When I learned that Brown’s was undergoing refurbishment I was a little concerned. Housed in the former banking hall of the Leeds Permanent Building Society this restaurant has a ‘step back in time feel’ that pure and natural. Resembling the grand café dining of the past century one can almost image Lady Mary from Downton Abbey sweeping through the door or Noel Coward tinkling the ivories of the grand piano that sits in the restaurant overlooked by majestic gilded mirrors and potted palms.
But I need not have worried as Brown’s has still kept its character and the refurbishment has been subtle in the form of new upholstery and tactful updating of the walls.
We chose a table that overlooked Victoria Gardens and the floodlit town hall. Brown’s service has always been of the highest order but somehow on our visit we found standards had not just slipped they had skidded. We felt rushed into choosing our starter and whilst we looked at the menu our server sat on a nearby radiator pad in hand! This was followed by other blunders which was not just the Browns we have known and loved.
As quickly as possible we felt under pressure to choose our starter. My colleague opted for the Whole Baked Somerset Camembert, a vegetarian choice. It was very well melted and came with warm toasted bread that was crisp and perfect with the cheese, whilst the rhubarb and tomato chutney were the perfect accompaniment to the dish.
I was not as lucky with my White Onion Soup with Cider Cream and Isle of Man Cheddar on Toast. In fact, I can honestly say that in all my years as a food and travel writer this ranks amongst one of the worse starters I have ever tasted.
The cheese on toast accompaniment was well cooked but there was rather an overdose of it. The soup resembled yellow custard and was not very hot. It had a consistency of wallpaper paste, a strange flavour and I could only manage two spoonfuls of it under duress.
I did do better with my mains though. I opted for the Slow Cooked Salted Pork Belly with Savoury Apple Pie. The apple pie was the perfect accompaniment to the pork and gave it an added kick with a tasty fusion of flavour. The meat was succulent,tender and melted in your mouth whilst the crackling was crisp. It came with mash and green beans and I had a side order of roasted Portobello mushrooms which were tasty and roasted as they should be.
My colleague chose the Portobello Mushroom Tart. It had a puff pastry case and was filled with mushrooms and asparagus with a pea shoot salad. The tart was overcooked making it too flaky and dry, the mushrooms were tasty but the asparagus had not been cooked enough and was very tough rather than tender as it should be.
The After-Dinner Menu is always good at Brown’s and this time it was no exception, except our dessert course was consumed to the noise of staff re-setting tables next too us with little consideration for the existing customers.
My Banoffee Pie with caramelised bananas was a real sweet treat. My colleague chose the Caramelised Lemon Tart which supposedly came with blueberry Eaton mess. When it was literally plonked down in front of her there was no explanation why it had come with a dollop of cream instead of the Eaton mess and she had to call our server back to ask why. She wasn’t sure but said they must have run out maybe. Surely when there’s a change to a dish the customer has the right to know either at the point of ordering or when it’s brought to the table – well that’s what I have always believed.
Brown’s has always been the epitome of good food and good service. With so many eateries opening and offering more choices perhaps its time for Brown’s to up its game and tighten up its regime.
Browns 70-72 The Headrow. Tel: 0113 243 9353. Open: Monday-Thursday 9.00am-11pm. Friday-Saturday 9.00am-12midnight. Sunday 9.00am-10.30pm.