One Yorkshireman's name replaces another at the former Marco's New York Italian. Thom Archer gives his verdict.​

It’s tough times out there for celebrity chefs, in particular, celebrity chefs with eponymous mid-level Italian chains. News broke recently that Jamie Oliver’s restaurant empire had started crumbling like a sugarcube in a rainy school playground, with a dozen outposts of his Jamie’s Italian casual-dining restaurant forced to close. I don’t want to suggest that it’s karma for interfering with our Turkey Twizzlers, but the universe moves in mysterious ways... 

It’s not just Jamie though. Buried in the news this August Bank Holiday was the announcement that Ibis Styles’ in-house Marco’s New York Italian restaurant had closed. Its parent hospitality group blamed “increased competition” and “economic uncertainty” for its closure, rather than the much more honest but considerably less press release-appropriate “we took the piss for as long as we could, but people got wise to our shenanigans in the end”. Honestly, it was rubbish

The menu is a usual suspects lineup of brasserie staples

So Marco comes down from the frontage, replaced by the name of another Leeds lad done good, Arnold Ziff, founder of Town Centre Securities which developed and now owns the Merrion Centre development that the restaurant is now a part of. I suppose technically this makes the “independent, family run restaurant” spiel from the Arnold’s website true, but it feels like it’s exploiting a bit of a loophole. 

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Arnold's has replaced Marco’s New York Italian at the Merrion Centre

The day-to-day operation of the restaurant is the responsibility of another family, the Ridealghs. Husband and wife Steve and Carol have come from the now-defunct Brasserie Forty 4 on the Calls (a reminder that it’s not just multi-millionaire celebrity chefs who are vulnerable in this economy). Claims are made about Arnold’s dedication to “showcasing the very best of Yorkshire and British produce”, but the only mention of provenance is that the venison is from Holme Farmed Venison in Elmlet. It’s not available on the night we visit, though. 

Actually, decor feels more informed by Yorkshire than the food itself. Ibis has plastered the place in entry level references t’Yeeerksher - “Ee by gum” wall decor, a giant cricket ball in the foyer, flat caps nailed to the wall and framed, giving the impression that Arnold himself scalped the cast of Last of the Summer Wine, and was particularly proud of it. 

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Pork spring roll: bland minced pork
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Smoked haddock gratin: deep flavours

The menu is a usual suspects lineup of brasserie staples; chicken liver parfait and duck confit and creme brulee. Safe, reliable, three course a la carte stuff. Classic. So, naturally, I go straight for the menu’s lone outlier: pork spring roll (£7.50). Layers of filo are pleasingly brittle, but bland minced pork filling makes me jealous of the people a few dozen yards away, their lips throbbing with the heat and salt of MyThai’s version of the same thing (T4 Kra Pow Moo Sub, for future reference). 

Things work out much better when they stick to what they’re familiar with - a creamy and rustic smoked haddock gratin (£6.85) is deep with flavours of smoke and Gruyere, backed up with almost enough wholegrain mustard, and a confit leg of duck (£15.95) arrives wearing crisp, bondage-tight, golden skin with a slick of port sauce. 

A sirloin (£19.95) was, literally, the biggest flop of the evening; properly medium-rare inside, in place of the fire and iron that the steak usually offers is a pallid, beige excuse for a thing that looks like its been boiled and had a grill-mark manicure. It’s taken off the bill by our waiter when he realises I’ve left most of it, so fair enough, but the £42.50 bottle of Chataeu Musar 2003 - a Lebanese Cabernet Sauvignon that was recommended especially to go with steak - feels like a wasted investment when it’s being drank with a bowl of chips. 

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Confit leg of duck: crisp, golden skin with a slick of port sauce
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Sirloin steak: a flop

We weren’t feeling particularly inspired to order desserts, so in its place we finished a bottle of fleshy, golden 'Monsters, Monsters Attack' riesling. It’s a reasonably-priced new world white from a trendy producer - one of an impressive handful on the list, however nothing from the UK, let alone Yorkshire. 

I’ve since Googled Arnold Ziff, and among his philanthropy and benefactions towards various deserving community and cultural causes the people of Leeds have plenty to be thankful to him for. Though, I don’t get the feeling that this restaurant will end up being one of them.

Arnold’s Restaurant & Bar, Wade Lane, Leeds, LS2 8NJ

The scores:

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you're passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.

  • Food 6/10

    Gratin 7, Spring Roll 6, Duck 6.5, Steak 3

  • Service 3.5/5

    Classic old guard. Well turned-out men in crisp shirts divvying out bread rolls with stainless steel tongs

  • Atmosphere 2.5/5

    Not much going on other than a blogger’s event we happened to have intruded on.