Kate Ryrie visits Leeds’ only 100% gluten-free restaurant
It’s a Wednesday evening. The air is thick and warm with that fine kind of rain. The kind that soaks you through, while simultaneously encouraging an uncomfortable layer of sweat. The ever-questionable British summer looms, and I’m about to remedy the uncertainty in the only way I know how – with some hearty grub.
A meal that’s left us with small, gluten-free food babies
The Oxford Place is TripAdvisor’s eighth best restaurant in Leeds. Of its 306 reviews, 265 are ‘Excellent’, and 28 are ‘Very Good’. If comments that rave about ‘gluten-free heaven!’ and ‘amazing food’ aren’t enough to tempt you inside, I challenge anyone to hear the jubilant cry of ‘you should see the size of their goujons!’ and resist a visit.
So here we sit, looking out at the grey stone of Leeds Town Hall in the cosiness of the city’s only 100% gluten-free restaurant. The hype tells me I ‘won’t even notice’ the coeliac-friendly nature of the dishes – that this food meets exacting standards of deliciousness and innovation despite its ‘free-from’ status. I’m ready to find out.
The menu looks fulsome. Hearty plates with flavour twists both classic and interesting. Seasonal produce (the menu changes every couple of months) is the name of the game here – there are fish and chips, belly pork, goat’s cheese tart and veggie gnocchi. There’s steak, belly pork, burrata and prawn cocktail. At a glance, it looks delicious – uncomplicated, something-for-everyone and carefully put together.
We begin with scallops (£11.45), which arrive atop a small hillock of garlicky samphire, and skewers of monkfish and Lishman’s chorizo (£9.95). The local nod is a nice touch, and the meaty monkfish holds its own admirably against the bold spices of pork and accompanying butterbean hummus.
I order a glass of pinot noir from the extensive wine list (its by-the-bottle and slightly pricier contenders include a Chateauneuf du Pape and a biodynamic Gavi DOCG). I sit back, enjoying the wood-panelled ambience, the glinting fairy lights and the quaint selection of paraphernalia that make this place feel more like someone’s home than a city-centre restaurant.
Our mains take the form of Galloway Belt sirloin steak and chips – requested medium rare, served medium to well – and the ‘catch of the day’, which is black bream (£18.95). The fish comes with fried chunks of gnocchi and brown shrimp, plus more samphire and garlic. Fish-wise, the combinations are on point, and the accompanying dish of veggies and potatoes (no extra charge) is bland but nice. Some sauce served with the steak would have been a welcome addition though, especially with that £26 price tag.
We share a pud; baked vanilla cheesecake draped in berry compote, sitting proudly next a scoop of cherry ice cream (£7.95) – a perfectly sharp, palate-cleansing indulgence to finish off with. The base is a little soggy, and I wonder momentarily if that’s to do with the lack of gluten… but decide it might well not be, and that it’s more than yummy enough for that not to matter.
Our bill arrives with tiny shots of schnapps, a final – although completely unnecessary – flourish for a meal that’s left us with small, gluten-free food babies and an excellent collection of flavours to remember.
Overall, it’s a decent restaurant that shouldn’t be overlooked for being just a ‘free-from’ option. Despite the chef’s apparent heavy-handedness with heat on several occasions, the food more than holds its own against some of the city’s finer dining joints. It’s on the expensive side (our bill topped £74, even minus the vino), with prices that imply a shade more quality than reality dictates, but its independent charm and hearty, reliable plates make this easy-to-pass-by restaurant well worth a trip.
The Oxford Place, 2 Oxford Place, Leeds LS1 3AX
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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.
Scallops 8, Monkfish 8, Steak 5, Bream 7, Cheesecake 6
Warm, cosy and welcoming, lovely in spite of the slightly odd (and too loud) music
Fast, polite, friendly and attentive