Like me, you could make the mistake of thinking that the ‘Bill’s Restaurant’ that is very likely occupying a prime position in your town or city centre, is just the latest ‘same-ish’ offering from a faceless multinational hospitality conglomerate. You’d be very wrong.
It is true that the brand currently has over 100 restaurants across the UK, however the story behind the brainchild of former horticulturalist and greengrocer Bill Collison, is markedly different to that of most of his High Street competitors. For a start, the business appears to have grown organically from a single successful outlet in Lewes, East Sussex, back in 2000. Flooding the market and making ‘a quick buck’ clearly hasn’t ever been Collison’s aim. I can say that – because a few days ago, I was fortunate to spend some time chatting with him as, like a father holding his new-born for the first time, he proudly showed me around the beautifully refurbished Albion Place eatery in Leeds.
Bill’s – Lewes
There was no spiel. No chutzpah. The décor, collectables and artwork that reinforce the restaurant’s individuality, Collison tells me are all sourced by himself. Clearly with an expert eye for interior design, in addition to the restaurant business, touches such as images of the current season’s produce on napkins and hand-made, upcycled mirrors, provide a unique atmosphere to enjoy some wonderful food.
And so, to the food: What could be described as [one of] the business’s USP’s, is that if it’s a sophisticated breakfast or brunch you require – a leisurely lunch – or a special dinner, Bill’s would take some beating. The Leeds eatery (in a building that was formerly a pharmacy and laboratory) allows discerning diners the opportunity to enjoy sumptuous food, whatever the time of day.
The breakfast menu is an embarrassment of riches. From Sourdough Toast (at £3.50), to Eggs Royale (£9.95), there is something for everyone.
The lunchtime menu includes the ‘must try’ Buttermilk Chicken Burger, which at £12.95, is sure to send you back to the office – or onto the second leg of your shopping expedition – with a full tum and a big smile on your face. Other delicious options include the Kashmiri Lamb Shank (highly recommended at £15.95) and a King Prawn Risotto. Alternatively, the ‘Bill’s’ Beer Battered Cod is as much a delight to behold on the plate, as it is to taste.
Lunch service segway’s seamlessly with ‘Teatime’, when you can plonk yourself down in a comfy chair and indulge in a Cream Tea.
Bill’s Dinner Menu is served from 5pm and diners can opt for the very popular ‘Set Menu’, with two courses for £17.50, or three courses for £20.50. With starters including ‘Ham Hock, Pickled Carrot and Mustard Terrine’ and ‘Chicken and Sesame Dumplings’.
At the other end of dinner proceedings, pudding options include ‘Warm Mini Cinnamon Doughnuts’. These delightful miniatures are accompanied by chocolate and salted caramel dipping sauces. Ice cream adventurists might opt for the exotic Coconut Ice. With such an array of mouth-watering choices, it would seem impossible to limit yourself to only two courses. Aside from a daily Dinner special, the Set-Menu diner can also enjoy a nourishing Shepherd’s Pie or Pan-Fried Sea Bass.
The regular Dinner Menu includes something for everyone, from Pan-Fried Chicken with Wild Mushrooms, to Macaroni Cheese – and of course, the weekly ‘Burger Special’. The menu also has a choice of three Steaks, the most expensive – a 10oz Ribeye at £19.95, proving that unique dining experiences don’t have to cost the earth.
If you can drag yourself away from the menu, or indeed the vibrant décor and artefacts in every available nook and cranny for a moment, you should take a second to check out the company’s socially responsible, ethical and environmental credentials, which are detailed on their website. If I was choosing somewhere to eat this evening – the words written by Bill Collison and his people would make up my mind: “Our teams are always conscious of our carbon footprint”. That’s not box-ticking rhetoric. That’s clearly from the heart of a man who knows how important the earth beneath our feet is. Bill’s commitment to events like ‘Earth Hour UK’, gives you a further indication – if one were needed, of where this welcome venue near you, is coming from.
‘Bill’s’ can be found on Albion Place, Leeds, LS1 6JL. T: 0113 2452010. Open daily from 8am (9am Sundays/Bank Holidays)