The Ellington, Leeds – Restaurant Review
A new boutique art deco hotel in the heart of Leeds’s business district hosts an elegant restaurant with an Albert Roux designed menu. Matt Callard asks, do the best things still come in small packages?
So often it’s the little things. I know at least two, let’s call them discerning, dining companions who’ve had good meals spoiled by an un-ironed tablecloth (wobbly glass of red wine, anyone?). And there’s one fairly decent and recent foodie experience that I will never be repeating due to some hideous background music. Jean Michel-Jarre? Unforgivable. Conversely, an under-whelming three-courser can be saved by charming service and a bright atmosphere.
The Ellington looks perfectly formed. The small, stylish dining room nestles underneath the foyer of a truly plush and modern hotel in the Leeds money-zone. It promises much – pretty Italian lighting, hushed reverence, immaculate presentation. Maybe that’s the problem. All the ingredients for genuine excellence are in place. So why are some of those crucial small things conspicuous by their absence?
And it all starts, not with a smile, but a handshake. Small problem 1: this type of officious maître d’ over-formality might be fine in Monte Carlo, but it’s unsuitable for Leeds. Feeling at home yet? Not quite.
“Menu is neatly sparse with good intelligent options”
The menu too, mouth-wateringly heavy with Albert Roux Gallic influence, is full of potential. Neatly sparse with good intelligent options. But then, post-ordering, small problem 2. There’s a bottle of water on the table and in-between every sip (and I mean every sip), service tops up my glass. Like I say, it’s a small point (and a personal bugbear of mine) but the drinks (especially pre-service) are crucial for interaction with your companion. They are clinking props, adding punctuation to the early exchanges and vital in shaping the evening’s table atmosphere. Please, I know it’s what service trains to do. But I’ll fill my own glass. At least some of the time. And don’t make me ask you to stop topping me up, because then I’ve become the customer from hell. And honestly, I’m not.
First world problems, eh?
So the starters – a Braised Rabbit Terrine with Mustard Jelly is delicious, well seasoned, well-presented. But it’s also inexplicably enormous and accompanied by two tiny, tiny slivers of toast. A couple of decent scrapings and the toast is gone and you’re left with a great mound of uneaten Terrine looking lost and lonely on the plate. So, small problem 3 – attention to detail. Albert Roux, we know you are here somewhere in spirit, but you would never allow this in one of your own restaurants.
“All the little things all in place”
Mains. My companion’s duck could not have been better cooked (and duck is tricky, right?) but her smoked cassoulet beans (fairly easy, yes?) are clumsily overdone, too soft and too dry. My cod is perfect, succulent, gentle (takes genuine skill) but it rests on a watery risotto with under-plump rice (a schoolboy error in culinary terms) and the stock has run into and merged with a vibrant green puree before I’ve even had a mouthful. Confusion reigns. Yes, the big things are good, it’s just those pesky small things again (numbers 4 & 5).
Then of course, just as our hopes and expectations have become low, we are treated to a pair of spectacular desserts. A Tarte Tartin with flecked Vanilla Ice Cream resting on a beautiful buttery base and a creamy macaron that just ‘gives’ to the bite in that strangely indefinable manner that it should. Look here, all the little things all in place, all in harmony. Wonderful.
The Ellington has only been active three months but it boasts such illustrious credentials that diners can’t help but attach big expectations to it. Which is why we’ve a right to bemoan the absence of these little things. This remains a highly promising venture, with genuine excellence so frustratingly close to their grasp. We look forward to a second visit, where one hopes the small things are, like the immaculate tablecloths, smoothly ironed out.
Expect to pay about £50 for three courses.
The Ellington, 23-25 York Place, Leeds
Editor’s Update: The Ellington was put up for sale about a year after this review. The New Ellington replaced it about 18-months later.