The Dakota Deluxe serves up four-star food for Stan Graham, but on this occasion, he finds the service sadly lacking.
One of the most striking features of the regeneration of Leeds over the past fifteen or so years is the plethora of high class hotels which have opened to cater both for the business community and the large number of tourists who have put Leeds on their ‘Must See’ lists. One of this new breed is Dakota Deluxe, which has entrances on both Russell Street and Greek Street. It is one of a group of four, the other three being in Scotland. No expense appears to have been spared on the facilities and even the journey to the Cocktail Lounge where I needed to be was an occasion in itself. I was greeted by a man at reception who asked me if he could help. When I replied that I was here for Afternoon Tea he summoned a waiter, whom he introduced by name, and told him to escort me to the appropriate room. When we arrived in the plush surroundings of the Cocktail Lounge the waiter asked me where I would like to be seated and I chose a table with two swivel dining chairs rather than one with sofas. As I knew that jam and clotted cream would be involved, it was better to limit the chances of wearing my tea, rather than eating it, by sitting upright and not lounging. Although dining chairs, they were well upholstered in leather and very comfortable.
I was asked what kind of tea I would like and whether I would like a glass of tap water to accompany it. I opted for English Breakfast tea and declined the offer of water. The beverage was delivered and came in a glass teapot with the leaves in a central perforated cylinder so that I didn’t need to mess about with a strainer. The menu said that it was from Taylor’s of Harrogate so that was all right, then. The flavour was just as I like it, being on the strong side, and the leaves were quite a bit larger than normal. A separate stainless steel pot of boiling water was brought so that I could top up the teapot, a good touch being that the water was kept at a high temperature owing to the double skin of the pot. This also meant that the outside was cool enough not to scald. The tea had enough body to enable it to be watered down twice without losing too much strength.
Shortly after the tea came, the star of the show arrived: four large finger sandwiches, two scones, four cakes and a plate bearing two dishes, one each of strawberry jam and clotted cream. The foodstuffs were presented on a spectacular circular wooden stand from which I helped myself. Knowing that afternoon tea usually means that you eat more than normal, I had skipped lunch so was very much on the peckish side which was just as well. The sandwiches were sublime, being constructed from thick cut soft brown and white bread and larger than the normal finger butties. There was a plain ham, a smoked salmon and cream cheese, an egg and cress and a chicken in mayo. The fillings were just as generous as the bread: the ham came thick sliced, as did the smoked salmon, and the chicken was in large pieces cooked to perfection, being succulent and juicy rather than dry.
Having cleared the bottom shelf of the stand which was where the savouries were housed, I moved to the top to sample the scones. They were warm; one contained fruit and the other was plain. The clotted cream was dense, just as it should be, and the jam perfect. There were identifiable pieces of strawberry but they were not so big as to necessitate putting a huge lump of fruit on one scone and having nothing left for the rest. Always irritating. The four pastries on the remaining two tiers of the stand comprised a chocolate slice which looked as though it was going to be like a cheesecake but was fondant all the way through and absolutely delicious, as was the macaron next to it. The latter had been partially dipped in chocolate to create a base which meant that it could be balanced on edge to mirror the shape of the cake stand. As well as the outer pieces being made from whipped egg white and sugar, there was a strong citrus element which came bursting through, another surprise. Surprise was a word which sprang to mind yet again in the final two elements of the ensemble, a small piece of cake which seemed to be made from pistachio but had small pieces of fresh grapefruit atop, and the small pieces of candied violet on the final fondant cake whose outer elements revealed a fruit surprise in the middle. Full marks to the pastry chef.
I have a few quibbles which I would like to mention: This is a four-star hotel and so one would expect a four-star service. My first two minor moans relate to the waiter offering to hang up my overcoat when he showed me to the table, but as I was still divesting myself of it and checking that I had not left my ‘phone in the pocket, he said that he would come back to take it. It remained on the spare seat throughout the meal. I also had to request the pot of hot water to replenish my teapot. Neither of these is a capital offence, but neither is what I would expect from an exclusive hotel. If they were minor points, my third is far more serious.
I had checked the Afternoon Tea section of the website before I called, and saw that the wine to accompany the food was Hattingley Valley English Sparkling Wine Classic Cuvee priced at £15 for two glasses. I asked if this was available by the single glass, but after consulting the barman, the waiter returned to say that it was only available in twos. I hate all forms of discrimination and so to be refused a glass of wine because I was dining alone really spoilt the occasion. I am used to the anti-single thing in restaurants and in some cases can understand it, for instance in the case of a Chateaubriand steak, the cut being far too big for one. The specially marinated joints of lamb in Indian restaurants are a similar case. I have doubts about Chinese banquets being for a minimum of two people as I’m sure that everything except the duck and pancakes can be downsized. After all, many restaurants seem to be pushing ‘small plates’these days.
Try as I might, I cannot understand the two drink rule here, which also applies to the associate cocktail on the menu. The wonderful taste in my mouth left by the food was soured by this aspect of the service. If I thought I couldn’t be more annoyed, when I came home I looked at the Dakota Deluxe website wine list, where one glass of Hattingley is available for £8. There were no menus on my table at the Dakota and I saw no need to ask for one as I knew what to expect from having read the detail on the website, and I didn’t feel inclined to have anything other than the associated wine. Why, then, was I left to feel uncomfortable for dining alone, when the barman could have told the waiter that I could have a single glass for £8, only 50p more than the menu price, and that the price for two was a promotion, rather than a policy.
Summing up Afternoon Tea at Dakota Deluxe Hotel, I would say that the food is exemplary but the service and pricing leave an awful lot to be desired.
Photographs by Stan Graham