Fine Dining: Herring for Dessert!
Photo: ©Jo Ritchie.
I don’t know about you, but I hate eating late, so a trip to a concert or theatre often sees me rushing to wolf down a meal very early or devour something just before the start of a performance. Often, a restaurant does not open until an hour before curtain-up, and it only leaves a quick bite that doesn’t satisfy.
So, it was refreshing last week when I visited Kino, part of Opera North and an independent restaurant and bar located on New Briggate between the Howard Assembly Room and the Leeds Grand Theatre.
It is part of a newly renovated, Grade II-listed building with a long history as an assembly hall, cinema, and performance venue. It is modern, light and spacious.
Arriving with a comfortable two hours to spare, the maître d' gave a warm welcome, and I settled down to people watch and contemplate the evening’s menu of music. I spotted a number of Opera North regulars as well as people who were there for the food.
I was offered bread, thinking it would be just a small affair perhaps a roll or slice of chef’s homemade, but when it appeared, I felt I could have fed the cast of Mahler’s 8th Symphony - nicknamed 'Symphony of a Thousand'. That said, it was fresh, crusty, and had a lovely aroma, and I could have munched my way through it all evening if I hadn’t been disciplined. It came with unsalted butter and a small portion of rock salt.
Josh Whitehead, a former MasterChef: The Professionals
semi-finalist, selected a menu that featured more Stravinsky, Schoenberg, and Bartók than Mozart, Handel, or Beethoven.
The overture included starters such as a pâté en croute described as a Kino favourite; a ‘pie in crust’ with a seasonally changing terrine, which was hare, encased in a shortcrust pastry with a jelly of smoked ham hock, served with seasonal preserves; a smoked ham fritter and apricot mustard comprising slowly cooked Yorkshire ham hock and a fresh parsley fritter coupled with a shallot and parsley salad dressed with pickled mustard seeds; a devilled crab muffin and Kohlrabi, which was a freshly baked English muffin topped with a spiced rarebit of Whitby crab, pecorino, and Henderson’s relish, with pickled kohlrabi and lumpfish caviar; and a leek and potato soup.
Trying to make my mind up between the pâté and the crab muffin, I suddenly spotted the Coronation Chicken raviolo and golden raisin. And boy, am I glad I did. It was one of the best starters I have eaten in a while, mouth-tinglingly excellent, and woke my taste buds out of slumber.
The freshly prepared turmeric pasta was stuffed with a mixture of corn-fed chicken coriander, golden raisins, and vadouvan curry spice and served with a golden raisin chutney and light curry sauce. It was like that glorious horn solo at the end of Richard Strauss’ September
, one of his Four Last Songs
—smooth, gets to your emotions, delicate, and full of expression. Perfect on a cold January evening.
Every single flavour gave a solo performance and was blended with all the other components. The sweetness of the curry did not dwarf the coriander, and herb that sang in harmony. I opened up the raviolo to taste the chicken, and my senses were delighted. This flavourful and vibrant plate awakened my senses. The Vadouvan spice was like Debussy’s superb orchestral colouring. It was at this point that I realised a portion of the unfinished bread would be welcomed. Quite simply sublime.
There was a nice interval between the overture and the symphony of mains. Confit of Thirkleby Yorkshire duck and puy lentils lightly curled; smoked pork belly vegetables and white wine served with a shallot and parsley salad with pickled mustard seeds; and a pumpkin and celeriac dauphinoise featuring layers of delica pumpkin, sage, and celeriac cooked in plant-based cream and garlic with a caramelised onion sauce, pickled walnuts, and kale. Others included a venison pithivier and green peppercorn; a sea trout and shrimp cannelloni; Seitan Bourguignon with onion rings; or my choice, the wild rabbit Dartois and grey Poupon.
Described as a kind of sausage roll filled with wild rabbit, tarragon, and pork shoulder, wrapped in puff pastry with pickled mushrooms and a light sauce of white wine and the world’s greatest mustard, it was like a late Tchaikovsky symphony or opera performed without overdone vibrato.
Whitehead knows how to prepare a sauce; the delicacy in which the flavours combine is tantalising and works well. Nothing on the plate dominated. It was rustic; the rabbit flavour was quite intense, set off by the texture of the cold mushrooms, which worked a treat. The poupon mustard is a lovely accompaniment. It was suggested that I choose a side dish. I opted for the brassicas, garlic, and parsley, which wilted perfectly and were refreshing to accompany the rabbit. Maybe a little more seasoning is needed, but it worked well. It is not hard to see why Whitehead describes pastry as an art form, both sweet and savoury. It was flawlessly prepared, and it tasted excellent.
The timing between pauses was impeccable—neither hurried nor slow, more of a leisurely pace, giving time to soak up the atmosphere, enjoy the wines from a good listing, and relax.
When it came to the concerto—the dessert—I nearly left it, but there were plenty of light sweets to opt for: Earl Grey Baba a pumpkin pie and ice cream; a chocolate tart, or Baked Alaska, the classic Elgarian choice; Parfait ice cream, meringue, compote, and sponge - and here once again, Whitehead was in tune with the seasons: the latter was deliciously lemony, reminiscent of a traditional lemon meringue pie, although the sponge was rather hard.
It was all over too soon, and I had plenty of time to have a coffee or digestif before ambling to the next course, which was Herring. Albert Herring
is Opera North’s wonderfully performed comic opera by Benjamin Britten. I settled down in my seat, replete and satisfied.
During the interval, I popped downstairs from the Howard Assembly Room to chat with the amicable and efficient Opera North Communications Manager, Elizabeth Simmonds, to catch up on all the company news. As I looked into the restaurant, it was buzzing. Its reputation has caught on as an approachable and polished establishment with excellent food and a good choice for a pre-concert/theatre dinner.