Leeds restaurants: Meet the chef behind Kendells Bistro whose classical French cuisine has stood the test of time

There's nothing modern about Kendells Bistro, and that's exactly the way its owner and head chef likes it.

Monday, 11th October 2021, 11:34 am

From mismatched tables and chairs and old theatre paintings, to 1930s French music and classic cuisine, the traditional bistro offers its diners a glimpse of France's past.

Steve Kendell founded the long-standing Leeds restaurant with his wife Sharon more than 16 years ago.

He fell in love with French cuisine while working in Paris, Dordogne and Amsterdam, but it was his mum's cooking while he was growing up in Halifax that inspired his career as a chef.

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Steve Kendell, owner and head chef of Kendells Bistro, St Peter's Square. Photo: James Hardisty.

"She’d make stews, casseroles and roasts and I took an interest," Steve told the Yorkshire Evening Post.

“The whole family would come round the dinner table for Sunday lunch with Yorkshire puddings."

Kendells isn't Steve's first successful business; he ran Paris in Horsforth and the popular Leodis, now Brasserie Blanc, before he founded his bistro on St Peter's Square.

Steve shuns "modern fuss" in favour of age-old techniques and flavours, which has earned him a loyal base of returning customers.

The 63-year-old added: “We wanted it to be a classical French bistro - unpretentious, friendly service, good food and a good atmosphere.

"We have theatre pictures, blackboard menus and classic French music from the 1930s and 1940s. It’s quite retro.

"French food and techniques are traditional, it’s not dishes that have just been made up there and then. It goes back centuries over history.

“We like to think we’re timeless."

Steve's starters include French onion soup with Gruyere cheese and croutons, Burgundy snails with garlic butter and tarte de chevre, a goats cheese and pickled beetroot orange tart.

A showstopper main is the Filet de boeuf Wellington - puff pastry filled with fillet steak, truffle oil mushrooms, parma ham, red wine mushroom sauce, haricot vert and bacon, served with dauphinoise potatoes.

It's uncomplicated and hearty grub, but packed full of flavour, Steve said.

He takes inspiration from cookbooks and his travels in France; one of his favourite dishes is the beef bourguignon, which holds a special memory.

Steve said: “I remember being sat outside a restaurant in Burgundy, having some fantastic wine and beef bourguignon as the sun was setting. It was amazing.

“When you transfer that to Leeds, you have the same dish, but it probably won’t taste the same without the sunset and when it’s cold!

“But that’s what we try to do, bring authentic French cuisine.

“I like cooking with fish, the simplicity of it. And with my upbringing in Halifax, I love stews and casseroles, slow-braising and overnight cooking. I’m more of a winter chef.

“It’s got to have lots of flavour. I don’t do subtle - and I use a lot of garlic."

Kendells draws in many customers visiting the neighbouring Leeds Playhouse, while the new flats that are springing up around St Peter's Square are bringing extra footfall into the area.

And business has swiftly picked up after months of closures during the pandemic.

“The support has been excellent," Steve added.

"Over the last two years, with Covid, everyone has taken a big hit - but we’re still here after 16 years, which is more than you can say for some restaurants."

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