Anja Madhvani can't fault the new food in an old favourite
At street level the Maven could be easily missed, an unmarked door reveals a stairwell lined with beautiful Victorian tilework. But once up the stairs, guests step through an unassuming cupboard door into a movie-set-perfect pre-prohibition world. The Maven has been a haven for post-shift cocktails and gossip for Leeds’ bartenders for several years and now it has added another feather to its cap; a restaurant and private hire room with food from chef Dan Triplehorn, previously of Laynes Espresso.
The decor is dark and luxurious with more taxidermy, leather and antlers than you can shake a stuffed bear at (yes, a five foot black bear greets you at the top of the stairs). The space is intimate, with options to sit at the bar and watch the mixologists at work, and a long chef's table with a view of the pass into the kitchen.
I feel like I’ve stumbled into an edgy Mills and Boon novel
The drinks menu is simple; a limited offering of wines, beers, and cocktails, but I won’t dwell on that as we already know the Maven excels in this area. Our waitress Sofia is great; not overbearing and full of lighthearted chat. In fact, service all evening is outstanding, water glasses are never empty and plates are cleared quickly.
My only question is this: what’s with the bondage?
The staff are sporting black leather aprons with large silver hoops and chaps-style leg harnesses. I feel like I’ve stumbled into an edgy Mills and Boon novel; The Stable Hand’s Supper Club. It’s a little distracting and a talking point for the whole evening.
Anyway, aprons aside, we order several plates to share. The crab balls (£7.50) are very tasty and a fair portion - though the delicate flavour of crab meat is slightly lost amongst strong seasoning of lemongrass, chilli and coriander. Razor clams (£7.50) are served in a smooth emulsion of butter and lemon with shallots and samphire - fresh and rich without being too heavy, although the clams are slightly overdone.
Seared salt and pepper squid (£8) is slightly disappointing, though the accompanying roast broccoli is charred to perfection and a whisper of crispy bacon brings just the right amount of fat and salt to the plate. However the dish is presented as a leafy salad with lots of rocket and chard and ponzu dressing and despite digging around for the main element, I found little squid.
Roasted duck breast (£13) is served with Madeira sauce, which has great depth of flavour, also charred spring onions and olives. Merguez sausage and cured morcela (£11.50) sit aside cabbage and bean broth. The simplicity of the dish is refreshing; a light and refined take on a peasant stew. The morcela (Portuguese black pudding) has wonderful texture and brings a savoury depth to the dish.
We order shaved kohlrabi and pickled potatoes (£6.50). These tatties were great, but I’m not sure we can describe them as pickled after only a brief encounter with vinegar. The astringency of lemon, spring onion and capers brighten things up, and the texture of the kohlrabi adds a nice bite. Again there’s a lot of rocket and chard, which does feel like unnecessary filler.
Marinated kale (£6.50) is served on a bed of whipped truffled white beans, one of my favourite elements on the menu. Truffle has been used modestly, and the consistency is almost mousse-like. The kale itself has plenty of bite and is well seasoned marrying well with caramelised celeriac and citrus freekeh.
We order both desserts (main image). Warm fig cake (£5) is a little dry. Good flavour but needs refinement. But let’s talk about the egg custard tart (£5.00). The pastry base is cooked to perfection, so smooth it’s almost glasslike. The egg custard itself is creamy and full of vanilla, and the crust has all the magic of shortbread. The star of the menu, and the best egg custard tart I have ever had the pleasure of meeting.
Maven’s restaurant has only been operating for a few days, and this considered, they ran an exceedingly smooth service. My one criticism would be the pace of the meal as we found ourselves with too many dishes on our table at once. This aside, I can’t fault it. The Mediterranean and Portuguese elements are executed subtly and though we ate a lot, I felt we’d had a healthy and balanced meal without having to think about it. I look forward to seeing how the Maven develop their new venture, which is set to become a local favourite.
The Maven, 1 Call Lane, Leeds LS1 7DH. Tel: 0113 243 6047
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.
Crab 7, Razor Clams 7, Squid 6, Roast Duck 8, Merguez Sausage 8, Kale 9, Kohlrabi 8, Fig Cake 6, Custard Tart 10
Such a friendly and attentive team
Beautiful interiors, great lighting, lots of ‘theatre’