Leeds's brightest star, Anthony Flinn, has turned the city's Victorian arcade into a shining light of a gastrodome
Piazza by Anthony, The Corn Exchange, Call Lane, Leeds, tel: 0113 247 0995
There you are, the brightest young chef to come out of the north of England in years, cooking up everything from classy risotto with espresso and Parmesan air to fig-and-olive tarte tatin with brie ice-cream. Your restaurant, Anthony's, wins Best Restaurant at the 2005 Observer Food Monthly Awards. A crockful of reviewers – including this one – rave. You wait and wait for that first Michelin star, but the skies above Leeds remain dark, with not a star to lead the food lover to your door.
Had it been me, I would have turned to drink. But Anthony Flinn went forth and multiplied, opening a patisserie in a glorious Victorian city arcade, and a swish, loft-style restaurant in the upmarket Flannels fashion store. Now he has launched his most ambitious project to date, a £500,000 gastrodome in Leeds's Grade I-listed gem of a Corn Exchange building – all while still nurturing the excellence of his signature restaurant Anthony's. So, not much time to hit the bottle, then.
Piazza by Anthony is a scarily impressive project, taking up 13,200 square feet, much of which is a striking 125-seater brasserie. Handsome dark chairs, wood-grain tables and curving banquettes in gentle heritage colours spread themselves over what was the corn-trading basement floor. Around the curving edges, the Flinn family has installed not only a café, cocktail bar and private dining-room, but also a working patisserie, bakery, chocolatier and deli, all open to the public.
At lunchtime, a table at the brasserie is suffused with light, and by night, the domed glass ceiling twinkles with tiny light-emitting diodes (aah, stars at last).
The blatantly crowd-pleasing brasserie menu runs from snacky olives and spiced almonds to small and large salads, pasta and risotto dishes, char-grilled fillet steak and come-hither fish dishes such as Whitby cod with chorizo cassoulet. Something for everyone, as they say, which is just as well, because it has pulled a mixed crowd, from stroller-toting mums to Lenny Henry and Dawn French.
A charcuterie platter from the deli (£7.95) is a pretty selection of cheeses, Iberian jamon and salami, celeriac remoulade, olives, grapes and artichoke hearts, and fresh breads from the bakery. It's a bit scatty, but screams quality.
A big fan of sweet, black squid ink, I order black spaghetti with roasted baby squid and garlic oil (£5.95). The fresh pasta is silkily tender, and the little squid crisp and fresh, but the pasta is drenched in a rich, creamy sauce, when it really needs something lighter and cleaner, such as the promised garlic oil. It is hard to complain when the prices are so reasonable, but I will do my best.
Next, I call for an 8oz ring of Cumberland sausage, just so I can see what sort of main course you get for £8.25. The answer: a good one; the lightly herby, everyday sausage served on a bed of smooth, creamy mash and topped with little pearl onions peeping out of well-made gravy. A crisped, fresh sea-bream fillet served on a spoonful of tangy tomato couscous and velvety wilted spinach is more good value at just £8.50.
The wine list, too, is keenly priced, with a mix of French and new-world labels and plenty to interest by the glass, including a fresh, racy "Les Boffants" Sancerre from Charles Dupuy (£6.25). To finish, a neat little square of bread-and-butter pudding (£4.50) is all sweetness and light.
Lucky Leeds, then, to have its most extraordinary Victorian building filled with a Flinnopolis of good food; one cleverly priced for its times and generous with its skills. Now, let the people come, for the bakery, the coffee, the bar and the brasserie, because you can't be a true crowd-pleaser until you have the crowds to please.
SCORES: 1-9 STAY HOME AND COOK, 10-11 NEEDS HELP, 12 OK, 13 PLEASANT ENOUGH, 14 GOOD, 15 VERY GOOD, 16 CAPABLE OF GREATNESS, 17 SPECIAL, CAN’T WAIT TO GO BACK, 18 HIGHLY HONOURABLE, 19 UNIQUE AND MEMORABLE, 20 AS GOOD AS IT GETS
Piazza by Anthony, The Corn Exchange, Call Lane, Leeds, tel: 0113 247 0995. Lunch, afternoon tea and dinner daily. Around £70 for two including wine and service
Read Terry Durack's food blog at independent.co.uk/terrydurack
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