Brook’s, 6 Bradford Road, Brighouse, West Yorkshire HD6 1RW (01484 715284). Small plates £ 7.50 to £ 10, large plates £ 16.50 to £ 25, desserts £ 6.50 to £ 7, wines from £ 21
My name is Jay Rayner and I am helpless in the face of good bread. I am especially helpless in the face of molasses and malt bread with a whipped peak of Marmite butter, which was served to me at Brook’s, a surprisingly good modern brewery opposite the Town Hall in Brighouse, West Yorkshire. It arrives hot in the oven and is shaped like a large pert muffin. The top is glazed to a shine with a sticky molasses slick. I tear it up, so that it blows out warm, sweet-salty puffs of hot air. The texture seems open until I chew and it gets mushy enough. When it’s generously spread with butter, it reminds me of the dark slices of Soreen paved with salted anchor, eaten on winter afternoons when I was a kid. Only this malt bread has grown a little. It is Soreen’s older brother, the more sophisticated who has seen things.
Now I am faced with a riddle, a riddle well known to those with what we like to call a “bon appetite”. The quality of this £ 3.50 bread dish, the attention to detail, and the Stanley knife execution suggest that the food ahead could be pretty good. Which means I have to give him some room. But look: some of the bread remains. And I’m just a man; a mess of frailties and human impulses. What am I supposed to do? I finally have to ask our server to remove the plate, unfinished. I dismiss him as a parent who sends his most loved child abroad for his own good.
Full disclosure: reservation Brook’s was a punt. I had to be in Leeds. It was the perfect opportunity to take a review in the city. If only it was that easy. Very new readers start here: The UK recently introduced a post-Brexit immigration and employment policy that told the tens of thousands of EU nationals who made up one or two important vertebrae in the spine backbone of the hospitality industry, that they were no longer welcome here. Many of them understood the hint and went elsewhere. And if you don’t like your restaurant reviews accompanied by a lot of political commentary, don’t blame me. Blame those who voted for this madness. Of course, there are also Covid issues and salary issues. But the point is, a large chunk of the workforce is simply gone.
As a result, restaurants have shortened their working hours. Not all of the places I considered worth considering in Leeds were open for lunch. I widened my net and, thanks to Amanda Wragg, who writes for the Yorkshire Post (and are half the duo behind the brilliant Yorkshire Restaurant Blog Beak squid), I found my way to Brook’s. At the end of 2019, Darrell and Petra Brook retired after 30 years of noble service to the city. Lauren Midgley and Greg Foggo took over. They kept the name, gave the space a clean, modern makeover in overseas tones, and installed a chef named Dan Maxwell, whom they had met while working together at Gray, in the kitchen. Ox at Hartshead. You might not know Maxwell’s name. You should. Its lunch menu is a mix of small plates priced at a dozen or less and large plates that barely appeal to teenagers. It reads a little agitated, but takes on its full meaning in the plate. The flavors are reliable and self-confident.
In a few places, the cuisine has a nod to the Middle East. There is, for example, a duck egg, breaded and fried, so that when you slice it, the yellow sunrise flows over a hard-hitting jumble of baba ghanoush. Rather than a puree for those with a lack of teeth, roasted eggplant still has bite and texture, enhanced by the addition of honeyed cashews and savory discs of sliced green olive. Some may object to the use of the word tagine in the title of a seafood dish, heavy with a whiff of cinnamon and composed of spiced chickpeas with harissa, mussels, smoked almonds, samphire and a large shrimp. As always, the tangles of nomenclature are offset by the oomph and poise of the kitchen.
Slices of spicy duck breast pastrami arrive with a big dollop of celeriac remoulade. But the kicking star is a long braised, deeply sauced pig cheek that staggers on a record of their own black pudding. This black pudding, made here from scratch, is a succulent joy, full of plumped pearl barley, chopped apple and golden raisins and with a loose texture that pulls it away from an ocean of dense tile grouting that clumsy attempts often become. It will now be the black pudding against which all others must be judged. It features chewable dollhouse onion rings pan-fried with wild mushrooms and, underneath, a silky turnip puree. It’s a serious and substantial plate for £ 8.
Side dishes include a Jerusalem artichoke aligot, a fancy name for an outrageous mash mixed with encouraging amounts of cheese. The artichokes arrive in the form of tanned crisps, drowning happily in the mash. And then there are the sliced, candied, pressed, then fried potatoes (made famous by London’s Quality chophouse) which arrive looking like so many compacted golden kettle chips. This is not my most elegant description, but it is accurate. We find room for their caramelized fig and pecan tarte tatin, which is a dark confection of caramel and crunchy dough with, to balance the acidity, a sparkling scoop of a crème fraîche sorbet. In the evenings, the menu grows a bit, as usual, and some main courses are around £ 20. Even so, the value for money is evident, helped by a concise wine list that seems priced to make you consider ordering another bottle, even on a school night. Look for the Sunday brunch menu that includes their own crumpets, a bacon chop, and spicy pumpkin pancakes.
The service is smiling and efficient. The place buzzes with comfortable contentment, which may be due to just surviving. Six months after the new owners arrived, Storm Ciara swept through the Calder Valley, causing flooding along its length, including at Brighouse, which impacted Brook’s. Then came the pandemic. But they are back. And they thrive. Come for the bread. Stay for the black pudding. Don’t miss the candied potatoes. Or the seafood tagine. Damn, stay for all that.
That’s the encouraging trend for 2022. Argentina’s steakhouse chain Gaucho has announced plans to open a carbon-neutral branch in Glasgow by Valentine’s Day. They will work alongside their charitable partner Not For Sale to offset their footprint through a reforestation program in the Amazon. Meanwhile, the entire Hawksmoor steakhouse chain has pledged to go carbon neutral in 2022, and in Liverpool, the Middle East restaurant and bar company Maray has announced it is now carbon negative. .
A big hello to Qavali, a new restaurant on Broad Street in Birmingham, which is inspired by the journey of Qawwali music, associated with Sufism, from Turkey to Iran to Afghanistan to Indian subcontinent. Indeed, that means an eclectic menu of Turkish-inspired dips, charcoal-grilled kebabs, biryanis cooked under puff pastry lids, and various Indo-Persian stews. TO qavali.com.
Dipna Anand, whose family started the venerable Brilliant restaurant in Southall in 1975, is opening a new business inside Somerset House on the London Strand next week. The short menu will be Punjabi and South Indian, including grilled meats and fish curries, while the decor will reflect his family’s heritage in India and Kenya. Visit dipnasomersethouse.co.uk
Guardian Live is hosting an online event with Jay Rayner on December 1. Book tickets here