Leeds disunited

restaurant: A promising new team needs a little extra coaching

Rascasse, Canal Wharf, Water Lane, Leeds (0113-244 6611). Lunch Sun-Fri, 12noon-2pm, dinner daily 7-10pm. Two-course lunch Mon-Fri, pounds 9.50; three courses, pounds 12.50; three-course Sunday lunch, pounds 15. A la carte about pounds 25-30. Vegetarian meals. Major credit cards and Switch. Wheelchair access (also wc).

Pardon the blasphemy, but just before Christmas is a hell of a time to open a restaurant. You cannot find staff. Companies booking office parties have never heard of you. The public at large is shopping, not dining. Taxi drivers would rather take customers to a place where there is tinsel, piped music and plate-smashing. Even the good ladies at the Tourist Information Board don't have you in their database.

This winter, Simon Gueller learned all this the hard way. The opening of his new restaurant, Rascasse, should have been a big deal in Leeds. Instead, it was the non-event of late 1995.

Still, this may prove the best of bad luck, for it should allow Mr Gueller precious time to iron out problems before the public swarms. And he should iron fast, because Rascasse means to be, in the words of Marlon Brando, a contender. For starters, Mr Gueller is an excellent cook. This 31-year-old may not be the prodigy that his Leeds-born mate Marco Pierre White is, but his cooking has terrific substance and class. Yorkshire folk may already know this from having eaten at Miller's Bistro, his little place in Harrogate.

Rascasse is named after the fish the French believe is an essential ingredient in bouillabaisse. Alors to that. Set in a canal-side warehouse conversion, the set-up is sleek, with blond wood floors, chic metal trim, and tables laid with starchy white linen, good cutlery, expensive salt and pepper shakers. If it were a shoe shop, the shoes would be Ferragamo. And it would be a big one. Rascasse seats I00. The look is so smart, it promises perfection, the sort one hopes for when entertaining clients, or splashing out on a special occasion.

You are greeted by a small fleet of well scrubbed men in suits in the reception, who offer you the choice of going straight to your table, or stopping briefly in an upstairs bar. We chose the bar. Here, in addition to cocktails and so on, a decent selection of wines is poured by the glass: six reds, six whites and a rose. A large red Rhone, Vacqueyras, cost pounds 3.50. The barman is a young lad who, in a novel approach, measured the red wine by the jigger. Those interested in cocktails might be well advised to wait until he learns how to make them. A Bloody Mary was almost unspiced and served on too much ice. A request for lime struck him as unusual. Though most restaurants would offer customers the chance to peruse menus here, or even order before going to the table, Rascasse did not.

Once downstairs, we were shown an enviable table, set in a corner, overlooking the water. Ordering was tricky. There were two of us, and when my companion ordered from the carte, and I requested the set menu of the day, we were informed in confidential tones that this was not allowed and that "the chef will scream". So we both ate from the carte, and we ate well.

A fish soup had just the right body and a spicy aromatic finish of aniseed, perhaps a dash of pastis, perhaps caraway. Croutons, shredded Gruyere and perfectly spiced rouille came on a dinky side plate. Another soup was terrific: a hearty number thickened with pureed white haricot beans. The base stock tasted like ham. A poached egg with a deliciously runny yolk stood in for a dumpling. There was a snipping of chive and a trace of truffle oil. Truffle oil is difficult to use - I usually find it cloying. Here, though it may have sung a bit too loudly, it was as it should be: part of the choir.

Unlike me, my companion is not forsaking cod until quotas are seriously revised downward and ordered it as a main course. His fish came perfectly cooked, served on a thick bed of pureed peas, with a serving of gratin dauphinois that, arguably, outshone the fish. Evidently there was foie gras in the sauce. My companion licked his plate clean and then purred contentedly.

My confit of duck was very good. The skin was crisp, the meat rich. The fixings around it included heart-stoppingly rich celeriac puree, and roast turnips which the menu, otherwise in English, strangely refers to as "navets". A side portion of vegetables contained good spinach, and a fancy dice that included courgettes and such. More spinach and some of the beautiful British cauliflower in season just now would have been more like it. We only managed one dessert and a beauty it was: a pear crumble came topped with vanilla ice-cream that could send Haagen Dazs and their titillating advertisements packing back Stateside.

Drinking at Rascasse is trickier. One can request drinks smoothly enough, but they don't seem to arrive. Two requests for water finally produced it. Our starters were on the table before we decided to cancel our request for a bottle of Guigal Hermitage, which would have required decanting and had not even been shown to us, much less opened. We replaced it with a workaday Morgon, one of the most reliable of the open-and-drink reds from Beaujolais. Once we had it cooled, it had just the style to stand up to Mr Gueller's great food.

Enough praise. This next remark is less a complaint than a suggestion: Mr Gueller, you cook like a dream, but your menu has room for more personality, more soul, and less foie gras and truffle oil. Fancy doesn't mean foreign. As for the service, this next comment is a complaint. Rascasse was not even a quarter full the lunchtime we ate there and staff should have been able to cope. If the place is to survive, and it deserves to flourish, then it will be because its employees develop skills to match their evident good will. It is too much of a proud poodle of a restaurant, too power-dressed, for customers to be expected to indulge comic amateurism. That said, those who do will probably eat terrifically well, if not from the menu of the day


Like a kitten that thinks it's a Great Dane, Popham's, Castle Street, Winkleigh (01837-83767) is a tiny village shop that thinks it's a restaurant. And the conviction is so great, it convinces us, too: tables are jammed in by the window. Dennis Hawkes is host while, behind a deli-counter, Melvyn Popham runs up the food. As for cuisine, let's say it's Modern Devon, a singular hybrid of new wave California cooking and Lakeland stodge, sort of Jeremiah Tower meets Connie Spry. I think I'll have the goat's cheese salad and sticky toffee pudding, please. Unlicensed. BYOB. No corkage. Open 9am-11am for coffees; lunch from 12pm Mon-Sat. A full lunch costs around pounds 18, or you can have a single course. Access, Visa


Opinion is divided in the catering world about the wisdom of naming a restaurant after oneself. Certainly, it is tricky to sell Chez Nico if Nico does not come with the fixtures and fittings. Perhaps this is why the restaurant of the Roux-trained chef, Michael Hjort, is called Melton's, 7 Scarcroft Road, York (01904-634341). At any rate, it might just as profitably be called A Very Nice Place. Set in what was once a cornershop or a private home, it's dinky, to be sure, and in an equally dinky Victorian terrace. Yet the running of the place is couth and confident: Michael Hjort can cook, be it venison with Cumberland sauce or conservative runs on flavours of the day, such as fillet of beef with polenta. While food is served with Northern generosity, pricing reflects Northern reserve: set-price lunch or early dinner (5.30pm-6.15pm) pounds 13.90, dinner pounds 19.50. Total about pounds 20-30. Open lunch Tues-Sun, 12noon-2pm, dinner Mon-Sat. Access, Visa.


What, ho, Pepys, a bit peckish, perhaps? There is an almost comic quality to the olde Englishness of the cooking at St John, 26 St John Street, EC1 (0171- 251 0848). So the buffalo mozzarella brigade find themselves offered celeriac and boiled egg, deep-fried cockscombs, partridge and pease pudding, mince and tatties. That said, the whitewashed dining room is effortlessly chic, the staff dashing and wines good. By Jove, the tuck is not half bad, either. (It can, in the case of pumpkin soup in a rough ham stock, be deliriously good.) Though avoid the mince. Open daily lunch, 12noon- 3pm, Mon-Sat dinner, 6pm-11.30pm. Three courses about pounds 20. Major credit cards


There is a fancy restaurant side to The Roebuck, Brimfield (01584-711230), namely Poppies. However, stopping during a tour of the spectacular countryside along the Welsh border, I have only eaten in the pub. Here I found quickly fried chicken livers to rival those offered by star chefs in swanky London restaurants. All the food is good: stews, sharp green salads, tarts. The presiding genius is a big, cheery woman called Carole Evans. Her side- kick, a fellow with a passing resemblance to Robert Morley, may or may not offer you wine. Pub meals, from pounds 15. Poppies restaurant open Tues- Sat lunch and dinner. Three courses about pounds 25-30. Rooms above, pets by arrangement. Access, Visa, Switch, Delta

Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Gravelle on trial for Danny Latimer's murder as Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Review: Broadchurch episode 7

Arts and Entertainment
Barry Norman has predicted a Best Actor win for Michael Keaton at this Sunday's awards

Arts and Entertainment
The right stuff: 'Ukip: the First 100 Days'

Review: UKIP: The First 100 Days TV
Arts and Entertainment
Anastasia Steele with Christian Grey in his offices in Fifty Shades of Grey

Arts and Entertainment
Class act: Julia McKenzie and Keeley Hawes in 'The Casual Vacancy'

JK Rowling's story is a far better drama than it is a book

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Channel 4's Indian Summers

Arts and Entertainment
The BBC's version of 'The Crimson Petal and the White'


Arts and Entertainment
We will remember them: 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' at the Tower of London

Art Police investigate abuse sent to Paul Cummins over Tower of London installation

Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman was named worst actress for her performance as Grace Kelly in Grace of Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game; the film’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, said the UK government ought to honour its subject
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower