Stan Graham heads to The New Conservatory for his lunch this week, where he has a three course meal for £13.95 with their special menu.
According to the online dictionary which I use, the definition of the word ‘conservatory’ is ‘a room with glass roof and walls, attached to a house at one side and used as a sun lounge or for growing delicate plants.’ There is a North American definition which is ‘an alternative word for conservatoire, an institution for teaching music.’ Why then, I wondered, was I descending a flight of steps into the cellar of a Victorian building in the heart of Leeds.
The answer was simple – for lunch of course. I had been attracted by a notice saying that there was a special menu from noon to 7 p.m. at a reasonable £10.95 for two courses and £13.95 for three. When I reached the basement I entered a large, dark room divided into a bar area and a dining room. There was a pool table discreetly tucked away at the opposite side from the eating area but no sign of either a glass sun trap or collection of delicate plants. There was the usual piped music but an absence of teaching staff. Perhaps it was half term. There were lots of books on shelves round the walls, which was a nice touch. I always have my iPad so that I can do the Telegraph crossword whilst dining alone but some other sole diners need a diversion to be provided. The good thing about the books is that they are all second hand and for sale at £1.50 each. The proceeds go into buying further tomes from the local charity shop. Win/win.
I was shown to my table, handed both the special and main menus and informed that the soup of the day was carrot and the pie, steak and mushroom. The menu had a good selection with a choice of six starters, five mains and four desserts. Although the options were cosmopolitain I went old school and ordered homemade chicken liver pate with home baked bread and chutney for starters and the aforementioned homemade steak and mushroom pie with thick cut chips and homemade gravy for main. I decided not to commit to dessert until I had finished the first two courses. It would depend on their quantity and quality. The pate was superb, soft with the consistency of thick double cream or Greek yogurt with the offal flavour making itself known above the other ingredients. The chutney was also excellent, having a fruity tang to complement the creaminess of the pate. The warm bread was light as a feather, a perfectly judged starter garnished with a piece of tomato and two dressed green leaves, one of which was chicory, something I have not seen in a restaurant for a long time. They must have known I was going old school.
Pie time. The main feature arrived without so much as a nod to one’s five-a-day. It was just as described on the menu; nothing more and nothing less. When gravy is served separately to a pie I always wonder why. My question was answered as soon as my knife broke the crust: the ramekin in which it came was absolutely solid with filling so there was simply not the room for much gravy, just enough to keep the meat within moist. It had worked admirably: the steak was succulent, being cooked but still with a hint of chewiness as it needed to be as, had it been cooked until falling apart, the mushrooms, being mini sponges, would have been more mush than room. As it was they also still had some texture. The shortcrust pastry was perfect, with a buttery taste and just the right amount of resistance to the knife. If I had to find something to whinge about it would be the chips. I have nothing against chips per se and these, as you would expect, were cooked just right, but thick cut are not my favourite as to my mind they are too big to be called chips. They never crisp up on the outside properly, and are not as tasty as roast potatoes. That is just my opinion and I knew what I was getting when I ordered.
The lunch was lubricated by a glass of Shiraz, £6.10 for 250ml. They do a smaller size glass which is good but I wasn’t driving so what the heck. It was very good, another reason for going large.
I decided to go for the dessert as I needed to see if they measured up to the high standard of the meal so far. I had a feeling that they would as each of them was accompanied by Northern Bloc ice cream. If you are going to buy a product rather than make it yourself, then buy the best and if the best is also locally produced then that is great. Ironically one of the choices on the dessert menu was ‘Old School Dessert’ which turned out to be fruit crumble, but I forsook this in favour of chocolate brownie with Northern Bloc vanilla and bourbon ice cream. Every part of the dish was excellent. A black Americano at £2.50 finished the experience, one which I would recommend you try.
Photography by Stan Graham