The ‘Knightsbridge of the North’, Leeds is the doyen of dance and classical music in the north: it is the only city outside London to have its own ballet and opera companies. In addition to this thriving cultural scene, Leeds offers a dining experience to match, with numerous culinary gems and fine-dining destinations serving top-quality fare. We take a closer look at Leeds’ ten must-try cultural restaurants.
Restaurant, European, British, $$$
There was much fanfare when Trinity Leeds, the immense shopping centre, opened in 2013. Housing many chain restaurants, there is one establishment, however, that stands out from the rest. On the 5th floor, you can find the award-winning Crafthouse: a restaurant that has quickly forged an impressive reputation for fine dining in Leeds. With an emphasis on fresh ingredients sourced locally, such as Bridlington crab and lamb from the Yorkshire Moors, diners can enjoy a gourmet culinary experience whilst drinking in the panoramic view of the city. Additionally, Crafthouse is armed with a Josper oven, which provides a unique technique in the preparation of meat and fish, char grilling at 480 degrees over charcoal.
Harvey Nichols Fourth Floor Brasserie and Bar, Leeds
When Benjamin Harvey decided to expand his empire, he chose Leeds as the home for his second department store. The Fourth Floor café and bar are a visual feast, owing to their contemporary art deco decor and windows revealing stunning vistas over the city. Their mission is to serve fresh local food underlining the best of Yorkshire in a glamorous setting; highlights include Beverley duck served with confit leg tarte tatin and figs, or line-caught stone bass with mussels and chive velouté.
Hansa’s, an Indian restaurant, has cemented itself in Leeds’ culinary scene since its opening in 1986. Earning rave reviews and winning many awards, it is renowned for clever Gujarati vegetarian cooking and intense flavours. Indeed, such is its reputation that Hansa’s has broadened its portfolio by providing a cookery school and a cookbook. The signature dish, aptly named Hansa’s Delight, is made with a whole tomato stuffed with the restaurant’s own spicy paneer mixture, covered with batter then deep-fried until golden brown. Mixing culinary skill and convivial ambience, this classic eatery is a must-try for all Indian food aficionados.
A bright and stylish restaurant featuring a stunning waterside balcony, Brasserie Forty 4 is generally regarded as one of Leeds’ most original contemporary dining establishments. It showcases the finest food in British and Mediterranean cooking and updates its menu every two months, thereby keeping it fresh and exciting. Some of their signature delicacies include Portobello mushrooms served with goat’s cheese, spinach, pine nuts and tomato sauce, or the tender halibut with asparagus and truffle butter. With its subtle, elegant decor and sophisticated atmosphere, Brasserie Forty 4 is the perfect spot for a special occasion dinner.
Salvo’s is a serial awards collector, a restaurant that has been providing Leeds with top-quality Italian food for over 30 years. The venue has enduring appeal as a vibrant and family-friendly restaurant, which is, at the same time, serious about Italian cooking. The classic menu offers, among others, a choice of octopus, potato and samphire salad, deep-fried squid with zucchini and caper mayonnaise, and Puglian fishcake, which is a baked fillet of sea bream layered with potatoes and pecorino. However, if you fancy something more casual, then you can pop over to their neighbouring deli-cafe, where they explore regional Italian cooking in depth. Many of Salvo’s ingredients are sourced directly from Italy.
Sous Le Nez is a charming French bistro based in the city centre. There are many highlights at this low-ceiling restaurant, which impresses with its charming décor and carefully picked, traditional French dishes. For example, there is the award-winning Yorkshire venison haunch steak served with venison sausage, or the succulent seared pigeon breast; alternatively, guests can pick the seared fillet of cod, crab and tarragon crust, or the clams and mussels and samphire in garlic butter. Sous Le Nez also provides a separate cheese menu and an extensive wine list, featuring flavourful bottles to pair with any dish.
A beautiful, vintage interior and commitment to the best of British tradition define Just Grand!, a one-of-a-kind cafe in the heart of Leeds. Boasting a brand-new location in the Grand Arcade, this establishment serves up a tantalising assortment of loose-leaf teas, accompanied by delicious scones and teacakes; tea aficionados can also pick ‘the full works’, a speciality that includes unlimited Yorkshire tea and three courses, arranged beautifully on a vintage cake stand. Though the cakes and teas are an obvious draw, the biggest attraction is the cafe’s atmosphere; flowers, pastel colours and vintage clutter dominate the scene, crafting a setting that’s just grand.
An informal bar-restaurant on the edge of the city centre, The Reliance is a relaxed and friendly environment which delivers delicious modern British dishes, including Yorkshire pork sausages, Erdinger-battered haddock and spatchcocked poussin. With a wide selection of craft beers on offer, an in-house charcuterie and a laid-back decor, The Reliance is a firm favourite for a casual night out, where fresh, homemade food and great drinks are guaranteed.
If you fancy eating in a more rural and grandiose setting, then make your way over to Hazlewood Castle. Located just 15 miles away from Leeds, in a town called Tadcaster, this former monastery is surrounded by 77 acres of woodland. The restaurant itself is called Vavasour, named after the family estate which has owned the castle since the Norman times. In addition to many culinary events held throughout the year, Vavasour boasts a menu of local meats and fish, cooked to perfection and served in a historic atmosphere; a must-try for history lovers.
Sukothai has formed an empire in Leeds with three restaurants: at Headingly, South Parade and Chapel Allerton. It is the latter, the original restaurant, which is considered a jewel in Leeds’ Thai dining. Often praised for its great atmosphere and fragrant, alluring food, Sukhothai sources its meats and fish locally, although their herbs, exotic vegetables and spices are delivered straight from Thailand on a weekly basis. A modern, simple interior decor makes this a trendy dining spot among locals and visitors alike.