I don't do restaurant reviews* very often. There are probably a number of reasons for this, which I'm not going to bore you with right now. However, I think the main reason that I don't do many restaurant reviews, other than the fact that nobody asks me to, is that we rarely get the chance to eat in the kind of restaurants that I would like to review. Most of our meals out take the form of Saturday lunch while shopping. We frequent some good family friendly pubs and restaurants in Leeds but we're never there long enough to really get stuck into the menus.
Last month we had that rarest of things, a babysitter. Z's Mum was visiting for the weekend and kindly offered to look after R so that we could have some "us time". Not going out often left us with a dilemma, where to eat. Leeds is awash with restaurants that we haven't eaten in. A lot of them have had glowing reviews. Some of them have so much hype that I feel like I have eaten there already. Others have opened their doors and gone about the business of serving good food, without all of the bells and whistles that grand openings insist upon. In the end we chose to go back to an old favourite, a place where we would spend more time if we had the time to spend, Kendell's.
Kendell's Bistro, on St Peter's Square, opened in 2007 and has been selling excellent French bistro food ever since. I wouldn't say that we had been regular visitors since then. In fact, it was a couple of years after they opened that we first found out that Kendell's even existed. However, we fell in love with the restaurant on our first visit, which is why we have kept going back.
As always we faced the perennial problem of what to choose. When faced with the kind of menu that Kendell's provide, that decision is doubly hard. In all honesty I could happily have eaten everything that was on offer. I passed on the binoculars as I had a great view of the floor to ceiling blackboard that acts as the only menu in the restaurant and started to deliberate.
By the time our pre dinner drinks arrived we had made our choices. To start I chose Escargot (snails) and Z went for Coque St. Jacque (scallops). I'd only had snails once before in France and to be honest I hadn't been impressed. My overriding memory of that occasion was eating overly garlicked rubber balls. I know a lot of people who would have never chosen snails again but I had a feeling that Kendell's wouldn't have anything on their menu that wasn't worth eating.
I was right. Although served in the same ubiquitous white porcelain snail dish with plenty of garlic butter, that was where the similarity ended. This dish of snails was topped with a pastry lid so the snails steamed in the garlic butter and avoided a bouncy send off. Z's scallops were just as perfectly cooked but served in a less traditional manner. Rather than being served in the shell, topped with mashed potato and cheese these were served shell-less with micro-greens and shards of crisp bacon which were a perfect foil to the soft sweetness of the seafood.
Unlike the starters, Z was not so keen to try my main course. I had picked Rognon de Veau (calves liver). Z has a very strong childhood memory of ordering rognon de veau by mistake on a family holiday in France. So disturbed was she by the whole liver that was served to her, that she ended up swapping it for her friend's mother's dinner and hiding behind a propped up menu during the meal.
I didn't get a whole liver but slices of seared liver with a rich onion gravy and buttery mashed potatoes. This was a real treat as we don't eat half as much offal at home as I would like. To have it cooked so expertly was an added bonus. Not to be out done, Z's Canard de Cassis (duck in black current sauce) was everything that she hoped for. You could almost get drunk from the cassis in the sauce and yet it didn't over power the duck.
After all of that I was stuffed, but Z soldiered on to a third course. More out of duty** than hunger, she chose Iles Flottantes (floating islands). A light, fluffy meringue, bobbing in a sea of custard, is not something I'd ever encountered. I dutifully tried some but it was too sweet for me. That said I don't have much of a sweet tooth at the best of times.
As we were finishing off our wine I realised that the woman sat at the table behind us had ordered the exact same meal as me. I thought I had been adventurous and a little off-piste with my choices, but perhaps there are more cavalier diners out there than I give credit for.
For the record, this was no freebie. We chose to dine in Kendell's. We weren't invited and I certainly wasn't asked to write a review. I genuinely love the food, the wine, the not too attentive staff and the atmosphere. I don't know when we'll next get the chance to go to Kendell's Bistro but I know that I'm already looking forward to it.
*Some would contest that I don't really have a food blog at all due to the lack of reviews and recipes.
**her mother's favourite dessert