A LOT of people don’t like to be reminded of what they’re about to eat, so it perhaps takes a brave restaurant to have a stuffed animal (in this instance a rabbit) on display in its window.
Those who are a bit squeamish about such things probably won’t like that, or indeed the cow which takes centre stage in the basement area downstairs.
It doesn’t bother me and it fits in, too, with the relaxed, slightly quirky approach at Rare, which has won plenty of admirers in Leeds since opening its doors at the end of 2013.
Nestled halfway down Lower Briggate this steak restaurant and cocktail bar prides itself on “uncommon excellence”. I’m not usually a fan of these kind of slogans but if you are going to make such grandiose claims then you had better live up to them and, for the most part, Rare does.
The menu isn’t particularly extensive but I’d rather that than those weighty tomes you get in some restaurants where they’re trying to be all things to all people. It’s much better to stick to what you’re good at, and here that means meat - and lots of it.
This really isn’t the kind of place you would come for a meal on a first date if your date happens to be a vegetarian - at least not if you wanted the relationship to last. I’m sure the veggie options are perfectly fine, but you don’t go to a steak restaurant to order celeriac cooked three ways.
These days people are increasingly interested in where their food comes from and at Rare they like to make a big thing of the provenance of the ingredients - so it’s not just a burger it’s a Longhorn Burger, the cured duck is a Gressingham and the chicken is “herb fed.”
It all sounds promising although the evening didn’t start too brightly. It’s said that you eat with your eyes first and if that’s true then this was very much a tale of two starters. As he put the meagre-looking pigeon breast dish down on the table even the waiter felt the need to say, almost apologetically, “there is something under there.”
Technically he was right. Beneath the small pile of green leaves there were two pieces of pigeon on a bed of wild mushrooms. It’s the kind of dish that only makes you smile if you’re on a diet, or you’re not particularly hungry. Neither, it must be said, applied to my wife who cast envious glances at the two meltingly tender slabs of meat on my plate - which I shared of course (as any sane husband would do).
Both the pigeon dish and my spicy Tamworth pork belly ribs dish cost £7.50, which isn’t cheap for a starter.
Size isn’t everything, of course, but if you’re going to have two such wildly different looking starters for the same price then the small one had better be cooked faultlessly which, sadly, the pigeon wasn’t. It was just ok, although in fairness the mushrooms were very good.
Thankfully it was the only sour note of the meal. For while the pigeon was underwhelming, the ribs were a mouth-watering triumph and they set the tone for the rest of the evening.
My partner opted for the ‘100 hour’ slow cooked lamb shoulder (£16) which initially I thought must have been a typo. It wasn’t and the lamb, braised, then pressed and pan fried to create a crispy top and soft inside, was an explosion of meaty loveliness.
Which brings me to my main. You can’t really come here to eat without trying a steak - it would be a bit like going to Rioja and only drinking French wine.
At Rare they specialise in rare (get it?) breeds of meat with the waiter using a ‘steak board’ to explain the different cuts, like “wing rib”, the type of cattle, for instance Limousin or Aberdeen Angus, the various sizes and the price per 100g.
I opted for a 500g porterhouse cooked on the grill. It was delicious although at £36.25 it certainly wasn’t cheap - especially when you consider you had to pay extra for chips (£3.50) and another couple of quid if you wanted a sauce.
There are some people who would scoff at paying this much for a steak - no matter how good it is. But the thing with Rare (and one of the reasons why I like the place) is you can just come in for a couple of drinks at the bar, so you don’t have to spend a fortune.
It’s also got a welcoming feel. A mid-week evening in deepest, darkest January is not the best time to see a place at its most convivial, and even though the downstairs area wasn’t open there were enough people in the bar section to make it a pleasant atmosphere.
The staff here also deserve a mention. I’m one of those pesky people with a nut allergy that restaurants must dread but the guy taking our order made sure the lamb, which came with a hazelnut and basil risotto, was served separately so that I could try it.
The culinary scene in Leeds has been transformed over the past decade and for the most part this has been for the better. Steak aficionados can certainly eat very well in the city centre these days and on this evidence Rare is up there with the best.
Although it comes at a price. Our total bill - which also included a bottle of cabernet-carménère (£28.95), a pudding (£6) and an espresso martini (£7.95) - came in at £115.65. It depends on your budget whether you regard this as a standard night out, or a special blow out meal - I’ll leave that for you to decide.
All I will say is that if it’s your fate in life to be eaten by a carnivore like me (and I’m talking to the animals here) then the least you deserve is to be cooked with care and skill - and at Rare they can certainly do that.
Address: 163 Lower Briggate, Leeds. LS1 6LY.
Tel: 0113 246 7013
Opening times: Sun – Weds: 12pm – 11pm; Thurs – Sat: 12pm – 1am