Yorkshire Life Lunch - Radisson SAS Hotel, Leeds
PUBLISHED: 21:46 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:38 20 February 2013
Head chef Mick Hart treats guests to a relaxed lunch in grand city centre surroundings. Jo Haywood joins them <br/>PHOTOGRAPHS BY ANDY BULMER
It was tough growing up in East End Park, Leeds, but it gave Mick Hart a head start when it came to surviving in the kitchen... and the boxing ring.
The head chef at the Radisson SAS Hotel, which enjoys a prominent corner position in The Light complex, is a natural born scrapper - an attribute which came in rather handy when he decided to chance his arm at Thai boxing while ensconced in the country for two and a half years. 'I loved it; still do,' he said, during a brief moment of calm before returning to the kitchen.
'It wasn't a great way to make money though. I think I made 3.23 from my first fight.' His time in Thailand has had some influence on his food - our fresh, flavoursome soup starter was a testament to that - and he has also been able to draw on his Italian-Irish roots. But, when push comes to shove (as it does quite often in the boxing ring), Mick returns to what he knows best - great Yorkshire grub.
'My main influence will always be Yorkshire itself,' he explained. 'Just look at the main course today. It's basically bacon and cabbage. It's just normal food cooked really well. 'It's not my job to show off - that's for whoever's doing the sweet course. It's my job to get the basics right. Take today's healthy broth. It's got all sorts of interesting components, but the thing that really makes it is a great stock.
The final dish looks quite complicated, but it's actually ridiculously simple to put together. You don't even have to cook the fish - it cooks gently in the hot broth at the last minute.'
Mick, who has worked at numerous London restaurants, for the HBOS group and in event catering for Wimbledon and Ascot, was initially brought in to the Radisson as a troubleshooting consultant to sort out the kitchen. Once he'd whipped it into shape, he decided to stay.
'I've learned over the years that you've got to do things properly from day one,' he said. 'You have to be a perfectionist in this job. Nearly perfect is not good enough.' Mick is an unpretentious man and has no ambitions to become one of the growing breed of celebrity chefs. In fact, he literally has no time for them. 'I don't get to see a lot of TV - that goes out the window when you're working upwards of 80 hours a week - and I haven't got a lot of time for TV chefs,' he said. 'You shouldn't have to bully people to get good work out of them. If you're good, they respect you and get on with it, and if they're good, you let them.'
Looking to the future, he would love to open his own place in Thailand. 'Not now, but someday,' he said. 'I like the food, the people and the culture. It's not Yorkshire, but it'll do for me.'
While he is thinking of a future in a far-flung foreign land, Radisson general manager Ingibjorg Olafsdottir is doing exactly that. She's from Iceland - the Icelandic president has stayed in the hotel's presidential suite (although he probably can't afford it now) - and has been in Leeds for two years looking after the 147- bedroom, grade II listed city centre business. 'I very much enjoy living in Leeds,' she said. 'The people are friendly and although it's a big city, it's very accessible.We are in the perfect location here, right at the heart of the city. Everything is within walking distance, you just have to dash down Briggate or The Headrow.'
The Radisson was meticulously restored in 2002. Residing on the former site of the original Leeds Permanent Building Society, its architecture reflects the Art Deco style. It offers 107 standard rooms and 40 luxury business class suites; a restaurant and bar; exclusive access to the Esporta Health Club in The Light; nine meeting rooms; free broadband and wireless internet access; beauty treatments; a business centre; and 24-hour room service.
'My aim is for us to offer the best service in Leeds,' said Ingibjorg. 'At this hotel, we all do everything. Our philosophy is that there is nothing that is not your job. From the cleaning staff to the general manager, if something needs doing, we do it.
For more details about the Radisson SAS Hotel, call in at 1 The Light Complex Leeds, LS1 8TL; phone 0113 236 6000; email firstname.lastname@example.org; or click on www.radissonsas.com.
The Lounge Restaurant & Bar is open 6.30am-10.30pm, Monday to Saturday, and 7am-10.30pm on Sunday.