Ever since hapless hotelier Basil Fawlty hit our screens in the 1970s, there’s been a bit of a stigma around hotel restaurants.
The ill-fated Gourmet Night with its duck with orange, duck with cherries, or ‘duck surprise’ (duck without oranges or cherries) lingers long in the memory.
Not that Oliver has actually witnessed any horrors quite on that scale – though it sometimes feels like he has come pretty close.
Nowadays, the food in hotels is undoubtedly better – although, in this food critic’s humble opinion, some hotels almost certainly still take advantage of their captive audiences to let standards slide.
It would be great, however, wouldn’t it, to find a fabulous hotel restaurant in Leeds?
After all, many of London’s best eateries are within hotels. Think Gordon Ramsay at Claridges or, perhaps, Galvin at Windows at the Park Lane Hilton.
What do we have in Leeds? Malmaison can certainly be said to have gone off the boil in recent times and despite an expensive re-fit the Queens has frequently disappointed. So it would be fair to say we didn’t exactly have high hopes for the latest addition to the Leeds hotel dining scene – the Verve Grill at the Village Hotel’s South Leeds site (that’s Tingley to you and me).
On arrival, though, we were pleasantly surprised. We’d actually over-estimated our travel time and arrived almost half an hour early. But the restaurant staff were quick to greet us and accommodate us with a table. The restaurant is attractively decorated in grey and mushroom hues, with real wood floors, elegant tables and deliberately mismatched – yet clearly expensive – leather chairs. There are also oversized lampshades and accents of purple. It feels rather reminiscent of the hugely successful Restaurant Bar and Grill in the old Post Office building in the city centre. I don’t know whether the designers used RBG for inspiration or whether the look is universal to the hotel chain. Whatever, it works.
What doesn’t work quite as well is the service, which at times was rather lackadaisical.
We’re handed our menus and we order a sparkling water while we look through them. That drink comes swiftly enough but the bottle of wine we later ordered took an age to arrive. And when it did it was a single glass not a bottle. Were we supposed to share? Back it went.
When the bottle (Wandering Bear, California Chardonnay at £19.75) did finally appear, it was plonked down in the middle of the table with no ceremony... and no cooler. Clearly, we would be serving ourselves.
Thankfully, things picked up a bit with the food.
The menu is packed with British classics, with a few Mediterranean twists.
As a pre-starter we selected the mixed olives and warm bread (£4.25) to share. While we were treated to a plethora of good quality olives and a deliciously tangy green olive oil, there was a meagre three tiny bits of bread – none of which were warm.
The starters proper were better. From a selection which included chicken liver pate (£5.50), classic prawn cocktail (£7.25), we opted for the asparagus and hollandaise (£5.95) and the salmon fishcake (£6.25).
The asparagus was trimmed nicely and was earthy and fresh. The hollandaise was creamy and smooth, though the accompanying rocket was a little yellow for my liking. In all, not a bad dish.
My partner’s fishcake was better, coming as it did packed with flaked salmon. It came atop a small pile of tomatoes and was dressed with a delicious tartare sauce. Fairly faultless really.
Mains on offer included salmon and spinach pasta (£13.95), sirloin steak (£17.75 to £20.95), lemon herb chicken (£13.50), gourmet burgers (from £11.50). I plumped for the 6oz fillet steak (£18.95) and opted to pay £1 more to have it served on a hot rock. I ought to have known better, really.
Cooking your own steak at your table has become something of a gimmick these days. And, in my experience, not always successful. While a good idea in principle, the stone never seems hot enough to cook the steak in any reasonable time (certainly before your partner has finished off their dish). Unless you like it blue. Which I don’t.
My partner’s rump of lamb was tender, although perhaps cooked more well done than the asked-for medium. It also lacked the spinach and white beans the menu promised.
Dessert brought with it a new service problem. ‘Did we want dessert menus?’ our waiter asked. ‘Yes please’. Some moments passed until he returned and told us: ‘I’ve forgotten, did you want dessert menus?’ Why not just bring them?
Desserts when we did get them were pretty good. My cheescake (£5.25) was light and the strawberry compote was a lovely unctuous mass.
My partner’s profiteroles (£5.50) arrived in a giant serving which was polished off quickly.
In all, the bill came to £89.30 – slightly on the pricey side, even if the meal itself was not entirely Fawlty.
Which reminds me, is there anywhere in this town you can get a decent Waldorf salad?
Verve Grill, Village Hotel South Leeds, Capitol Boulevard West, Tingley, Leeds, LS27 0TS
Tel. 0844 980 0306
SERVICE ............................. **
***** EXCELLENT **** VERY GOOD *** GOOD ** AVERAGE * POOR