Uncommon Excellence is what RARE is all about. I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what that means. My guess is that Rare think they’re something special, a little something out of the ordinary, if you will. They class themselves as refined, but not fine dining. They want to offer the people of Leeds something we can’t get elsewhere in the city. Apparently that includes comfortable surroundings, value for money, generous portions and knowledgable, enthusiastic staff.
The dinner menu is simple. A whole chicken for two, pork belly, lamb sausages, game pie and a burger. The crowning glory is one mammoth porterhouse steak to share between two. For £60. That’s £60, folks. I’ll come back to that later.
I was invited down to RARE for the second of its two preview nights. Between the three of us, we ended up ordering one steak and one burger. On top of that we shared the full range of starters (three of them) and a lot of sides. Oh and we finished off with both puddings. Why not, eh? All in the name of research. Let me run you through it.
Spicy Tamworth Pork Belly Ribs £7.50 served with red cabbage and beetroot pickle
Potted Smoked Duck £6 served with grilled sour dough toasts and date, fig and apple chutney
Yorkshire Pudding £4 served with beef, onion and porter gravy
My favourite of the starter line up was the Potted Duck. I’m a sucker for any meat-based spread and this was good, with a thick layer of duck fat sealing in the meat, crisp sourdough and spicy chutney. As always with paté there wasn’t enough bread, so I opted to fork the rest of the stuff straight out of the jar into my mouth. The duck itself could have been chunkier, the consistency was straddling rough and smooth a bit uncomfortably, committing to neither, but the flavour was good and I would definitely go back for more. The Yorkshires were crispy and fluffy, just as they should be. We opted for gravy and as we were sharing we ended up ripping and dunking. The gravy itself was a touch on the bitter side for me and went cold pretty quickly in its little ramekin. I wish we’d opted for the “warm Yorkshire blue cheese sauce” instead. Finally, I’m ashamed to say that the pork ribs were none of my business. I’m not the biggest fan of fatty pork cuts (sacrilege, I know!) but they smelled great, glistened with meaty juices and I’m informed by my friend Nicola (a self-confessed pork fanatic), they were very satisfying with the red cabbage and beetroot pickle providing a sharp, tangy accompaniment to cut through the fat.
10 oz Longhorn Beef Burger £13.50 minced in house and served with baby gem lettuce, heritage tomatoes, dill pickle, red onion rings, swaledale cheese, beetroot and horseradish relish, triple cooked chips, wholegrain mustard and celeriac coleslaw
My perfect beef burger consists of a big, juicy patty, the kind that’s pink in the middle and oozes clear juices all down your chin when you bite into it. I like toppings. Cheese is always good. A bit of lettuce is a must. I like something a bit different, a sauce or a relish, but the right quantities are very important. The RARE burger ticks a lot of these boxes. The textures are near perfect. The bun was of a crusty, chewy persuasion that some burger snobs may look down on for taking up valuable stomach space, but I loved it. My only complaint was that the beetroot and horseradish relish, though it was nicely sweet and crunchy, overpowered the rest of the flavours so that the layers of tomatoes, pickles, onions and cheese were just textures in my mouth instead of distinct tastes. Having said that, I’d probably order it again.
1Kg Longhorn Porterhouse Steak £60 seasoned with oak smoked sea salt, to share
The steak arrived a little more on the medium side than the medium rare we’d asked for but the meat was still tender. Porterhouse is a notoriously difficult cut to grill evenly, made up of the strip steak and the fillet which cook at different speeds. If you ask me, that’s quite a big risk to take for £60 of your hard earned cash. Considering the rest of the mains are reasonably priced (the next expensive dish on the menu is the chicken to share for £24) it seems strange for RARE to position themselves side by side price-wise with some of Britain’s best steak restaurants. At Hawksmoor in London, for example, the porterhouse comes in at £7 per 100g and foodies go to great lengths to get there. With Crafthouse just around the corner offering cuts from renowned butcher Ginger Pig at similar prices, even in Leeds the bar is set high. And whilst purists might sniff at anything more than a bit of salt and pepper with their slab, at £60 I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a few sauces to choose from. By the time you order a couple of sides, you’re talking £35 a head before drinks even come into it. The restaurant claims to offer both “uncommon excellence” and “rare value”, but as a showpiece main course the steak provides neither.
Let’s talk sides. DELICIOUS CHIPS. These chips are really good. They’re just the right thickness, neither chunky nor skinny. They’re like chip shop chips and they’re triple fried too. Swooooon. I could eat them all day, forever. They’re crispy and fluffy because as I understand it, this is what the triple frying method is all about. I’m into it. They’re £3.50, order lots. Root veg and onions rings were nice extras but offered nothing different of note. Honestly, it’s all about the chips.
Sticky Cinder Toffee Pudding £6 with Cox ice cream and toffee sauce
Marmalade Bread & Butter Pudding £6 served with vanilla custard
The two puddings on offer are exactly the choices you’d expect to find accompanying the traditional English comfort food at RARE. While both the sticky toffee and bread & butter puddings went down a treat, I can’t help but feel that they were somewhat of an after thought. The cinder toffee leant a lovely burnt flavour, a good match for this time of year and I respect the decision to go with an apple icecream when a vanilla would have done just fine. It’s icy tartness cut through the stickiness of the pudding excellently. The bread and butter came with a gloriously frothy custard that came slathered over the pudding rather messily – I’d have preferred a little jug, but I guess that’s nitpicking. Overall the sweets were good, definitely nothing to turn your nose up at, but I can’t help but think of several other eateries within walking distance who could serve you a more satisfying version.
The wine we had to accompany our meal was a Syrah which cost £17.95. It was good, clearly high quality and a great match for the big meaty dishes on offer, but with the next choice for red at over £20, it would have been nice to see a few more affordable options. Other restaurants I’ve been to around Leeds (Dish & Shears Yard, for example) certainly have a wider choice under the £20 mark, so I was a little disappointed with the selection.
Let’s not forget, this place is a bar too. You’re led downstairs to eat, into a den-like room with exposed brickwork, rope lighting and a massive stuffed cow called Sue. It’s a lovely atmosphere to eat in, and that means that upstairs is dedicated purely to drinks. The bar menu looks pretty damn promising. Sticking to wine on the night, I didn’t try any of the bar’s cocktails but just a quick skim of the menu made me promise myself I’d go back soon. I’m very much looking forward to this place as an addition to the nightlife scene, somewhere a little different to go to avoid the scrum (RARE have promised to limit standing room which should make for a more comfortable Saturday night atmosphere than the usual Call Lane haunts) and maybe grab a late bite from the Supper Menu.
If you live in Leeds, this place is a reliable shout for indulgent food cooked well. Whilst the quality is high, excitement isn’t. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, RARE isn’t it. Nothing about this place screams uncommon excellence to me, but that doesn’t mean it’s without merit. You’ll no doubt leave rubbing your belly and feeling satisfied, just the way I did. Choose well and it can be good value for money. It’s just a shame about their mission statement.
Disclaimer: RARE invited me down to try their food menu free of charge.