Restaurant review: Crafthouse, Trinity Leeds

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Crafthouse is the opposite of its surroundings.

It is enveloped by busyness and by crowds. People ebb and flow at its feet, the sound of their chatter rises in a cloud of noise around it.

Crafthouse/Angelica food images

Crafthouse/Angelica food images

Because this is the restaurant that sits atop Trinity Leeds, the city’s newest and vastly successful shopping area.

With its companion, Angelica, Crafthouse gazes over all this activity, part of it and yet completely separate.

Inside, the atmosphere is as different as it is possible to be. The reception area all is dimly lit quietness.

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Park your coat, walk through to the main body of the restaurant and a different world opens before you.

Along one wall is the private dining room, separated by glass. Down the long side, diners can see staff in their whites preparing dishes at the chef’s counter.

The body of the restaurant is all gleaming glass and cutlery, thick white cloths and dark wood, and it leads onto an outside terrace. Look out one way and you see the rooftops of the city, look the other and you are gazing down on all that retail therapy.

It is quite the oasis, full of quietly chatting groups, many of whom on a Saturday lunchtime looked like family groups enjoying a celebration.

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Once seated, we were handed a menu that has changed recently.

The previous chef Lee Bennett moved on this summer and his place has been taken by, handily for the rest of the staff, another Lee.

Lee Murdoch, originally from Scotland, has joined Crafthouse from Abu Dhabi, where he ran an award-winning restaurant.

The basic structure of the menu remains the same - there is still a selection of good quality steaks using aged meat cooked in a josper oven - basically a very upmarket and indoor version of a barbecue that cooks at a high temperature over charcoal, sealing in juices.

But there are also new additions brought in, our waitress told us, because the new man is more experimental in his cooking.

So the choice of eight starters on the a la carte menu included dishes such as roasted sweetbreads with sunchoke (turns out to be artichoke) and Yorkshire game terrine with walnut husk.

It seemed rude to ask the staff to stand and explain every single ingredient, so some will have to remain a mystery.

But I can pass on this tip - the items listed underneath the dish also include stuff used in the cooking method.

So “smoked hay” on the menu does not mean it will actually appear on your plate but that it has been wrapped round the meat or fish during cooking for flavour.

It’s all a bit fanciful but on the evidence of what we ate, these new dishes work. They are intriguing enough to make you take notice, but still recognisable as a plate of satisfying food.

While we chose, a plate of aged ham and black truffle was brought, unbidden, to the table with chunks of good bread, proving that Crafthouse knows how to make its guests feel looked after.

We opted for “Native hen’s egg” ( £8.50) just for the heck of it.

What appeared at the table was a pretty plate of melted cheese sprinkled with truffle and ham and decorated with edible flowers. Our waiter then produced an egg from a little straw-strewn box and cracked it over the top. It was a fine piece of table theatre and produced a rich, smooth, creamy dish that reminded me of a retro fondue.

Smoked salmon with garlic, cucumber and Yorkshire Blue ( £9.50) was a more conventional starter with cubes of the salmon in a puddle of cucumber reduction, surrounded by extra chunks and with crumbed cheese over the top. It was a mix of cool flavours with a good cheese tang.

Service is as attentive as you would expect in a high-end restaurant. Waiting staff dressed in shirts, waistcoats and chef’s apron squares made sure the wine and water was topped up and between courses we were presented with another surprise amuse bouche - this time two miniature cones filled with raspberry ice cream and freeze dried raspberry, offering an intense burst of creamy, fruity flavour.

For mains, I opted for the autumnal-sounding red leg partridge (£25), listed as being served with devils on horseback, the aforementioned smoked hay, and “pie”. Such entertainment in one menu.

The partridge was off the bone, moist and tender. There was a slight earthiness imparted by the hay, and the pie was a delicious tiny tart of filo pastry filled with a creamy mix of partridge meat.

The devils on horseback were squidgy, sweet perfection - prunes stuffed with partridge meat and wrapped in smoky bacon.

Our other choice was a 42-day dry aged steak from that josper oven.

The cut was rump (£22), so not the most expensive on the menu, but it was tender and full of juicy flavour. It was served with Cafe de Paris sauce which was more of a herby butter and accompanied by a big dish of espelette chips (£4). These were another step into the unknown but turned out to have a spicy pepper coating.

Other mains include duck, halibut, mullet and chicken, all with their various accompaniments.

For pudding I chose a slab of intense silky chocolateness called dark chocolate cremeux (£8), which came on a base of chewy praline sponge and was topped with a smooth, mild creme fraiche ice cream. It was a disappointment when the last mouthful disappeared.

A classic creme brulee ( £6.50) was our other choice, a wide shallow dish of creamy vanilla topped with its layer of dark, delicious, caramelised sugar

The food at Crafthouse is interesting but it isn’t cheap, although there is a set menu offering three courses for £22. It is however classy and high end, and it’s fun picking through this menu. With drinks and coffees the bill for these a la carte choices was £118.

FACTFILE

Address: Level 5 Trinity Leeds, 70 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 6HW

Hours: Lunch, Tuesday to Saturday, noon to 3pm; Dinner Monday to Thursday, 5pm to 10pm, Friday and Saturday, 5pm-6.30pm

Website: www.crafthouse-restaurant.com

Phone: 0113 897 0444

Food ****

Value ***

Atmosphere *****

Service *****

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