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Ex-footballer Lee Chapman may have cooked up a storm with his London restaurant, but is his Leeds venture in the same league? <i>Kate Stronach </i>finds out
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Let us spare a thought for the footballer who is sent off the pitch of celebrity at 35 to a place where no one wants your autograph and where every Saturday he is free to do... what? Just what is there to do?

Let us spare a thought for the footballer who is sent off the pitch of celebrity at 35 to a place where no one wants your autograph and where every Saturday he is free to do... what? Just what is there to do?

It's obvious, really. If you are no longer invited to swanky parties filled with the constellations of celebrity, then why not circumvent the whole process and let them come, Mohammed-style, to you?

Well, Lee Chapman (alongside spouse and sitcom sovereign Leslie Ash) has done exactly that. After a 20-year career playing football, mostly for Leeds Utd, he has now fulfilled his need for both status and income by opening Teatro Leeds (a members bar and restaurant), the infant sibling of his London establishment.

Teatro opened in the Lower Brigate quarter last month. Much has been made of the roaring reception the club received from the savvy Leeds set - the casts of Emmerdale and Coronation Street even turned up for a glass or seven.

The building in question is a modern, all-wood-and-windows set piece. It houses the aforementioned members bar on its upper level, but below there's a restaurant open to all who neither want nor are able to fork out for membership. There is, unbelievably, no bar. However, there is a drinks list. And it includes the glory of a Gibson Martini (which is basically gin and pickled onions, apparently) and insane absinthe cocktails. Problem is, there is no place to sample all these delights. Where the sofas and pistachios should be, some cheap suit has added 30 covers and no breathing space.

Likewise, the main dining atrium is stuffed with tables. Some back onto a very loud coffee machine and the staff area. Which is why Sue (my guest) and I immediately decamped from our table and headed for a window spot.

With the menu came some relief. Starters kicked off with veloute of leek with finian haddock and a Belgian endive salad. But Sue and I plumped for the buffalo mozzarella salad and a shellfish crab cake with aioli. The cheese was absolutely fantastic, not at all like the rubbery goo that is so often passed off as mozzarella but a gregarious molten lump of fresh dairy air.

Sadly, the same can't be said for the tomatoes. They were not anywhere near ripe - they were yellow and incredibly tasteless - and the whole dish was spoiled by a foul basil dressing. My sea critter patties were rather virtuous - white crab meat and prawn bits, helped along by parsley and a tiny bit of potato. Of course, these were served with those execrable squashed, insipid tomatoes and an aioli that had bunked off French lessons and lacked garlic.

The second half brought a corn-fed chicken with morel jus and some black pudding, served with potato pancakes and pancetta. The chicken was fine but I could have done without the greasy jus and the inferior bed of bubble and squeak (which was actually just a boring plop of mash with negligible greenery). What saved it all was the black pudding. It was unadulterated blood, home made and decadent with morsels of fat. One dismal tomato did make an appearance but the black pudding was so lovely, I simply ignored it.

In extra time, we had crÿme brûlée and a nougat glacé with chocolate sauce. The latter was a marvellous concoction of caramelised nuts and vanilla cream. The chef tragically flunked the brûlée test: it was served without the crisp crust under which this dessert usually triumphs. When we asked about this missing component we were informed that was "how chef liked doing them". Fine, but he's not the one eating it.

The biggest surprise of the night (apart from the bill, which was a reasonable £50 in total for three courses plus wine) was the disappointing lack of celebrity customers. Fellow diners were business oriented and male. The staff, meanwhile, were carelessly turned out. Sue (who is big in fashion) proclaimed at least that they had got the chairs (petrol blue and tan) "just right".

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