There was a time when industrial-style flooring, unadorned hanging lights, and exposed brick were seen as new and exciting in the restaurant world.
This was back in the day when foams and quenelles were the preserve of Michelin star chefs and a water bath was something for lying, rather than cooking, in.
Nowadays minimalist-style restaurants are ten-a-penny with even your average gastropub likely to serve you up a coulis or a jus.
But that doesn’t mean the pared down look is easy to pull off. It sounds enough but get it wrong and it can leave you feeling cold.
Too often it can feel like as though you’ve walked into an art gallery or a designer shop - the kind where if you have to ask the price you really shouldn’t be there - where you’re greeted by a too-cool-for-school hipster dressed in implausibly skinny jeans and wreaking of indifference.
Thankfully, there’s none of that at Shears Yard which is a shining example of how to make the minimalist look work. There’s something pleasing, unfussy and, most importantly, welcoming about the place, especially on an inclement evening like this.
It’s a while since I’d been to Shears Yard but having heard some positive noises on the foodie grapevine I felt it was time to return.
Given its location, tucked away just off The Calls, the restaurant (once home to Livebait back in the day) isn’t the kind of place you’d probably stumble across by chance, which means it’s unlikely to get much in the way of passing trade. This means you’ve got to be at the top of your game which, on the basis of this evidence, Shears Yard certainly is.
This is the best kind of modern British food – it’s interesting, tasty and leaves you wanting more (in the best possible sense).
First off, the staff deserve special mention because they were excellent throughout. They were friendly, knowledgeable and dealt with my allergy concerns confidently.
They even talked expertly about the wine list. You might think this would be a given but I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been in a restaurant and asked the waiter about a certain wine only to be greeted by a blank look, as if I’d just asked them to recite the periodic table in Spanish.
The wine list at Shears Yard is an interesting one and we opted for a bottle of the Venetto Rosso (£30). This is a little more than we would normally spend but it was a delicious drop for the price.
It was more than matched by the food, with the starters setting the bar high. My partner went for the Goat’s cheese and white truffle mousse, salt baked beetroot with toasted walnuts (£6.50) which had her purring like a cat that got the cream, or in this case the goat’s cheese. My blow torched mackerel with mackerel tartare and celeriac and apple (£7) was equally impressive.
The mains maintained the high standard. The sea bass fillet with squid ink potatoes, creme fraiche and spinach (£16) was spot on, as was my sous vide beef sirloin with braised ox cheek and cauliflower textures, including a beautifully smooth puree (£25).
We shared a portion of chips (£3.50) which are always a handy barometer of a kitchen’s prowess and these, like everything else we sampled, were very moreish.
To round things off we shared a panna cotta £6.50) which was rich, creamy and had just the right amount of wobble, and an espresso martini (£7.50) that was as good as everything else that went before it.
It’s hard to pick any real faults. The food was clever without showing off, combining interesting flavours and textures that just worked. It’s not rocket science but there is an art to good cooking and frequently the hardest part is knowing when to stop. But it appears the kitchen team here have got the whole ‘less is more’ ethos down to something of a fine art.
Of course, culinary artistry often comes at a price and £112.20 for a meal for two isn’t cheap, but nor is it over the odds either.
You can pay less for a very good meal in Leeds but you’d be hard pressed to pay less for something better. Plus, they also do an excellent value early bird offer which includes options from the a la carte menu.
This was a Friday night and the only surprise, given the quality of the cooking, was that the restaurant was only two-thirds full when you’d expect people to be queuing out of the door.
As with fashion trends, foodie fads come and go and what you’re left with is the skill of the chefs.
When it comes to eating out I have fairly simple wishes – I want a relaxed atmosphere and I want to eat good food, food that leaves me feeling happy and tells me all’s well with the world. And that’s exactly what Shears Yard does.
The Calls, Leeds
Address: 11-15 Wharf St, Leeds LS2 7EH
Telephone: 0113 244 4144
Opening hours: Monday: Closed.
Tuesday – Friday: Dinner. Saturday: Lunch & Dinner. Sunday: Lunch