by Leo Owen
Located slightly outside the city's main centre along Kirkstall Road, FortyOne takes me back over a decade to student days when I used to live in the area. Near to Kirkstall Abbey, the restaurant is nestled in a residential area, convenient for those living around and close enough to the centre to warrant a visit.
For a Wednesday night FortyOne is packed with folk actually queuing for a table. Apparently about 60% of restaurants close in their first year so FortyOne has wisely decided to pack in the customers by utilising Groupon's discount deals. The evidence of their success is clearly visible tonight. Looking around, casually dressed couples of all age groups fill the restaurant's intimate square candlelit tables.
I have a a convenient vantage point, positioned equidistantly from the restaurant's glass front and the open bar covering the back wall. Abstract block paintings in browns and beiges match the décor. To create the Mediterranean vibe, large green pot plants are strategically positioned and a faux grape vine frames the kitchen archway. An old stove tucked into an alcove is covered in candles, as is a wood and stone fireplace. Barely perceptible easily listening music plays, impossible to distinguish amid the overpowering chatter of a full restaurant.
To create the Mediterranean vibe, large green pot plants are strategically positioned
The menu is equally split, offering a fine balance of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes. Starters range from duck liver to bruschetta, soup of the day and Scottish salmon - perhaps not so Mediterranean! Our waitress good-naturedly suggests the calamari or a foccacia selection to share but we decide on Gamberoni Picante (£5.90) and Le Parisien (£4.25).
Wines are listed on a blackboard above the open bar. The selection is modest and not ground-breaking (Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Soave, Merlot, Cabernet Shiraz...) with cautiously chosen well-known favourites that ensure there's an even colour split. Unlike my dining partner, I'm not a beer drinker so order by the glass. The only wine available in such small measures is the vaguely titled “House Wine” in a choice of three colours; It takes little time to decide and I'm soon presented with a large rose, instantly pleased it's the right side of red with a satisfying pink hue.
Sizzling sounds from the kitchen bate my already growling stomach
Sizzling sounds from the kitchen bate my already growling stomach and the satisfying tinker of the orders bell is momentarily interrupted by the sound of smashing glass. A red-faced girl dining at a table on the slightly raised mezzanine wood and tiled floor apologises but our waitress is ready to buffer her embarrassment: “No worries,” she says, “it's good luck when someone breaks a glass.” I'm not sure where that tradition comes from but it sounds suitably laid-back for the Mediterranean so although reluctant, I'm willing to believe her.
Our starters arrive. Mine (Le Parisien) is a simply-presented enormous wedge of deep fried brie with a fruits of the forest side sauce and salad leaves. The creamy interior perfectly contrasts with the crispy coating but it's my partner's Gamberoni I'm surprisingly impressed by. Never a huge sea-food fan, I decide to sample a fork-full of sauteed king prawns and I'm instantly envious, tasting the lush combination of garlic, fresh chillies and white wine and butter sauce. Although the wine is hard to decipher, FortyOne have created the perfect taste combination and the prawns are succulent and relievingly light on the “Picante”.
We haven't long to digest the starters before our mains arrive. Having indecisively flitted between the 8oz pepper steak and champagne chicken, I've opted for the Mezza Luna. - a calzone filled with mozzarella, baby spinach, grilled chicken, garlic, parmesan, basil and tomato sauce (£7.90). Although its size is daunting at first, it's actually quite light and not over-stuffed with a pleasing garlicky taste.
The Stroganoff Di Manzo (£14.50) is also generously portioned with plenty of rice to mop up the dominating rich cream brandy and paprika sauce. Mushrooms are the only vegetable accompaniment so a side dish of sauteed spinach in garlic, olive oil and chillies (£3.10) is ordered but this is unfortunately a tad sour, leaving us wondering whether a generous vegetable portion might have better complemented the tender strips of beef fillet.
We're initially fooled by FortyOne's menu merely listing ice-cream and cheese as dessert options when in actuality there's a whole separate menu temptingly loaded with calorific delights. Outside is wet and miserable so rather than venture out I peruse the sweet menu, instantly drawn to the “Toffee Flavoured Crunch pie” (£4.40). When I enquire, I'm told Dime Bars are out and feel nothing but relief - I'm belatedly starting to feel rather full so think it's probably for the best and now have something tempting me back.