Sous Le Nez, Leeds – Restaurant Review
By Matt Callard
Before heading to Sous Le Nez, I first had to look it up. Twice. Once to find out where it was (my famous back-of-the-hand knowledge of Leeds deserting me) and once more to find out what the hell it meant (my infamous bottom-of-a-paper-cup knowledge of French rediscovering me).
For those as challenged as I am with GCSE level foreign language, it means ‘under the nose’, and you can’t help but think the owners (21 years of independence and counting) are having a quiet in-joke at the restaurant’s inconspicuous location. Tucked away below ground level, around the corner of the red brick building that also houses Quebecs Hotel just off Leeds’s City Square, you could hardly say the restaurant has a banners waving, neon flashing, trumpets blaring come-and-eat-here-or-regret-it-forever attitude when it comes to broadcasting their presence to the hungry masses. Anyhow, I’m reliably informed their location means there are some pretty strict limitations on what they can actually do with signage anyway.
So it’s a casual Gallic shrug to the vagaries of point-of-sale promotion and, instead, an old-fashioned reliance on word-of-mouth, reputation and damn fine food. Remember when food was the most important factor when you were trying to sell a restaurant?
So it is with some surprise that we find service buzzing and tables busy on a thoroughly unpleasant midweek evening. Seems there’s a regular fan base already in tow. Looks like a promising prospect for good food, then – although it’s not a foolproof principle. I’ve recently sat in some terrific restaurants that have been depressingly empty. A result, no doubt, of this infernal recession biting deeper and deeper into the industry.
Yes, it’s a tough old restaurant game at the moment, and it was a pleasure to see Sous Le Nez doing so well whilst also keeping things so admirably simple: nice, uncluttered dining area; excellent, unfussy, part-French service; classic, well-honed menu. The wine list looked good too, including a tipple from renowned ‘King of Beaujolais’ Georges Duboeuf. So far so good, then.
Starters of French Onion Soup and a Roast French Black Pudding with a Parsnip Puree were terrific. The soup deep and rich and exactly the sort of example of well-crafted, classic French cooking you’d hope for from a (supposedly) classic French restaurant. The black puddings were a special ingredient, easily justifying the owners shipping them in on a weekly basis from Paris. They came on a sweet apple jus, which offered the right balance of sweet to the pudding’s iron strength and depth of flavour.
Service throughout the night was well-timed and unobtrusive but not without the requisite due care and attention (and this coming from someone who was recently so irritated by over-fussy staff at one Indian restaurant, he made a mark on a napkin every time someone asked if everything was ok – a little pompous of him certainly, but he still nearly got to double figures before he got bored with the exercise).
Mains really tested out the skills of the kitchen. The fish of the day, a lovely pristine white Dover Sole, was expertly cooked – delicate but firm and seasoned to perfection. But the star of this particular show was a great and generous slab of venison. A troublesome meat to cook well if the ingredient isn’t top notch in the first place and proper preparation is essential. But this was simply delicious, melt-in-the-mouth stuff. And I would have paid good money to get my hands on the recipe for the aniseed jus. It managed to cut beautifully across the meat’s deep and heavy flavour. All sides, from greens to potatoes, also delivered.
Desserts weren’t quite in the same league. A dinky trio of nougat, lemon tart and reinvented Black Forest gateau looked spectacular but hardly complemented each other. Plus, it was hard to get the sticky nougat out of your teeth once you’d bitten into it. Which kind of ruined the other dishes.
It might have taken me some time to become acquainted with Sous Le Nez. But it seems like I’m the one who has been missing out for these last 21 years. What a relief it is that some restaurant recipes for success can still rely on good food, good recommendations and a good reputation to do their talking for them.
We took the early bird option – our 3 courses and half bottle of wine cost £24.95 per person.
Sous Le Nez
The Basement, Quebec House, Quebec Street, LEEDS, LS1 2HA
0113 244 0108