In January 2018, I was asked to review Robatary, then Wakefield’s newest restaurant, on behalf of TopicUK magazine. Here’s what I wrote at the time (and I have been back several times since!).
You may already be familiar with 25-27 Northgate in Wakefield. For many years the premises operated as the popular, if unassuming, Qubana Restaurant and Grill – but the building fell quiet when Qubana picked up its skirts and moved across town to the spacious former Barclays Bank building at the end of Wood Street just over a year ago.
Since then, the Northgate premises have lain empty and were even boarded up for a while as work started on a major refurbishment project. The only clue to what was happening was the mysterious word ‘Robatary’ etched across the front. The business is still owned by Jenny Thompson and Matthew Burton, who also own the new Qubana, but they needed a different brand for their ‘old’ restaurant, and Wakefield’s bon vivants waited with breath abated to see what would emerge.
Finally, the shuttering was removed and all was revealed. Just a week before Christmas 2017, the new place opened its doors to the paying public. And that word ‘Robatary’? It turns out to be the name of the restaurant!
The word actually has a Japanese origin (although that is the only connection the restaurant has with that country – the food is British, albeit with a twist). Apparently, a robata is a sort of charcoal grill used to prepare food in Japan. Robatayaki is a form of cooking in which food is cooked over hot charcoal, rather like a barbecue but, in the case, indoors. The charred taste that the hot coals infuse into the food, be it meat, fish or vegetables, brings the flavours to life.
Keen as ever to sample something new, I booked a table for two and my partner and I went along to see what it was like.
From the moment you step inside, it’s obvious that everything has changed! In fact, the only carry-over from the old Qubana is manager Gareth Quinn whose task it was to look after us as we sampled the food and I spoke to the customers and generally wandered around the place with my camera aloft.
Gareth brought us menus and took our orders. For a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was nicely busy, despite it being a very wintry night. (Honestly it was! Snow was falling outside as we arrived and not even in Wakefield were people taking advantage of the outdoor seating!), Seating inside is a mix of open plan and private booths (we had a booth, giving us a slightly raised vantage point to see what was going on) and, when the weather turns warmer, the glass doors facing onto the street can be opened up in the European manner.
One thing that Jenny and Matthew do well is style. Visitors to the new Qubana have been very impressed with what has been achieved with the old bank but here at Robatary, the more modern building needed something contemporary. There’s a mix of textures, wood, (faux) concrete – one wall reminded me of the Hepworth!, ceramic tiles, glass, chrome, and steel, giving off a slightly industrial vibe, but reined back and softened with velvet and leather upholstery and fluffy cushions. Carefully chosen background music adds a touch of class and even a slightly sultry mood.
But of course, we were there to sample the food, not just ogle the soft furnishings. The menu was still slightly experimental at the time of our visit and was being updated after the pre-Christmas opening. The intention is that the menu, devised by executive chef Craig England, will follow the seasons and will be updated throughout the year.
To begin your meal, you can select from a number of nibbles, breads and charcuterie dishes or go straight to the starters. Although a ‘grill’, the restaurant caters well for vegetarians. The main courses are listed under three headings – Land, Sea and Earth (for which read meat, fish and vegetable) – and there’s a fourth section offering a variety of steaks. All can be ordered with side dishes and sauces. There’s a handful of desserts (or ‘treats’ as they are listed) from which to select to finish off your meal. Prices are £5 – £7.50 for starters (nibbles range from £3 to £4.50), and mains run from £12 to £17 – but be prepared to pay more for a steak! Sides and accompaniments are charged extra. Desserts are all priced at £5.
As regular readers would expect, my partner and I opted for the vegetarian dishes. For starters, I had the grilled spiced courgette skewers (the spiciness dialled right down which, for me, was good) while my partner had the goat’s curd (which looks and tasted better than it perhaps sounds!). These were both light and beautifully presented, setting us up well for the main courses: wood-roasted aubergine in my case and homemade gnocchi for my partner. For desserts (sorry, treats), we had Key lime tart, served with clotted cream, (me) and wood-roasted rhubarb, served with ice cream. These were served ‘deconstructed’ and again very artistically arranged. The cost of our meal would come in at a little over £20 per person plus drinks, which is very reasonable.
So, what did we think? Well, in terms of style, the friendliness of the service, food quality and overall presentation, Robatary comes out very well indeed; it will certainly give some of the local competition a run for their money. And that wasn’t just our verdict. Chatting to some of the other customers, they also thought very highly of the establishment.
The restaurant is conveniently located and is at the heart of the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene. It is open daily from 12 noon (until late) and small groups can be catered for but, as Gareth pointed out, the restaurant is really designed to provide for a more intimate dining experience.
Gareth also told me that his ambition is to make Robatary the best restaurant in Wakefield. On the basis of our evening there, he’s well on the way to achieving that goal.
My partner and I dined as guests of Robatary.
Robatary, 25-27 Northgate, Wakefield, WF1 3BJ. Tel: 01924 211904.