There are two restaurants at 44 The Calls in Leeds: The fancier of the two, Pool Court at 44, has a Michelin star and an elaborate menu offering 3 courses at dinner for £37.50, while the other, Brasserie 44, deals with the more casual diner with starters at around £5 and mains upwards from £9.50. Though not part of the adjacent super-trendy hotel, 42 The Calls, the kitchen deals with all meals except breakfast, which customers may charge to their bills, and handles all the room service.
IÕm staying along the road at the swish Malmaison, wistfully watching the River Aire flow past my window like melted Caramac, and still all by myself - though not quite singing it in my pjs, whilst hitting the vodka and sobbing through veils of running mascara. Of course not. I wouldnÕt be seen dead in pyjamas. Anyway, reinforcements have been hurriedly assembled. If IÕd had my laptop I could have summoned one of the loyal readers from up north who have valiantly offered to show me round over the years. Since all I had was my address book, I rang a GP friend who lives locally and saved myself from total single hell on a date night in a strange city.
We went to the Brasserie, but, apart from a few self-conscious, dressed-up couples out for what was obviously a special occasion, the other diners were not your young swinging, smooching northerners. Yorkshire youth were swaying rather than swinging, drowning their Saturday night sorrows in drink, and pouring from the doors of the numerous bars around The Calls like over-cooked spaghetti. Even the globe shaped fountain was dribbling across the pavement Š at least, IÕm assuming it was water.
After an initial inspection of the menu I began to wish we had gone next door for the posh nosh. The BrasserieÕs dishes were of the modern eclectic variety - all over the place like the four points of the compass: Middle Eastern pastries, for instance, the sort usually served as part of a mezza but here offered as a main course. Then there was Imam Bayaldi with the worrying addition of sultans, crispy duck won tons, smoked cod kedgeree, or corn fed chicken with a peanut butter glaze and coconut curry, ideal for the geographically dazed and confused.
The GP had Whitby crab with a dollop of avocado mayonnaise on the top which can run the risk of tasting like something you put on your face, with a couple of cucumber slices over each eye, but was restrained enough to work. I had a commendable salad of fine green beans, strivers of wood-smoked chicken and crushed hazelnuts, which produced a nicely judged range of flavours and textures.
The daily special was Grouse with puy lentils at a whacking £18, but this didnÕt interest either of us. The GP only eats fish which limited her range to a smoked salmon pastie, the kedgeree or, her choice, roasted wing of skate, filling the bowl like a fat man in an armchair, served with yet more white crab meat and a lemon and parmesan crust. Nothing grabbed me Š always a pity - so I plumped for baked Italian flatbread with Mascarpone and a fried egg Š like gourmet egg on toast. ŅHave you had flatbread before?Õ asked the waitress nervously. Aye, lass, I have, but it didnÕt look like this. For a start the flatbread wasnÕt flat, it was similar to a dense and floury pizza dough, but no less delicious for that. The perfect supper dish; with the runny egg yolk slithering into the melting mascarpone, sinking soporifically into the warm bread with a sprinkling of dark, earthy mushrooms. I had something similar in a roadside shed run by a family of Albanians made with goats cheese, washed down with bottles of ice cold, watery Greek Beer and it still stands out as one of the best things IÕve ever eaten.
We had a side order of Salt & Vinegar hand cut chips Š not because we wanted them Š but merely to see what if they smacked of the same eye-watering, vinegary viciousness as the crisps of the same name. However, all we got was a plate of rather tired looking fried spuds with no salt and no vinegar, so weÕll never know. Neither will we ever experience the delights of Cr¸me Brulee with white chocolate and BaileyÕs Irish Cream or Fondue of Toblerone and Amaretto. Ah well, there is a God. I always wondered why people have that mystifying urge to buy Toblerones every time they pass through an airport Š the duty free shops are full of them in all sizes from inadequate to over-compensating. But obviously, Brasserie 44 has found something to do with the dratted things, beside pierce your palate trying to bite into them. ŅThe fondue is Ōto share with friendsŌ Š for those lucky enough to have a few spare. Instead we had a serviceable mango sorbet Š the wimpÕs pudding Š and a chocolate mousse Š mine.
Then back to Malmaison for another chorus of All by Myself and a hot date with the mini bar. And absolutely no Toblerones.