Chef Matt Healy has breathed a new lease of life into a local institution and, says Zoë Perrett, the Leeds lad is doing his home city proud
When you’re just about to get your hands on the keys to your new house, paying a visit to anywhere with covetable interiors is playing a dangerous game.
And so it goes with The Foundry in Leeds, where smoky mirrors, turquoise neon signage, and bare brickwork juxtaposed with teal velvet have us mentally frittering away half of our doer-upper’s budget before we’ve even got to the bottom of our pre-prandial g&ts.Tucked away in Saw Mill Yard, with a ritzed-up industrial vibe within and a courtyard-facing terrace without, The Foundry is a thoroughly pleasant place to ensconce oneself of an afternoon or evening.
But what of the food? Well, The Foundry’s kitchen is the domain of MasterChef the Professionalsrunner-up Matt Healey; information which should provide an inkling that your stomach is in safe hands.
The Leeds lad took on the already well-reputed venue just two months ago, and, by all accounts, hasn’t let the side down. And, as we gnaw on hunks of sourdough bread dunked into chicken fat butter and get our teeth into the wine list, it’s evident that GM Iain Silver’s savvy booze selections are similarly upping The Foundry’s ante.
When a chef knows their proverbial, they tend to compose menus which flex according to season, whim, and produce quality and availability. Such is the case here, where the a la carte manages to be both concise and to offer something to please pretty much any palate. Umming and ahhing over what to order, I feel I could close my eyes, jab my finger at any dish, and still be chuffed with what landed in front of me.
I’m certainly rather taken with my starter of beef tartare; the raw meat’s inherent richness enhanced further when blended with the orangey egg yolk which crowns the dish. Crunch comes in the form of a blue cheese and onion toastie which lends the typically fancy French dish a definitively, defiantly Yorkshire accent.
LB’s gone surf and turf with a combo of scallops and presa – a tender, flavoursome cut of Iberico pork. The two ingredients alone cover off rich, fatty, sweet, savoury and salty; the accompanying chimichurri provides the piquant sharpness which brings this merry ménage a trois together. The weather’s fine for dining but too hot for red wine, so on Iain’s recommendation we’re sipping a Quail’s Gate Riesling from British Columbia which proves an excellent introduction to Canada’s viniculture.
I’ve had the raw; now it’s time for the cooked in the form of a piece of medium-rare bavette steak with that big bold flavour typical of a muscular cut that’s done some work. The accompanying confit potatoes rival Shaun Searley’s legendary spuds at London’s Quality Chop House – an excellent sponge for a lacquer-like gravy dotted with tiny onions.
With summer in the air but with no prospect of a holiday on the horizon, LB’s Catalan fish stew serves as the culinary equivalent of a minibreak. It’s a thing of beauty; the seafood swimming in a dark bisque which further demonstrates why double Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing was once moved to describe a sauce of Matt’s as one of the best he’s ever tasted. As there’s no pressing need to be beach body ready, more bread is employed to mop up every drop.
I’m put in charge of picking puddings, then taken to task by LB for choosing him something that ‘looks like the muesli and yogurt I have to have for breakfast’. A single spoonful of panna cotta later, the complaint is withdrawn and the combination of silky set cream, gooey grilled peach and crunchy granola is declared a winning one.
In lieu of the sadly sold-out crème brulee donut, I’ve chosen the chocolate fondant – a dessert of which I’m not often a fan. This, however, proves to be an exceptional exception to my rule; a molten marvel where any could-be-cloyingness is pre-emptively tempered by a tart raspberry sorbet and a bittersweet shard of burnt caramel glass.
Meal Mathematics is a complex system. A kitchen sink’s-worth of ingredients can come together to yield something spectacular, or a culinary car crash. And the same applies to dishes composed of just a handful of items – except if you take the latter approach, there’s nowhere to hide. By keeping it simple, a chef is definitely not playing it safe.
Matt Healy gets this: devoted to ‘good honest food’ and to teasing out the best qualities from his produce, affording the same respect to a humble, under-valued ingredient as he would a prized delicacy. This chef’s strapline is ‘food to swear by’, and, if you listen hard enough, you’ll probably hear a good few delighted expletives being uttered by your fellow diners as they put fork to mouth.
Matt Healy at The Foundry, 1 Saw Mill Yard, Leeds LS11 5WH mhfoundry.co.uk