For my birthday in the summer, my wife arranged for me to become ‘A chef for the day’ at Marco Pierre White’s famous Michelin Starred ‘The Box Tree’ (see here). The night before, we stayed in nearby Leeds and visited Piazza by Anthony in the city’s fabulous Corn Exchange. You may well ask, with good reason, why am I writing this some three months after the event.
Choosing not to blog about every meal out we have, I generally prefer to concentrate on ‘fine dining’. That said, on occasion I will write about less formal restaurants or dining experiences if they have particularly wowed or exceeded expectations - my posts about Teacup on Thomas Street and The Spice Club, spring to mind.
When the food or experience has just been average (or worse) I generally do not feel inspired enough to write anything. Sadly my meal at the Piazza fell into this category. The change of heart and decision to post is based on three factors.
The first being, the fact that Piazza by Anthony is housed in such an impressive venue, which is almost worth a visit alone. The second that, proprietor Chef Tony Flynn (who also runs the fine dining establishment Anthony’s Restaurant in the city) has such an impressive pedigree, having worked at ABaC and elBulli in Catalunya. (Many of you may recognise him from series three of Great British Menu.)
The third reason is that I heard on the grapevine that Simon Miller, the talented Sous Chef from the Box Tree, who I worked alongside (for a day) is now in charge of the kitchen. I’d like to think that since his arrival standards have improved. He certainly is responsible for the best soufflé I have ever tasted!
According to their website, ‘Leeds Corn Exchange is one of Britain's finest Victorian buildings and a Grade 1 listed structure.’ Now, I’m no expert on Victorian (or indeed other) architecture but the building certainly impressed. Piazza is based at basement level, where Anthony’s also operate a Champagne Bar, Conference Suite, Patisserie, Chocolaterie, Fromagerie and excellent artisan Bakery.
The upper floors are occupied by an interesting array of independent boutiques and shops, selling such things as: jewellry, cosmetics, acoustic guitars, bridal wear and fashions. If you so desired, you could also get some pre-dinner male grooming, tattoos and/or body piercings.
We started our meal with the gorgeous Selection of Breads Baked in our (their) Bakery with Balsamic Glaze & Olive Oil – the breads were exceptional, great texture and full of aroma and flavour. A nice surprise and touch was the roasted garlic that was heavenly (and good fun) rubbed onto the bread. My one complaint regards the sticky Balsamic Glaze… there wasn’t enough of it!
To start, my wife opted for the Whole Baked Camembert with Bread Baked in our Bakery. With the same top notch breads and a quality baked Camembert, you could not really go wrong. Some may say that there was too much rocket, but I’m not one of those people who’s going to bellyache when you get ‘too much’ of something!
For my starter I chose to have the smaller portion of the Smoked Haddock & Pea Gnocchi from the pasta section of the menu. From the notes I made at the time I see that this dish was tasty enough – it didn’t’ wow but the gnocchi had good texture and there was a generous enough amount of smoked haddock.
Having enjoyed ours starters, we were eagerly anticipating our mains. We both opted for our one of our all time favourites. My wife the Classic Spaghetti Carbonara and for me, the Battered Haddock with Mushy Peas, Chips and Tartar Sauce – it was at this point that, we feel, the meal took a turn for the worse.
On arrival my wife’s Carbonara looked good enough, but after one forkful I saw my wife’s previously happy face drop. She offered me a taste and it seemed woefully under seasoned. Salt was provided on the table and after a couple of attempts to generously adjust the seasoning to my taste the dish was more palatable for my wife to just about enjoy.
My dish on the other hand was beyond my ability to rectify as sadly, unlike the salt, there was not a ready supply of hot oil to finish off my undercooked and soggy chips! I also found the tartare sauce and mushy peas rather insipid, although plenty of salt and vinegar were able to salvage the peas. The fish was okay.
Buoyed by the fact that we’d be eating at The Box Tree the next day we went back to the hotel in a merry mood that would otherwise have been tainted by our disappointing mains.
It’s a real shame to see a setting as impressive as Piazza by Anthony fail to fulfill its potential - as we left at around 7:30pm on a Thursday night, there was just two other diners and the same amount of kitchen staff stood with nothing to do.Very sad.
When back in Leeds, we’ll certainly return to see whether Simon or Anthony have had any positive impact since our last visit. In the meantime, if you’ve had a similar or better experience feel free to comment below.
As a bizarre, postscript – why in an empty restaurant, did they choose to sit me overlooking their dirty workstation? Showcasing the cleaning materials that they could have been using to wipe down the woodwork? The funny thing is, if the meal had been good enough, I probably wouldn’t have even noticed.Tweet