Last night I had a great night out with my wife to sample the Leeds Loves Food tasting menu at The Living Room on Greek Street in the centre of Leeds. I have to admit I was a bit dubious about how well The Living Room could deliver as I’ve eaten there for lunch in the bar bit and it was great, but I was finding it hard to visualise how it could provide restaurant quality food in what’s essentially a trendy bar. I’m also not a big fan of ‘chain’ restaurants and that’s exactly what The Living Room is as there’s 14 of them all over the UK.
We started the evening with two excellent cocktails, made by a friendly and helpful bartender. Karen wanted a Passionate Fizz (funkin passion fruit and passion fruit liqueur with a hint of lemon, shaken and stirred into Duval Leroy Champagne), but no luck as the cocktail maestro was out of passion fruit. She ended up with a Strawberry Fizz, very nice, but not that different to champagne cocktails available at lots of other places. I wanted one of the selection of rather fine sounding whisky (from Scotland, note the spelling!) cocktails, but decided to help celebrate American Independence Day with a bourbon-based tipple. I was spoilt for choice with options that included a good old-fashioned Old Fashioned or a temptingly refreshing Pomegranate and Mint Julep. In the end I opted for the intriguingly named Gingerbread Manhattan (Woodford’s Reserve Kentucky whiskey stirred with gingerbread syrup, Maraschino cherry syrup, Punt Y Mes and Angostura bitters). It was very nice, but I’d have preferred a little bit more hint of ginger. All of the other flavours were pronounced, but the gingerbread syrup was so subtle I’d never have guessed it was there if it didn’t say so on the menu. Strangely delicious, but disappointing all in one glass.
Then it was upstairs to the pleasantly appointed Dining Room where we got to share a nice private booth with comfy leather benches. One of the best bits of the evening was the very friendly and attentive waiters and waitresses who provided sterling service throughout the evening. The tasting menu had a tempting array of starters. The most delicious by far were the beer battered tiger prawns with a sweet chilli sauce and wasabi. Piping hot with really crisp and light batter encasing juicy prawns. The sweet chilli dip was deliciously spicy (at most places they are usually they far too sweet) and the smudge of green wasabi delivered the knock-out punch you’d expect. The marinated Italian olives were plump, succulent and delicious. The houmous with toasted sesame seeds and grilled pitta bread was far tastier than the bland pulp that passes for houmous at far too many places.
The honey and mustard glazed baby sausages were disappointing. It’s hard to find anything else to say about them. When the centre of attraction is meant to be the sausage, you expect really good sausages. These were just bland, meaty yes, but with no distinguishing feature. With a such a bland centre piece the honey and mustard glaze couldn’t hope to add a shine. And now we come to the teriyaki chicken skewers with a satay sauce. Sounds good doesn’t it? Unfortunately a more accurate description would have been grilled chicken with a smattering of sesame seeds and some indeterminate brown sauce.
One of my standard tests in any restaurant is the ‘Can I make this at home”. The Living Room passed with flying colours for the beer battered tiger prawns as I couldn’t come close to replicating them, they were simply delicious. I could have done the olives if I could find the right deli. I could have done the houmous, but that’s only because it’s one of my specialities. The honey and mustard sausages would have been delicious if they can find a better butcher who can actually make tasty sausages! I don’t know what they were trying to do with the teriyaki chicken. How can you go wrong on such a simple dish? It should have been packed with flavour, instead you might as well as been at a fast-food joint.
So after an array of starters that pleased and satisfied more than it disappointed, it was on to the mains. The sea bass baked en papillote in a clam and shellfish bisque, with lemon roasted fennel was simply delicious. The sea bass was perfectly cooked and the bisque added an amazing kick the whole ensemble. It was Karen’s favourite dish, but she is a fish lover. I’m not a big fish fan, but still found it sublime. The miniature steak, ale and mushroom pie was perfect. Juicy, tender steak in a rich gravy, topped with a sliver of puff pastry. It was just right as part of a tasting menu. The mushroom and ricotta ravioli with parmesan sauce was a bit of a disappointment. The pasta was just a bit too heavy and therefore overwhelmed the very subtle mushroom and ricotta filling. The parmesan sauce lacked, well parmesan.
And now we come to, what was for me, la pièce de résistance – the roasted pork belly with grain mustard mash and caramelised parsnip with a red wine sauce. It normally comes on the ‘Home Comforts’ part of the standard Living Room menu, but you’d have to be a very accomplished cook to do it as well as this. The crackling was crispy and golden with just the right amount of salt, breaking off to reveal the succulent pork with just the right amount of fat. Simply splendid. Roast belly pork is always something that tempts me on a menu, but I’m often put off by the fact that it is accompanied by mashed potato. I’m not a big potato fan and can only eat mash if it is perfectly cooked – and it never is. Except on this occasion. It was delicious with just the right consistency and the perfect amount of grain mustard.
And the Caesar salad was just a nice Caesar salad. Crispy lettuce, crunchy croutons and lots of parmesan (maybe that’s why there wasn’t any in the parmesan sauce for the pasta). Just what you’d want. as a refreshing accompaniment to the rich selection of delights on offer.
And now we come to the pudding where we were encouraged by the friendly waiter to continue the theme and go for a sharing board of summer desserts… a warm chocolate and orange pudding, crème brulee, blueberry cheesecake, lemon meringue, strawberries with clotted cream and ice-cream. Oh dear. This was a massive fail on every level. The warm chocolate and orange pudding was dry and tasteless with too much of it even though it was a tiny taster size. We were warned there was no crème brulee, so we were offered extras of other items. The blueberry cheesecake was just disgusting. I’d be amazed if the pile of goo on top actually was made out of blueberries – it was simply very sweet, unidentifiable goo. The cheesecake would have disgraced the cheap and cheerful range at a supermarket. The biscuit base was soggy and the cheesecake had a fluffy, foamy texture as if it had been frozen. The lemon meringue was acceptable, nothing wondrous, but at least it was edible. And finally the strawberries with clotted cream and ice-cream. Surely you can’t go wrong? Well you can if you forget the clotted cream. The strawberries and ice-cream were nice.
Overall I’d score The Living Room 6 out of 10. It would have been 7.5 if it hadn’t been for the truly terrible desert board, which seriously let down what had been a really good meal. The only other minor criticism was that the music was just a bit too loud to enable comfortable conversation.
DISCLAIMER: We ate at The Living Room courtesy of The Living Room as part of the Leeds Loves Food festival organised by Marketing Leeds, which is a client. If you want to take part in the Leeds Loves Food Twitter competition then all you’ve got to do is tweet your 140 character restaurant review and include the hash tag #LLF.