FIRST impressions count – but not for everything. And that’s a good job for The Foundry Wine Bar, just outside Leeds city centre, which had some bridges to build after an unimpressive start.
Having thoroughly enjoyed our last visit there, Oliver’s expectations for our Saturday night at the bijou eatery, in Holbeck Urban Village, were high.
But they were dampened somewhat by the kind of reception David Cameron might expect at his next function with Eurozone leaders.
As a diner you want to feel as though your entrance is something to be celebrated, not treated as a nuisance.
Having to wait slightly awkwardly as half a dozen staff members banter with each other, before clearing your throat increasingly audibly until they register your presence, is not the best omen.
So it was with a certain degree of annoyance that we took our seats at the bar, having finally attracted their attention, for a pre-dinner drink.
Harrumph. The Foundry had some making up to do.
To be fair, it did so. Not so much in spades as in delicious forkfuls.
To recap, the restaurant is housed in an old industrial shed at the heart of the Round Foundry.
In its manufacturing heyday, the Round Foundry produced heavy-duty textile machinery, steam engines and locomotives for export worldwide.
Today, the handiwork of the restaurant’s own craftsmen is more delicate, but no less impressive.
Even the complimentary bar snacks – succulent warm, soft pieces of chorizo and olives with feta cheese – were a cut above what you might normally be presented with as an appetiser.
By the time we’d finished them we were well on the way to forgetting our initial grumbles.
Everything about the restaurant’s design hits the mark. Tucked away in a stone-flagged courtyard off Sawmill Street near Water Lane, it’s hard to believe that it sits in the shadow of the giant Bridgewater Place.
Take away the assorted football memorabilia and the floor-to-ceiling windows, the exposed brickwork, the ornate oak bar and the wooden chairs and tables – of which there are fewer than a dozen – give it the feel of a Parisian bistro.
But the philosophy of the owners, self-proclaimed proud Yorkshiremen Phil Richardson and Shaun Davies, is unashamedly local – find the best produce, meat and fish from close to home and treat it with respect to create simple but high-quality combinations.
A bit like Don Revie’s 1970s Leeds United side – certain members of which frequent the restaurant – it’s a no-nonsense but highly effective approach.
Starters range from soup (£4.50) to king scallops (£9.50).
I had the goat’s cheese in filo pastry (£6.95), a deliciously light and crispy pastry purse filled with tangy, creamy cheese and offset with a sweet caramelised red onion drizzle.
My dining partner had the scallops, which came with a pea puree and mint dressing. They were beautifully sweet and soft, but griddled to give them a slight crunch.
“Perfect”, she enthused.
My main – slow-braised beef casserole (£15.50) – was a hearty, homely plate of soft, tender meat in a rich gravy. The cheese and mustard dumplings it came with had just enough flavour to hold their own in a dish not lacking for impact.
My dining partner’s pork fillet with black pudding (£15.95) contained a generous helping of properly cooked meat. The black pudding had a mousse-like quality that contrasted well with the crunch of the apple in the accompanying calvados sauce.
Quality didn’t take the place of quantity in either dish, and the sides we had been advised to order – sautéed potatoes and seasonal green vegetables (£2.95 each) – though tasty, remained largely untouched.
The accompanying bottle of Merlot went down nicely and, by the end of our second courses, we could both quite happily have curled up in front of an open fire for a satisfied nap.
Not that that would have been easy in The Foundry by that point in the evening since – quite apart from the absence of a fire – there was a lively hubbub as those not already sitting at tables were congregating at the bar merrily anticipating what they were about to enjoy.
When I made the booking, I was told we could have the table for a two-hour slot, a fair enough allocation to enjoy a meal in relative relaxation.
Thankfully, however – and especially following our irritation at the way we had been neglected on arrival – at no point did we feel rushed.
In fact, blissfully ignorant that our supposed cut-off point had past, we were still happily chatting away over coffee (there was no room for dessert) for some time without any suggestion that we were outstaying our welcome.
The Foundry is not cheap – our bill came to £86.70 – but quality comes at a price.
In general, after the initial hiccup, the service was excellent and when we did eventually drag ourselves away it was with no little regret that the evening had come to an end.
First impressions count, but our lasting impression of The Foundry remains untarnished.
1 Saw Mill Yard, Holbeck, Leeds, LS11 5WH
Opening hours: Lunch, noon to 2.30pm Mon to Fri. dinner 6pm to 10pm Mon to Sat, 6.30pm
Tel. 0113 245 0390
SERVICE ............................. **
***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD *** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR