Monday, July 03, 2006

Dinner at Anthony's

Sat 1 Jul 2006

Saturday night was the big night - the long booked and much anticipated dinner at Anthony's.

Having already tried Anthony's for lunch, and Anthony's at Flannels for lunch, I was looking forward to adding the most significant string to the bow (afternoon tea at Flannels still on the list!).

It was a hot day in Leeds and most of the population seemed to have spent the entire afternoon in the pub watching a game of football. Fortunately, the bar at Anthony's was an absolute oasis of calm and a beer and a glass of champagne did a good job of starting the cooling down process.

Although we had both made our choices from the a la carte menu we eventually opted for the tasting menu - 7 courses (plus amuse-bouche) for £60 a head. As usual - the whole table has to opt for the tasting menu, which is OK when there's only two of you and you both eat everything. The maitre d' wasn't too keen to tell us what we'd be eating ... she said some dishes were from the main menu, some dishes weren't on the menu ... and apart from being a bit scared I'd be served tripe or lung, it was all very exciting!

The sommelier recommended drinking half bottles rather than trying to match the food with one wine. This was a very clever idea and we started with a half bottle of 2002 Gewürztraminer, R.Mure Côte de Rouffach from Alsace. I love gewurztraminer and it was a very lovely wine - incredibly aromatic and a pretty sound match for most of the food it ended up being paired with.

So ... the food ...

1. amuse-bouche: hazelnut and yeast foam, baby squid
The hazelnut and yeast foam was absolutely delicious. I ate/drank half of it before eating the squid and then returning to the foam. It would probably be the ultimate 'drink' to have before bed.

2. white onion risotto with parmesan air and espresso
This was really lovely too. The mix of parmesan, espresso and onion worked incredibly well - which shouldn't really be a surprise, since onions can be so sweet. The sweetness of the onion was really nicely cut by the tartness of the espresso and the parmesan, while balancing out the bitterness of the coffee.

3. langoustines with foie gras and cocoa muesli
Andy had to put aside his ethical issues with foie gras to munch his way through this dish ... and he survived - just - with the comment that the restaurant could serve him a 'whole bucket' of the dish! The langoustines were little fat succulent numbers and the foie gras in cocoa muesli was an absolute revelation. I love foie gras so this is not entirely balanced, however, the cocoa added a really impressive depth and richness to the liver and the muesli added a really lovely balancing crunch. The only way I can describe it is to imagine eating the best butter truffle ever, and have it be more rich and creamy, with little sweet crunchy bits on the outside. Mmmm. I think you could serve these little balls of foie gras rolled in crunchy, chocolatey stuff as a truffle with coffee and most people wouldn't know the difference.

4. home cured duck
This was also fabulous - no outrageous or unconventional combinations here - just lots of duck, both cured and also what tasted like some cold, confit duck. Plus, a lovely piece of duck crackling. At the time, this was the dish I did the most lip smacking over, but it was also the dish I managed to forget I'd eaten the next day!!!

5. John Dory with cock's crest, crispy chicken skin and parsnip puree
OK - the cock's crest was a bit scary looking - so I left it til almost last ... the combination of the John Dory, the parsnip puree and some apple rolled in pistachio nuts was absolutely brilliant. Nothing fancy had been done to the John Dory - simply pan fried, and it was delicious on its own or in combination with the puree. The cock's crest ... it looked a bit wobbly and scary ... and tasted like a big juicy piece of bacon!!! The crispy chicken skin was incredibly light and crispy, although in some ways maybe a little superfluous to the remainder of the dish.

6. saddle of lamb with quinoa and lamb's heart
The lamb was cooked absolutely faultlessly. I actually found the quinoa a little overwhelming (I'm not a huge fan anyway), so ended up eating the lamb first and quinoa second. The lamb's heart, on puree, was also very tasty (and not presented as a whole heart, in case you're squeamish).

We declined the offer of cheese (extra cost) and by this stage we were drinking a very nice gamay from Beaujolais, the
2002 Fleurie "La Madone" D Jean Marc Despres. Andy much preferred this red to the gewurztraminer.

7. seven textures of milk
Pudding number one was very ... interesting. I can't honestly say whether I liked it or not ... it was so unusual. Lumpy milk is rather alarming, even if it is sweet, and I found the milk ice-cream incredibly salty, though Andy couldn't work out what I was pulling faces at!

8. coconut parfait with liquorice and black cardamom icecream
This was the pudding Andy hoped we wouldn't get, on account of the coconut (doesn't stop him eating ANZAC biscuits!), but the parfait was delicious and covered in lightly toasted coconut. We both agreed that the icecream was delicious.

At this point we rolled ourselves up to the bar and rounded off our meal with a grappa.

As you can (hopefully) tell, we enjoyed the meal immensely. The food is absolutely fantastic and Anthony's gets put ahead of The Square on my food leaderboard. However, the service in the restaurant is really something that needs to get sorted out. Both the sommelier and the maitre d' are a credit to the restaurant (the sommelier in particular).

I felt on Saturday night the restaurant was simply understaffed - at times it even looked like the service was in chaos. Some of the staff just simply weren't up to speed - for example, we finished our first half bottle of wine just as we finished a course. I would have expected the sommelier to appear and help us choose our second bottle, which would be opened and ready to go before the next course arrived. It didn't happen. And I find this particularly amazing, since restaurants must make a lot of money on alcohol, so it must be in their interests to get you drinking!

When I asked our waitress (well, she was one of the people serving us) for the sommelier she looked a bit confused and I was left to eventually catch his eye. We ended up being served by just about every member of staff, which has the potential to add to confusion and chaos.

Another rather irksome thing is that, as seems to be quite typical in English restaurants, the food appeared to be served at lightning pace. If I'm going to enjoy 7 courses I do not want them all to come out one after another - I might want to discuss and savour my food, rather than feel that I have to shovel it down! And I certainly want to be able to go to the toilet between courses without food being delivered to my table and left to go cold! The gaps between courses, in addition to being too short, were really quite erratic, and considering that our table didn't seem to be required for a second sitting, there was just no excuse for not pacing the meal sensibly.

Service complaints aside (and I hope they don't mean the restaurant misses out on a Michelin star as the food deserves one), our dinner at Anthony's was fantastic and we were able to eat some genuinely interesting and unusual food - both in terms of raw ingredients and combinations. I challenge most diners to go to Anthony's and think 'oh well, I could have done that at home!'.

Anthony's Restaurant, 19 Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 6EA, reservations on 0113 245 5922 or through the website. For Friday or Saturday bookings you will need to book well in advance (allow 2 months).
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