A few weeks ago I attended a lecture on astrophysics which explained the origins and current condition of the Universe. It answered a lot of the questions I had never thought of asking.
Last night at Arts I uncovered a secret which has been preying on my mind for quite some time now and I feel much better for it. I’ve had to wrestle with this problem for ages so I don’t see why you should be put out of your misery straight away so I’ll come back to this later.
I was recently told that Art’s Cafe in Call Lane had closed down, which came as a shock as I’ve been there twice to write reviews and it’s been busy on both occasions. It has also been a landmark on the food map of Leeds for years, so I thought it was there to stay. Having reviewed restaurants for a few years now, I always fear the worst when an establishment closes, but thankfully this time the closure had only been for refurbishment of the premises and a change to the ownership structure, with a couple of new partners joining the team so, instead of it being the end, it is just the beginning of the next chapter.
When I arrived at 6.45pm the place was already buzzing, with most of the tables on the lower level filled and two long tables on the raised part at the rear set for a couple of large parties. Christmas crackers were in evidence and, sure enough, before too long the seats were taken and crackers pulled. I was seated at a small table in this section, so could celebrate the Festive Season by osmosis, absorbing the fun atmosphere exuding from the celebrations.
I was presented with a glass of iced tap water without having to ask, as well as the menu. I was pleased to see that the front of house manager was still in charge so I knew that I would be well looked after, and so I was. I ordered a glass of Romanian Pinot Noir at £7.70 for 250ml. This was a good example which had the spicy notes one would expect, along with the fruit, and just the thing for the items I had seen on the menu which appealed. I was told that there was a special of the day which sounded amazing but, as I was working, I opted for permanent items on the menu which would be available should you call, and why wouldn’t you?
For my main course I had my eye on the Stiffado, which is a bit rich so I thought that a lighter starter would be in order: whipped goats cheese and black truffle oil mousse, marinated globe artichokes, Jerusalem artichoke crisps and olive jam seemed to fit the bill very well, so that is what I chose, and at £5.95 it also seemed a bargain. When it arrived it was more than a bargain as it was not only superbly made and presented, but also the combination of textures and flavours was excellent. The mousse was as light as a feather but full of the distinctive taste of goats cheese with a hint of truffle oil. The olive jam was a revelation and, when eaten with the mousse, provided a wonderful sweet and savoury combination. The globe artichoke was delicious and, because it was marinated, the outer leaves had been removed so there was not much waste. In addition to the crisps, which again were very light and flavoursome, providing yet another texture, there were some leaves which had been enhanced with what tasted like a pickle flavoured dressing, again wonderful.
When I had ordered the Mediterranean beef Stiffado stew with red wine, peppers, olives, tomatoes and soft herbs, braised root vegetables and fennel, £17.95, I was asked if I would like a side dish. I requested fries at £3.50 but was afraid this enquiry might mean that we were dealing with fancy plates of food which did nothing to sate a normal appetite. Wrong again! The portion and presentation was superb and just the thing for a December evening in Leeds. Although it is a Greek dish it is hearty and perfect for chilly weather, I don’t think that holidaymakers who visit that part of the world realise that the temperature in Athens regularly drops below freezing in the winter. The beef was cooked to perfection; tender but still retaining a bite rather than being stringy like pulled pork. The peppers and vegetables deliciously bulked out the dish and the olives added a salty flavour. The only thing I would have expected to see but which wasn’t there was cinnamon. The fries, which had now become superfluous, were delicious, and so perfectly cooked that I ate them all anyway. They came with aioli whose garlic content was discernible but just on the right side of antisocial.
As I stated earlier, I was working, therefore it would have been remiss of me not to have ordered dessert. Chocolate seems to be prevalent in this section of the menu so I chose vanilla and blood orange cheesecake with milk chocolate cream at £5.50. I feared that this might be a bit rich and heavy but guess what? Wrong yet again. This delight arrived in a dish and was not the usual slice of cake but a ‘proper’ dessert brilliantly presented. The milk chocolate cream had been whipped and formed to look like ice cream as had the orange flavoured cream cheese, with the biscuit base lurking at the bottom. It was decorated with fruit and leaves and the whole thing tasted great. I accompanied it with a black Americano.
I am so pleased, not only that this iconic cafe and restaurant is still in the rudest of health, but it is also still displaying works by local artists on a six-week rotation. In fact, I think that it is better now than it has ever been, but then I suppose that was the point.
Finally, the secret of the Universe which was revealed? The signage has been replaced and all of the mentions of Arts, whether on the outside, the inside or the menus are all minus the apostrophe. When I have called before, sometimes it was written as Arts and sometimes Art’s which confused me as to whether it was an art cafe or a place owned by a chap called Art. I can now sleep easy after having my mind put at rest and being in that wonderful state of contentment only a great meal can induce.