I’ve struggled to eat well in Huddersfield. There are notable exceptions in the ‘burbs: Erics in Lindley, as fine a restaurant as you’ll find anywhere in the county, Three Acres in Shelley, always good, always dependable, and the peerless T&Cake in Almondbury. But in the town centre? That’s not to say I’ve eaten in every curry house and fried chicken joint, I haven’t, and for all I know I might be missing a trick. Letters on a postcard please.
A new opening, Epicure Bar & Kitchen piqued my interest after a mail shot landed on my desk. In a previous life it was the Coffee Kabin, serving ‘some of the best coffee from around the world, providing different tastes and a brew station for the coffee geeks among us’. I am that geek and it passed me by. Today there are 10 brews to choose from, and I’m happy to report that you can still score a very good flat white – and there’s a lot more besides.
The location isn’t glamorous. You’ll find it on dusty, noisy Queensgate opposite the University and next to Panini Hut. There are a couple of tables and chairs outside (really? with four lanes of traffic roaring by?) Don’t be put off, because as soon as you step inside it’s evident that they know what they’re doing.
It’s all bare stone walls, scrubbed wooden floors and chunky furniture. There’s loads of room upstairs, including comfy leather Chesterfields and low tables at one end, if it’s just a breakfast espresso, sausage butty and a browse of the paper you’re after.
The brunch menu includes the likes of eggs Benedict, avocado and egg on (doorstop) toast and scotch pancakes – baked beans too, and home made. If you’ve never had them, you’ve a treat in store, they’re nothing like Heinz. After midday, the printed menu is mostly sandwiches (Emmental and mushroom toasties, parma ham, blue cheese and pear baguettes) and burgers, which we’re just about to order (amongst which, Moody Cow, Cranky Pig, Grumpy Goat, Furious Falafel and the hilariously named Jerk of Chicken) when one of the waitresses arrives with today’s specials on sheets of paper which she sellotapes to the wall above us. Yep, it’s rustic! But man those dishes sound good, so somehow we manage to order most of it.
You’re a better man than me if you see bubble & squeak on a menu and resist it. It’s described as bubble cake, which doesn’t do it justice. It’s the definition of comfort food, brought into the 21st century with pillow-soft croquettes, gently grilled halloumi and pops of colour from a sweet/sharp wild honey and mustard dressing and a couple of dots of balsamic reduction. Topped with a perfect poached egg, it’s a dream of a dish, simple but stunning.
Next up, a plate of food so brightly coloured it brings a smile to our faces; a round of soft goats’ cheese, a couple of nicely spiced falafels sitting on a swirl of olive tapenade and circled with a deep red pepper dressing and finished with a handful of rocket. At £7.50 it’s a steal.
Just as we’re quietly agreeing that this is turning into a way better lunch than we’d anticipated, dish of the day keels up; confit duck leg, cooked for ever, falling apart at the fork with a perfectly seasoned pulled duck and orange croquette, a slick of creamy Lyonnaise potatoes and a pile of sticky red cabbage.
Any one of these dishes would make a decent meal; the fact we’re motoring through the lot of them brings quizzical looks from the waiting staff, and a gentle suggestion from one of them that we might have ordered enough. Too late. Three Ragstone cheese and baby spinach ravioli are on the way and it would be rude not to. The pasta needed another 30 seconds in the pan, but the filling is gorgeous and the slick of basil pesto and toasted peanuts fine accompaniments.
There’s no dessert menu at the moment, just cakes (I say ‘just’ cakes, they’re exceptional, and we found room, unaccountably, for a salted caramel brownie with our coffee) but when our faces fall at the thought of no actual pudding, we’re offered a choice of two from the Christmas menu. I can’t remember what the second one was because the chocolate and burnt orange brûlée leapt off the page. It’s dangerous, deep and dark, brightened only with an intricate tangle of crisp candied peel and a whisper-thin white chocolate and mint crisp. A charred orange shortbread is extraneous but wolfed all the same.
If you’re coming in the evening for a drink in the bar, choose from 12 gins and four hand pulled ales including Camden Hells, Penny Lane, Magic Rock Salty Kiss and Manchester Tart; the wine list is short but imaginative.
Epicure is a terrific find. The food is exuberant and confident, it’s big-boned generosity and pleasing rusticity a welcome corrective to fussy, cheffy art-work-on-a-plate.
There’s a fizzing energy at play here, and you don’t have to part with the thick end of your Giro to enjoy it.
• Epicure Bar & Kitchen, 37-39 Queensgate, Huddersfield HD1 2RD. 07980 373699, epicurebarandkitchen.co.uk. Open Monday to Thursday, 8am–6pm; Friday, 8am–10pm; Saturday, 10am–10pm; Sunday closed. Meal for two £52.30 (no wine, but two large bottles of San Pellegrino and coffees).