THERE’S LITTLE loyalty in Leeds’s entertainment quarter. Fashionable bars and cafes come and go so quickly that any establishment lasting more than a couple of years is regarded as almost iconic.
If you don’t venture into the centre of Leeds for a couple of months or so, the changes will always take you by surprise.
So, the fact that Art’s Cafe has lasted since the 1990s in Call Lane proves it must be something extra special.
The last time we visited was in 2015 for our Little Oliver review, when we noted it was ‘a lively enough atmosphere to enjoy a plate and a pint or a cocktail or two, even noting at the time that ‘Arts has become an institution.’ It was praised for service, food and value for money and it’s still very much part of an area of Leeds which is renowned for its diversity of dining out places.
Standing the test of time in such a bustling area of the city is no mean feat.
So, what’s its secret? Good food, excellent service and a chance to watch the wacky world of Call Lane go by. Sounds simple but Art’s Cafe does it with style.
It wasn’t always a fashionable part of Leeds. In fact it was positively ropy at one time but now it’s arty and fashionable and at the heart of the city’s ever-changing nightlife.
We arrived for a late lunch just in time to see the first of the day’s hen parties go by - a group of women pirates.
My wife and stepdaughter decided lunch in Leeds would be a good way to catch up on the latest family gossip.
Our two-course lunch for three including drinks came to £64.85. Not bad considering the food was top notch.
Charlotte (my stepdaughter) is pregnant so a proper cocktail was out of the question.
Mocktails weren’t on the menu but no worries. Our kindly waiter conjured up an Applejito for £3.50 (a sort of mojito) which was tasty.
I had a pint of Estrella Damm (£4.50) and wife Jan had a large Sauvignon Blanc (£6.60). All very good.
While we waited for our orders we had a chance to peruse the art on show. The cafe operates as a gallery for up-and-coming artists with regularly changing displays.
But it was the reputation for good food which really drew us here and we weren’t disappointed.
Art’s Cafe claims to be Leeds’s original Café Bar, “offering high quality and interesting cuisine in a relaxed and friendly environment”.
This atmosphere is complemented by regular six-weekly exhibitions of artwork by up and coming local artists - this, according to their website. Chefs also favour using local produce.
We went straight into main courses hoping to leave room for something sweet afterwards. Our choices came from the two main menus - the a la carte and the lunch menus.
My choice was rib-eye steak (£17.50) with char-grilled meat, Marmite butter, grilled field mushroom, plum tomato and hand cut chips. It was very good. Expensive, perhaps, but faultless.
Jan chose a sandwich of roast sirloin of beef, horseradish crème fraîche, heritage tomato & watercress served on toasted ciabatta (£7).
Charlotte chose chicken caesar wrap (£6.50) with shredded lettuce, bacon & Caesar dressing and a portion of fries for £1.50.
Both were excellent and wonderfully presented.
When it came to puddings, Charlotte and I had cheesecake and chocolate pot respectively.
The cheesecake (lime & stem ginger cheesecake, ginger nut crumb, kiwi in ginger syrup) was £5, compact but tasty. My chocolate pot (triple chocolate pot, milk chocolate mousse, salted dark chocolate) was £5.50 and splendid.
Jan made do with a liquer coffee (Tia Maria, £4.50).
Other dishes which caught our eye included char grilled chicken breast, pearl barley, ham hock & spring vegetable broth, tenderstem broccoli, wholegrain mustard and tarragon crème fraiche (£13.50) and Moroccan-style lamb shank with chickpeas, apricot, sun blushed tomatoes & harissa yoghurt (£16) but these will have to wait for our next visit.
The Art’s Cafe prides itself on carefully-crafted wine list, beer selection and cocktail menu.
Flavours are bold, they say, and ingredients are fresh. The menu is seasonal and regularly updated; however, they make sure their signature dishes are permanent fixtures.
In particular, they are renowned for impressive vegetarian options which are both creative and flavoursome in equal measure.
On the early bird menu diners can enjoy two courses for £13.50 and three for £16.50 until 7pm Sunday to Friday.
ARTS CAFE, CALL LANE, LEEDS
Address: 42 Call Lane Leeds LS1 6DT
Telephone: 0113 243 8243
Opening times: Sunday-Thursday noon–11pm, Friday noon–1am, Saturday noon–2am