The riddle of the pithivier

POOL COURT AT 42 42-44 The Calls, Leeds LS2 7EW. Tel: 01132 444242. Open Mon-Fri for lunch and Mon-Sat for dinner. Set two-course lunch at £17.50 a nd set three-course dinner at £26. All credit cards accepted
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The Independent Culture
FOR more than 20 years, Pool Court, set in a dainty country house on the fringes of Wharfedale, scaled almost unrivalled heights of poshness in the Yorkshire eating-out scene. This was not merely a question of its Michelin star. As my mother, who lives nearby, put it: "It was the place to eat. It was where Ray Binks's daughter had her wedding reception."

But the recession took its toll on the table filling and as a response, in November last year, Pool Court made a startling and almost freakishly bold move to the glass, brick and belching brewery steam of Leeds's arty new riverside development, The Calls, taking its place beside an already thriving trendy hotel and brasserie.

Some people have had a poor response to my airy boasts about becoming a restaurant critic; winking , smirking, or crashing their heads on to tables, as if it were some sort of Fergie-esque freebie ticket, or an opportunity for unbridled promiscuity. To nip such cheap insinuation in the bud, I invited my youngest brother, Richard, as my "companion" to investigate the new Pool Court.

He began by saying loudly as we sat down, "It wouldn't be much good if you'd brought someone for a proper date, would it?" I had to tweak him, obviously, but he did have a point. With its balcony over the river and striking urban views, Pool Court at 42 would be perfect for lunch, a summer evening or a cheerful group outing - but the space is too cramped, the lights too bright, the music too imposingly highbrow for the nurturing of sexual promise.

If the owners of a grand country house had moved their silver and table linen into a fashionable art gallery built on the set from Blade Runner, it might give you an idea of the feel. The top is firmly in the world of Eighties-inspired new restaurant tradition, expanses of white wall, halogen lights, blonde wood, a ceiling perched at a jaunty angle, and odd works of art featuring fish. The bottom belongs to an older order. There is carpet with the sort of tiny design more usually found on ties or socks.There are tables sporting two layers of crisp white tablecloths, lit by miniature silver standard lamps and periodically swept with a little silver dustpan and brush, curly silver trays under the wine bottles, and little silver tags saying port on the bottles of port.

The service, however, is uniformly warm, friendly and efficient, the waiters fresh-faced and charming, dressed as yuppies in stripy shirts, putting their hands behind their backs nicely as they pour the wine. And the food sweeps away any atmospheric drawbacks, being top-class, delicate and delicious.

The Michelin star and former chef have been left behind in favour of Jeff Baker, trained at London's Caprice and Tante Claire and also chef at the Brasserie. The style is round-puddle-of-sauce-with-something-pretty-in-the-middle, the influence most heavily French with eclectic touches: blinis, polenta, saffron.

I started with an asparagus feuillete with wild mushrooms on a Pinot Grigio cream sauce. The feuillete was crisp and delicate, the wild mushrooms tasty rather than floppy, the sauce, extremely precise, as we critics say, with a nice little nip, and just the right sort of hot: neither so hot as to bring the word microwave to mind, nor the sort of lukewarm hot which suggests hanging around waiting to get its mushrooms feuillete-ed.

My brother - obviously intimidated by my poise and savoir faire - went all funny when I asked him to describe his starter, grunting "very nice" and holding up his baby fennel saying "What's this? An onion?" It fell to me, then, to take over his plate, and pronounce the smoked salmon of the very best sort, most attractively presented, neither too fishy nor too slithery, and the fennel and saffron olive oil, a most accurately perky accompaniment.

The wine list, I should say here, was very good and helpful, with an owner's selection at the start, a wide range between £10 and £30, and a few real treats at the end. It's as well not to become too squiffy before visiting the loos, a journey which leads you through the much jollier Brasserie next door towards the somewhat disorienting sight of a row of businessmen sipping drinks at the bar, seated, unfathomably, not on bar stools but playground swings suspended on chains from the ceiling. This does not mean you are drunk. It is an unusual design feature.

On every high-class menu there must always be at least one word which is unintelligible. Pool Court had plumped for "pithivier", an excellent choice, being convincing yet obscure. I agreed to order a tapenade one for my main course, as an accompaniment

to pan-fried duckling, and Richard an apple and agen prune one for his pudding. We paused too, to wonder why restaurants have such a thing about describing everything as "pan-fried" these days? What else would you fry a duckling in if not a pan - a bucket?

Our main courses kept up the high standard, but the pithivier rather anti-climactically turned out to be a little pastry parcel almost identical to the feuillete. Together with the duckling it was garnished with what looked like the ends of sausages but turned out to be tiny, tasty, browned onions. If I were being very picky I would say that my duckling was a tiny bit too pink and chunkily sliced for my taste, the bread a tad on the hard side, and that it might have been nice to start arranging some of the platefuls in a different pattern, particularly since Richard's dessert pithivier arrived in the same configuration again.

Such pettiness was forgotten, however, with the entrance of my "trio of chocolate" which moved even Richard to mutter that it was the best pudding he had ever tasted. Contained on one plate were a brownie-style affair, a white chocolate parfait, which was like the most delicious ice cream Milky Bar you can imagine with something more complicated going on as well, and a chocolate liqueur brulee which made us go all shivery with happiness.

Coffee came accompanied by the most scrumptious of rich cream chocolate truffles, and nobody batted an eyelid when we asked for another little dishful - there were only about eight of them after all, and it was perfectly understandable that we should be feeling slightly peckish, especially after such a punishing night's work.

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