Saturday, 1 June 2013

Angelica - Rooftop tapas in Leeds - June 2013

There are now three rooftop restaurants in Leeds… That's right. Three… Turn up looking for the declining North and you'll miss it for the Gucci swinging models navigating staircases with their micro skirts.

Obviously that's not entirely true. The great cities of the North of England are decidedly less great than they have been in recent years and the less fashionable ones (sorry Hull and Bradford) are genuinely, sadly moribund in places, with threadbare tatters swinging where once a city centre was. Leeds is at least putting on a show for visitors, particularly those that arrive into its great arched train station.

Turn right and you'll pass the thankfully shuttered Majestyks Nitespot (sic, sic and thrice sic) once home to trashy, fighty footballers and the effluvia that worshipped them, now 'undergoing redevelopment'. Turn left and you've got delightful bar and charcuterie, The Friends of Ham where once there was only a tanning salon next door to the mighty fine Brewery Tap, itself once a grotty, soulless pre-commute waiting room serving booze, now a trendy little microbrewery and home to the delightful Leodis Lager. And to top it off, there's a shiny new shopping centre with (whisper it oh incredulous Southerners) an Urban Outfitters, Armani and a Victoria's Secret. Truly the Northmen have arrived, the poor sods.

Sat atop this slightly monstrous consumer trifle like a smug cherry are two floors of D&D (formerly Conran) restaurants, the only city to be so graced with a brace other than the capital. Packed at 8pm on a Thursday, already a regular hit with the locals it would seem...

As you'd expect from their heritage, the room is an head turner. Sure, it's blowing a force 8 gale when we arrive but there's still a hardy few taking in the views over the redbrick roof tops of the city. There had been a hollow laugh from the GM when I'd tried to book for the terrace, "that won't be a problem, but we'll save you somewhere inside as well shall we, see how the weather goes", a canny lass… 

After eventually navigating a bizarre set of lifts and elevators, we walk out into the open plan atrium, its centre point a beautiful circular zinc bar packed with choppy haired mixologists. It's almost so pretty that you miss the raw bar at the back of the room. The decor is undeniably classy and understatedly mid-Century modern. With deep felt covered easy chairs, it's comfortable too, unlike the volume of the music, ear-bleed easy listening makes for a shouty experience, not a problem for the raucous groups of affluent professionals crowding the place dressed for a 'big night out'.

The menu raises a smile. There was a time when the concept of Yorkshire tapas would have suggested nothing as exotic as a bag each of salt'n'vinegar and prawn cocktail (the king of crisp) with an accompanying salted peanut or two - at first glance the menu of sharing bites at Angelica is at first a thoroughly refined departure from those dark days. We go for four or five, each arriving as they are ready. Other than a handful of items from the raw bar it's difficult to rustle up a coherent meal here. Snacks and nibbles aren't a problem in somewhere seemingly so set for a drinking crowd, but they're currently a restaurant too and it's hard to know whether they're trying to be Arthur or Martha.


The best thing that arrives on the table is a hearty salad of Swaledale blue, walnut, (tinned) pear and chicory. There's a Sichuan beef dish served in that slightly cringey 90's way on a few leaves of lollo rosso. It's tasty enough, but the only flavour is the overpowering iron tang of ground Sichuan peppercorns and served on a chilly plate it's entirely lacking in any sort of heat. Triple cooked chips were nice enough but the accompanying 'day fish' goujons were straight out of the Berni Inn cookbook. At £12.50 it's priced to be a solo main and four small, overcooked bits of fish don't cut the tartare sauce in a Northern town.

None of it is cheap mind, we spent £50 before touching the weighty drinks menu, and why for God's sake do they charge £2.50 for a 'bread basket'?! Management aren't stupid enough to charge for bread at the D&
London restaurants, even at Coq D'Argent, home of the £1000 Coq au vin... 

Desserts and drinks are more successful, a shared plate of mini 'seaside donuts' is obviously destined to become a house special, the hot sugared treats elegantly presented and ripe for dunking in the accompanying chocolate and vanilla sauce. It's a fun conceit even if it doesn't add anything to global gastronomy. Full credit for a decent range of Yorkshire bottled beers and some quite excellent cocktails.

Given the success of 
Antony Flynn, the Leeds version of Rick Stein, over recent years, the people of Leeds are ready enough for a few more decent premium bistros, but on this showing Angelica isn't one of them. A lazy meandering menu with no sense of place colliding with a cocktail bar that goes straight to the top of the city's list. I'd be tempted to cull the kitchen and focus on the booze.

Angelica on Urbanspoon

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