One of the city’s food pioneers is marking the first anniversary of one of his restaurants by shaking up the traditional concept of fine dining.
You can now have a taste of the fabulous food served up at Vice and Virtue thanks to the increasing use of technology in Leeds’ food and drink industry and the popularity of tapas style tasting dishes.
Over the past year, since Vice and Virtue opened on New Briggate, diners have been treated to five, seven and ten course tasting menus by head chef and restaurant owner Luke Downing with the restaurant being awarded already the title of Best Fine Dining at the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Oliver Awards.
So he must be getting something right, yet Downing is reluctant to rest on these laurels and is set to push boundaries and the business to another level. Maybe a Michelin starred one he is asked, but the response is casual and what you would expect from a man who refuses to follow trends for the sake and is very comfortable doing his own kind of cooking in his own kitchen.
He says: “The staff would like that more than I would. It is not something I have ever pursued but if we can achieve it why not? I have eaten at several Michelin starred restaurants and only a couple have wowed me. They are nothing on what we are doing.”
And what Vice is doing is making fine dining more accessible yet still special. There are no drink as much fizz as you can get down your neck in two hours options and the seven and ten course tasting menus don’t come cheap. They start at £45 per person so Vice is now offering the same type of food in the form of bar snacks in the downstairs bar.
It allows people to try the food in a more informal setting and without that same cost. If you pop in for a drink and there are no tables available there is a text message service telling you when to pop back as your table is now ready. And you can now dine Vice and Virtue style in the comfort of your own home as it has joined the Deliveroo list.
Downing said: “The bar menu was always on the cards but we wanted to make sure it was the right time for our team. We want to hit a different demographic because not everyone can afford the food we do. We make the bread, the butter, the mayonnaise, everything.
“We do things properly and that takes time and that is where the expense comes from.
“Fine dining on Deliveroo is also something quite different and the only compromise is the layout on the plate. The quality and the process and how it is made is the same.
“People have been asking for years can I cook in their homes so I thought ‘why not?’ and this is the next big thing.”
Doing things properly, he stresses starts with him and extends to his kitchen porter and creating a sense of worth among all his staff.
He recently took them all to Italy for training for his next business venture (see City Buzz next Thursday for more) and spent £900 taking four staff to the city’s only starred restaurant, Man Behind The Curtain.
He adds: “If the kitchen porter has an idea for a cocktail, we make it work. The people I employ, I look for passion – everything else can be trained. We have a team developing here. It is not about the money, we are doing it because we love it and everybody wants to push each other.”