Normally I don't take guests anywhere I haven't eaten myself, but with new restaurants opening a-pace, I broke that rule last night and headed off to Kendell's Bistro. The Cactus Lounge is no more, and while the tables and chairs remain the same, Kendell's Bistro achieves a completely different feel and provides an utterly different experience.
The restaurant serves typical French bistro food: the type that's very good when done well and pretty awful done badly. The website gives an indication of the type of dishes (and prices), but as the menus live on large blackboards don't pick your meal in advance!
Our Kendell's experience started during the week when I rang to make a reservation. Pre-dining experiences are something I rarely mention, and I'm not sure why, as sometimes they can be so pivotal to a first impression. And, in the case of Kendell's, I was bowled over by the efficient, polite and friendly manner in which my booking was handled. So often, you ring to make a reservation and the experience is unnecessarily difficult. At Kendell's there is clearly a policy of ensuring reservations are spread out (always a good sign), so while I couldn't book for 7:30 I was offered the clear alternatives of 7:15 or 8. A very big tick, before I've even entered the restaurant.
When we did arrive, our table was ready and we were given a wine list. I'm a little undecided about the wisdom of the menus on the blackboards, as we weren't able to see all the details while sitting down. But I liked the fact that the blackboards are evidence that there's no point in printing a menu. Restaurants where the food remains the same week in-week out are somewhat soul destroying.
Menu choices were (eventually) as follows: foie gras followed by steak with Béarnaise sauce, duck fat potatoes and bacon, trout mousse with sauce Nantua followed by porc normande, salad followed by duck à l'orange, and boudin noir followed by the duck à l'orange. I was very tempted by the duck confit and I was quite disappointed that no one else chose it (for me to try). Also, the choice of meals made for tricky wine selection. There don't seem to be any wines by the glass but the wine list is good and the mark ups don't appear extortionate (I am basing this on just one bottle so I'm happy to be corrected if I'm wrong!). We chose a Caves de Turckheim pinot blanc and a beaujolais villages (my first choice was actually a Côtes du Ventoux, which probably would have gone well with my steak but been less than stellar match with pork and duck).
Despite the menu looking frighteningly large, all of our food was fantastic. My foie gras was served with brioche toast - the sweetness of the brioche cutting through the richness of the liver. The trout mousse was beautifully presented, light and very tasty. The salad was huge, with a squidgy poached egg on top. And best of all was the black pudding. It was delicious and I managed to swipe a whole piece from someone's plate!
The main courses were just as pleasing: my steak was perfectly cooked, the pork with apples was moist, and the two (large) portions of duck were polished off. We added buttered spinach, green beans and some chips. It seemed to be the potatoes that came out of the vegetable exercise best: they're all cooked in duck fat, so they come out golden, crispy and very very good.
In the interests of completeness, I managed to force myself to order (and then eat) a crème brûlée. It ticked all the boxes although I could have done with being a little less full.
By the end of the meal, I could find only two things to complain about. One was the rather intrusive music. I really liked the fact that Kendell's has chosen to have live as well as recorded music, but I think the volume (for both) needs to be turned down a notch. And that's something that can be easily fixed. And the other was that the menu could do with some solid proofreading - there's a few errors to be spotted by the eagle eyed.
If you're feeling hungry and want some good, honest French food you'd best head down to Kendell's - and if you go soon you'll get in before everyone discovers it. Actually, by now, judging by last Saturday evening, bookings are probably recommended.
1. Kendell's Bistro, St Peters Square, Leeds, LS9 8AH, phone: 0113 243 6553
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