Food | Gastronaut – Roast + Conch – So much more than a wonka-esque experience

One could be forgiven for imagining that a restaurant opened by Hotel Chocolat is going to be a Wonka-esque conglomeration of chocolate into every meal. Though Roast + Conch are keen to stress that you’re not going to find chocolate soup, chocolate spag bol, followed by more chocolate for dessert on the menu. For starters it’s not about chocolate, it’s all the varied parts which make up the cacao bean and can be utilised in everything from tea to scotch eggs. The name of the restaurant itself comes from the way in which chocolate is made, and just highlights how tremendously they value process here.

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Over two floors, the restaurant interior is a stylish fusion of luxury and back-to-basics: sumptuous leather booths are surrounded byburlap sacks meant to transport you straight to the plantation where your food originated. This mix of the decadent and rustic isn’t entirely congruous, though it’s a lie to deny that the place looks impressive. The bar downstairs is ideal for drinks if you’re after something considerably more upmarket than Mook or Terrace, with its high distressed wood tables and low hanging spotlights. Don’t go expecting drinks deals that are cheap and cheerful; though you’re paying very little considering the quality of their efforts. Cocktails tend to be £9, and are generously alcoholic. They serve a gin of their own invention (made with cacao shells, of course) which is a delicious must-try for any who claim to be gin lovers. The Fresh Cacao Martini and 1745 Old Fashioned are also impressive, the smooth creamy cacao pulp adding a wonderful dimension to these familiar cocktails.

Then you have the food. Whether the chocolate aspect is a gimmick or not, there is no denying that the creations are delicious. The Salmon Nib Cake with its wonderful white chocolate horseradish is a highlight, along with the creamy and luxurious Tuna and Cacao Pulp Ceviche. The flavours are delicate and intensely rich; you can taste the dedication and effort of creativity. Luxury and basic meet once again in the menu, with sweet potato cornmeal gnocchi ‘served with pumpkin and nutmeg air’ sitting alongside yorkshire pudding filled with pulled pork. The mains, similarly, range from a fabulous Ricotta and Cocoa-Nib Gnudi to Mac + Cheese and their special hamburger.

The starters, or ‘small tastes’ are £6.50, while more substantial mains are priced reasonably at around £15, with sides available for £4. Though you’re unlikely to be able to dine here every week, it’s an excellent alternative to the stalwarts such as Browns for somewhere a little more up-market to go for special occasions. Or, if you’re a lucky sort, it’s ideal when you’re cashing-in on the outpouring of love from visiting parents and relatives.

With a marvellous location just outside the spanking-new Trinity Centre, and overlooking the bustle of Boar Lane, Roast + Conch is as much about the experience as the food itself. The service is excellent, the staff eager to please and explain their products with pride. With stiff competition from other, more well-established names to occupy the price-bracket in people’s minds, this new venture has its work cut out. But no doubt it will soon cement itself in the fabric of Leeds, with its exceptional quality and dedication to 3,000 years of cocoa tradition and innovation. Of course, if you do just want to cram your face with excellent chocolates, Roast + Conch is still the place to go.

Jennie Pritchard

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