Restaurant reviews

Arts Cafe: Casually delicious on Call Lane

Think Call Lane and the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t a relaxed, chilled bistro where the focus is firmly on the quality of the food! If you think food, you might think of the bright and brash colours of Neon Cactus, or maybe the ‘free smells’ of Red’s at the top of Call Lane. These places have their merits, but subtly isn’t one of them.

Head down the road slightly, though, and you’ll come across Art’s Cafe, a bar and restaurant that has stood the test of time in Call Lane and offers a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

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When we went in on a Thursday evening, it wasn’t heaving, but it was doing a good trade. There were young families like us, couples, groups of friends, large family groups spanning generations, and even diners on their own, reading whilst tucking into some hearty grub. In short, everyone is welcome here; the vibe is chilled, and you could easily spend a whole evening here soaking it all up.

It’s all very well nailing the atmosphere, but what was the food like? Well, in short, very good indeed. We kept things simple to start with, tucking into some bread with oil and balsamic vinegar. Straightaway I was impressed. I hate it at cafes and restaurants when the bread is served with a tiny pot of oil and balsamic; the balsamic drains away with the first piece of bread dipped into it, leaving the rest of the doughy starter somewhat lacklustre. At Art’s Cafe, you pretty much get a dessert bowl of the thickest, most indulgent balsamic vinegar, topped with olive oil. You could call it excessive; as a bread and oil fan, I call it ‘spot on’.

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With a promising starter like that out of the way, it was a good job we’d picked two hearty mains capable of following up such a strong beginning to the meal. Kyle’s main was wild mushroom and truffle macaroni cheese. If you like mushrooms, you’ll love this dish. It’s mushroom through and through, from the velvety coating on the pasta, to the cep and parmesan breadcrumb topping. It could have become one-dimensional, but was elevated by the addition of the topping and the texture change of the accompanying char-grilled courgettes. All in all, an excellent dish.

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I had opted for the braised and rolled shoulder of lamb, which sat on top of a subtle pea risotto. The dish was decorated with the sweetest, most intensely flavoured balsamic roast pearl onions (they obviously love their balsamic here – thumbs up!) and black garlic. The lamb was extremely tender, so tender in fact that I could have eaten this dish without a knife. The delicate flavour of the risotto allowed the meaty tones of the lamb to shine, and I absolutely wolfed it down.

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In all honesty, pudding was a luxury after the gorging that took place with our main courses. I had, however, heard good things about their legendary sticky toffee pudding, and was keen to see if it stood up to these rave reviews. Kyle’s eye, meanwhile, had been caught by the salted chocolate pot.

My sticky toffee pudding did indeed live up to its reputation. The toffee sauce was gooey and rich in flavour, and the pudding itself nicely warmed through. It was all balanced brilliantly by the proper vanilla ice cream. I felt pretty ill after I’d finished it, but in a good way! Kyle’s salted chocolate pot came with a range of intriguing flavours: black treacle ice cream, and sour cherry compote. It all worked very well, but I’m fairly sure he had a spot of pudding envy.

Art’s Cafe is somewhere we’re a little ashamed of not visiting before, especially since we used to live less than a five minute walk away. Now we know that it’s a little hidden, tucked away gem in the unlikeliest of places, we’re going to return time and again.

Reservations: 0113 243 8243

Where is it: 42 Call Lane, Leeds, LS1 6DT

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