CORA describes itself as ‘a contemporary bake house, dining room and wine cellar’. The bakery element is clear as soon as you enter – A glass cabinet displays cakes, plates of croissants stand on the counter, and behind is a shelf stacked with artisan bread. The wine list is extensive and we were to discover that the dining is delicious.
The all-female team of senior chefs is led by Masterchef semi-finalist Liz Cottam. Liz is also the co-founder of Michelin-recommended restaurant HOME and Kirkgate market’s gastropub The Owl. Both of these are City Centre operations. Here, Liz has decamped to the leafier setting of Boston Spa.
CORA specialises in tasting menus, unusually offering an option for all times of the day: morning, lunch, afternoon tea and evening. These are priced from £30 for the morning menu to £65 per person for the evening. I like the idea that you can celebrate a special occasion here at any time of day, but I’d noticed their bargain £27 four-course lunch menu.
Booking is recommended for a la carte dining and compulsory for tasting menus. A few people were walk-ins during our visit, but they tended to order coffee and cake. There were also customers for take-away bread, coffee and patisserie. A deposit is required when you book. I know that some people find this an imposition but with a restaurant that uses high end ingredients, it makes perfect sense to me. The amount required as a deposit varies according to the value of the meal to be consumed. For lunch it was £10 per person, rising to £45 per person for the evening tasting menu. A deposit can also be a useful way to spread the cost of an expensive meal.
The lunch menu is a la carte. If you opt for the £27 set menu you can choose a starter, main and dessert and will also receive a ‘Chef’s Snack.’ If you order separately, starters and desserts are £8 and mains are £14, so a good deal before you factor in the added snack. The chef’s snack on the day I visited was half a croissant stuffed with confit duck, cherry and pistachio. This was probably the best croissant I have ever eaten. The exterior was crisp, the centre soft and buttery and the filling was sublime.
For starters, I ordered the Beetroot Salad. The roast beetroot had an intense flavour that was complimented well by creamy goats cheese. Just one note of caution: If you are a vegetarian this dish is not for you. The intense flavour has been achieved by roasting in lamb fat. The two other starter choices are vegetarian but there was no vegetarian option on the main list. If you don’t eat meat or fish it is a good idea to make this clear when booking. The kitchen can clearly produce vegetarian options as they advertise vegetarian tasting menus, but if you are vegetarian I would recommend advising them of this when booking.
My companion ordered the Cauliflower and Tunwith Cheese. The cauliflower had kept its crunch but was nicely caramelised on the outside. The sauce was rich and the truffle shavings added extra earthy notes.
For mains, he went for the Duck Pastilla and I selected the Chicken and Mushroom.
The duck was soft and rich, contrasting well with the crispy filo pastry. The Chicken and Mushroom was pervaded by earthy mushroom flavour and accompanied by a whole range of wild mushrooms. Alongside this dish were two slices of truffle marbled ciabatta served with chicken fat butter. I didn’t realise until I looked at the menu later that only the chicken was advertised as being served with bread. We had automatically shared a slice each. If I had eaten both then I would have struggled with dessert.
The starters and mains were fairly small portions, although the richness of the dishes means that you wouldn’t want a large amount. They also need to be measured in order to leave room for dessert. The dessert menu consists of the cakes on display at the counter. The portion size here is generous.
I ordered the Blooming Rosie, an inspired take on a lemon meringue pie. A large crisp tart is filled with caramel, then citrus custard, soft French meringue and topped with a zingy lime curd. Absolutely delicious. My partner, an avowed chocoholic, went for the Caramel Carrot Chocolate cake, which he declared very chocolatey.
The dining room décor is contemporary and clean without being cold. The palette is predominantly grey with brown tones. The numerous hanging lamps add warmth and help lower the ceiling height. I enjoyed the sound track that accompanied our meal. Too often I find that the music chosen in restaurants distracts rather than adds to the meal. I was pleased to note that food and sound seemed to compliment each other here.
The service was impeccable. We were given small breaks between courses but orders were taken quickly. Dishes were explained well and one of the staff helped me decide when I was torn between desserts. We ordered a glass of house wine each but, as the day was young, mainly drank water. As soon as our water glasses became low they were immediately refilled.
I decided to add some bread to take home. A fig and hazelnut loaf went well with cheese for supper as we didn’t need a large meal after our extensive lunch. The bill came to a reasonable £77 for lunch for two, including two glasses of wine, two cappuccinos and the bread.
Before heading back to Leeds we strolled around Boston Spa, admiring the historic buildings and enjoying the autumn sunshine. I wondered why I don’t come to Boston Spa to eat more often. There are other eating options: pubs, tapas and Italian, the parking is free and there is plenty of opportunity to walk off some calories.
CORA is at 162 High Street, Boston Spa, Leeds, LS23 6BW
Photography by Debbie Rolls.