Before we start I have to point out that this is a post about a little trip that took place at the end of June. It's not that I particularly want to reinforce our reputation for infrequent postings, I just don't want you to think I'm indulging in multi-course tasting menus every other meal. Sometimes literally days pass between such blow-outs.
The plan was hatched by foodie chums Gavin and Anny, who spotted a cheap rail fare deal to Leeds and thought they'd take advantage by making a return trip to Anthony's. Gavin, incidentally, has been described by our friends over at Dos Hermanos as one of the scariest people on the planet, and, while I think this is probably something of an exaggeration, it's telling that when he offered Howard and me the chance to take a trip up north, neither of us felt we were being made an offer we could realistically refuse...
Actually, it was never an offer we were going to turn down anyway. Anthony's has had a loyal following among food fans for some time and it was only its relatively remote location that had stopped us popping along before. Its reputation is for cutting edge cuisine, of the kind espoused by Heston Blumenthal at The Fat Duck, but perhaps without the extreme party tricks, and certainly in a no-nonsense Yorkshire environment. Head chef Anthony Flinn has worked with Ferran Adria at El Bulli, and this is the kind of CV guaranteed to get Howard's attention. OK, mine too.
The consistent refrain among fans of Anthony's – and they are legion – is that it has been unfairly overlooked by the Michelin people, who have steadfastly refused to give it a coveted star. On the evidence of my first trip, I think I can see both sides of the argument. More worrying was Anny's comment that the place had lost its wow factor and her conviction that they had become disillusioned with the quest and given up on their search for star-dom.
Things started off really promisingly. We'd popped into a pub near the station for a quick pint to be greeted by a fantastic poster for a forthcoming beer and cheese festival "with pork pies"! Upon arrival in the restaurant we'd sat down in the upstairs waiting and smoking area (there were still two days to go before the ban) to be welcomed warmly with menus and aperitifs. Downstairs into the comfortable basement dining room and the first minor irritant came. Actually not that minor: muzak. What appeared to be some sort of Radio 2 shuffle added 'atmosphere' rather too loudly throughout the meal. Oh dear.
The food, though, kicked off very promisingly. Some good bread and no less than three different butters and then the tasting menu, decent value at £60 for eight courses, began with a small bowl of brown shrimp with pistachio powder over which a smooth potato and garlic soup was poured at the table. This promised much, as did the white onion risotto with Parmesan foam and espresso powder (a signature dish and a worthy one at that). A single scallop followed, beautifully cooked and topped off with candy floss, which helped bring out the sweetness of the scallop but was (as with full scale candy floss) a little hard to eat.
Another pleasing combination came in the form of crab with Jabugo ham, cucumber and peanut foam, but with the following course things started to jar a bit. The John Dory fillet was excellent and the broad bean granite was well judged if a bit of an icy shock to the system. The addition of "chicken popcorn", however, didn't really work. It turned out to be just popcorn and some tiny rolls of rather bland chicken with some sort of mousse inside. It was not clear what this was supposed to be adding to the dish.
The final main course was sous vide pork with honey jelly, cured chitterlings, crispy pigs ear, sage macaroons and elderflower foam, and wasn't nearly as scary as it sounds. As with the previous dish there were lots of different things going on but overall this was far more successful. The pork was very dense but yielded well and was full of flavour. I wasn't completely convinced by the foam, which came in a shot glass in the middle of the plate.
Two puddings followed: a "pear crumble", which turned out to be a whole poached pear that had been crisped up with a light, doughnutty batter, was served with a fantastic smoked brie ice cream; and some balls of chocolate and (I think) fennel mousse with more of the peanut foam that had been somewhat underwhelming with the crab and ham. Both offered interesting contrasts and interplays between sweet and savoury, very much in keeping with the rest of the menu.
We followed with a good selection of 11 cheeses between us. The lack of a trolley or any other way to view the cheese rankled a bit, especially as the waiter didn't really give the impression of understanding our questions about the cheeses that were in the best condition. But the resulting plateful was very pleasing and good fun to share.
On the admittedly slim evidence of one lunch I can see why people think Anthony's deserves a Michelin star – it undoubtedly serves exciting and innovative food in a professional and pleasing environment – but I can also see a few reasons why the Michelin folks might disagree. Apart from the hideous muzak, there was were dishes where perhaps things were played a bit safe, and others where there seemed to be innovation for the sake of innovation, resulting in plates that just didn't quite work.
I've certainly had less interesting and satisfying meals in places that have been given a star, but I don't think any of us will be rushing back to Leeds, however cheap the ticket may be. Except maybe for pies.
Anthony's, 19 Boar Lane, Leeds LS1 6EA 0113 245 5922