British gastropub, the Midnight Bell, has relaunched their menu for a fresh take on pub grub. With stiff culinary competition from their neighbours, the Waterlane Boathouse, we tested out the new dishes to see how this Waterlane-based eatery fared up.
Downstairs, The Midnight Bell is the epitome of charming, managing to be both modern and rustic at the same time. A quick glance outside reveals what has to be one of Leeds’ best beer gardens within walking distance to the city centre – something they’ve capitalised on with weekly Friday barbecues.
We are seated in the restaurant upstairs. Unlike some pub-restaurant hybrids, the Midnight Bell looks and feels like a (nice) proper eatery – it seems like a place that would serve an amazing Sunday roast. Today is a Wednesday, however, so it’s the main menu we choose from.
To start, we opted for the charred mackerel and the chicken liver pate. The mackerel comes as two fat fillets served on a bed of salad with grapefruit and radish. The fish is beautifully cooked - flaky and soft on the inside, crispy and charred on the outside. Personally, I don’t think the grapefruit adds much to the dish, but the crisp slices of radish give a welcome crunch.
The chicken liver pate comes served in a small jar, sealed with pink peppercorn butter and paired with rosemary focaccia toast and a bed of caramelised onions. The pate is creamy and smooth, and the toast holds up well against spreading. It’s a classic dish but the onions and peppercorns give it an edge you would struggle to recreate at home. I’d definitely order both starters again.
We ordered the steak burger topped with bacon, cheese and onion rings, and the supreme of chicken for our mains. The burger was a classic British gastropub affair: juicy, well-cooked, flavoursome. A far cry from the greasy Americanised burgers available in a lot of places now – not that they’re not delicious, but there’s something luxurious about a premium burger that tastes like it has come straight off the barbecue. The chips were some of the biggest I’ve seen – you could use them in a game of Jenga, and likely win. They were well cooked, salty and moreish.
The chicken dish came out looking much fancier than I expected. Described as supreme of chicken, with garlic and basil cream cheese, pesto crushed new potatoes, wilted spinach and olive dressing, it was two breasts with skin and wing still attached, stuffed with garlic and basil cream, sat on top of what can only be described as a compact cake of pesto potatoes, with olives and dressing around the side. If I went in thinking the Midnight Bell was just your typical pub, this dish quickly put an end to that thought. The chicken was cooked and flavoured well; the skin a golden crispy crack that would be best served in endless supply, ideally on a conveyor belt. The pesto potatoes were nice, and the olive dressing (if you’ve ever had olive tapenade, it’s a similar flavour) went surprisingly well with the dish. With three unique flavours, I wasn’t sure the dish would work but I was proved wrong.
In a rare move, we ordered desserts. Both the starters and mains were generously sized, but the use of fresh (local) ingredients and an absence of grease meant that we were satisfied but not stuffed -the perfect set up for an after dinner sweet. While the cheese board was tempting, we ended up going for the crème brulee with homemade shortbread, and the chocolate and orange tart.
I’m not a fan of crème brulee but I’m assured that it is “everything it should be”. The chocolate orange tart was everything it should be and more; rich, smooth ganache paired with berry sorbet and a thick berry sauce. The sorbet was light and refreshing which was needed with such a rich tart, while the berry sauce intensified both the sorbet and ganache. It was so delicious, had it been a bigger portion I would have eaten it until I was sick. Luckily it came in the perfect serving; not too much, not too little.
Depending on what you fancy (or how picky the people you are eating out with are), there are loads of options on the new menu: burgers, fish, pasta, pies… From the dishes we tried, it’s clear that the chefs are aiming for (and achieving) gourmet cuisine, so I’m guessing anything you get is going to be good. Add on the fact that it boasts an amazing beer garden and a central location, you might just have found your favourite new waterhole.
Reviewed by INDIA BENJAMIN