When you arrive at a dining pub early on a weekend night to find it already packed, with most tables taken and a buzz of convivial chatter filling the air, it’s a good sign.
And when that pub is situated in amongst a selection of other eating establishments in one of Leeds’ most exclusive suburbs, it’s even more impressive.
The huge Deer Park is an imposing presence on Street Lane in Roundhay.
A purpose-built pub, it looks like it could easily house one of those chains serving up two meals for a fiver and an all-day carvery on Sundays.
In fact the Deer Park has been made over very much in the gastropub style - which seems fitting considering its location.
And despite actually being part of a chain, with its sister premises including the White Hart at Pool-in-Wharfedale and the Pine Marten in Harrogate, it has an upscale-sounding menu and prices to match.
It’s also perfect for the clientele nearby, who on this Saturday evening were packing it out, with only early or late tables available a few days in advance.
So when we arrived, we were whisked straight to our pleasant window table without much of a chance to take in the ambience.
Service continued in the same vein with menus brought immediately and our waitress telling us what dishes were running low - helpful to know before you get your heart set on them.
The Deer Park claims its food is “modern British, comfortably interwoven with Mediterranean influences”.
We could see a few of those influences among the choices.
The sharing platters included a Mediterranean mezze as well as an antipasti board, while the starters included arancini risotto balls and the slightly incongruous spiced lamb koftas.
Mains included traditional pub food with a twist, like spit-roasted chicken served with frites and aioli, ale-battered haddock and the tempting rib of beef and Rioja pie.
There was also a specials menu with the scallops of the day, as well as a few other appetising choices.
Our waitress briefly returned to quickly bring our drinks and ask if we had any questions about the menu - which we didn’t but were pleased to be asked - before we ordered.
My dining partner was pleased to get his choice of one of those low-running dishes, with him snaffling the last portion of whitebait, from the specials menu (£6.95).
A generous serving of the deep-fried tiny whole fish arrived incredibly quickly, but then with little accompaniment and only one starter to prepare, we didn’t see it as the warning sign this can sometimes be in a restaurant.
The whitebait came with a pot of aioli for dipping and my companion devoured the plateful almost as quickly as it had arrived.
He enjoyed the fishy morsels and said they were perfectly cooked, with a satisfying crunch giving way to soft flesh.
Our main courses appeared after a longer break, putting our minds at rest about just how the kitchen had produced the starter so quickly.
I had picked the smoked haddock, spinach and horseradish fishcakes, served with hollandaise and salad (£9.95)
Two fishcakes were drizzled with a bright-yellow hollandaise sauce, and came alongside a handful of rocket leaves and cherry tomatoes.
They were filled with fluffy mashed potato and studded with smokey pieces of fish, with the acidic sauce setting off their richness nicely. The spinach was there in appearance but not much in taste, and I was glad that smoked haddock was the main ingredient as another fish could’ve meant the dish was rather bland.
As it was, it was perfectly pleasant, but without a wow factor.
Surprisingly the accompaniment of buttered new potatoes, peas, fresh mint and edamame beans (£3.50) was just as tasty. This unusual combination was topped with a delicious red onion confit and was mouthwateringly moreish.
My dining partner was grappling with his homemade West Country beef burger, which came topped with gherkin, mustard mayo, emmental cheese, relish and frites (£10.95).
He’d picked one of the optional extras, which included bacon, chorizo or extravagantly, lobster tail, though his choice was the more restrained pulled pork (£3.50).
It was an impressive-looking burger, piled high with accompaniments and topped with a dollop of pulled pork – now a common sight on seemingly nearly all menus.
The burger was full of flavour and the fries perfect, but he thought the extra cost for the pulled pork seemed excessive, while its smokey sweetness overpowered the rest of the meat.
Despite being quite full, we pushed through to dessert – though I knew I couldn’t manage my initial choice, baked vanilla cheesecake.
Instead I went for the Earl Grey creme brulee (£5.50), which saw the thick custard infused with a delicious aromatic flavour. The caramelised topping, usually the star of any creme brulee, was pleasantly crunchy but just wasn’t thick enough, being almost non-existent in places.
However the butter biscuits which came alongside were warm, soft and perfect to scoop up any remaining custard.
My companion had gone for what he thought was a lighter option, the vanilla and chocolate gelato with home baked cookies (£5.50).
It really was a cut above normal ice cream, he said, being dense and creamy. The delicious double choc cookie on the side was a nice touch too.
Our bill, with two soft drinks, came to £56.
With thoughtful service and food which while not exactly gourmet, is certainly well-executed, I’d be happy if the Deer Park was my local.
Address: Street Lane Leeds, LS8 2DQ
Opening times: Opens at noon every day, closing at 11pm Monday to Thursday, with food served until 9.30pm; midnight on Friday and Saturday with food until 9.30pm; Sundays open to 10pm, food until 9pm.
Tel: 0113 246 3211