Stockdales is not alone in offering a salubrious environment and a reposeful ambience of course, but what it also displays, perhaps more candidly than you might expect, is an unashamed passion for the raw materials it is working with and how much you should enjoy them; because you will.
The stately entrance to Stockdales has retained the imposing air that previous occupants of the building – Sam’s Chophouse – exuded, but inside there is a charming mix of gentrification and urbane cool. Immediately you are met by an ice sculpture of a cow, lit up like a celestial being for us meat-worshippers to show reverence. The bar area is brick-lined with the bar itself now moved from the right hand side to a more central position, creating a lively chatter zone separate to one of the ground floor dining areas around the corner. The building has undergone a £1.2 million re-fit but still has a multi-level, airy feel to it with high arched windows, tiled floors and padded leather seating, which combine to offer spacious freedom and intimate warmth as appropriate. This is helped by the refined and studious Gentleman’s Club feel to the wood-panelled walls and separate dining rooms on the ground floor level, but it is downstairs where the true goalpost-moving ethics behind Stockdales long-anticipated move into the restaurant game can be seen.
The entire left wall, as you enter the basement level, is a chilled glass-fronted cabinet exhibiting the prize raw cuts of meat you are about to devour; rump, fillet, racks, ribeyes, the lot. There is an arresting sense of theatre to it, and a sincerity about what is simply a display of love, and there seems little point hiding from the fact that meat is what Stockdales do well. A school of thought suggests this open worship should be paraded upstairs, but apart from maybe turning off the non-meat-eaters that will frequent the restaurant, there is an engaging sense of coyness that maintains a spark in every loving relationship.
Downstairs, Stockdales have cleverly utilised space not used by previous occupants. A 10-seater private dining area, chef’s table and round-the-wall settings all look out on the open kitchen where the magic is prepared. We spent 30 minutes talking to Anthony Flinn about his restaurant experience in Leeds and how he is guiding the Stockdales team through their opening few months. As he talks, dishes are served up which openly demonstrate the passion he and head chef Jonathan Elvin – himself a veteran of Claridges amongst others, and Michelin-standard training – have instilled into the menu.
Star of the show is the Wagyu beef, which we eat as shaved pieces sprinkled with Parmesan. The meat literally melts in the mouth and leaves a taste you wish would last forever. The Wagyu beef is central to Stockdales recipe for success. They have been rearing this Japanese breed of cattle privately in Pocklington in the Yorkshire Wolds for decades, supplying what is generally regarded as the best meat in the world to 120 Michelin-starred restaurants all over Europe. Thankfully, they have finally been persuaded to cut out the middle man and serve the finest cuts of meat themselves, to their own standards and using their own local sources and bountiful local knowledge.
Finally taking the plunge with their own restaurant gives Stockdales a personality, and on first glance it will certainly define them in line with their promise to re-write the rule book. Anthony leads us into the kitchen itself and shows us the Jospur Oven. It looks small and unassuming from the outside but when opened up we see the charcoals burning at up to 480˚C and searing the meat expertly and with a tender touch. Anthony tells us there are only three such ovens in Leeds, and you begin to understand the attention-to-detail and commitment to quality on display at Stockdales.
The Wagyu beef is the most expensive on the menu, with steaks ranging from £35.50 to £40.50, but hearing about the care and attention the high-maintenance cattle receive in order to generate such quality, it is not surprising that the divas of the steak world demand a high price.
Elsewhere, the menu is reasonably-priced. A Wagyu beef burger will set you back only £14, and steaks from other cuts of beef are priced more according to what you would expect. Fish and vegetarian dishes are also budget-friendly, but what is most pleasing about Stockdales, and identifies them as a wholesome operation lacking in an off-putting exclusivity, is the children’s menu. Simple dishes done well, and not trying to make kids something they are not. My one mild complaint was regarding the gin-cured salmon; not the delicate taste and beautiful texture we enjoyed, but the fact they had used a Scottish gin and not one of the growing number of excellent Yorkshire-distilled gins. Anthony promised to address this one flaw in their locally-sourced policy.
Having sampled Stockdales, Leeds’ diners may wonder why the organisation hasn’t taken this bold step into the restaurant world before now, given the effortless manner in which they have delivered on such a grand scale. It is the right building, with the right people and at the right time: quality re-defined and there for all to see.