Kendells in Leeds is a time-honoured top-notch bistro and sometimes that’s just what you want, writes Jill Turton.

Kendalls, Leeds
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A chef once told me she served food that people didn’t have to worry about. By worry she meant a restaurant with a “concept” that needed to be explained and constant interruptions by servers talking through the dish ingredient by ingredient, leaving you duty-bound to be awesomely grateful for all the work that chef has put into making your tea.
Don’t get me wrong, I do get it when I’m paying top dollar for a special night out and a clever chef surprises me with his/her fermented turnip or charcoal emulsion, but there are times when a nice, uncomplicated plate of food to eat among friends is what you’re looking for.

Ham Hock Croquettes

 

Happily I found it recently at Kendells. This long-standing French bistro is handy too for the newly made-over Leeds Playhouse, which is why I’m here at 6pm for a pre-theatre dinner with friends.
On an evening with a wintery chill in the air, Kendells is starlit with a thousand fairy lights and if it’s a challenge to read the menu by candlelight it is certainly warm and welcoming with an army of staff, clearly ready for a busy night.
Steve Kendell is the chef/patron. He’s been in the business umpteen years, first with Paris in Horsforth and then Leodis in what was then a dynamic restoration of an old riverside warehouse.
It’s hard to remember now that Leeds is littered with so many bars and restaurants, that back in the early 90s Leodis was part of a food revolution. But by 2007 the Leodis warehouse had made way for Brasserie Blanc and Kendells had moved to the less glamorous St Peter’s Square, long before it was named the Cultural Quarter. If the menu hasn’t changed much no one seems to mind judging by a restaurant rammed at 6.30pm on a Friday. No doubt they’re all here for the £24.95 three-course, prix fixé menu that’s available up to 6.45pm Friday and Saturday (7.45pm midweek). Add another six quid and they throw in half a bottle of house wine each.

Salmon en Croute

The menu is what the French call cuisine bourgeoise and Kendell calls “Halifaxsoise and Franglais”, by which I think he means the classic, homely dishes the French have been happily scoffing for generations: French onion soup, boudin noir, confit duck, steak frites. You get his gist.
Among five of us we order boudin noir – simply cubes of black pudding served with apple and a white onion sauce and a frisée salad with smoked bacon, croutons scattered over nicely dressed frisée lettuce, the dish finished with a perfectly poached egg which ruptures to provide an agreeable sauce. I have the ham hock croquette, given a thick crisp coat, the inside bursting with ham pepped up green peppercorns. It’s served with a creamy celeriac remoulade. This too is spot on. At mains, two go for duck leg – slow cooked and served with garlic roast potatoes and green beans – and two for chicken breast with spinach, bacon and a mushroom sauce. My dish is salmon en croute, a fillet wrapped in pastry with green beans, mash and a tomato/butter sauce. It has good pastry, piquant sauce and smooth and creamy mash.

Duck Leg Confit

These dishes and more are also chalked up on the Plat Principaux or à la carte. Choose from braised shoulder of lamb with boulangère potatoes; venison loin with ox cheek croquette and a bitter chocolate sauce; calves liver; steak frites; and “choucroute formidable”, a dish of sauerkraut, ham hock, French sausage, belly pork and black pudding. The menu continues with a couple of fish dishes and as far as I could see, only one non-meat dish – layers of chickpea, aubergine and harissa-spiced vegetables, Kendell maintaining the long-held French tradition of not giving a stuff for vegetarians. Wines naturally are from an exclusively French list.
We’re all too full for dessert, but they cover all the French classics: crème brûlée, tarte au citron, profiteroles, petit pot au chocolat. There are floating islands too, a dish of poached meringue, floating on a vanilla custard.
Younger chefs might have got bored cooking the same French classics for going on 10 years, but Steve Kendell knows when he’s onto a winner. If there is nothing revolutionary about this time-honoured bistro, there is merit in good honest food that won’t break the bank. It’s food you actually want to eat and I can’t argue with that.
Kendells Bistro, St Peter’s Square, Leeds LS9 8AH, kendellsbistro.co.uk

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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