Paul Heathcote started out with his self-titled restaurant in Preston and has been gradually expanding variants of his more informal venue across northern England. The Leeds instance, my first, is one of four Simply Heathcotes, a comfortable modern space, which feels like a stylish gastropub, but acts more like a straightforward restaurant. Clean lines infuse an older space, worn woodwork framing the inside of stone windows. The room reminds me of Square in Toronto with its leather banquettes, white paint, and deliberate counterpoint between verticality and long, lower-ceilinged spaces. And in that Sunday evening's case, the columns and tables were interspersed with large flat-screen t.v.s showing the World Cup final.
The seasonal menu is standardized across the foursome of Simply Heathcotes, augmented with specials. The focus is on British classics, especially those from Lancashire, with an emphasis on pub fare. As the sun slowly set behind the canal boats and bridge beyond, I began with a Bramble Royale, a blackberry variant on a Kir Royale, a pleasant variant, smoother than the original, finished with a fresh blackberry.
Rarely one to resist a salad, I opted for the seared lamb salad as starter. The flavorsome meat was mixed with curly slices of beans, lettuce, intensely caramalized halves of garlic cloves, and phenomenal "home dried" tomatoes, with the wrinkled intensity, but not leatheriness, of dried tomatoes on the outide, but still soft and richly sauce-like on the in. The salad was promptly followed by slices of duck breast, edged with crunchy skin,competent, but nothing special. I did particularly like the accompanying deep-fried hash brown disc, sided with an orange-suffused pomegranate seed-and-rocket salad.
I'm always pleasant to see some attention payed to dessert wines on a menu. Here, one of them, the Moscato Passito 2002 Araldico Piemonte, was sold at discount when ordered with dessert. Shortly after ordering a glass of it, along with a bread-and-butter pudding with apricot compote, I noticed the ice cream board propped in a niche. On it were listed banana bread, pecan, chocolate, vanilla... Since another one of the desserts on the menu was iced banana parfait with toasted banana bread and butterscotch sauce, I didn't think anything of it for a moment or two - but the more I looked, the more I realized that the sign really was just labelled "Ice Cream" and not "Ice Cream and things that come with it". So I asked - and sure enough, they had banana bread ice cream! Would I like a sample? I'd love one!
The bread-and-butter pudding was a solid dish, comfort food, but not particularly memorable. The banana bread ice cream, on the other hand, delivered as two full scoops plated with a sprig of mint, was not just an ingenious idea, but a decent ice cream to boot. It really did taste of banana bread, finely pureed crumbs evident within its particularly dense creaminess, the bready base making it a more substantial ice cream than most.
By this point in the evening, I'd been drawn into the World Cup final along with everyone else left in the room. I'd been disappointed at first on seeing the t.v.s (why go out to eat during the match if I really wanted to watch it?), but in retrospect, they were set up well enough to ignore, the volume wasn't too loud, and anyways, I really am rather glad to have seen its ending. Italy won, and I left in a GPS-dependant taxi with memories of banana bread ice cream on my taste buds.