Review: Arnold's Restaurant and Bar, Leeds
It may not to be in prime foodie territory, but Arnold's has quickly been making a name for itself in Leeds.
Who would call a restaurant Arnold’s? Does anyone call their child Arnold any more? It isn’t even in the top 100 of first names given to a son. It’s a grandad sort of name, defiantly untrendy for a new restaurant.
If it was called Ziff, you’d get the answer quicker. Arnold Ziff was one of Leeds’s great philanthropists from an era when millionaires were not automatically fat cats. His father came to the city as a refugee from Russia and started the Stylo shoe company. Arnold grew it into a nationally known brand.
With his fortune, he was the man behind the first body scanner at St James’s Hospital. He funded the Steinway grand played at the Leeds International Piano Competition and wrote the first cheque for Tropical World in Roundhay Park.
He and his wife Marjorie were both decorated by the Queen for their charity work, which ranged across the university, Leeds Parish Church and art gallery and much, much more before he died in 2005.
His property company, Town Centre Securities, also built Leeds most unloved, cheap and cheerful, 1960s shopping precinct, the Merrion Centre and on its flank now sits Arnold’s in premises still owned by the family. You might just remember it as Marco Pierre White’s New York Italian which lasted a year before predictably folding, to nobody’s great sorrow.
It’s a tough venue for anyone, with some 80 seats to fill in a part of town off the main trail for foodies. No doubt it packs out early in the evening on nights when the neighbouring Leeds Arena has a show on but it will need a return of expense account dining to see it needing reservations at lunchtime.
Happily, Arnold’s has toned down Marco’s silvery bling, recovered the bucket seats and recarpeted the floor but nothing was more reassuring than to be greeted by the city’s most urbane maitre d’, Steve Ridealgh with a CV that is a precis of the restaurant history of Yorkshire, from the Michelin-starred Pool Court in Pool-in-Wharfedale to Brasserie Forty 4, the converted riverside mill that was key to the renaissance not just of The Calls but of eating out in the city centre.
Arnold’s which acts as the dining room for the Ibis Styles Hotel could hardly look more different from the exposed brick and cast-iron girders and big bright oils that once startled us at Brasserie Forty 4 but the menu which once startled us too with its mix of reworked British classics and fusion ingredients has settled down to a sensibly short list of crowd-pleasers: pork spring roll, tomato soup, smoked haddock gratin, pear and walnut salad, steak and chips, duck confit, venison haunch.
From the starters, the pork spring rolls would be no threat to the street food vendors of Khaosan Road, but a couple of substantial and well-filled rolls packed with minced pork and a less than lethal kick from red chilli and a satay sauce did for a lunchtime in Wade Lane. Tomato soup beat the drum for fresh, ripe tomato with the natural acidity balanced by a touch of sweetness, nicely finished with a stream of olive oil, and enough heft to make it a substantial starter.
If the devil is in the detail, Arnold’s smashes it with its bread rolls and some of the best chips I’ve had in a long time alongside the daily special of fish cakes fully loaded with fish and coated with a golden crust of panko crumbs. Salad, too, was an object lesson in intelligent simplicity, a collection of salad leaves with a light dressing. No limp leaves or raw peppers to fill up the plate and later the dustbin.
Pork fillet, lean and short on flavour, needs all the help it can get. It helps that here it’s rolled and wrapped in Parma ham, but it’s the pea risotto alongside that takes the dish to another level. A well-made risotto is not as easy to find as you might think based on how often it appears on a menu. This one is well-flavoured and accurately cooked with sweetness from the peas in a puddle of rather good Calvados sauce. I would have happily had this without the pork.
Desserts reprise the Brasserie Forty 4 years with its signature chocolate fondue and marshmallow or apple and blackberry crumble and warm chocolate brownie. No surprise then to learn that Steve’s wife Carol, the pâtissier at Brasserie Forty 4 is now head chef at Arnold’s.
In fact, pretty well the whole crew from Brasserie Forty 4 has moved up from the riverside. Earlier this year Forty 4 closed suddenly in the wake of new owners moving in upstairs at the once uber-trendy 42 The Calls boutique hotel. The brasserie was no longer wanted on voyage. At the risk of getting melodramatic, it was the end of an era. In its heyday all the visiting stars of TV and theatre used to stay upstairs and eat downstairs.
But guess who else used to eat regularly at Forty 4? The Ziff family. Who better to take over the Marco-sized hole next to the Merrion Centre? The Ridealghs. And if their new home is Brasserie Forty 4 by another name, then what could be better than Arnold’s?
Arnold’s Restaurant and Bar, Wade Lane, Leeds LS2 8NJ. Tel 0113 831 4531, www.arnoldsleeds.co.uk. Open: Monday-Saturday, 12-2.30pm and 5pm-9.30pm. Price: dinner for two including wine and service approx. £85.