Food and Drink: Art by Hockney, soda by Silver: Emily Green found herself sandwiched between modern art and high fashion at a converted mill in Yorkshire

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Indy Lifestyle Online
THERE is a large and lovely new eating place in Shipley, West Yorkshire, called Salts Diner. Except this is no diner. It bears no resemblance whatsoever to a rail car, or to the narrow chrome and Formica pit-stops from America's steel era. Rather, it is a glorious canteen, a vast room flooded with sunlight, filled with generously spaced round tables and brightly coloured Jacobsen chairs.

A bar made from recycled Fifties wall partitioning gently snakes the length of the room. Its centrepiece is a modern replica of a huge Italian espresso machine topped with an eagle, the sort that used to rumble, judder and occasionally explode in working men's caffs at the turn of the century. There are delicate glass ice-cream dishes, and a playful selection of American 'gourmet' sodas: root beer, raspberry, vanilla, cream.

Salts Diner is the latest enterprise of Jonathan Silver, a 44-year-old clothing retailer, property developer and art collector, a man who may not know catering, but knows what he likes. Above all, Mr Silver likes the work of David Hockney, so, in the order of his enthusiasms, art first, food to follow.

The affection for Hockney goes back to 1962, when Silver was a 13-year-old pupil at Bradford Grammar School. It fell to him to commission a cover for the school magazine, so he rang a famous alumnus, David Hockney, formerly of 18 Hutton Terrace, Eccleshill, Bradford. Hockney evidently posted the boy a painting of an idealised school tie.

Mr Silver went on to build up a chain of a dozen clothing shops in the north- west. By 1983, he was involved in property development and the conversion of the Dean Clough carpet mill in Halifax. In 1987 he bought the handsome sandstone Salts Mill in Shipley, near Bradford. The mill's location could not be lovelier, on the banks of the Aire river, the hills of the Yorkshire countryside rising above.

Mr Silver has converted a part of the mill into offices and, to judge by the Porsches parked outside, his tenants are doing a cracking trade. He also opened a huge exhibition space called the 1853 Gallery. Just the place to show a goodly number of the 300 Hockneys he is said to have collected.

The vast mill floor that makes up the gallery is kitted out more like a gift shop than an art gallery. Classical music plays loudly, to prime visitors for a cultural experience. Vases of fresh lilies are propped throughout, creating draughts of floral perfume. There are postcards and posters for sale and tables laden with suitably erudite paperbacks.

Then there are the Hockneys, great banks of them: his humorous and disturbing Grimms' fairy-tale drawings, the unnervingly apt self-portraits from boyhood to maturity, the bright blue pools of southern California, the male couples, the friends with troubled eyes, large panels created from faxes sent over from Los Angeles, their electronic identity tags reading 'D H in the Hills'.

Oddly, a similar space upstairs, opened last March, has much more of the stark austerity one might expect from an art gallery. This, however, is a vast menswear shop, Salts Clothing Company. To the rear, another large space. This is the new 'diner'.

The artwork for the menu, natch, is by Hockney, a thumbnail detail of the restaurant with what looks like a caricature of Mr Silver peering in from the border. The list is short and the prices are low. Soup, pounds 1.75. Hamburger, pounds 2.75. Pizzas, around pounds 3.50. Two-scoop Haagen-Dazs ice-cream sundae, pounds 1.75.

Mr Silver is proud that his pizzas cost less than the average takeaway. He is quick to pre-empt criticism by saying that he is still working on the food. Work it needs - not by a genius, just by a good Carnegie Delicatessen type, or a grumpy old codger from Bloom's, or a decent pizza chef, someone who likes simple food and knows how to make it.

In the meantime, the food is perfectly edible, though the meat of a salt beef sandwich was dry, the bread characterless, coleslaw indifferent, gherkins missing. In fact, to really kvetch - to hell with gherkins - where are the dill pickles? Served whole or freshly sliced? A whole dish of them? Carrot soup was dead and tasteless. Salad was a curious assembly of red cabbage, olives and unripe tomatoes. Coffee tasted burnt.

According to Mr Silver, the premiere of Mr Hockney's latest work, some 40 new paintings, will open in Shipley in three weeks' time, at Salts Mill. For the diner, there will also be an exhibition of Hockney photographs of Yorkshire villages, including a huge laser blow-up of crazy golf as played in Bridlington.

Art, a sharp suit, a salt beef sandwich, gourmet soda and a day in the country? Sounds good to me.

Salts Diner, Salts Mill, Saltaire, Shipley, West Yorkshire BD18 3LB (0274-531163). Diner open 9am-6pm daily; 1853 Gallery open 10am-6pm Mon-Fri, 9am-6pm Sat-Sun. Admission free.

(Photograph omitted)

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