Leeds restaurants: Meet the pro chef taking Crafthouse Leeds in a bold new direction

Simon Jewitt has watched a transformation of the Leeds dining scene over his 25-year career.

By Abbey Maclure
Saturday, 26th March 2022, 4:30 pm

The head chef at Crafthouse said there was very little appetite for vibrant dishes and punchy flavours when he started cooking, all diners wanted was "beige food".

But over the last decade in particular, tastebuds and dining trends have changed - and he's taking the Trinity Leeds restaurant in a bold new direction.

Born in Harrogate, Simon was taught to cook by his foodie mum who had spent a lot of time in Italy.

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Simon Jewitt, 40, is the head chef at Crafthouse in Leeds city centre (Photo: Simon Hulme)

"The first dish I made was mac and cheese," the 40-year-old said.

"And obviously, I smashed it.”

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Simon has worked in kitchens since he was 15, enjoying a career in established restaurants in London and Leeds.

Simon makes a Whitby crab salad with fresh garden pea, preserved lemon, fennel sorbet and brown crab crackers (Photo: Simon Hulme)

He won an Oliver Award for best lunch while head chef at The Tannin Level, before opening Norse in Harrogate in 2016.

Simon said: "Unfortunately it later closed, but having the experience of opening a new, forward-thinking restaurant was great.

"Winning two AA Rosettes was a really proud moment for me and the team, we were a small team and we worked really hard.

“But every day is a highlight in this job.”

Simon praised Leeds' diverse food offering, which he says has gone from strength to strength since he started working in the city 20 years ago.

"It was the beginning of a boom of restaurants," he added.

"Since then, I’ve watched how it’s grown and evolved.

"Leeds has very multicultural roots, it’s a real stand out city for having that diversity - it's part of the culture and part of the city.

“When I first started cooking, all people wanted was beige food. But it’s amazing how much that’s changed.”

Simon joined Crafthouse two years ago, initially as sous chef before he was promoted to head of the kitchen.

The restaurant's menus offer a distinctive spin on British classics, such as the seared Scottish scallops with whipped cod's roe and dashi gel, or the chicken breast with sage and onion hash brown, oyster mushroom, IPA pickled onions and parsnip puree.

Simon said: “I’m a big advocate for sustainability and seasonality, like a lot of restaurants are - and should be now.

"We use classic techniques but apply some modern application, taking traditional flavours and spinning them on their heads

“And it’s a stunning venue. As soon as you walk through the door it’s very bright and open.

"We want that to be reflected in the food - fresh, vibrant and seasonal with a real identity to the restaurant.

"We don’t want to play it safe."

Crafthouse will be refurbished in the coming weeks, which Simon said would have a big impact on the visual aspect of the restaurant.

While he cherished the time spent with his three-year-old son during the pandemic, Simon recognised the strain lockdowns have caused for Leeds businesses.

But he thinks that the city is emerging stronger from those challenges.

"It's amazing how people have evolved and rolled with it," he added.

"It's freshened up the industry in a way, although of course it’s caused a lot of trouble and a lot of people have struggled and unfortunately closed.

“But it’s also opened opportunities and rejuvenated the scene."

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