Who says it's grim up North?

You won't forget the superb cooking at Simon Gueller's new restaurant in Leeds - nor will you forget the price
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Indy Lifestyle Online

When I heard Simon Gueller was opening in a new restaurant in Leeds, I was almost on the first train to a city I'll find any excuse to visit. Leeds has been the scene of many memorable and some instantly forgotten nights on the town over a dozen years, but I've only managed to trade up from student-stuffed pubs and veggie cafés to Chinese restaurants. This was to be a quantum leap.

When I heard Simon Gueller was opening in a new restaurant in Leeds, I was almost on the first train to a city I'll find any excuse to visit. Leeds has been the scene of many memorable and some instantly forgotten nights on the town over a dozen years, but I've only managed to trade up from student-stuffed pubs and veggie cafés to Chinese restaurants. This was to be a quantum leap.

Simon Gueller has just been named Yorkshire Chef of the Year. He and Marco Pierre White go back a long way; they went to school together and cooked together in Chelsea. White stayed in London to make history, Gueller returned to make his name in Harrogate, moved into Leeds and earned a Michelin star for Rascasse, a swanky warehouse conversion by the river.

Earlier this year, and showing how he's one step ahead of the restauration pack, he handed over his share of Rascasse to open Gueller in the city centre. While chain bars are moving into old warehouses first colonised by classier brasseries, Gueller is in a townhouse adjacent to Georgian Park Square. Gueller also inverts the current tendency for restaurateurs to seek chefs to fill a capacious space. This is a chef's own restaurant, tailored to suit his cookingand customers.

We were so eager that my local intermediaries and I acted with unintentionally indecent haste. It was the opening night. But though we were interlopers among relatives and the chef's most loyal supporters, and if there were allowances to be made for the kitchen's performance, we barely noticed. Apart from some forgivable longueurs between courses, the most telling sign came at the end of the night. Not one of the bottles on the after-dinner drinks trolley had been opened.

Past a doorman dressed in a hat and greatcoat, the rituals associated with expensive and reverential eating are observed.

Unordered mini-dishes bookend the first two courses, petits fours come with coffee. But service wasn't overbearing and the menu's not as prolix as I'll have to be to do it justice. There is a risk of becoming tedious with a lascivious description of every speck on the plates. But when food's this price (starters£6-£14, mains £15-£25) and this accomplished there are more important things to dwell on than the gorgeous, chocolate-brown leather banquettes and padded booths, one of which we inhabited happily for three hours, the heavy cutlery and array of glasses, and the gleaming silver salt and pepper pots it never occurred to us to use. Take it as read that it's a handsome place.

Now read what we ate. Brioche was buttery heaven. An espresso-cup of shellfish soup - one I imagine Gueller has been perfecting since his Harrogate days - was sensational. Sip or tip? We started daintily with teaspoons then upended the cups.

Cappuccino of potato with truffled leeks and gnocchi had been ruled out as a starter. "I can't be doing with frothy soups - they're all frills and not enough gusset," said one friend. Instead, a raviolo filled with juicy quail meat, with creamed Savoy cabbage sliced into crinkly threads and studded with bacon, and chanterelles, took autumnal elements and repackaged them into an advance on nature - as only the very best cooking can do.

A thick, marbled slice of foie gras, guinea fowl and pear pavé was a wondrous combination, with the slight cat's tongue roughness of the fruit against the sublime smoothness of the liver. Snails with a creamy exo-stuffing had been fashioned into what looked like button mushrooms, and teamed with slivers of asparagus and morels.

"At this price I like to feel I'm getting plenty of labour for my money," said our resident economist, showing his Gradgrind side. His stuffed pig's trotter, more like a toe-less, finely-turned ankle, formed a roll within which the richness of foie gras was kept in check by sweet chunks of ham hock and earthy pork knuckle. His graft-for-payment requirement was amply satisfied. Potato puréed to a mousseline deliciously infused with thyme, and baby onions with morels under-represented the vegetable kingdom. It didn't get a main course to itself, either.

Turbot, a massively generous piece of fish, was the least highly charged of the main courses. Underneath it was spinach, on top it sported a couple of tortellini filled with crab meat on which were balanced a large star-shaped slice of crisp potato. It also came with the most dispensable garnish of the evening: pea-sized balls of cucumber. Also gravity-defying, slices of red deer - not any tough old venison - the size of miniature playing cards were stacked in a spiral on spicy red cabbage, beside a fondant potato tower, with miniature carrots on the side. Like the morel-boosted reduced juices with the pig's trotter, the sauce was tremendous. Although the taste was attributed to bitter chocolate, it was based on a meaty reduction given unusual breadth and depth with mysterious, fleeting flavours.

We dabbled our fingers in them all; I think I may have licked my knife. I hope, as Gueller gets the reputation it deserves and the ensuing influx of well-mannered customers on expenses and anniversaries such places attract, etiquette doesn't inhibit naked enjoyment of the food and spoil the atmosphere.

I tried to make notes but dishes were so architectural I ended up drawing pictures under the table. "Vertical food," chastised the economist, who got the Yorkshire sculpture park in miniature for pudding and found that the Henry Moore-like biscuit monuments were glued to the plate with chocolate cement. Apart from this, presentation isn't made paramount; it's the taste of the dishes that's the towering achievement.

The freebie pudding, a simply perfect creme caramel, outshonethe chocolate mousse with the inedible upright biscuits, but not a chocolate soufflé nor a raspberry millefeuille. Then came a laden drinks trolley; we couldn't resist the temptation of breaking one seal and succumbed to a digestif of kummel. This brought the bill to a sobering £60 each. It was one of the most expensive dinners I've ever had, it was also one of the most memorable, and not just in Leeds.

* Gueller, 3 York Place, Leeds (0113 245 9922). Tue-Sat lunch 12-2.30pm, 7-10.30pm. Lunch £14 two courses, £18 three courses including coffee and petits fours. Dinner £30-£48 three courses and coffee without drinks. All cards accepted. Disabled access

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