Black Market is the very best kind of neighbourhood restaurant, writes Jill Turton.

Black Market, Chapel Allerton
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65%

I’m in Chapel Allerton, two miles north of Leeds city centre, and in search of dinner. There’s plenty of choice. The area between Harrogate Road and Stainbeck Lane must be one of the most restaurant-heavy suburbs in the city. We’re spoilt for choice: North Bar, House of Koko, Kith and Kin, there’s Sami’s for Moroccan, Sukothai for Thai, Aagrah for Indian, Seven Arts is both a cafe and an arts centre.

There are butchers and bakers, a green grocer and a specialist wine store, a bike shop and a children’s bookshop. Chapel A is now so on trend that estate agents have taken to calling it the Notting Hill of the North – that’s going some, but it does feel like a place you might want to live.
Our dinner date is with Black Market, of which I’d had good reports. It’s the ground floor of a handsome sandstone mansion vacated by a tacky sports bar, and recently by Buca di Pizza due to “difficult trading conditions”. They are not alone, Strada, Byron, Gourmet Burger Kitchen, Prezzo, Carluccio’s, Patisserie Valerie, Jamie’s Italian, all of them have either closed branches or packed up altogether.
How then, might a small neighbourhood restaurant succeed where the big guns with all their cash and infrastructure, failed? Jon Wilkinson and his partner Justina Marciulaityte think they can. Jon is the chef who began as an apprentice at Brasserie 44 under the Michelin-starred Jeff Baker before going on to work at the Hilton, Harewood House, Bistro Pierre and launching Ambiente in York. Justina, who runs the front of house, has worked in boutique hotels and restaurant start-ups.
Together they carried out a total refit of the basement kitchen with a chef’s table and chairs draped in sheepskin – very Noma. Upstairs the polished wooden tables and upholstered bucket chairs in shades of pink and grey give it a fresh, contemporary look. They’ve done a grand job.
The menu is made up of small plates – so far so familiar – yet it’s hard to define the style. Dishes have ingredients that span all cultures so that poussin has galangal and hazelnuts, sirloin gets horseradish and chimichurri. There’s sag aloo and pig’s cheek croquettes.
We begin with slices of sourdough that have been lightly brushed with oil then gently toasted – it’s fried bread but more refined and better for it. It comes with a little pot of intense “mushroom caramel” – mushrooms, shallots, garlic and soy sauce all cooked long and slow then pureed to a rich and earthy smoothness that sings of autumn. Another puree melds together tarragon and carrot.

Sirloin pave, mushroom caramel, horseradish mousse.

Hake is accurately cooked: just opaque, a sweet and tender match for mussels, briny brown shrimps and potatoes brought together in a tomato and saffron broth. If we’d known there were potatoes with the hake, we might not have chosen sag aloo, but its subtle spicing is pleasing enough. Oddly, it’s been dressed with taramasalata, though it’s so mild, it barely registers. Spicing throughout could be punchier.
The sirloin is faultless, pink and tender with more of that intense mushroom caramel and a chimichurri sauce, made from a ton of fresh herbs, chilli and lime juice, then finished with a horseradish mousse. There’s a lot going on, but it works; juicy steak, the nuanced mushrooms and the kick of chimichurri. We use the last of the spuds to mop up the juices.
Finally, chargrilled octopus with a soothing little stew of aubergine and cashew nuts. If octopus freaks out the veggies, Black Market has plenty for them: gnocchi with truffle cream, mac and cheese, cauliflower croquettes, celeriac dauphinoise.
Say pineapple sponge and my thoughts go to school dinners. This one is a long way from the tinned pineapple chunks suspended in dry sponge that I remember. It’s a fluffy cake, with coconut sorbet and a dark slick of “balsamic puree”, wonderfully sticky and sweet, balanced with the tang of balsamic and studded with cubes of pineapple.

Vanilla Sky. Maaroons, vanilla creme brulee, torched merengue, tonka bean ice cream.

I’m wowed, too, by the modish tonka bean ice cream with its elusive flavour of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, maybe almond. On the side, a squidgy macaroon stuffed liberally with crème brûlée and a scatter of raspberries. Desserts might just be the best bit of all.
Black Market is the best kind of neighbourhood restaurant and, while I’m still no fan of small plates, I get that it encourages people to try something new.
I like that there is no menu devised by head office, no manual that tells the chef how and what to cook. Jon has the creative freedom and the skills to showcase dishes sourced from local ingredients, whether it’s the Chapel Allerton butcher or the Asian supermarket in Harehills, and for these reasons, it scores over any of the chains we’ve lost.
Next time though I’m going for the chef’s table and the five-course set menu and put my trust in Jon to bring me his best. On this showing I’m confident he’ll feed me well.

Black Market, 5 Stainbeck Lane, Leeds LS7 3PJ, 0113 262 2531; www.blackmarketleeds.co.uk. Open: Wednesday to Friday, noon-10pm, Saturday, 10am-10pm, Sunday 10am-8pm. Price: dinner for two including bottle wine and service approximately £63.

About The Author

Jill Turton

Jill Turton is a freelance food and travel journalist who writes for numerous publications. She inspects restaurants for national food guides and is a regular reviewer for the Yorkshire Post. Jill is author of Good Food in Yorkshire and the Time Out Guide to the Lake District and with Mandy Wragg writes the Yorkshire online food guide www.squidbeak.co.uk'

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