Monday, July 10, 2006


Sat 8 Jul 2006

Some friends are moving to Bermuda (yes, some people have all the luck) and we managed to catch up with them on Saturday night before they head off. Where should we take them to dinner? We were keen to ensure Leeds impressed, but we'd done Anthony's the weekend before. We drew up a short list, offered our guests a choice of cuisines and Livebait was decided upon.

For a start - it's a fish restaurant, so if you don't like (or are allergic to) things piscatorial, it pretty much rules this out as a venue. The restaurant is part of the Groupe Chez Gerard, so you'll also find Livebaits in Manchester and London (Waterloo, Covent Garden and Fetter Lane). The Leeds restaurant has a bar attached, which is useful to know if you're running early. The service is efficient, and we arrived on a Saturday night at 1930 (for a 1930 booking) and were seated straight away - which is always a good start.

I actually found the menu a little short - not in terms of dishes but in terms of inspiration. Also, given that this is a fish restaurant I think it would be really useful if they focussed a bit more on sustainable fish and indicated those fish that had come from sustainable stocks. Little rant over.
Andy and I originally chose the same dishes for starter and main, but a bit of negotiation later meant that I traded the starter while he traded the main. I started with the Cornish squid in tempura batter with chilli sauce. The squid was fine - tender and not rubbery and while there was nothing wrong with the batter I don't know that I'd put it in the 'tempura' league (perhaps they should visit Chino Latino for an example). The 2 chilli sauces were pretty disappointing - both very standard sweet chilli sauces - one with 'bits' in and one smooth. Both really a bit too unsubtle to go with squid, too. I suspect someone in the kitchen might have been a bit better off mixing a bit of fish sauce, vinegar and chilli to produce a dipping sauce ...

Andy started with the whitebait which were served with tzatziki, which I thought was a really refreshing change to a heavy aioli or mayonnaise based sauce. The little fishies were tasty - quite well cooked and very small. Mmmm ...

Our guests had crab cakes and prawns and polished them all off so we assume that it was satisfactory.

On to the main courses and I chose the seabass with chilli crab on noodles with hoi sin sauce. While eating seabass per se isn't bad it is one of those fish that rather depends on how it's caught. Now, if you are in a restaurant with friends (or work mates) how likely are you really to start quizzing your waiter about the fish's provenance? You're not. And I think that's why a restaurant, especially one which specialises in fish, has a responsibility to give its diners as much information as possible. Ethical dilemmas aside the fish was lovely - just simply pan fried, but I was pretty unconvinced by the rest of the dish. I should disclose I'm not particularly partial to hoi sin, though the sauce was used as a light dressing and didn't adversely affect the overall taste. The chilli crab mix was pretty dull and the noodles were ... well, just egg noodles.

Andy had the fish tagine which certainly looked and smelled very good, although not hugely fragrant. The tagine came with a good helping of mussels, and a small portion of couscous. Our guests ate the seabass with noodles as well as a huge portion of cod with mash.

My overriding impression of the food was that it was OK although certainly nothing to get excited about. Since I also ate fish for lunch on Sunday I have to say that the dinner really suffered for being sandwiched between two really outstanding fish meals. I wasn't really expecting Livebait to equal the fish I ate at Anthony's last weekend but at the same time it would have been nice!

I didn't get to have dessert ... everyone else seemed to be replete. As usual, the meal passed in record time - no time to linger and chat.

I'd recommend Livebait if you're entertaining conservative eaters. Just make sure you get your wallet size 'fish to eat' guide from Fish Online first!

Livebait, Shears Yard, The Calls, LS2 7EH, phone: 0113 244 4144.
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