LEEDS is flush with steak restaurants these days and whereas at one time you might have struggled to get a decent Ribeye, now you’re almost spoiled for choice.
Competition is a good thing, of course, but it also raises people’s expectations which means you’ve got to be good if you’re going to pull in the punters.
The newest kid on the block in Leeds is Stockdales of Yorkshire which opened its doors in September. The restaurant is housed in what was formerly part of the Pearl Insurance building, which went on to become a pub before Sam’s Chophouse moved in.
It is a swanky looking place in the best sense of the word. A lot of time and money (£1.2m according to reports) has been spent in the look and feel of the place - and it tells. The vibe is one of high end dining without the starchy formality that so often goes with it. You feel like you’ve arrived somewhere special.
The restaurant is split across two floors, with a bar and dining area on the ground floor and an additional dining area, private dining room and kitchen on the floor below.
Several of the 200-year-old features of the building have been restored, including some of the original tiled floors. On the way to our downstairs table we are taken past a large glass cabinet with the various cuts of dark, well-marbled meat on display. It’s the kind of thing that has become fashionable in restaurants recently.
This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea as some people don’t like to be reminded of the fact that what they’re about to eat once had a pulse, but I take the opposite view - I don’t need to know the cow’s name, but I think it’s important to know where the food we eat actually comes from. Those sitting downstairs can also get to watch their food being cooked in the open-style kitchen - another trendy trait in modern restaurants.
Stockdales prides itself not just on the quality of the ingredients but also the welfare of the animal, the care of the farmer, the diligence of food preparation, and, of course, the skill of the chef - all of which sits very nicely with the whole farm to fork ethos that has grown in recent years.
Steak restaurants have become hugely popular and one of Stockdales points of difference - and something it makes a big play of on its website - is its Wagyu beef, which we’re reliably told is hand selected, aged for 28 days, precision trimmed and cooked over a Josper Grill (a specialist charcoal oven).
For those of you that don’t know Wagyu is the world’s most expensive meat and comes from Wagyu cattle, renowned for their melt-in-the-mouth tenderness.
The menu itself has been developed with help from acclaimed chef Antony Flinn which has raised both interest and expectations.
We certainly got off to a decent start when we were brought some fresh bread accompanied by beef dripping and gravy. This was an inspired touch and way more interesting than the usual olive oil and balsamic combination, so brownie points to whoever dreamt up that one.
The starters continued the meaty treats theme. First up was the grilled bone marrow (£8) and poached duck eggs (£7.50). I’ve had bone marrow before and it can be underwhelming but this, accompanied by bacon jam, slow roasted onions and parsley crumbs, was a lip-licking delight.
So, too, were the duck eggs which came with wild mushrooms, truffle hollandaise and sourdough toast, which was as rich as it was delicious.
The portion sizes bordered on the heroic but when the food tastes as good as this you really don’t mind.
Which brings me on to the main courses. If you’re going to a steak restaurant you really have to go for a bit of meat, it’s a bit like going to Belgium and not having waffles.
As you would expect with a restaurant that prides itself on its steaks, there is a decent selection of cuts and also sizes.
This is a welcome move rather than the one size fits all approach that some places go for, and which can be over-facing for those with smaller appetites.
My partner opted for the 10oz Wagyu Ribeye (£35.50). Now, perhaps my expectations were too high but I found it a little bit disappointing. Don’t get me wrong, it was a very good steak and perfectly cooked, but when you’re paying this kind of money I was expecting something sensational, rather than just very good. But like I say, perhaps that was down to my inflated expectations.
The accompaniments, though, were a mixed bag. On the one hand the peppercorn sauce (£3) was decidedly average, but the chips (£3) cooked in dripping were some of the best I have tasted in a very long time. The creamed spinach (£3) we shared was also very good.
For my main I chose the Wagu beef cheek bourguignon (£16) which came with crispy bacon, mushrooms, shallots and a red wine jus (or sauce to you and I). This was one gelatinous hunk of meat, rather than smaller chunks, and was a solid bit of cooking. We finished off by sharing a dark chocolate tart (£7) which was dense, bland and had soft pastry.
But if the food wasn’t quite firing on all cylinders for the whole meal, the service was and the atmosphere had a warm, inviting buzz.
In the end our bill came to £112.50, which included a decent bottle of malbec (£29.50). This isn’t cheap but you could certainly pay more elsewhere.
Although our meal wasn’t perfect I would certainly come back and that, surely, is the mark of any decent restaurant.
STOCKDALES OF YORKSHIRE
Address: 8 South Parade, Leeds, LS1 5QX
Tel: 0113 204 2460
Opening times: Mon-Sat 11am-11pm, and Sun 11am-7pm.