Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Piazza by Anthony

In order to make a Christmas shopping trip to Leeds a little more palatable we decided to incorporate lunch and settled on Piazza by Anthony. The "Anthony" in the name refers to Anthony Flinn, probably best known for appearing in the BBC TV series "Great British Menu". He also previously worked at the cutting edge El Bulli in Spain but returned to Leeds in 1994 to launch his own innovative restaurant, Anthony's, for which he has received widespread acclaim but is still awaiting his first Michelin star.

The exciting Piazza by Anthony is the latest addition to his growing Leeds empire and the first thing that strikes you (apart from the slightly pretentious name) is its location. Situated on the vast ground floor of Leeds' grand Victorian Corn Exchange, a £1.5m refurbishment has restored the historic grade I-listed building and left it looking amazing.

The entire central expanse is occupied by Piazza and contains a café, lounge bar and private dining rooms, with a 125-seat brasserie at its centre. There is also a Bakery, Patisserie and Chocolate Shop, complete with open "theatre" kitchens where you can watch breads, pastries, cakes and confectionery being prepared throughout the day. The Cheese and Ham shop contains a special temperature and humidity controlled cheese room well stocked with a wide range of artisan cheeses, the shop also features a prosciutto slicer for fresh perfectly sliced charcuterie. These shops also supply his other establishments with their wares: the prestigious Anthony's Restaurant, Anthony's at Flannels and Anthony's Patisserie in the Victorian Quarter shopping arcade.

The more straight forward Piazza brasserie opens throughout the day serving brunch, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Since its opening last November it has clearly established a following; even on a chilly Tuesday lunchtime the restaurant was busy with most of the tables being occupied. There was a large business function in but also couples and relaxed groups of families and friends having a pre-Christmas get together. However over a year since opening its doors most of the retail shops in the Corn Exchange are sadly still empty. Maybe the developer's idea of the building being devoted to a food emporium was a little ambitious from the outset and it has probably suffered at the hands of the recession too, which is a shame. As a result of the large otherwise empty building, the brasserie can feel a little lacking in intimacy and atmosphere. Despite its buzz, flagstone floor and low-lit brick walls it still feels a bit cold (both literally and in terms of ambiance). Look up though and the Corn Exchange's mighty Victorian domed glass ceiling high above is stunning.

The extensive menu is modern British but with a continental vibe, including sections for salads, pasta and risotto which you can order as a starter or a main, as well as a more traditional mains sections featuring grilled and roast meats and fish. Although reasonably priced the dishes themselves are definitely of a standard above the norm for brasserie cooking, both in terms of presentation and execution. However I'm not quite sure it can be exactly defined as a fine dining experience either and Piazza seems to fall somewhere between the two.
The cauliflower soup that Dave ordered was velvety and apparently delicious but we both agreed that the portion was meagre, at best, and made worse by the ridiculously large bowl it was served in which was all rim and no substance. I chose a starter of scampi from the "Bar nibbles / snacks" section of the menu and they were perfect. The juicy langoustines had steamed in the crisp bread crumbed coating and were totally delicious dipped in the tartar sauce.
Dave's braised lamb shank was a decent size and came with smooth creamy mash and a dark glossy lentil jus, the meat was falling off the bone. The side order of buttered sugar snap peas with bacon was nicely cooked and complimented the dish well.

I chose the slow braised beef risotto topped with horseradish mousse; the risotto was well seasoned and had a deep flavor but the mousse could definitely have taken an extra kick of horseradish. The risotto had a perfect consistency but was cooked slightly more than usual. However the softer texture complemented the beef, anything more al dente may have jarred with the melting texture of the slow cooked meat.

We still had room for desert and ordered jam roly poly with custard and black forest gateaux with Cherry Ripple Ice Cream; it is great to see two much maligned dishes making an appearance and both were solidly executed.

Service was efficient throughout, although some of the waiting staff looked like they could do with what my mum would term "a good scrub".

Overall Piazza is impressive; it is a great concept and an ambitious project befitting of the spectacular building. Furthermore it is, on the whole, doing enough to stand up to the grandeur of its location. To consistently deliver food of this quality at a reasonable price in such a spectacular venue is undoubtedly an achievement. I just hope that the Corn Exchange really can become the buzzing shopping emporium it was intended to be because as it is staring up at the empty shops detracts from what could be an amazing foodie experience.

Piazza by Anthony
The Corn Exchange, Leeds

1 comment:

  1. I worry for this place.

    The Corn Exchange renovation was intended to create a sort of gastro-empire, with other tenants in the units on the ground floor and balcony.

    The rents were too high, the timing too poor, and it never happened, leaving Anthony's on their own in the basement.

    The Corn Exchange used to be full of life, but, even though its been renovated, it still feels as if the heart has been ripped out of the old place, and Anthony's on their own aren't big enough to fill the void, good as they are.