Brett’s in Headingley - the Leeds chippy with a 100 year history
- Credit: Archant
Chef and restaurateur Shaun Davies explains why he fell hook, line and sinker for a 100-year-old Leeds chippie
What do you usually have with your chippie tea? Salt and vinegar? (Frankly, you’d be mad not to.) A round of bread and butter? (Sounds delightful.) How about a cheeky bottle of Pol Roger champagne? And, while you’re about it, why not swap your fish and chips for a grilled fillet of seabass with wilted pak choi.
‘We will always – always – have fish and chips on the menu,’ said Shaun Davies, who took over the helm at Brett’s in Headingley, Leeds, in April. ‘Our takeaway fish-fryer, Kerry, is fantastic. She won’t tell me how she does what she does but, frankly, I’m just glad she does it for us.
‘In the restaurant, however, now that we’ve changed the menu, I’d say less than a quarter of our customers opt for fish and chips. Once they see what else is on offer, they’re quite often tempted to stray. They all seem to have one thing in common though, whether they’re having lobster or fish and chips, our customers all like a beautiful bottle of wine to go with it.’
Brett’s, which celebrates its centenary in 2019, has long been synonymous with superb fish and chips, helped in no small part by its proximity to Headingley Stadium, home of Yorkshire County Cricket, Leeds Rhinos Rugby League and Yorkshire Carnegie Rugby Union, whose players and fans are all partial to ‘one of each with scraps’.
The takeaway element of the business has always been a strong money-earner, but the adjacent restaurant has – like all independent eateries – gone through its fair share of high highs and low lows. ‘I’d heard of Brett’s but I’d never eaten here,’ said Shaun, who made his name at The Foundry, a Michelin-listed restaurant in central Leeds which he ran for 12 years with business partner Phil Richardson. ‘When I arrived, I could see immediately that it was a cute little place with a lot of potential.
‘I wanted it to feel like a proper little restaurant though, not just a fish and chip shop. It’s well known for its fish and chips, and rightly so, but I wanted us to build on that. So, we put in a little bar, replaced all the blackboards with mirrors to open up the space and set about creating an exciting new menu.’
The ‘we’ in question is Shaun, multi-award-winning chef Cameron Gardiner, former head chef at The Foundry, and Dave Ridealgh, former restaurant manager of Brasserie 44. Together, they have created a menu that should propel Brett’s into a different league. Seabass, turbot, salmon, crab and lobster sit comfortably alongside aged Yorkshire rib-eye, confit leg of duck and potato rosti with truffle oil. And, of course, Brett’s famous fish pie, with its champ mash and cheddar, and fish and chips with mushy peas are both still very much present and correct.
‘I don’t believe in messing about with good ingredients,’ said Shaun. ‘There’s far too much of that about. Why spoil fantastic fresh fish, meat and veggies by messing about with them?’
The menu is refreshingly simple, just fresh fish and meat with a few seasonal specials, like game when they can get it. The crabs and lobster come from Whitby, the fish from Scarborough and Hartlepool, the meat from Yorkshire butchers and the wine from a merchant in York. All people they know and trust.
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‘The new menu gives us two bites of the cherry with diners,’ said Shaun, as we enjoyed the sunshine in the 24-cover garden eating area (there are a further 28 covers inside). ‘One night they’ll pop in for fish and chips, another for lobster or mussels or turbot.’
They might also pop in for a bit of people-watching. Former England international cricketer Ryan Sidebottom is a regular, while former Leeds United players Eddie Gray and Peter Lorimer, former Leeds, Huddersfield and Bradford manager Simon Grayson and cricketing legend Geoff Boycott (or ‘Mr Boycott’ as Shaun automatically refers to him) are among the many sporting names who return to Brett’s season after season.
‘Yes, we get a lot of sportsmen in here, cricketers, rugby players and footballers, but we’ve also got to have a wider, more general appeal,’ said Shaun. ‘We have to be welcoming customers every week of the year, not just when there’s a big match on.
‘I’m here for the long haul. I don’t just flit in and out of businesses. I want to establish Brett’s as a relaxed neighbourhood restaurant with a welcoming vibe.
‘We started The Foundry with nothing and built that up into a great little business. Here, we have 100 years of history and heritage to build on – that gives us a firm foundation to create something really special.’
It’s early days for the new team at Brett’s, but they obviously already have their eyes on the prize. So, further down the line, how will they gauge their own success?
‘I’ll know we’re successful when we’re turning people away on a Saturday night,’ said Shaun. ‘No, make that every Saturday night for three weeks in a row.’