THIS IS a tale of two Huddersfield town centre restaurants, both poised above shops and both popular with their customers.
But apart from those two characteristics they couldn’t be more different.
One offers fine dining and a certain classic elegance, the other serves soup and sarnies in a small café setting.
The former is Strawberry Fair, cunningly sited above the china, trinkets and kitchenware shop in Westgate.
The latter is Choosy’s in King Street.
To get to the dining room at SF it’s necessary to navigate the trinkets and china, climb the stairs and wait in the pan section for the attention of a waitress.
The Man-in-Charge dined with me there a few years ago, not long after The Examiner began dining out reviews. He was so impressed that he’s been nattering to go back ever since.
But the problem with being a reviewer is that your dining out opportunities are not your own to do with what you will. We must forever quest about for somewhere new or somewhere that has somehow eluded our attention.
But finally, eventually, we can go back to old haunts, to check out whether they are still as good as we first thought or whether they have gone into decline.
I hoped for the former with Strawberry Fair and was not disappointed.
The tablecloths are just as crisp, the decor as clean and smart, the waiting staff as pleasantly attentive and the menu tempting but not too extensive.
And the food was just as good. My soup of the day (£3.95) – a lightly fragrant and spiced courgette concoction – was lip-smackingly delicious.
The Man had a starter portion of wild mushroom risotto with truffle oil (£4.95) and was similarly impressed.
We had a choice of seven main courses and four light meals to follow. The last time I dined at Strawberry Fair I had the home-made salmon fishcakes (£5.50 or £7.50), enjoyed them and decided to try them once again.
This is a restaurant that has consistency because they were just as tasty.
The Man went for something completely different, corned beef hash with red wine jus (£6.50). “I’d forgotten how salty corned beef is,’’ he said afterwards, while drinking a pint of water. “But it was good.’’
The menu, which changes regularly, offers an eclectic mix of modern European food with a strong leaning towards hearty dishes such as sausages with wholegrain mustard mash, meatballs in a rich tomato sauce and goujons of beer-battered pollock.
As all food is freshly prepared the restaurant prints a warning that customers may have to wait for their lunch. But we didn’t have to drum our fingers on the table for long. And, anyway, it’s such a pleasant place to sit that it wouldn’t really have mattered.
Choosy’s is more of a light-bite café. To get to it diners have to pass through the fragrant coffee shop below and climb the stairs at the back. I’d been there for coffee before but never dined.
Most weeks I meet my mum for a quick lunch in town and Choosy’s was her choice of venue a couple of weeks ago.
It would be unfair to make too many comparisons between Choosy’s and Strawberry Fair as they cater for quite a different lunchtime market.
My mum ordered quiche with a side salad and I opted, as I often do, for a bowl of warming soup. “Is it home-made?’’ I inquired.
“It was made here this morning,’’ said the young waitress, who spoke the truth, but perhaps not quite the whole truth. Or perhaps it was a question of definition.
The soup was hot and had indeed been prepared there that day. But, unless I’m greatly mistaken, it had been prepared from a dried soup mix; the lumps gave it away.
No fresh tomatoes had passed through the kitchens that morning destined for the soup, which is a shame as it takes very little effort to make a vat of fresh vegetable soup.
However, my mum enjoyed her warm quiche and for £3.30 it was a bit of a bargain lunch. I did not enjoy my soup. The best that can be said about it was that it only cost £2.50.
I should have had a sandwich, one of the many hot and cold offerings that other diners seemed to be enjoying (from £3.40). Or perhaps a jacket potato (from £2.10 to £4).
Choosy’s clearly sets out to provide quick, cheap meals and has a menu as varied as the limited kitchen facilities can provide. Sandwiches are freshly prepared and a pot of tea is only £1.15, making it the sort of place where you can dine out, with tablecloths and waitress service, for what amounts to loose change. In fact, it’s probably more expensive to buy an M&S sarnie.
One major plus point is that the menu is completely devoid of the sort of dishes that start life in the freezer and arrive at the table via the deep fat fryer.
While I might have had found the soup lacking this little café has a loyal following and a convenient central location; even at noon we were lucky to get a table.