Can any restaurant called Home be good enough? When I go home – I mean primal, family home-home – there’s a way of doing things. It includes watching Frasier in my underpants, a critical inspection of the boiler and addressing my mother like a room service attendant. You will have your own ceremonies. But unless they include a seasonal tasting menu with wine flight (in which case, salut!), surely none of us can be truly accommodated? Let’s see.
Behind a discreet door on Kirkgate, Leeds’ oldest street, stone steps wind up to a grey-walled bar with parquet floor, 70s pastiche furniture and nana plates on the walls. It could be a home but looks more like a shoot in Wallpaper* magazine. My companion A, a south London rudegirl somehow turned CEO, captures its slightly precious chic: “It’s the lounge of a rich, fortysomething man who works in the creative industries and doesn’t want his girlfriend to move in.”
The reception can’t be faulted, though. We’re presented with nicely peppery (and nicely complimentary) G&Ts and “snacks”: local caviar, truffle-y cauliflower cheese tartlets, lozenges of duck terrine. It’s a nod to a domestic dinner party – drinks and nibbles on the sofa before the main event – and we love it. In the dining room itself, wicker ceiling shades float like a balloon race over live edge plates and genuinely elegant sofa seating. It is, in a word, nice.
Yet one holds food this ambitious (a 10-course tasting menu is the standard dinner offering) to a higher standard, where nice won’t cut it. Brown bread with beef butter and rib scratchings over-promises, being dripping on a mini-roll. We get into it with suckling pig beignet, an unctuous parcel with a little Asian tickle from turmeric-pickled apple dice. It’s good, but – and this is a persistent issue – tepid as a third-hand bath. A bland mushroom jumble follows, featuring a tarragon sponge that’s hard, green and chewy, like a washing-up scourer dried on the side of the sink. Carrot and celeriac cubes with radish, chaperoning a cheddar-topped, tepid eel, are gussied up coleslaw with nowhere to go. I’m in Leeds, I wail, I want something hot. But we’re yet to reach the nadir. That comes with beef short rib and blow-torched shallots. Both fine, but accompanied not with a mound of buttery mash, but – hold me – an urn of creamed potato foam. This is gastromolecular Smash, potato divorced from its natural texture; the tongue chases the sadistic cloud around the mouth, failing to find some comfort on which to alight. I weakly argue for its playful dissonance, but A, already piqued by the absence of gravy, has reverted to her roots: “Sorry, but that looks like spunk.” It’s a body blow.
But just as in the myths, once hope is lost, hope stirs. The kitchen must have warmed up, because lemon sole poached in beurre noisette is the first hot thing we eat: it’s extravagantly rich, despite the lemon finish. The wild mallard that follows is better again, gamey and unpredictable, spiced with coriander and mustard seeds, sitting on marmalade, with a duck leg sausage wrapped in ribbon potatoes. Now we’ve got a game. Arguably too late – we’re on to pudding, a hazelnut parfait cold and sweet as revenge, with a friable salted caramel cluster and the judicious bitter of Frangelico jelly. We finish on bain-marie coddled pumpkin bavarois with herbaceous ice-cream and cinder toffee. The desserts show an exceptional touch right down to the micro-herbs, which are far more than decorative: the parfait has a liquorice twist from aniseed cress; lemon thyme on the bavarois reaches out to her garden cousin, running naked and unapologetic through clotted cream.
The puddings are a home run, but the batting average isn’t great. Still, I like Home and its emphasis on the seasonal and local, with much of the produce from nearby Harewood House. (The £45 wine flight takes you around the world, from serene Eden Valley riesling and banana-noted California chardonnay to the stewed prunes of Pedro Ximenez.) Dinner works out at £7 a dish, and there’s talent on both sides of the pass, waiters being warm and well-informed. Only two months old, I hope the problems are teething. So far, this is no place like home, and if my mother served me that potato foam, I’d have her up before the Hague. But all’s not lost. Hotter food would be a start. If they like, I can take a look at the boiler. I’ll even do it in my underpants.
• Home 16/17 Kirkgate, Leeds LS1, 0113 430 0161. Open Thurs-Sat noon-2.30pm, 6pm-late; Sun noon-3pm. Set menus: £50 for five courses and Sunday lunch, £70 for 10 courses, all plus drinks and service.
Value for money 8/10