[Originally published on On:Yorkshire Magazine: http://www.on-magazine.co.uk/food/yorkshire-restaurant-reviews/the-light-leeds/]
The Light in Leeds has been transformed from a traditional shopping centre to more of a one-stop destination for all of your food, drink and entertainment needs. With an unusual mixture of shops (including an O’Neill for your trendy surfer-inspired gear, a shop selling the crafty creations of local artists and designers and then a fitness supplement store), well-known restaurants and a Vue cinema it is ideal for a relaxed day out or as a place to start a night out before hitting some of the local bars.
With a night of sampling the food and drink at four of The Light’s restaurants ahead of me I did feel a little nervous about one of the choices – the main courses were to be eaten at Frankie & Benny’s – not my first choice for Italian-inspired food. I went with an open mind, however, and was generally pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food in each venue.
We started with drinks at Café Rouge which is a great venue for a large group (there were 25 of us), with an open area near the bar that has space for tables to be pushed together. Promising the ‘je ne sais quoi of French dining’, the décor and ambience does give a relaxed Parisienne feel with classic French posters adorning the walls, warm colours on the walls and candles on all of the tables. I went for a large glass of the house Rose (£5.55) and my date opted for a soft drink. We snacked on a selection of olives (£2.95) that were great to whet our appetites, but my only gripe was that they had their stones in which is not the best for a romantic or civilised experience when you have to either nibble on them like a squirrel or lob a whole one in then try to discreetly dispose of the stone at the end. With a large selection of small dishes designed for sharing on their menu, including bread with houmous and mini chorizo sausages, it is a good venue choice for some pre-night out/cinema drinks and nibbles.
Next we headed to Miller & Carter Steakhouse (access is out on the main street rather than from inside The Light itself) for some starters to share. The atmosphere was dark and classy which instantly gets you excited about the quality of the food. We were seated on one long table in the middle of the restaurant which gave us a view of the kitchen through the large glass pane window they have – always the sign of a great kitchen if they are happy for the customers to see what is going on whilst their meal is prepared. The selection of starters was quite eclectic and not all as you would expect from a steakhouse. We has some delicious homemade Nachos (£7.95) that were light and pillowy due to being made in the restaurant rather than overly dry like the shop-bought ones we are all used to and they all had different flavours too, which was a nice surprise. We also tried their Lime Marinated Salmon Crostini (£6.95) which matched the gorgeous richness of the fish with the sharpness of radish, tomato and citrus perfectly and some Lemongrass & Chilli Tempura Prawns with a sticky Sweet Chilli Jam (£6.50) – the jam was great but I didn’t get a hint of the lemongrass or the chilli in the prawns – perhaps they needed to be marinated for longer. But the crowning glory was their amazing Bourbon Glazed Pork Belly Bites (£5.95) – they were so succulent and cooked to perfection so you didn’t even have to use a knife to cut them and they were enveloped in a sweet, smokey glaze that is one of the best I have tasted. The best part was the ‘bites’ you got were a decent size as you just wanted more with each mouthful – even my pork-phobic date couldn’t get enough of them!
We then headed to Frankie & Benny’s for our mains. As I said before, the restaurant is not my first choice for Italian/American cuisine but I knew they had a large menu full of variety so I was sure there would be something that would suit my tastes. With traditional American Diner booths to sit in and walls covered in photos of well-known Italian celebrities and landmarks you do instantly get a feel for the 1950s ‘Little Italy’ district of New York that the restaurant hearkens back to. The selection of main courses we were served gave a fairly good idea of the choice available despite there being no pizza on offer (much to the displeasure of my date who is an avid margarita pizza fan). I started with a taste of both pasta dishes, their veggie Pasta Verde (£10.25) and the Smoked Salmon (£12.45), both of which promised to be bound in a creamy cheese sauce with watercress stirred through. I have to admit I was left disappointed – there was no unctuous sauce to be seen and barely any fish in the Smoked Salmon dish. The broccoli too in the Pasta Verde was a bit sad and overcooked – a few pieces of pasta later and I was done. The platter was redeemed a little by the Bacon Cheeseburger (£11.75), a staple of any American menu, which was nice and juicy and seemed to be handmade as the seasoning was just right and the addition of the crisp bacon and a little cheese topped it off nicely. We also tried the Hand Battered Fish, Chips & Peas (£10.95) which were fine (although I personally wouldn’t eat fish and chips from anywhere other than a chippy or on the beach!) and a Chicken, Bacon & Honey Mustard hot baked wrap (£9.95) that was lovely and crispy and a great light alternative to a big main course.
Finally we went to Browns for our desserts and I have to admit I had been looking forward to this visit all night as Browns are renowned for their brilliant cakes, Afternoon Tea and their sweets. As you walk in it is hard not to be impressed with the layout of the restaurant as you step onto the mezzanine level that overlooks the bar, the grand piano and the other guests sat on the tables below. I had spotted their Eton Mess (£6) on the menu outside and, as one of my all-time favourites, I was hoping we would get to try it. To my delight they started to bring out the Eton Mess… and nothing else unfortunately, so we didn’t get to try any of the other delicious-sounding sweets on offer. The dessert was served on a plate which was a little unusual as, due to it being a combination of pieces of meringue mixed with cream and fruit you usually eat it from a tall glass or a bowl and mine did seem to have a serious Leaning Tower of Pisa look by the time it got to the table! Each of the elements of sweet, crunchy meringues, syrupy cherries, cream and hazlenuts worked well together but the balance could have been better and I would have loved some cherries to have been mixed through the dessert to cut through the richness of the cream rather than just having some placed on the side.
All in all the evening gave me a great overview of what The Light has to offer with its eclectic mix of restaurants. You wouldn’t necessarily be visiting them all for wonderful gastronomy but you are guaranteed to enjoy some very tasty food in a relaxed atmosphere that is ideal for a catch-up with friends or the start of a great night out in Leeds.