Where duck legs loom large

DESIGN HOUSE; Dean Clough, Halifax, West Yorkshire HX3 5AX. Tel: 01422 383242. Open Mon to Fri, 12-2, and Mon to Sat, 6.30-10.30. Three course set lunch, pounds 12.95. Average three-course dinner, pounds 17.50. Credit cards except Diners accepted
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The Independent Culture
STANDING in Dean Clough Mills, a vast former carpet mill in the centre of Halifax, you still look out between monolithic weaving sheds ten stories high onto the rugged tips of the Eastern Pennines; but where once there were crashing looms, boiler suits, and the rattle of metal wheels on cobblestones, there are smart young women in Jigsaw suits, Vauxhall Cavaliers and glass and chrome signs directing you to Insurance Companies, an art gallery, a theatre and the Design House cafe, delicatessen and restaurant.

Two previous attempts to reach the Design House from the hills on the other side of the M62 had been foiled by snow, so as my mum, aunt and myself burst triumphant through the glass doors into a heavily designed modern open plan space with the original flagstone floor combining with asymmetric curves, downlighting and blonde wood, we felt we had beaten the elements to reach some sort of summit, rather like Sir Edmund Hillary.

High spirits were by no means calmed by the delicatessen with its range of everyday items made out of weird things - pasta from tomatoes, vinegar from raspberries - nor by two unnaturally tall orange armchairs which were rejected by my mum and Auntie Margaret lest they make them look like tweedledum and tweedledee pretending to be King and Queen.

The recently opened Design House makes its first appearance in the Good Food Guide this year under chef David Watson, who was formerly part of the team at Pool Court - once Yorkshire's poshest country house restaurant, now relocated to a smart canalside development in Leeds. The restaurant offers a reasonably priced set lunch menu with just three choices for each course. A la carte, again with just three choices for each, is only slightly more expensive.

Auntie Margaret felt very strongly that I should have the "Salt Tout" ("They must have got one of those chaps from outside the football matches and chargrilled him"), while Mum felt equally strongly that I should not have duck. "There'll be nothing on it. You know what they say. There only wants to be two of you to a duck and one of them should be the duck." Having chosen a bottle of Louis Latour Chardonnay from a most appealing and ungreedily priced wine list we were ushered to our table.

The last time Mum and Margaret, both formidable cooks, gave their joint opinions for a review the restaurant unfortunately closed down four weeks later. My mother once sent a lamb casserole back in an overpriced hotel explaining sweetly and accurately that it tasted like "something that's been in the sink". Happily, here, there was no need to worry. "Oh, this is beautiful, Margaret," said Mum of her salted loin of pork - looking like a large plateful of thickly sliced boiled ham - with potato salad in a mustard and apple dressing. "Ooh, this is lovely, Nellie," said Auntie Margaret of her spinich salad which, though initially feared to be festooned with coconut, was served with Parmesan and sweet potato crisps. My chargrilled salt tout on a cod ceviche was a perfect starter - trout not tout and light and tasty with an exquisitely fresh-tasting coriander dressing.

Mum was forced to eat her words as my duck's legs arrived, both twofold and enormous. They were delicious: crisp on top, moist and falling off the bone beneath and served - with an appropriate post-modern nod up at the mill - with a spicy black pudding mash.

Auntie Margaret was generally agreed to have done the best with chargrilled lamb from the set menu sitting on olive mash and tomato and basil sauce: "Oh this is lovely, just melting in your mouth." Since turbot was off, Mum had been offered monkfish which arrived in a creamy sauce of wild mushrooms. She cleared her throat: "This is delicious, but I think if I had been serving it, I would have served some vegetables. You shouldn't be eating your main course with a piece of bread." This seemed unarguable with, particularly since the absence of separate vegetables on offer suggested each course would be complete. Discussion of the relative merits of the plainer lemon sole on offer turned naturally to Auntie Margaret's sister Eileen who cooks her salmon in the dishwasher. "Well she'll run it through on rinse first, you see," said Mum, when I realised the worrying question of soap. "Then she puts it through two wash cycles and it's perfect," concurred Auntie Margaret.

At this point I retreated to the Ladies, an arty chrome-fest worthy of Philippe Starck and returned to a crisis.

"I think you're right, Nellie, it's the fudge ice-cream."

"... or pumpkin brulee, or chocolate terrine, I can't make up my mind."

"Well, which do you fancy?"

"Pumpkin. But then the pear and apple tart's got almond in."

"I'm either going for that or the terrine."

It seemed only prudent to order the lot, which emerged not merely unscathed but triumphant, only the chocolate terrine suffering a wigging for being too rich on top of the other three. Lunch for three with four desserts, wine and coffee (particularly good, especially the cappuccino), came to pounds 68 plus service which we thought was superb value.

The Design House is a great asset for Yorkshire. It matches the style and culinary excellence of its many white-walled, down-lit equivalents in the capital, but combines them with friendly service and generous pricing which puts it streets ahead. If you haven't been hill walking or mill- working before you eat, though, its probably best to eschew the heavier choices for something light and fishy from the dishwasher school of cookery.

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