All’s Fine at Fino!

The article below was the last restaurant review that I was able to write for TopicUK magazine before the coronavirus lockdown was implemented. It was published in the March 2020 edition of the magazine, available on-line only at the moment. Let’s hope that once the lockdown ends, Fino, as with all the other restaurants in Wakefield and elsewhere, can re-open.

The sense of history is palpable when you walk in through the door of Wakefield’s new Fino Italian restaurant in Northgate. The restaurant may be new, but the building, today accessed via the entrance in Gill’s Yard, and boasting medieval timbers, stone walls and leaded windows, is around 500 years old!

Readers with long memories may recall the property when it was a shop selling greetings cards. Back then, the building was flat-fronted and faced in what appeared to be rendered stonework. When the building was sold on in 1990, the new owners discovered that they had something much more interesting. As they started stripping walls and ceilings back to their original timbers, stone and brickwork, it became clear that the building was in fact one of Wakefield’s oldest surviving timber-framed properties, part of a larger house that had once occupied the site (now divided into 3 units, 53-57 Northgate). The owners decided to create a replica of the original gable-end frontage while revealing many of the original features, including the finely worked Elizabethan plaster ceiling and oak-panelled frieze on the first floor, the former bearing the date 1596, thought to be the year in which the building was re-modelled. That the building is now listed Grade II*, making it a building of national significance, should be a surprise to no one.

The upstairs ceiling panel bearing the date 1596

There has been a restaurant here, of course, for some years. Many will know it as the Cow Shed but, following the closure of that enterprise in the summer of 2019 and a period when the building stood empty, it is now under new management and opening as Fino on 24th November, just in time for the Christmas rush.

The project is the work of Jenny Thompson and Matthew Burton, owners of Qubana in Wood Street and Robatary in Northgate (just a few doors along from Fino). Indeed, the new manager at Fino is Murat Akyuz who was brought over from Robatary to set things up. Jenny, Matthew and their team are helping to revitalise the restaurant trade in the city: each of their restaurants has a distinctive style and great attention is paid the décor, food quality and service. That is very true of the Fino, which I visited twice (just to make sure!) within a few days.

My first visit to the establishment was with fellow members of Wakefield Civic Society’s monthly Dining Club in January 2020. Each month, the Club visits a different restaurant and at the end of the meal, members get to score their experience. Once all the scores in the year have been totted up, the Society awards its coveted ‘Restaurant of the Year’ award to the restaurant (or sometimes, restaurants) receiving the highest scores.

Given that this was the first Dining Club outing of the year and we were visiting a brand-new restaurant to boot, members turned out in good number and there were some 29 of us who sat down to dine. We more or less took over the whole of the downstairs part of the building (which meant we were handily close to the bar): there was just one other table occupied by a couple who must have wondered what was happening as we all trooped in, but they didn’t seem to mind (our members are very well behaved!).

Sandra Elliott, who organises our Dining Club outings, had liaised with members and the restaurant to transmit our menu choices in advance which certainly helped speed the service and most meals arrived in front of the right person although there were one or two side dishes that took a bit of calling out to locate their rightful owner. But an impressive result given that there was also a party dining in the upstairs restaurant as well.

Overall, the food quality was excellent, and people seemed to enjoy their evening very much (good company and good food!). However, I abandoned any attempt to take notes for this review – I was having too much fun chatting to fellow diners and the staff were a little preoccupied serving up the dishes.

Instead, I arranged with Murat to return to Fino a few days later for my second bite of the pomodoro and to make sure I did the job properly. On this occasion, my partner and I dined as guests of the restaurant.

You’ll have noticed that the restaurant is styled as a pizzeria and cicchetti. I think everyone will understand the pizzeria bit but may be less familiar with the concept of ‘cicchetti’. (OK, I’ll admit it – even I had to look it up.) Cicchetti are small-medium sized snacks or side dishes, typically served in bars in Venice. They could be described as the Italian equivalent of tapas. You can combine them to make a meal, mix and match while sharing with others or treat them as a starter dish.

We chose an Insalata Caprese and a Goat’s Cheese and Fresh Fig Insalata (priced at £6.45 and £6.95 respectively), followed by a Vegetarian Lasagne al Forno and a Portofino Maltagliati (thin strips of pasta with green pesto, green beans and potato). These were priced at £8.45 and £12.95. We finished with an Italian Crème Brûlée and a Lemon Cheesecake (£5.95 each). All were excellent. Nicely filling without being over-facing, and, of course, delicious, perhaps not surprising given that everything in the kitchen is masterminded by Italian head chef Vito (who hails from Bari).

After the meal, Murat sat down with us for a chat. He has worked for Jenny and Matthew for 10 years and clearly loves the job. He helped to set up Robatary, which I reviewed back in 2016, so this was more of a catch up really. As well as the à la carte menus (available to view on line), there is a specials menu, new every week, and you can also take advantage of a lunchtime special of a classic pizza, pasta or Stromboli (a wrapped pizza) and a small glass of house wine (or half pint of draught beer or soft drink) for just £6.95, which has to be terrific value in anybody’s book.

The restaurant has seats for 35 downstairs and 25 on the upper floor. There’s also a seating area outside on Gill’s Yard, but we didn’t try that! Given that we were there in January, we much preferred the warm welcome on offer indoors! I guess we’ll just need to go back when the sun comes out….

Outside seating area in Gill’s Yard

Need to know:

Fino Pizzeria and Cicchetti, 53 Northgate, Wakefield, WF1 3BP

Tel: 01924 369641

Email: enquiries@finowakefield.co.uk

Website: https://www.finowakefield.co.uk/

Opening times: Sun – Thu, 12pm – 10pm, Fri – Sat, 12pm – 11pm

Well, well, well: it’s time to ‘drop in’ at The Pledwick

The Pledwick, Barnsley Road.

It’s been several years since I last dined at The Pledwick on Barnsley Road near Wakefield, so a recent change of ownership was all I needed to persuade me to go back there – oh, that and a deadline to meet for TopicUK Magazine who asked me to write a review.

Anyone who has travelled along the A61 Barnsley Road will be familiar with the pub. Despite having been extended over the years, the core of the building dates to the early 1830s when a much earlier pub, The Bull, was demolished and the Pledwick Well Inn erected in its stead. The name, of course, refers to the ancient well to be found in the grounds. As part of the parish of Sandal Magna (which is mentioned in the Domesday Book), the settlement at Pledwick goes back to at least medieval times. (The suffix ‘wick’ in a place name can often indicate Anglo-Saxon origins and has been ascribed various interpretations including that of farm, hamlet or settlement.) We do know that the pub was one of the lots offered for sale when the Kettlethorpe Hall estate was put up for auction in 1908 with the auction catalogue referring to the pub as “the well-known Pledwick Hotel”.

Since then, there have been numerous changes of ownership and licensee, the latest being in the spring of 2019 when it was taken over by The Little Acorn Pub Company, a Wakefield-based enterprise established by the Crecraft family. It was director Anna Crecraft who invited me over to have a look at what they’ve done with the place.

The Pledwick stands some three miles outside Wakefield city centre and will prove popular with both residents from the Sandal area and with people visiting the nearby Newmillerdam with its lake and countryside walks. I’m told that Sunday lunches at the pub are particularly popular.

If you’re travelling by car, you’ll be interested to know that the pub has a large car park. Entry to the building today is via a side door off the car park, the original front entrance having long since being closed off and replaced with a window. On entering The Pledwick, you find yourself in the bar area, which has a distinctly cosy, cottage-like feel, with a large fireplace and comfy seating. Walk through the bar area and you’ll find the dining area. It’s all open plan, so you can see who’s in and, if you like people watching, you can keep an eye on all the comings and goings. There’s also a large outdoor terrace where, in more clement weather, it would have been nice to sit out overlooking the garden, but it was a quiet Tuesday evening in November 2019 when my partner and I arrived at The Pledwick and there was a smack of winter in the air, so we hastened inside.

The pub looked inviting and we received a warm welcome from barman Brandon, our waiter Richard and bar manager Alex. Once our orders for drinks and food were placed, I took the opportunity to have a look around. The establishment boasts over 12 cask ales and draught lagers, as well as bottled beers & fine wines and a generous selection of spirits which includes many craft gins and premium cocktail ingredients.

Cosy seating area by the fireside

Now, I do need to flag up that, at the time of our visit, there were changes afoot! The Pledwick had appointed a new chef who was due to start just a couple of weeks after we were there, and a new menu was in the offing. What follows, therefore, applies to the menu we sampled – do check the website for details of the current menus. If the food is as well presented as it was when we visited (and I’m sure it will be!), then you’ll not be disappointed.

Being vegetarians, we always like to see a range of vegetarian options – having one vegetarian choice which never changes isn’t really offering a ‘choice’ – and with the increasing number of vegetarian and vegan diners, all restaurants need to think about the variety of dishes they serve. It was pleasing therefore to see that the evening à la carte menu offered three vegetarian ‘light bites and sharing dishes’ and a similar number of vegetarian starters. There was only one vegetarian main course on offer but, with a mix of side dishes and the starters and sharing dishes that could be combined, vegetarians won’t go hungry. However, the new chef might want to take note! Most of the dishes marked with a ‘v’ look like they would be suitable for vegans as well, but it would be worth checking before ordering.

So, what did we have? Well, for starters, my partner opted for ‘mushrooms on toast’ – actually, pan-fried button mushrooms served on grilled ciabatta (£6.95). In the interests of research, I did, of course, take a bite out of this myself and, it’s true, dishes don’t have to be complicated to be delicious! We both enjoyed my partner’s starter! For my part, I opted for the grilled asparagus served with a crispy hen’s egg (£5.95), also very good and there was no stinting on the asparagus!

Starter for one

For the main course, we both opted for the roasted aubergine (£11.95). This came with a spiced nut crust, ‘heritage carrots’ and sun-dried tomatoes. For the omnivores amongst you, there’s quite an extensive range of meat and fish dishes, including ‘pub classics’ such as home-made steak pie and fish and chips, as well as steaks and mixed grills. Prices for main courses start at £9.95 for sausage and mash and go all the way up to £55 for a 16oz Chateau Briand – ideal for sharing between two (but only served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays).

And so we moved on to the dessert menu, with cheesecake for me and a sticky toffee pudding with vanilla ice cream for him.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening – good food, comfortable surroundings and attentive staff. As regular readers will know, Wakefield Civic Society runs a monthly Dining Club for its members. I’ve already recommended that we should take our members to The Pledwick in 2020. What finer recommendation can there be?!

Kevin and his partner dined as guests of The Pledwick.

Need to know:

The Pledwick, 434 Barnsley Road, Wakefield, WF2 6QE

Tel: 01924 255599

Email: gm@thepledwick.com

Website: www.thepledwick.com/

Opening Times:

Monday – Friday: Open from Midday

Saturday & Sunday: Open from 11am

Lunch (Monday – Saturday) 12pm – 2pm

Sunday Lunch 12pm – 7pm

Dinner (Monday – Saturday) 5pm – 9pm (NB – A newly introduced Quiz Night means that no food will be served after 6.30pm on Monday evenings. Also, please note no food is served after 7pm on Sunday)

My Night at The Midland

The Midland Hotel, Morecambe, at night

Anyone with an interest in Art Deco will probably already know the story of the Midland Hotel in Morecambe and how, after years of decline, neglect and dereliction, the building, which originally opened in 1933, was brought back into use in 2008 by Urban Splash following a five-year restoration programme. Today, this four-star luxury hotel is managed on behalf of Urban Splash by English Lakes Hotels.

Being a fan of Art Deco myself, I’ve long wanted to stay at the hotel and a recent holiday on the Isle of Man afforded me the perfect opportunity (excuse) to book myself a night at the Midland as a stopover en route to my Manx adventure. One sunny afternoon in August, therefore, my partner and I headed west and, rather fittingly as the hotel was originally built by the Midland Railway Company as their ‘station hotel’, we travelled by train.

The building today is the second ‘Midland Hotel’ on this site as it replaces an earlier hotel which opened in 1848. That first hotel was called the North Western after the North Western Railway company that built it to provide accommodation and facilities for people arriving in Morecambe by train, either for a seaside holiday or to catch one of the ferries that sailed from the newly opened harbour there. As the harbour was tidal and boats could only enter and leave at high tide, passengers waited at the hotel for their sailing, taking rooms or just relaxing and possibly having some refreshment.

The name of the hotel was changed to the Midland Hotel sometime after the North Western Railway Company amalgamated with the Midland Railway Company in 1871. When, in 1904, the Midland Railway transferred first its freight and then its passenger operations to a new deep-water port at Heysham, not subject to the vagaries of the tide, it could have been the end of the hotel but in fact, the hotel continued to attract business and remain profitable. However, structural repairs became necessary and it was eventually decided to demolish and re-build rather than repair and refurbish but the new hotel was to be in the ‘modern style’.

The hotel’s distinctive modernist design, sometimes referred to as ‘International’ or ‘Liner’ style, but more commonly grouped under the ‘Art Deco’ label, speaks the language of glamour and elegance. The architect was Oliver Hill who commissioned sculptor Eric Gill to create the distinctive seahorse sculptures that stand high up on either side of the entrance tower as well as friezes and a ceiling medallion while Marion Dorn created a mosaic image of a seahorse for the floor of the lounge area as well as designing rugs for the lounge and lobby areas. (The seahorse was adopted as the emblem for the hotel and is to be found throughout the building.)

The Seahorse emblem can be found throughout the hote

The hotel was an instant sensation and appealed to a well-off clientele which included not just holidaymakers, but businesspeople and celebrities of the day, including actors and musicians appearing at the nearby Winter Gardens. However, the hotel’s fate was sealed with the outbreak of World War II when it was requisitioned by the government to provide offices for the RAF and also to serve as a military hospital. Although it was derequisitioned in 1946, it was not until extensive repairs were completed that the hotel re-opened in July 1948. The hotel continued to trade but was sold off by then owner British Railways in 1952 and gradually lost its way due to the rise of the package holiday. By the end of the 20th century, after a number of changes of ownership, the building was looking very run-down and a failed restoration proposal led to the building standing empty with the prospect of demolition being mooted until Urban Splash acquired it in 2003.

But back to the present and my own stay at the hotel.

Gleaming in the sunshine

When the hotel was first built, the station was just across the road but today the line stops short, the original station building having been turned into a visitor destination with shops attached, and there is now a walk from the new station to the hotel of approximately a quarter of a mile. Nonetheless, as we walked out of the station that afternoon, the hotel could easily be seen, glistening white in the sunshine against a clear blue sky – an ocean liner awaiting its passengers. Walking up to the hotel, my excitement mounted: entering through the double glass doors into the spacious foyer and lounge area is like simultaneously stepping back in time while also walking onto the stage set of a Hollywood movie. The refurbishment has retained the look and feel of the hotel as it was in its heyday even though some of the components have been re-arranged. Art deco-style furniture, fittings and artwork are complimented by more contemporary pieces, but the overall effect is definitely classy and welcoming.

Having checked in and dropped off our luggage in our room, we headed to the Ravilious Rotunda Bar for something to eat. The bar takes its name from artist Eric Ravilious whose talents were employed to create murals on the walls of the original café. Sadly, they were lost only a few years after they were completed having been painted onto walls whose plaster had not fully dried out and problems with damp caused the murals to deteriorate. Although repaired by Ravilious himself, they were eventually painted over. Today, modern interpretations take their place.

The Rotunda Bar friezes
The staircase

Later that evening, having freshened up, we descended the grand spiral staircase which cantilevers out from the wall (it is impossible not to feel a little like a film star as you make your way down to the lobby!) and entered the Sun Terrace Restaurant where we were shown to our table. It was dazzlingly bright in there as the full-height windows allowed light from the setting sun to stream in. Many of the diners were in fact wearing sunglasses as they sipped their wine, giving a certain ‘Riviera feel’ to the occasion.

The restaurant with views across the bay

We had a delicious and leisurely three-course meal with wine, as we watched passing promenaders taking the evening air. Some smiled and waved – almost as if we were indeed on an ocean liner waiting to set sail from the quayside. The tide was slowly coming in as the sun gradually lowered itself in the sky, turning from bright yellow to amber and then deep red before setting behind the distant mountains of the Lake District across the far side of the bay.

After dinner, I went for a stroll around the outside of the building in the still warm air, looking in at people drinking in the bar and the last diners lingering over their post-prandial brandies in the dining room. By night, the building is every bit as impressive as in the daylight: the whiteness of the walls tinged slightly yellow in the streetlamps but still bright and unmistakable. It had been a perfect evening: I almost needed to pinch myself to confirm that while I might well have been living the dream, I was by no means dreaming!

The following morning, after breakfast served in the Sun Terrace Restaurant, it was time to check out, an ambition fulfilled, and to make our way back to the station to catch the train to Heysham and our awaiting ferry to the Isle of Man, but I’ll save that story for another time.

Need to know:

The Midland Hotel, Morecambe – LA4 4BU. Tel: 01524 424 000 (direct) or 03304 042 677 (for reservations via English Lakes).

Website: https://englishlakes.co.uk/the-midland/

[If you’d like to read more about the hotel’s history and redevelopment, there’s an excellent book that I can recommend: The Midland Hotel: Morecambe’s White Hope by Barry Guise and Pam Brook published by Palatine Books.]

The Northern Belle

Travelling back in time – in which I take a train ride back to the ‘golden age’ of luxury travel to experience fine dining aboard the Northern Belle luxury train.

The Northern Belle – Photo courtesy of the company

The Northern Belle was originally launched in 2000 by Belmond, the company that runs the Venice Simplon Orient-Express (VSOE) and offers a similar standard of service and comfort to its European cousin. With its Pullman carriages and offer of fine dining experiences, the train epitomises the golden age of rail travel.

The train runs day excursions from various departure points around Britain and special events such as trips to the races.  Since 2017, it has been owned by Yorkshire businessman David Pitts who lives in Thurstonland and whose advertising business, DP Publicity (DPP), is based in Wakefield.

Although redolent of 1930s glamour, the Northern Belle isn’t quite what it seems! It actually consists of former British Railways carriages from the 1950s and 60s but they have been extensively and sympathetically re-engineered, refurbished and ‘retro-fitted’ to resemble the Pullman cars of the ’30s. They come complete with beautiful marquetry work, specially commissioned from the family firm of A Dunn and Son of Chelmsford in Essex. This company created panelling on some of the original Orient Express coaches as well as on the Pullman cars used in a number of the famous ‘Belle’ trains of the ’20s and ’30s including the much-loved Brighton Belle.

But enough background – let’s get back to my trip – a day out taken in July 2019!

A very early start!

When we arrived at Kirkgate Station in Wakefield, somewhat bleary-eyed as it was only 6.15am, we were greeted by a representative of the company who checked our names on her list and directed us over to Platform 2 where, in due course, we were joined by over 30 other guests. The train arrived on time and we found our carriage. In true Pullman tradition, each of the dining cars is given a name. In this case, the carriages are named after castles and stately homes, and our seats were to be found in ‘Alnwick’. We were shown to our seats by Thomas, one of the train managers, who then introduced us to Adam, our senior steward for the day (each carriage has dedicated stewards) and assistant steward, Paddy. No sooner were we seated than we were offered a ‘refreshing’ and sparking Bellini. It was only 6.55am but, yes please, I didn’t mind if I did! As the train made its way to our next pick-up point in Huddersfield, we sat back and relaxed while the bubbles did their work.

After gathering more passengers at Huddersfield, the train moved on towards Manchester Victoria for our third and final pick up. While we crossed through, and sometimes under, the Pennine terrain (including travelling through the three-mile long Standedge Tunnel), brunch was served. To start, there was natural yoghurt with ginger-seeped apricots, homemade granola and honey. Next, there was a cooked dish consisting of Bubble and Squeak, spinach and a vegetable ragù. (The non-vegetarians had Scottish Haddock with all the trimmings.) To finish, there was a selection of breads and cakes from the bakery basket and copious quantities of tea and coffee were served throughout.  

Somewhere in the middle of working our way through all that, we picked up the final passengers at Manchester and then made our way, via Crewe, to Stratford upon Avon, the train’s final destination, pulling in at around 12.15pm. Here, the passengers divided. Most had opted to spend the afternoon in the town whereas a group of around 30 of us were taken by coach to Warwick Castle for an afternoon visit. Two and a half hours later, we were on our way back to the train.

Adam, our carriage steward, waiting to welcome us back on board in Stratford on Avon.

The Northern Belle looked absolutely splendid as we arrived back in Stratford. All along the length of the train, doors were open, welcome mats were laid out along the platform and our uniformed staff stood to attention to receive us back on board. The train had been transformed once again and we regained our seats to discover that the tables had been laid ready for the five-course dinner with wine that was to come: beautiful fine china, some still bearing the VSOE legend, elegant glassware, and polished cutlery all glinting in the late afternoon light.

As the train pulled out of the station, we were offered a glass of champagne and canapés and before long, dinner was served. This comprised of a salad of goat’s cheese, pickled beets, and bread to start followed by a vegetable Wellington for main course. (The standard menu was Hot smoked salmon to start and a chicken and ham dish for mains.) Then came the cheese board, followed by dessert – a ‘summer berry Pimm’s jelly, elderflower and lemon verbena cream, and candied orange’. To conclude, there was coffee with petits fours. All the food was prepared on board by head chef, Matthew Green (who comes from Barnsley, continuing the ‘northern theme’) and his team.

Champagne and canapés are served before dinner….

Dinner is served at a leisurely pace with ample opportunity to talk to the stewards and train managers – even fellow passengers if you’re feeling sociable – and it was noticeably much more sociable on board after the champagne and the wine! The train returned along a different route from that taken on the outward journey so there was plenty to see in the evening sunshine as we made an unhurried return to Wakefield – the first dropping off point – and we arrived back all too soon at around 8.20 pm. We deboarded and watched as the train rolled out of the station on its way back to Huddersfield, and then Manchester, slightly envious of those passengers who had remained on board. But for us, the day was over – a short walk home and it was time to put the feet up, bask in the memories of a wonderful day and wonder what to have for supper…….sadly, there were no stewards on hand to serve it!

Need to know:

The Northern Belle will be making several other trips to various destinations from Yorkshire stations this year.

For details see website: northernbelle.co.uk

Telephone: 01270 899681

Cost of the Wakefield to Warwick Castle excursion was £390 per person including a £30 supplement pp for a guaranteed table for two. The ticket price included coach transfers and admission to the castle. Prices as at July 2019.

The Dakota Bar and Grill – A refined taste of luxury at an affordable price in the heart of Leeds

The Dakota Hotel, Russell Street Entrance

If you like alliteration, you might want to try breakfast in Bradford, dinner in Doncaster and supper in Skipton, but for lunch, it would have to be Leeds and having lunch in Leeds is exactly what I did recently for the purposes of this article.

My first encounter with the Dakota Hotel, located in Russell Street, came about in the summer of 2018 when TopicUK, the magazine I write for, became a Yorkshire-wide publication and held its launch event at the hotel in June. It was a relatively short visit for me, just a couple of hours, but I was very impressed! The friendliness of the staff and the stylish décor left a lasting memory: so much so in fact, that I met a friend there for lunch just before Christmas. A three-course lunch, accompanied by a bottle of wine, cost us around £60 each including service charge but I thought that was quite a reasonable price to pay given the quality of the food, the presentation and the standard of service.  

Based on my earlier experience, it was therefore an obvious choice to recommend to TopicUK editor Gill Laidler that I should include the hotel on my list of places to review for this magazine and that’s how, one lunchtime in February 2019, my partner and I found ourselves settled into a comfortable booth in the subterranean calm of the hotel’s restaurant.

After the hustle and bustle of the streets outside, the Dakota Bar and Grill, which is located downstairs from the ground-floor bar area (there’s a lift), offers a tranquil and fashionable venue, whether you’re looking for a leisurely meal or somewhere to meet a client for a business lunch. We were greeted by restaurant staff Sofia and Ashley who looked after us throughout the meal, bringing menus, taking orders, serving food and pouring drinks. In between courses, I was able to ask questions about the hotel and the restaurant to fill up my notebook. Service was friendly, attentive and courteous.   

At lunchtime, you can choose between the full à la carte menu (which I tried at Christmas), and the simpler ‘Market Menu’. There’s also a separate Vegan menu. It was the Market Menu that we were to sample on this occasion. This offers exceptionally good value for money with two or three courses for £15 or £20 respectively, which really is a terrific price. You get to choose from three starters, three mains and three desserts. A selection of side orders (for which an additional charge of £3.50 each is made) is also available. All the food is beautifully presented. There’s a 10% discretionary service charge will be added, but, believe me, it’s worth it.

Having made our selection, we sat back to enjoy the ambience and admire the look and layout of the room, designed, we were told, by international designer Amanda Rosa, wife of the hotel group chairman, Ken McCulloch. Shiny mirrors, lots of dark wood enlivened with colourful artwork and bright squishy cushions, and subtle lighting that makes everyone look good, all combine to create a very elegant look. There’s recorded music playing quietly in the background and which, as part of the design aesthetic, changes to help to create the mood appropriate to the time of day – one of those little flourishes that you might only pick up on if you visit regularly, or happen, like me, to be doing research for a magazine review!

Ken McCulloch is well-known in the hospitality industry with a long-established track record of opening and running bars, restaurants and hotels. He was responsible for setting up the Malmaison hotel chain. Having sold his interests in that group, he and Amanda moved to Monaco, where, in partnership with David Coulthard, Ian purchased the Abela Hotel, rebranding it as the Columbus, a luxury hotel in Monte Carlo.

Their current project is to create a brand of luxury hotels in the UK. There are now five Dakota hotels in the group with Leeds being the fourth to open. The first was in Edinburgh; then came the Dakota Eurocentral in Motherwell, handy for both Glasgow city centre and the airport, followed by a Dakota in Glasgow. The fifth, opening in May this year, will be the Dakota Hotel in central Manchester.

In preparing for my review, I did some thinking about the hotel name. “Why ‘Dakota’?” I wondered? A quick check on the internet showed that the word derives from the Native American Dakota people, and gave rise to the area today known as the North and South Dakotas, but the word also means ‘friendly’ in the Dakotan language. That’s a really good connection, I thought. What better place to meet a friend for lunch than in a place which literally means friendly? It turns out that I was missing a step: the hotel actually takes its name from the Douglas DC-3 Dakota aircraft which used to fly the New York to Chicago route from the mid-1930s, bringing affordable luxury air travel to the general public and it is this emphasis on ‘affordable luxury’ that lies behind the concept of the Dakota hotels.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to read about history (did you?); you came to read about the food. Well, let me assure you that it was excellent and fully justified my recommendation for the review.

To begin with, we had a complimentary ‘Venetian Dip’, a simple dish consisting of a tomato purée sauce and Mascarpone cheese served with freshly baked bread. Our starters were Roast Squash and Sweet Potato soup for me and a Tofu Salad for my partner. The soup was a meal in itself! The salad, with beansprouts, watermelon, sesame and cashew nuts was also a healthy plateful.

For the main course, we both ordered the Pea and Mint Risotto with pecorino cheese. Temptation got the better of us, though, and a side order of Hand Cut Chips also found its way onto our order. For desserts, and I’m not sure quite how we managed it but research is research, I had the Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble (served with Vanilla Ice Cream) and my partner had the very colourful Eton Mess, consisting of a salad of fresh fruits on a meringue base.

Over coffee, we chatted to Debbie Dobson, Director of Sales at the hotel, who provided me with some more background facts while checking to make sure that we had enjoyed our meal – we assured her we had!

All too soon though, it was time to leave. Hauling ourselves out of our seats, Ashley fetched our overcoats and we climbed the stairs back to street level where we were soon subsumed back into the pell-mell of the crowded streets of central Leeds.

Kevin and his partner dined as guests of the Dakota Bar and Grill, 8 Russell Street, Leeds, LS1 5RN.

Website: http://leeds.dakotahotels.co.uk/bar-grill/

Telephone: 0113 322 6261

Email: enquiries@leeds.dakotahotels.co.uk

The hotel offers customers a discount of 25% on parking charges at The Light underground car park nearby (entry via St Anne’s Street, Leeds.)

The stylish décor of the restaurant

All prices and details correct at the time of my visit – February 2019

Modern Artwork adorns the walls
And let’s not forget the food!