Scots hotelier Ken McCulloch created the Malmaison chain of hotels in 1994 and was inspired by the Chateau de Malmaison outside Paris, the favourite haunt of Josephine.
Nowadays, the chain is now owned by an Australian property group however.
The name Malmaison could be translated from French as ‘bad house’, otherwise it is the name of a variety of carnation, but I’ll gloss over those facts as no doubt Ken did.
The style and designs of the fifteen hotels in the UK are taken from that chateau and fourteen of them have been developed from historic buildings, not soulless new builds.
One such, in the centre of Leeds, was adapted from the former headquarters of Leeds City Tramways in Swinegate. Progressing from horse-drawn trams, Leeds built Britain’s first overhead powered electric tramway system in 1891.
Such a prestigious development required an iconic headquarters and in 1915, the majestic offices were built opposite the existing tram shed. This shed, a huge, single storey building, later became a music venue known as the Queens Hall.
Many world famous acts performed here but the terrible acoustics and standing only floor space saw it’s demise and it was demolished to make way for modern office buildings.
The present day 13,500 seat First Direct Arena not too far away in the centre, with acoustics claimed by many artistes to be the finest in the world, could only have been dreamed of.
The tram headquarters closed in 1959 as the city’s tram tracks were uprooted and built over in a catastrophically short-sighted move which has left Leeds as the largest city in Europe without an integrated transport system. Oh the irony.
But enough of history and to the present day.
The headquarters are now home to a superb Malmaison hotel, but it was for their fabled Sunday lunch that my party of four ventured for a birthday celebration.
This was taken in the basement Chez Mal Brasserie, certainly French in style and decor.
Descending the staircase from the road outside, we were soon greeted and given the choice of a table at the bar or being taken direct to our dining table. No real ales here (my penchant) but the Black Sheep Golden Ale by the bottle was a decent substitute.
I was actually taken aback by how full the place was on a dull, grey and miserable NovemberSunday afternoon, but I guess a lot of people had the same idea of a long, lazy, indolent sojourn.
Indeed, a sign on the wall stated ‘ Sunday Should Come With A Pause Button’.Good thinking.
We went for the ‘Free flowing wine ‘ option and after selecting our mains, we were directed to the ‘Chef’s Table’, buffet style starter choices.
This was impressive in terms of quality and choice. Everything from soup and bread, prawns, fresh salmon, smoked salmon, ham, Italian style dried meats, salads, pasta, and as many accompaniments as could be thought of were present in unlimited quantities.
And so was the wine. Three of us managed a bottle each over the course of the afternoon.We did, of course, have a non-drinking driver with us.
Of the four of us, we chose two beef and two turkey options. The beef came with a large, proper Yorkshire pudding ( they wouldn’t dare serve a frozen one here in the heart of Yorkshire!), a thick and rich gravy, three slices of succulent beef and a large pot of assorted vegetables.
The portions of turkey were large and tender and soon all four plates were emptied.
We couldn’t face dessert, but we did manage a return visit to the Chef’s Table for several varieties of cheese and assorted crackers, before barista style coffees.
Over the course of a very lazy two and a half hours, we enjoyed good conversation, good food, good wine and a convivial atmosphere, all the while attended to by excellent, friendly staff. Oh, and excellent value for money to boot.
Parking is on street at parking meters or the NCP at The Trinity (both at LS1 4AG and a two minute walk away) or at my preferred choice, The Tetley LS10 1JQ, a five minute walk away and £3.50 all day Sunday, giving time for the excellent shopping Leeds has to offer, before lunch.
In my youth, I admired The Kinks music and despite the grim weather, the lyrics from ‘Sunny Afternoon’ resonated with me here as we relaxed;
‘Help me, help me, help me sail away,
Well give me two good reasons why I ought to stay.
‘Cause I love to live so pleasantly,
Live my life of luxury,Lazing on a sunny afternoon’
Perhaps it should be changed to Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon?
Hit the pause button!