Its home is a well-known Harrogate landmark on Cheltenham Parade, opposite the back of the theatre, so size and location mean that it’s almost impossible to miss it.
Originally constructed in 1872 as a Methodist chapel, the building was converted into a theatre in 1910, which explains the stage, the balconies and the proscenium arch you’ll find inside. It closed as a theatre in 1931, and was used as shops, then a garage, until it was converted into a restaurant in the 1970s. Many town folk still remember it fondly as an Italian restaurant called Pinocchio’s, where orders were taken to Geppetto’s cottage door.
But enough of the past. Cardamom Black, which describes itself as an “exclusive pan Asian bar and restaurant in Harrogate’s Empire Theatre building”, opened in December 2011, the new owners having extensively restored and refurbished the building before decorating in a combination of matte and sparkling black, with accents of rich scarlet red and the arch and balconies picked out in gleaming gold, all offset with beautiful lighting features, opulently dressed dining tables and a mural of theatrical masks, to add a hint of drama. It is magnificent, truly.
It has two bar areas, can cater for up to 300 diners or guests and has private dining facilities. On the Friday night of our visit, there was a wedding party upstairs on the balcony level, and the bride and groom wandered happily together hand in hand upstairs and down. It felt rather magical and special, almost as if we were part of a modern staging of a Shakespeare play, towards the end of Act V, after the conflicts have been resolved and all that remains is for the happy couple to tease each other and mingle.
We decided to head straight for our table, where we ordered drinks and decided on four poppadoms to keep us going while we scrutinised the menu (of which more later). They arrived with a generous and delicious selection of four assorted chutneys and raita, the sort you really don’t want to relinquish when the mains arrive. On reflection, four poppadoms was too many, as they were huge. One each would have been more than enough.
The major attraction, as far as my dining companion and I were concerned, was the iced fish bar, offering cod, halibut, seabass, monkfish, Scottish king scallops, large freshwater king prawns and more, cooked to order to the dish of your choice, selecting from an extensive list of regional recipes.
I chose a Mixed Fish Tikka (6.50) for starters, and my dining companion chose the Scottish scallops (£7.50) off the specials menu, served on a spicy pea puree with a small salad garnish. Both dishes were beautifully presented, the scallops on a long wavy rectangular plate. This was a fine introduction to the Cardamom Black way, and the accompaniments in particular were full of taste and texture, so much so that we would have liked them all over again, this time served with the next course.
For the main course, you can choose your meat or fish (chicken, chicken tikka, lamb, lamb tikka, prawns, tailed king prawns) and then pick from a large selection of sauces. I counted at least 20, including classics and plenty I’d never heard of before.
I decided to try the Chicken Molago (£8.90), with a sauce appropriately combining black cardamom, bay leaves, yoghurt and cumin seeds. It was absolutely wonderful. The chicken was chunky and succulent, and the sauce was heavenly, combining fragrance and depth with a rounded richness that I have rarely, if ever, experienced before.
My dining companion, meanwhile, chose the Seafood Medley (£15.50) and reported that it offered an excellent sauce, subtly spicy with a kick, although she decided she couldn’t really tell which fish in the medley was which.
The spinach and lentil side dish (£4.35), two chapatis (£1.80) and the coriander and lime rice (£3.50) were all faultless in taste, quantity and presentation.
By now, we were feeling satisfied. There is a dessert menu with dishes at £6.95 each, including Hot Chocolate Inside Out Fondant and Ginger and Lime Cheesecake, plus ice creams, but we went instead for the fabulous sounding Thorntons Chocolate Cookie Daiquiri cocktails (£6.95 each). They hit the spot and rounded off the evening deliciously.
The wine is reasonably priced, and there are ten whites to choose from, the most expensive being the Cloudy Bay at £32.95 at bottle. We chose the cheapest, a bottle of Chilean Via Alta Sauvignon Blanc at £15.95, plus a large bottle of sparkling water. There is also an extensive list of cocktails, at £7.50 each, and next time, I think I’d try one before the meal, in the bar area.
Our entire bill came to £87.65, which I reckon is extremely good value for such complex, excellent and well presented food in such splendid surroundings.
One minor complaint, and the clue lies in the name – it is quite dark in Cardamom Black, what with all those black walls and the low lighting, which is wonderfully atmospheric and so on, but it does make it difficult for those with failing eyesight (although not that failing) to scrutinise the menu or indeed see what’s on the plates. This is a shame because food presentation is a speciality of the restaurant.
However, I will definitely return to Cardamom Black. There are so many intriguing dishes to choose from, and I’m hoping to work my way through them all eventually. I’ll just have to ask the staff to read the menu out loud for me.
Address: Cheltenham Parade, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 1BX
Tel: 01423 313136