Sam – put your Leeds Chop House out of its misery

In the restaurant world, turning a great local eaterie into a “concept” that can be rolled out across the world is a great danger.  New branches often lack the authenticity, the passion of the owners, the attention to detail and the personal service.  I have just discovered a text book example of failure at Sam’s Chop House in Leeds.

Sam’s Chop House in Manchester is one of my favourite places to eat in the whole world.  After 130 years of success, of which, before you ask, I have only contributed to 20 or so, why the owners felt the time was right to dilute their brand is a complete mystery.  Sams’ in Leeds is as far away an experience from the Manchester parent, as a wet weekend in Cleethorpes compares to a Caribbean cruise.

Er, this one was established 2007 actually…

The old Pearl Assurance building is grand enough and the interior, whilst not authentic, is a fair representation of the feel of Sam’s, albeit much lighter and airier.  One might argue that the charm of the original is the slightly claustrophobic feel, and in the dining room in Leeds, the absolute reverse is true.  Every table seems to be overlooked and you feel a bit like the only nudists on a beach.

I ordered mussels followed by devilled lamb’s kidneys.  Both competent and OK, but lacking passion and finesse.  Whereas Sam’s in Manchester is excellent in almost every way, Leeds meets only the OK benchmark in every way.  Every way that is except service, one of the crowning glories of the original, but here visibly lacking and amateur to the extreme.

The proud boast of Sam’s is to possess the “best wine list in Leeds”.  The wine list is OK, and to call it the best in Leeds is probably a fair indictment of the rest of the Leeds restaurant scene.  There are some interesting bin ends and a good selection from most parts of the globe.  But incredibly, on a Saturday night, there was no wine waiter, or anyone in the place with the remotest iota of wine knowledge.

If there is one high hope I had for this place, it was the service.  The website was reassuring.  Steve Pilling, erstwhile co-proprietor, had seconded himself across the Pennines to look after the new born child.  I asked where he was.  A mumbling apology of an answer with a variety of excuses seemed to indicate a mixture of health problems.  Get well soon Steve, you are badly needed here.

Amongst the catalogue of service horreurs we observed (on the odd occasions when a customer was able to secure the attention of one of the waiting staff):

  1. Food was served to an empty table.  On realising the customers were still in the bar, the waitress placed the plates on a side table and went to get the poor punters who were being seated whilst having their starters thrust into their unready mitts.
  2. The lady on the next table was sitting on a dirty chair, which came apparent when she left.  The old food was scraped off by the waiter but the chair was not wiped down.  I guess there are two ladies who got home with dirty bums.
  3. I wanted a glass of champagne (not available by the glass!) or Chablis to go with my mussels but was unable to place an order before the food arrived.
  4. My red wine was served to me with my fingers deep in cream sauce, and my mouth full of mussels – not exactly a convenient point to taste the wine.
  5. The tiny finger bowl contained only freezing cold water.
  6. A range of different waiting staff had no clue about the food on the menu.
  7. It took several minutes to find someone who could recommend a wine to go with the devilled kidneys and I was offered just one choice (from the best wine list in Leeds?).
  8. The cheese course offered temptingly “local” cheeses, but when I asked where the cheeses were from there was nobody who knew.
  9. The red wine was served too warm (yawn) so I asked for an ice bucket which came without a napkin.
  10. Two dirty glasses with an old coaster in the top were left on our table for the entire duration of the meal.
  11. My dessert wine was served in a huge glass – I was so surprised I had to stutter out a few words to the waitress “is that the glass you normally serve dessert wine in?”  My surprise was matched only by hers at me asking such a question.  Clearly the answer was yes.  I had to put a credit card in the picture (below) so you can see the true scale.
  12. The range of stemware was limited in general for a place that sells itself on its wine.

You might think I am being harsh, since many of my complaints are pretty minor.   But it was a bit like death by a thousand cuts.  Eventually the bleeding haemorrhages.  We weren’t the only people in the place doing star jumps to try and get noticed.

Dessert wine in a HUGE glass….for some reason

Which leaves me to examine the wine.  The dessert wine was a redeeming feature as it happened, despite the inappropriate glass.  Sepp Moser 2002 Weissburgunder Beerenauslese (Austria) at £6.50 per glass is excellent value and an alluring combination of lavender and beeswax.

The red wine was (like most things) merely “OK”.  I searched in vain for an interesting Pinot Noir, as I didn’t fancy the Italian red recommended to me (especially at the price).  In the end I selected a Rhone Ranger from the bin ends.  Marquise de la Tourette 2001, Delas, which at £29, I figured would be rich enough to support the kidneys.

Tourettes - I certainly felt like swearing after this meal…

The primary flavour in the wine was grapefruit juice, supported by plums and prunes.  There was a smokiness like Earl Grey tea but without the perfume.  Not a bad wine but not spectacularly good either.

The bill for two including wine was £71.35.  I left a tip commensurate with the service we had received.  A nice round number.  I also gave my feedback verbally to the manager, Damien, in case he doesn’t read this weblog.  He was quick to offer us a free dinner for two if we returned.  It’s not about the money though.  I’ll keep the voucher and frame it.

The best I can say about this place is that it is saveable.  It just needs management, training, service, and passion.  Some tender loving care and some organisation.  Sam’s in Manchester may well have thrived for 130 years.  Unless there are speedy improvements I don’t see Sam’s in Leeds lasting out 2008.

Sam’s Chop House, 8 South Parade, Leeds, LS1 5QX. T: +44 (0)113 204 2490 F: +44 (0)113 204 2491

7 Responses to “Sam – put your Leeds Chop House out of its misery”

  1. Douglas Says:

    I don’t think they’re minor points. You suffered. What a mess. Particularly the dirty chair, the food to the empty table and the size of the dessert glass (and the crime of the retro doily!) Restaurateurs sometimes forget at their peril the investment of care and loyalty customers have.

  2. Peter May Says:

    I’d rather have a large glass for a dessert wine than the usual eye-wash size glass. And looks like you got a good measure of the wine too.

  3. Alastair Bathgate Says:


    The quantity, and indeed quality, of the dessert wine was one thing I can’t complain about.
    “Eye-wash glass” (great description) – I think there are two extremes to avoid – eye-wash and lavatory bowl.

  4. Louise Says:

    I think you obviously got them on a very bad day (not a excuse though I know). I have dined in Sam’s Leeds & Manchester on many occassions and had fantastic experiences. I suggest you give it another try.

  5. Go Media Says:

    very nice place our offices are just round the corner

  6. neil Says:

    i suggest you try it again, my wife and i dine there together at least once every week and i often take clients for lunch. you must have caught them on a bad day.

  7. dave lee Says:

    I have eaten at sams recently, the food was great and good value, the staff freindly and well versed in both the food and wine menu.
    I think you should give them another chance and visit again. Or at least take down this out of date reveiw

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