Neil Sowerby heads straight for the apres-ski classic
YOU’VE just finished a gallant fourth in the Skeleton quarter finals. Your Team GB medal dreams are dashed, so time to slip your sled out of Pyeongchang. But first, a further stack of carbs to ward off the wind chill factor? We’d also recommend necking a few Soju shots too, with your Bulgogi Bibimbap with Kimchi.
Yes, the word out of the Winter Olympic Village is that the athletes have been hitting the Korean barbecue stall big time even with the global smörgåsbord laid out before them. I hope those Alpine old stagers Fondue and Raclette aren’t cheesed off in the shadows.
Good for them to know that over here these ultimate apres-ski staples are packing out a Park Row pop-up every Friday and Saturday evening. We joined the jolly throng in the venue, Le Chalet, and it was all messily downhill from there.
L’Art du Fromage (the Art of Cheese) is the brainchild of Bobby Barker, who came up with the idea while holidaying with his girlfriend in the French Alps and asked his friends at Le Chalet to host. Fondue, we all know about, even if it’s often dismissed as a retro joke, always on the cusp of tongue in cheek reconstruction (like prawn cocktail and black forest gateau). At L’Art du Fromage they treat it seriously, as an authentic treat.
Raclette’s the quiet one, though no stranger to Leeds these days. Friends of Ham do a belter, scraping molten English Ogleshield cheese off an upright grill onto potatoes as a small plate snack.
After first burning the roof on my mouth, I then dipped too enthusiastically and carried souvenir blobs home on my shirt...
Same formula here, except bigger and you get to melt your own cheese on a little tabletop raclette grill, doing your own scraping (racler means to scrape) onto new potatoes. When we ordered one between us (£16.95) we expected it, as on the menu, to come first with its entourage of salad, cornichons and bread. That’s why we’d forgone nibbles of prosciutto wrapped apples with blue cheese.
Also, already, the spectre of cheese dreams and cholesterol overload was lurking in the back of our minds.This intensified when the Classic Fondue for two (£23.90) landed at the same time. Our table for two, used to daytime coffee and cake, struggled to cope. As I promised, it was getting messy.
Dominating the landscape, like Mont Blanc bestriding national borders, was the ceramic caquelon, the fondue pot, a little réchaud (spirit lamp stove) heating a trio of seething mountain cheeses inside, a basin of baguette cubes alongside, ready for skewering and dipping.
We’d ordered a side of chicken (£4.50), ostensibly to dip, too, but our accompanying pooch wolfed the lot. Alternatively we could have bagged a brace of sausages for £2.50).
The Raclette was a hearty opener, glorified cheese on toast, perfect fodder for a bottle of spicy Cotes du Rhone (£26) from a very French wine list. The Fondue was more than generous and it seemed a shame to waste so leave so much of of this molten blend of Gruyere d’alpage, Emmental grands crus and the Comte cousin, Meule du Jura, with a substantial splash of sauvignon blanc stirred in. After first burning the roof on my mouth, I then dipped too enthusiastically and carried souvenir blobs home on my shirt. Take a bib.
This is not the stuff of first dates or intense hook-ups – this is a trough of quality stodge, a cut above the now ubiquitous poutine. Definitely for a larger group to share. Not necessarily in bob-caps or bearing the scars of a luge tumble, but that kind of demographic. I like L’Art du Fromage’s cheesy challenge enough to award it a medal… or at least a score of thirteen. Just not quite me.
L'Art Du Fromage at Le Chalet, 31-32 Park Row, Leeds LS1 5JD. 0113 243 0576. Open Fri and Sat from 7am until late.
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.
Raclette 7, fondue 8, chicken 6
Wanted Alpine hut, got commandeered French tea room
Very French, slightly run off its feet