I have a set of self-imposed rules which I apply when I decide where to eat for my Let’s Do Lunch series. I drafted this list when I began writing the feature about three and a half years ago in order to be fair to both the restaurant operators and you, my dear reader. Not to visit anywhere which has not been open for at least six months is a case in point, because it is reasonable to assume that the early days’ experience may differ for readers as the business finds its feet.
It is also not fair to the business as, even with the best preparation in the world, there will be teething troubles. Black Market is a case in point. It has been open for four weeks and I left wishing that my editor hadn’t asked me to visit. Please don’t get me wrong: I can’t have any regrets about having one of the best lunches it has ever been my pleasure to consume, but I have to mention the inevitable teething troubles, too.
The first glitch was that Black Market doesn’t have its website up and running yet so I could not do my homework before I went. This was not too much of a problem as I often decide where to go on the spur of the moment, but I thought that it might put some people off. My suspicions were confirmed when I left the building and was taking the exterior photograph. A passer-by asked me if I had been there to eat and when I answered in the affirmative he said that he had tried to find out about it online but drew a blank. There is a Facebook page but that is not the same. I told him that it was brilliant and suggested that he give it a try.
The second problem was the menu. The bill of fare from noon until 6.30pm is a choice from ten small plates comprising meat, fish and vegetables. The deal is that you can choose any three for £18. The problem is that if you go for the most expensive three, the total comes to £25.40 so you are saving £7.40 but, should you opt for the cheapest three then it comes to £11.50 which potentially means that you are overpaying by £6.50. In practice this would not happen as when I looked at my bill the items had been charged individually and a discount applied at the end, bringing the cost down to the advertised £18 so I assume that should the total be less, that is what you would pay. I did draw this to the owners’ attention and it is something that they are looking into. Enough of the negative stuff. Let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about the good stuff – and it is really good.
When I arrived my overcoat was taken from me and hung in the cloakroom. Not a big deal you may say but it is surprising how few times this happens and I have to drape it over the back of my seat, where it either falls off or trails on the floor. I was then given a choice of tables, which again was a good touch. I picked the nosy table where I could people-watch if I was struggling with the crossword. A litre carafe of tap water was brought whilst I perused the menu; I had been given the option of tap, bottled still or bottled sparkling. All good.
The items on the menu were varied and seemed to take full advantage of the seasonal availability. It being Halloween, we were in the game season and it was wonderful to see two choices in wood pigeon and guinea fowl. I stuck to meat for the third plate; steak. From the wine list I chose a Rioja (£6.20 for 175ml) which had a lovely liquorice hint, perfect for the meal to come. Before the meat arrived the waitress, whom I found out was one of the partners in the business, appeared with a board laden with home baked bread and home churned butter. There were three variations of each, the cornbread being the star of one half and duck liver butter being the best of the other, just better than the herb butter.
The small plates came out of the kitchen one at a time, about a minute apart, which was fine. First to be delivered was the Tri Tip Fillet with Mushroom Caramel, Horseradish Mousse. The steak was on the rare side of medium and perfectly cooked. It was tender and laid atop the mushroom accompanied by a generous knob of butter. I cannot remember when I have had such an exquisite piece of steak complimented by such flavoursome, but not overpowering, accompaniments. I was in carnivore heaven.
Second to the table was Pan Roasted Guinea Fowl with a Butter Bean Casserole. Once more this was perfectly cooked, with the seasoned skin being on the crispy side and the cassoulet beneath seeing the beans still having a bite to them, neither undercooked nor mushy. Another triumph. Wild fowl tastes a lot like chicken used to do but with a bit of a stronger edge so can stand the flavour of the tomato sauce quite easily.
Last, but by no means least, came the Pan Fried Wood Pigeon with Fennel and Chilli Black Pudding, Sweet Tamarind Glazed Rhubarb. The wood pigeon was again on the rare side, as it should be, with a strong, earthy, game taste and a hint of liver pierced by the tamarind and rhubarb fruitiness. The home-made black pudding with the aniseed-like taste of fennel and kick of chilli was a masterpiece. I am running out of words to describe just how good this lunch was, so I will shut up and hope that you have the point.
The three dishes, along with the bread, meant that I was fairly full by the time my plates were cleared. I will digress here and say that, in addition to the those laden with food, I was provided with a warm, empty plate to eat from, thus saving me from having them and the glasses arranged around me like Phil Collins’ drum kit. Another good touch. I was toying with the idea of just having a coffee and catching the bus home, but I simply could not tear myself away from the place so I asked to see the dessert menu. I decided on Vanilla Sky (£7.95), advertised as Vanilla Creme Brûlée, Vanilla Syrup, Vanilla Cremeux and Tonka Bean Ice Cream. I don’t know about you but I always expect anything made with tonka beans to arrive in a huge toy truck. OK; it’s just me.
When it arrived it was not quite as advertised in that the creme brûlée had become a vanilla cream filled macaron. Just ask me if I cared. Everything was perfect and surprisingly light, leaving a lovely aftertaste. I finally had my de rigour black Americano at £2.35 whilst I convinced myself that all good things must come to an end and I had better get the bus home before the rush hour began.
As I was paying my bill I had a chat with the partners of the business, Justina and Jon, who like many others I have met recently, are passionate about what they do. What sets these two apart is that Jon can certainly cook brilliantly and Justina is perfect front of house. All the signs for this new venue tell me that the two will make a great success of Black Market.
An abridged version of this article was first published by Leeds Living on 2nd November, 2018