I don’t get to travel within the UK too often unless it’s with work. Most of my friends have always lived in London, so until recently when my friend Dom quit his job and moved up to Leeds to go back to school and become a teacher, I was sad – but also a little excited I could go visit. Six months later, I finally made it ‘oop norf’, as they say.
Before I went though, the lovely Diana Massey had got in touch with me about the Brasserie at The Malmaison Hotel. Although I generally don’t do invite to review restaurants without being anonymous, I said yes. A new city, no clue where to eat, and a friend who went from PR wages to being a student at 27 – if there’s anyone who deserves a nice meal out on the house, it’s him.
The hotel itself is beautiful – rich plum colours and twisted wrought iron sculptures and light fixtures – it does very much ring of Paris in the 30s. Just beautiful. A bit early, we settled in the bar for a quick drink before being whisked off to our table, which was set off from the main dining room, a big comfy half-moon Mafia-style booth that gave a nice view of the rest of the room.
We were served some bread and a nice tapenade to start. The maître d was serving us, which at first I was a little put off by (I don’t like special treatment), but as the room filled up, he looked after the whole section. Perhaps they were short-staffed, or perhaps he is just the kind of manager that really gets stuck into it – either way, we were all looked after well.
The menu is mostly French with some British inspiration. The most important thing about it though is that everything, and I mean everything, is local. They make quite a big deal of this on the menu, which made me think it might not be that common in Leeds. Even my starter, the Pigeon with Spiced Vegetables and Bread and Bay Sauce (£7.50), I was warned twice that it was killed locally and so I should be careful of little bits of shot in the meat. How rustic. Luckily, I didn’t get any. I think pieces of leftover metal in my bird might have been a bit much.
The mild creamy bread sauce with well cooked vegetables (including some fairly tart beetroot) was a hit, but the pigeon itself was a little tough. It was the right colour – it didn’t *look* overdone – but it was really missing the tenderness that bird really needs. Of course, my last brush with pigeon was at Heston’s Dinner, so I admit I have been a bit spoiled.
Dom went with the Whisky Smoked Pork Belly and Tiger Prawns (£7.50):
I loved the streaky (American) bacon garnish on this. Salty crispy goodness. The prawns were fine and the slightly sweet sauce worked well with the dish over all, but the pork belly itself – again – just a tad overdone.
For my main, I had the Whole Plaice with Spinach and Brown Shrimp Butter (£13.95):
A stonkin’ huge portion well worth the 14 quid. The fish was delicate, flaky and the butter sauce was nice. I had this was a side of New Potatoes, which were also quite good. If I could complain about anything, it would be the skin was lacking in crispness, which while not a necessity, is always a nice perk when having this type of fish.
Dom had the Stout Braised Heather Fed Mutton with Sage Mash and Herb Dumplings (£15.95):
I’ll admit I’m not much of a mutton fan, but I found this too, to be a bit dry. The herb dumplings were nice and added a bit of much-needed moisture, but they weren’t quite large enough to do the trick.
Desserts were Warm Rice Pudding with Ginger and Rhubarb (£5.95) and Apple and Hazelnut Crumble (£5.95):
Both a good idea in theory, but they both fell short. The flavours in my rice pudding were lovely, slightly sweet, slightly tart, slightly spicy, but the rice was underdone. The crumble’s apple was perfect, but the actual crumbs were dry and tasted a bit too similar to cardboard, if you ask me.
The Malmaison Brasserie has some really great things going for it (service, style, price), but they need to step up on the not-so-little details (over/under cooked food, consistency) if they want to make it to the next level. It was a nice evening out, but next time I’m up in Leeds, I may be wondering what other restaurants are around…
Om Nom London was a guest of the Malmaison Brasserie