On the wall above the semi-open kitchen at this week's restaurant is the slogan: "Create – where good food and people matter." Anybody with a healthy disdain for mission statements, sloganeering and the unintentional kitsch of Hallmark greeting cards will immediately hear alarm bells and ear-bleeding sirens.
In a world sodden with motivational cobblers which regularly commits grievous bodily harm against the English language, we can be forgiven for being hostile to this sort of stuff. In this case, it is safe to disengage the early-warning systems. Create is a different sort of restaurant business, and there is much more to its slogans than mere vocabulary bingo.
Create is the latest manifestation of a social-enterprise venture which has been operating in the north for a few years, helping to get the long-term unemployed and disadvantaged back into the habit of work through a series of 12-week training schemes around food businesses. Up to now they have run a set of outside catering operations. A few months ago it finally secured the backing to launch a standalone restaurant and brought in Richard Walton-Allen, former head chef at Harvey Nichols in Leeds, to act as executive chef. A backbone of full-time professionals both front and back of house is supported by a roster of Create trainees. "If you can get yourself into work on time, put on the uniform, follow a recipe and cook a dish you can do almost any job," Walton-Allen told me. It's not about training up people to work in the food world, it's simply about training them up for the world of work.
All of this is admirable, but would be a pointless waste of good ingredients if the restaurant was a calamity. It has to be a good place to eat first, second and third. All the other stuff then has to tuck in behind. Happily, Create is a good place to eat. The huge airy space with its big splashes of colour has a relaxed, easy feel (though they could probably do with turning down, or losing, the piped music. Or better still, losing it altogether). The menu is completely fluent in modern British, which is to say: food from all over the shop put together in sensible combinations. A plate of thinly sliced smoked venison, for example, with fresh figs alongside properly dressed rocket leaves is a thoroughly pretty plateful; crisp-shelled fritters of salt cod are a little dense but only because they haven't been bulked up with potato. No matter: the tarragon mayonnaise helps them on their way.
Prices are noticeably ungrasping: £14 isn't much money for a complex dish of partridge breast with confited leg, creamed Brussels sprouts, chestnuts and a generous handful of sautéed girolles. Even better value is one of the best-cooked hunks of skirt steak I have ever enjoyed, with a smoky charcoal char outside and a blush of pink within. There's no point pretending: skirt is a cut solely for those with all their own teeth, but it rewards the effort.
The chocolate and orange mousse with a brash tangerine sorbet had the virtue of not being cloyingly oversweetened; a soft meringue and chocolate roulade had the virtue of looking like the sort of thing you might actually want to buy from the freezer cabinet at Iceland but wouldn't dream of purchasing for fear of being spotted by the neighbours.
Service is entirely unremarkable – I cannot tell you if we were served by the pros or the trainees, though we did have cause to interact with almost everyone working the room. In short, while Create may be a social enterprise designed to vanquish the dismal, dreary, soul-destroying inequities of unemployment, you will merely regard it as a nice place to go for lunch. And go you should, because it deserves your support.
On the back wall is a further set of slogans: "Create is about believing"; "Believing that food is about hospitality not theatre, caring not showing off"; "Believing that people can grow, thrive and excel when given the chance"; "Believing that businesses and ordinary people can do extraordinary things". It says much for the success of this place that by the end of lunch even this cynical old dog was ready to clamber on to his hind legs and applaud.