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Restaurant Bar and Grill

Jonathan Schofield enjoys dining in the old Post Office but has a quibble about the price

Written by . Published on May 8th 2008.


Restaurant Bar and Grill

The Restaurant Bar and Grill (RBG) in Leeds is possibly the best looking dining place in the city, certainly the most dramatic. Housed in the former Post Office in City Square it has the right scale, the right height and the right location to make a splash.

The pay-off between mid to up-market chain and quirky one-off is that the former lacks charm but repays you with an efficient, uniform, dining experience. RBG does this very well. You can’t go wrong here it seems to be saying: we’ll guarantee (forgive the pun) a first class delivery.

The designer who won this commission must have rubbed their hands in glee and laughed out loud. They’ve done a fine job too with a spectacular wine rack as you enter, a feature bar on the right and a swish of glamour stairs to the left leading to another dining area and a private room.

There’s lots of good original plastering and elegant columns too enhanced by the use of wood in the refurb to partition the dining areas. The cleverly low strung domestic lightshades over the tables are there to make the eating experience seem more intimate, which they do to an extent, but this remains RBG’s weak point. Great for business, great for pals, not necessarily good as a warm up occasion for a night of romancing. And those black and white prints of Audrey Hepburn and so on are so bland and predictable they make me want to saw my leg off with a rusty implement. How very bourgeois as my posh London mate would say.

The menu is a no-nonsense sheet of A4, the dishes part of formula in most mid to upmarket chains: regulation fish and meat dishes with ubiquitous salads, pasta and risotto dishes. Very dull. Fortunately the boring menu didn't reflect the flavours present in the actual food.

A starter of salt and pepper squid with ginger and spring onion (£6.75) was pretty to look at and suitably spicy to taste. There was that little burn at the back of the throat from the ginger, whilst the squid had bite without too much elasticity, which is how it should be.

Better though was the excellent roasted halibut with crab and herb crumb topping, on asparagus with a shellfish dressing (£18.75). This was one of those dishes you don’t mind travelling a long way for. It was exquisitely balanced: the crunch of asparagus, the flaking fish, the textures of the topping all combining to give the potentially bland flesh a real zing. The side of rocket and parmesan (£3.50) played a part too, especially with the bitterness of the rocket.

A pudding of lemon tart (£5.25) with raspberries and mint was bloody lovely. It was just like one my Gran used to make and threw me back three or more decades to Saturday tea in an ersatz Tudor semi. I'd have that again too.

So all pretty good. One concern though is with the prices: where did they get those from? I would have been happy with £5.50 for the starter, £15.for the main (£18.75 was way off) and £4 for the dessert. The side should have been free and must have cost all of 50p to put together. In fact RBG should allow one side order to be included in the main course price. Maybe they have high rents, maybe they know the surrounding business fraternity has large expense accounts, maybe they’re taking the piss a little.

Those who travel the North eating out will be aware that this is not the only RBG, the first was in Manchester, then there was Liverpool. This Leeds version is a relative newcomer but it’s the best by a country mile. The Manchester version looks completely jaded in comparison.

Generally though, as formulas go, RBG has hit on a good one. If you were a stranger in these parts or arriving from overseas then you might be conned into thinking this was a one off. But seasoned restaurant goers would be able to tell it’s a chain straightaway. It’s just too damned slick, too tidy, too consistent in the way the staff greet you: there’s that rod up the arse, hands behind the back, obsequiousness which comes from wondering whether the duty manager is watching.

That’s fine, because the pay-off between a mid to up-market chain and a quirky one-off is that the former lacks charm but repays you with an efficient, uniform, dining experience. RBG is the exemplar for this. You can’t go wrong here, it seems to be saying: we’ll guarantee (forgive the pun) first class delivery.

There’s a final point in the venue's favour. City Square outside not only provides a lovely dining area in the day (at night it can get cold as the sun sets behind the old Post Office) but also gives Leeds folk the restaurant patio with the best artwork.

The hundred year old Art Nouveau naked lady statues, dedicated ‘Morning’, ‘Evening’ and so forth, are by Alfred Drury, he of Eros fame in Piccadilly Circus. Playwright Alan Bennett once said that when he was a child, lads used to come down and stare at these to see what naked women looked like. As an adult they’re still mighty attractive as a backdrop to an al fresco drink at RBG.

Rating: 15/20
Breakdown: 7/10 Food
4/5 Service
4/5 Ambience
Address: Restaurant Bar and Grill
The Old Post Office
3 City Square
Leeds
LS1 2AN

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NBoadenMay 8th 2008.

I learn't something! Not that RBG is slightly too expensive (I know that, but it's worth the extra for the decor)but that Leeds statues are by designer or Eros, well heck - your site just gets better and better.

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