I made a note the other day that Room on Boar Lane was holding a Great Winter Sale. I guess if I'd been serious about celebrating Australia Day I would have been at an Australian theme pub furiously singing various Cold Chisel songs ... but I didn't quite manage to get that organised, so dinner at Room it was!
We started off with drinks in the bar - a Cusquena (Peruvian beer) for Andy and a French 71 for me. A French 71 is a champagne cocktail - champagne, sloe gin, and pureed raspberries. Ordering a champagne cocktail (with the exception of a rare Kir Royale or an even rarer raspberry bellini) is a bit of a novelty for me and while this was nice I think I'd prefer to stick with the straight champagne.
We moved to our table and perused the very retro menu. It is quite extensive, and while it features dishes with which most will be overly familiar, we actually found it quite difficult to narrow down our choices.
I wavered between the pate (foie gras and chicken liver) and the fish cake, while Andy opted immediately for the surf and turf. I managed to make a decision in favour of the fish cake and decided on the chicken kiev for a main course, while Andy took my first preference - the grilled sirloin, with bearnaise sauce.
Andy was disappointed in his starter, as it was unexpectedly cold. The scallop (reasonably decent sized) sat atop a pile of noodles and was flanked by two small pieces of cold, very rare beef. The presentation was good, but the fresh horseradish was lacking. A bit of deconstruction at the table, and we decided that it could have been cleverer to have the noodle salad on the side, while the scallop could have been grilled, hot and halved, and layered with the beef (perhaps even raw beef, carpaccio style) smeared with the horseradish.
On the starter front, I definitely 'won'. My fish cake was topped with a good robust chunk of smoked salmon. One of my favourite things is big pieces of smoked salmon, rather than anaemic little slivers, so we were off to a good start. The fish cake itself was made from rice, smoked salmon and fresh dill, rolled in breadcrumbs and fried. It would have been very good, had it not (I suspect) sat on the pass a little too long, or perhaps been fried in less than roaringly hot oil. The result was that while the cake was crisp, it was a little oily and tactile in the mouth. Rather bizarrely, the dish was accompanied by a dollop of what appeared to be a pickled onion jam. Which was delicious. But didn't go well with either the salmon or the fish cake.
Main courses followed hotly on the heels of the starters. Andy's piece of sirloin was ragged looking, but actually cooked approaching rare. I say this because my definition of rare is meat that is translucent and wobbles in the middle, and this appears to be a rather more French than English approach. But at least when he poured the bearnaise sauce over the meat the juices ran red, and the meat was succulent and tender. The steak was served with chips (sorry, 'fries') which, while they got a tick, Andy has commented that they didn't approach the 'twice cooked deliciousness' of the chips served with steak at Anthony's at Flannels! This is actually relevant because, from recollection, they charge about the same amount for their steak ...
My chicken kiev took a twist on the conventional crumbed, stuffed with garlic butter and deep fried approach - and instead was a leg portion, sliced through and stuffed with butter, and then topped with a garlic, parsley laden crumb. I very much enjoyed it. It was served with fried mashed potatoes (never wrong) and gently sweated onions.
At the end of the day, with our Winter Sale discount, we paid £44 for the meal, which we thought was good value. But if we'd been faced with the actual bill (which would have been £64, as the discount was on food only) we might have been a little less enthusiastic.
On the plus sides, Room has very efficient service, the staff clearly know what they're doing and they don't make mistakes. This might be too efficient for some (which, we all know, is me most of the time!), but you can't fault people for knowing their job. In addition, the Room wine list is quite extensive and offers a very good range of wines by the glass. It's a very fashionable environment in which to have a competent meal.
However, I do feel that by opting for such a strictly retro menu (and yes, there is no deviation) the restaurant has set itself a challenge it does not meet. The food is technically competent and there's nothing wrong with it but it's not brilliant, which it needs to be to ... after all, how special is it to go out and eat food you could do very simply at home? Especially at what is quite a steep price tag. Main courses are all £15 (there are 4 vegetarain/pasta mains at £10.50) - and that is a lot of money for fish and chips, chicken kiev or a piece of steak.
It is interesting that Room also hosts a monthly wine club where the menu is considerably more exciting - perhaps it's the opportunity the brigade needs to flex its muscles.
Overall, Room does get a thumbs up - it's a good bar, the bar menu looks interesting enough to repay a visit, and there are enough special offers (all mains are £7 before 7pm) to make it worth a foray. Just not at full price.
1. Room, Bond House, The Bourse Courtyard, Boar Lane, Leeds, LS1 5DE, phone: 0113 242 6161 Stumble It!