THERE’S something about British cuisine which means it’s often overlooked in my family when we chose a restaurant, often opting for the ease of Italian, spiciness of Indian or exotic flavours of Thai.
But after a trip to Iris, which first brought modern British dining to Wakefield in 2012, it would not be a mistake I make again.
Wakefield-born chef Liam Duffy has worked with some of the country’s top chefs at Michelin-starred restaurants, including the Burlington Restaurant at Bolton Abbey.
The menu at the Bull Ring restaurant is based on seasonal, local ingredients - much sourced within a 30 mile radius - and is constantly changing, which means a trip to Iris can bring up some surprises.
My dining partner and I visited on a particularly grim Friday evening, when a storm meant Wakefield’s usually busy centre was quieter than usual. But Iris was already filling up.
We took a table by the window downstairs, which was perfect for a spot of people watching. Seated nearby was a large party, which in a small space could have felt overbearing, but the relaxed ambiance meant we weren’t distracted.
The menu was easy to navigate and despite not being overwhelmed with choice, the decision was tough to make, so we started our meal with some nibbles (£2.50) a hearty portion of pork scratchings and intriguing looking spicy nuts, while we pondered further.
There were six starters to choose from, all priced individually at £5.95. In a nice touch, two of the six were vegetarian, a higher proportion than you’d sometimes see at a restaurant with a larger menu.
My dining partner, initially disappointed on hearing his favoured option, the duck and ham pressing, was all out, opted for the homemade potted beef, and I made a quick decision on the smoked haddock Scotch egg - the Iris speciality.
And I wasn’t disappointed. Sat surrounded by a sweetcorn and chorizo sauce, the Scotch egg was large and an attractive golden brown, which crunched satisfyingly as I dug in. Inside, the egg was cooked perfectly, a bright orange runny yolk, still warm with the whites cooked just enough. The haddock was very tasty, quite light, which was welcome given the large size of the portion. The tangy chorizo and sweetcorn added contrast and crunch.
The potted beef was beautifully presented in a mason jar, placed on a chopping board with still-warm rosemary and garlic focaccia. It looked wonderful, but it was slightly impractical to get the beef from the jar.
The beef itself was tasty, my dining partner said, and he enjoyed the shallot chutney and flavoursome focaccia.
It wasn’t long before our main course arrived. For me the decision on what to opt for was a lot more difficult than with the starter, as I could have happily gone for any of the seven options, reasonably priced at £15.95 (with a £2.50 surcharge for the flat iron steak). There was also a small grill section to choose from, starting at £23.95 for a 28-day aged 300g fillet.
After much indecision I opted for the lamb rump, served with slow roasted tomato, gnocchi, garlic cream and basil, and my dining partner went for the crispy pork belly. Had we ordered after receiving our starters, which were very generously portioned, we would have known that opting for side orders of dauphinoise potatoes and cauliflower cheese, both priced at £2.95, were unnecessary - or should I say, over-indulgent.
My dining partner’s large slab of belly pork looked delicious and tasted just as good. The crackling was crunchy and only contained the most minimal layer of fat, making the piece as a whole rather lean. His colourful plate included purple roasted carrots, sage potato pressing and a carrot puree, which was especially nice.
My lamb was a lot larger than expected, presented on a generous portion of chewy gnocchi. The roasted tomatoes were very tangy and brought out the other flavours in the dish. The lamb itself was sliced thinly and nicely pink in the middle. The quality of both sides were as high as the main courses, especially the dauphinoise, and we kicked ourselves at not being able to finish the last of the tasty cauliflower cheese.
As if the menu wasn’t tempting enough, Iris offers a discounted two courses for £18.95 or three for £23.95, making it all the more beneficial to go for the dessert.
We requested a bit of time before choosing our selection, and the friendly waitress was happy to oblige, letting our dinner settle for half an hour without feeling rushed.
My dining partner was initially going to plump for the three Yorkshire cheeses, but after a heavy main decided on the mascarpone cheesecake, accompanied by a pina colada mousse and roasted pineapple.
The mousse was like having a cocktail - delicious - but the pineapple was a little too sweet for his taste. The cheesecake itself was very nice,
I opted for the sea salt caramel chocolate tart, which was just as nice as it sounds, Served with a delicious peanut butter mousse and honeycomb, it was to a standard I’ve rarely experienced. Heaven on a plate.
All in all, Iris does fine dining unlike anything I’ve experienced in Wakefield, and in a welcoming, relaxed setting.
My only grumble was the menu itself. A simple paper print out works well in a restaurant which is constantly evolving, but I was disappointed to find grease marks and even a streak of biro across mine - a bit off-putting.
Missing from the table were condiments, although I admit we did not need to season the wonderful food. Very minor grumbles that would not stand in the way of a repeat trip.
Our bill, including a bottle of Mas de Vigneron Rose (£14.95) and a cup of tea each (£1.65), came to a surprisingly reasonable £74.75. Comparable amounts spent elsewhere provided nowhere near the quality.
Address: 12 Bull Ring, Wakefield, WF1 1HA.
Opening times: Monday - Saturday, 5pm - 9.30pm (last orders).
Tel: 01924 367683.