
I went for the pud I’d eyed up from our arrival – pink grapefruit posset with ginger shortbread (£4.95).
The tart flavour was a great foil to this cream-based dessert and while the segments of grapefruit on top were lovely, the extra cream topping was a bit too much for me.
However the two pieces of shortbread were delicious. Obviously homemade, they melted in the mouth and were so moreish that, rather than leave one behind because I was full, I smuggled it home.
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, my companion went for the ‘little’ chocolate brownie. It’s actually a normal-sized brownie, but without any accoutrements, for the bargain price of £1.75.
Our meal, with three alcoholic drinks and coffee, came to £66.65 and we left feeling pleasantly full and immensely relaxed.
On this evidence, The Reliance is still as reliable as ever.
Address: The Reliance, North Street, Leeds LS2 7PN
Opening times: Food served Mon to Sat noon-5pm, 5.30pm-10pm. Sun 11am-1pm, 1:15pm-4pm and 6pm-9:30pm.
Tel: 0113 295 6060