It's the place that is causing a buzz in foodie circles, winning every award going, and I got to eat there due to someone else's foresight. How lucky am I?
Anthony's is a low-key looking place on the Boar Lane in the middle of Leeds. This isn't a pretty area, but what they have done with the site is a huge improvement on Bar Roc that occupied the site previously. If the place is a little over-illuminated internally, that only serves to demonstrate the neutrality of the space that has been created, and allow a blank canvas for the experience to unfold.
Drinks were taken in the bar, from a well-chosen beer menu (at last, someone gets with the programme), and after perusing the short but intriguing menu, we six happy diners managed to order one of everything between us. The charming and helpful waiter gladly dispensed advice on the wine list, and I ordered a bottle of Gavi di Gavi, reasonably priced at, oh, I've no idea, about £22?
Descending into the dining room, another slightly over-illuminated neutral space, we were greeted with a shot glass of carrot mojito, capped with a loose but firm vanilla foam. No, I've no idea either, but it was absolutely delicious, balancing between sweet and savoury tastes, it served to simultaneously satisfy and excite the palate. This was something that happened again and again with each course, not least by the next amuse-bouche, a shot glass of set grape jelly sprinkled with chopped anchovies, garlic and chives. The anchovies immediately reminded me of eating tapas in Spain - pure, light, super-savoury and fishy, not over-preserved bits of salty shoeleather. And we haven't even got to the starters yet.
I opted for the 'signature' starter, white onion risotto with espresso and parmesan air. Frankly, I don't know what I was thinking, because on paper it sounds like the sort of pretentious (or worse, ironic) folly that I would normally deride, but in for a centime, in for a euro, and.... bloody hell. In full knowledge that chef terrible and sort-of-personal-hero Anthony Bourdain derided the use of foam as 'bogus', I was shocked to find that the firm, lacy foam on top was no mere 21st century paper cutlet frill, but that it actually enhanced the dish of coffee and risotto (yes I know how that sounds) under it. Again, the flavours were savoury-sweet, the parmesan air adding a little umami kick to the dish. Unlike anything I've ever eaten, but immediately recognisable as a great piece of cooking, a classic in the making. The salt cod and cep velouté next to me was pretty fine too - not majoring in any fancy tricks (or is that ground popcorn atop the freshly salted cod?), just wholesome and satisfying.
Partially distracted by the sound of everyones' brains doing somersaults at the extraordinary experience formerly known as 'starters', we order a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir (about £26, if memory serves) from the lovely maitresse d', who is utterly charming, despite being from Barcelona (sorry, my Andaluz roots are showing through). A great wine, and a great choice of wine on her part.
Main courses arrive, and this is where I start to lose the plot a bit. My dish of squid and oxtail is great - beautifully toothsome squid body, stuffed with tender melting shreds of oxtail, tentacles aplenty, served on a earthy but not overpowering jus, plus chickpeas and (I think) chick pea sprouts, plus a little piped rosette of mash. The flavours are soft and comforting, earthy and wholesome, but at the same time fresh, distinct and precise. I've no idea how it's done, but I love it. I turn to my partners red mullet, langoustines and almond crème caramel, unaware that I'm about to have the most sensational gustatory experience ever. It's beatifully presented - red mullet fillets stacked up with a bunch of tiny white mushrooms on top; langoustines in the middle of the oval plate, a shred of what everyone thinks is pastry, but I discover to be a crisply rendered wafer of pork fat; and a shot glass of almond custard. I take a slice of red mullet and mushrooms, closely followed by some almond goo, and then clutch my hands to my head, unable to believe what is going on in my brain. Clean, crisp hyperreal flavours. The red mullet has had some punchy oriental-flavoured magic worked on it (is it in the mushrooms? I can't tell), enhanced by the sweet nuttiness of the crème. Not only have I no idea how it's done, I also have no idea of what it's doing, but I'm loving it. In fact, I'm loving everything, particularly the chef, who I now want to meet, go for a couple of beers with, and get to know. I'm sure he's a regular bipedal carbon-based lifeform, but I've never felt such intelligence and subtlety expressed through food before. Still, perhaps dessert will be a let down?
Predictably not. After a palate cleansing something (my mind was utterly boggled by this point), the pre-ordered pineapple tatin came out. I'd forgotten that I'd ordered it, tucked in, and wolfed it down eagerly. The flavours played out on my palate, and I marvelled at how clever it was to use a little black pepper to enhance the pineapple. I mentioned this, and was corrected - black olive. Of course it was black olive, it said "pineapple and black olive tatin" on the menu when I ordered it. But I'd forgotten, and so clever was this pairing of flavours that when I tasted it blind, rather than spit it out and go "ugh, there's bloody black olives in my dessert!", I couldn't quite fathom the flavour, but loved every last bit of it. Knowing that it was actually black olives didn't change my opinion, either.
If it's true that the devil is in the detail, then this was easily the most satanic meal I've ever eaten. I find it hard to believe that for the trifling sum of £65 (including all drinks and service), everything I ate and drank provoked such an emotional reaction in me (well, maybe except the Gavi, which was just very nice). For the first time, rather than good food being a well-executed example of something generic, it became, for me, an expression of someone's love affair with food and the techniques that surround it. My only sadness is that I can't imagine ever eating anything better, although that didn't stop us rebooking for three months time as we left.
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