“This place doesn’t have an address,” were the words uttered as we got out the Uber. “Right, where are we going then?”
It wasn’t long before we stumbled upon the restaurant on Stainbeck Corner, despite not being able to find the postcode anywhere (it’s now on their social media). It was a Friday night and Hern’s second night of service after two guinea pig nights with local Leeds businesses, the weekend before. New to Chapel Allerton’s dining scene, I booked a table minutes after seeing an Instagram post announcing their official opening. And when I say booked, I left a voicemail. No website and no menu.
But I knew I had to go because I knew that one half of the duo behind Hern was founder and owner of former bread bakery, Roops, which stopped trading in February (they got the keys to Hern in September). The best loaf of sourdough I’ve ever eaten was from Roops and that alone was enough for me to make this decision. Sitting in the corner of my kitchen like a large fossilised rock, the crust was rugged and almost black. Cracking into it uncovered a cratered centre bursting with so much deep flavour. It was a sourdough I’ll never forget, hence why a trip to their new restaurant was rather desirable.
‘Sitting in the corner of my kitchen like a large fossilised rock, the crust was rugged and almost black. It was a sourdough I’ll never forget’.
We walked in and I instantly felt as though I’d accidentally walked on stage a cue too early. With the kitchen completely hidden at the back and no front of house hovering around you whilst you eat, there’s a wonderful sense of liberation that you’re just left to your own devices, coupled with an intimacy that is much-wanted over dinner. The maître d’ (and other half of the duo) suddenly appeared and made us feel instantly welcome; he became a messenger between the two worlds of the kitchen and the dining area and his presence always brought a sense of comfort as it signaled food and wine. Whenever he returned to the kitchen, I’d soak up more of the interior – minimal and rustic with bare, white walls, exposed brick and hanging lamps. The small collection of tables and chairs were all wooden; wine bottles lined the shelves; and they had kept the original floor from when the site used to be Ned’s Café, serving full English breakfasts.
Wine ordered we started with snacks, the word ‘snacks’ being a wonderful understatement. A chorus of small plates started flying out of the kitchen and just when I thought that was it, more arrived. Two square pillows of pig’s head croquettes (which fell apart in your mouth) with a dainty dollop of sweet, quince gel to compliment. A cheese and onion tart, followed by salmon’s roe on sourdough and then the holy grail itself – even more sourdough. Four chunky slices arrived the size of a tiny house and we generously slathered them with butter and devoured.
Next on the menu was pumpkin agnolotti with radicchio in a winter broth. The soft parcels of pasta cradled a sweet pumpkin purée that burst in your mouth and melted on your tongue as though it were laying down a warm duvet. The winter broth fuelled my internal central heating system and the crunchy radicchio brought a slight edge and bitterness to the dish as a whole.
‘Soft parcels of pasta cradled a sweet pumpkin purée that burst in your mouth and melted on your tongue as though it were laying down a warm duvet’.
The main course arrived oozing with rich flavours; beef short rib with a jus on velvety polenta plus, a few leaves of kale. I personally found the polenta over-salted but this was completely forgivable as I still ate the whole thing. It was slowly demolished bite by bite and we ended up having to skip out on the cheese course (gutted!) since our stomachs had now reached full capacity. It sounded delicious though and featured the famous Mario Olianas’s Leeds Blue.
We still left room for dessert, of course. An earthy, fig leaf ice cream with more sweet quince and a sugary crumb. It was a dish that worked in harmony and as you popped a little bit of everything on your spoon and into your mouth, it all melted in unison on your tongue. It was delightful.
As our meal came to an end, the restaurant was quickly filling up. It was time to leave – but seeing all the courses land on other peoples’ tables made me want to stay and do it all over again. I implore you to go to Hern. Follow them on Instagram where they post their daily changing menu on their Stories and book a table. Even take a bottle of wine with you, if you fancy (you can BYOB and pay corkage). Just make sure you go.