Keeping up with the Kendells

Kendells Bistro has proudly sat on St Peters Square for the best part of ten years. Their surroundings may have changed, but the ethos of the place, set out by power couple Sharon and Steve Kendell remains the same – to provide really good, yet unpretentious, French dining for every guest.

Sharon and Steve have spent most of their 24 years together travelling around the lush regions of France. “We both have a passion for all things French,” says Steve, the restaurant’s Head Chef, “Especially the food! One of our favourite places is Lyon because you can always get really good Michelin-star food but from a place that’s completely unpretentious. Dijon is great too, because there’s such an eclectic mix, with it being so close to Switzerland there’s a real crossover. The food in Provence is incredible too, and completely different to some of the other places. I guess that’s one of the reasons we love France so much. Each place you go to, the food differs so much depending on the climate, weather and soil – so you’ll always get something local.”

“I actually trained at the Box Tree during the 70s, before they got their Michelin-stars. I worked for a guy called Michael Lawson, who at the time had a basic English menu which was transformed into the modern French cuisine that it became famous for. In 1977 he got two Michelin-stars and the place really took off – I remember they used to have people like Shirley Basset and Margaret Thatcher there. It was quite something.”

Not only did Steve have some of the best training he could get in Yorkshire – he’s worked internationally too. “I did a brief stint in Paris, which was interesting. The Parisians aren’t that well known for being friendly, and they really didn’t like me! But I learned a lot. I worked at a place called Les Deux Magots just off the Boulevard Saint-Germain – it’s got a big literary past, people like Picasso and Hemingway used to hang out there. Nowadays it’s become such a famous place to eat, it’s actually pretty much a tourist destination.”

“I loved working in France so much. Sometimes I’d head out there on holiday for a few weeks but get chatting to the chef and end up working for the whole time – often to the dislike of the people I was with!”

Having been around for the past ten years, Sharon and Steve have gotten to know the neighbourhood pretty well. “It’s like a community,” says Steve, “And we all help each other out. For instance, a lot of our guests are people who are enjoying a play at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, or maybe heading to a gig at The Wardrobe. We all make sure one another are aware of what’s going on and work together to help each other out. Because it’s a creative area, we’re all on the same page and very interested in what’s happening.”

“It’s actually really interesting what everyone else brings to the area. I remember once Northern Ballet did a production of Dracula and the restaurant was full of goths who had come down from Whitby for the show!”

“That’s sort of the beauty of Kendells – like the restaurants in Lyon we love so much, it’s completely unpretentious. You can find anyone here, and we’ve served everyone from young babies, right the way through to the odd centenarian here and there. Families are welcome, old people, young people – nobody is left out. We’re quite unique like that and don’t really have a demographic or a target market.”

While Steve has his roots set firmly in a successful hospitality background, Sharon, the brains and the charm behind the front-of-house operations, comes from a life of theatre. Aside from acting jobs, Sharon was trained in the art of theatrical costume – which is probably why the waiting staff are so sharply dressed!

Talking about the neighbourhood and the exciting times to come, Steve said, “We’re hoping for more independents. Leeds has always had a focus on indie businesses but we’re starting to get suffocated by big chain brands, and that’s not what we’re about. The development of the neighbourhood will revive the more vibrant atmosphere we used to have, and inject some life back into the place. When we moved in, it was a bit of a hidden gem, but we’ve watched the area thrive since then, and are very excited for the next chapter.”

Find Kendells Bistro on St Peters Square. Open between Tuesday and Saturday from 5:30pm. 0113 243 6553.