Manahatta Greek Street

https://www.manahatta.co.uk/bars/greek-street

Just after national lockdown in March I saw a posting on social media which said that when the restrictions are lifted we will be a hunk, a chunk or a drunk. I have made it my mission to prove them wrong.

Sadly, no matter how much I exercise there is very little chance of my emerging as a hunk so I could discount that straight away.

As for a drunk, it is ironic that my alcohol intake has declined over the past six months as, until recently, there have been no bars or restaurants to review and, those which did manage to reopen, are naturally concentrating on attracting paying punters rather than giving freebies to people like myself. (I stress that none of the establishments reviewed on this site gives me anything at all, and they have no idea I am calling, I even book my table under a different name just in case.) Similarly with the theatres. They are, understandably, unable to offer any hospitality as the catering parts of the buildings are still closed. This might be an advantage as I can at least remember the performance once I get home to write about it!

Finally we get to the ‘chunk’ part. Once again because of my drastically reduced social life I have managed to lose well over a stone since March.

The above is apropos of nothing at all, I just want to brag, but it does explain my choice of dish from the menu at Manahatta in Greek Street.

I had booked a table for 2.00pm and so arrived at 1.45 to the now familiar sight of an almost empty bar. To be fair it was a Tuesday and so not exactly Party Prime Time. As they had my details from my on-line booking, it was just the hand sanitising and temperature checking ritual before I was allowed in.

The waiter, Josh, showed me to my table, which, to my dismay was a very tall affair, a bit like a long poseur, and the seating a banquette equally elevated. I am a smidgeon short of six feet tall so it was not a problem except that my past experiences of this type of furnishing instilled a fear of my inability to get comfortable, the footrests invariably proving inadequate for proper balance. This, however, was great, as under the table there was a long rail at a perfect height and sturdy enough to rest my feet without fear of slipping off. After a minute or so it felt as though I were seated at a conventional level.

I was asked if I wanted anything to drink and ordered tap water which appeared in a flash. Actually I lie, it appeared in a large carafe with lots of ice. I had read the menu on-line before booking and thought that the £6 lunch deal looked like a bargain but I was informed that it was not available on Mondays or Tuesdays in October as they were offering 50% off all food prices on those days. That threw me into something of a quandary as there were some larger priced items on the main menu which looked very tempting. I resisted, however, as the offer is only valid for two days per week and would be over at the end of the month so not really in keeping with the ethos of this website.

As it happens my original option of the Sunshine Powerbowl was on the main menu priced at £9.25 so the discount made it cheaper than it would have been on the normal lunch deal. I decided to splurge and added the chicken option for an extra £2.50 which made it cheaper still. Revelling in my new found bargain I celebrated by ordering a 250ml glass of Cramele Recas Pinot Noir which was brilliant value at £7.50. I don’t recall having had a Romanian version of my favourite grape variety before but this was right up there with the better versions.

I mentioned my weight loss regime at the beginning and the Sunshine Powerbowl was in keeping with my efforts. It comprised avocado, golden and red beetroot, spinach, turmeric quinoa, roast sweet potatoes, pickled onion and red cabbage, with an agave and wholegrain mustard dressing. Had I wanted an extra other than chicken there was halloumi or felafel to choose from.

As well as being healthy and nutritious, this was absolutely delicious. Living alone, a salad is normally a fairly basic affair as to add too many elements ties you to having to make so much that it lasts all week and come Friday the novelty has begun to wear off. The variety in this bowl was tremendous with the flavours and textures contrasting amazingly well. The quinoa, which was lurking beneath the other elements, was a good filling staple enhanced by its absorption of the dressing, whilst the lighter parts such as the leaves and vegetables gave a freshness. When I saw the pickled cabbage and pickled onion on the list of partygoers I could not help but visualise the contents of a couple of Garner’s jars thrown in. In fact the onions were thinly sliced and subtly home pickled the cabbage being equally light. A couple of radishes had crashed the event but were more than welcome. The stars of the show though were the perfectly ripe pieces of avocado and the roasted sweet potatoes. I am not usually a fan of this vegetable as I find sweet potatoes, well – sweet. These cubes, however, were seasoned, which reduced the effect, and cooked to perfection. I would love to be able to put it another way but I will have to fall back on the old cliche of their being wonderfully crispy on the outside whilst soft and fluffy on the inside. A hackneyed description which does not do them justice. The chicken was also succulent and in a more abundant quantity than it appears to be on the photograph.

My total bill, including a post meal black Americano at £2.40, was £16.23, excellent value for money and would have been even at the full lunch menu price. It should have been more but the main course was so filling as to leave me no room for a dessert. In truth I could probably have squeezed one down but the three on offer were in keeping with the New York vibe of the Manhatta and a tad heavy or over-embellished for my taste.

The Manahatta is essentially a cocktail lounge and bar and is decorated as an homage to what is perceived as a New York joint. In my trips to the Big Apple I have not come across anywhere quite like this but it works well in the same way as an English Bar in New York would convey the mood of a Leeds boozer rather than faithfully replicate an original. There is also a fairly large outdoor seating area where, unless we have been moved to Tier 3, a couple of households can mix.

I really feel for those in the hospitality sector at the moment with all that they are going through so I hope that their efforts and initiatives such as this are justly rewarded, they certainly deserve to be.

As a footnote, I am very disappointed that my spellchecker has not prompted me to replace Manahatta with Mad Hatter, it really should have as, with a menu and service this good, it is Wonderland.

All photographs by Stan Graham

My original lunch menu choice was also on the main menu priced at £9.25, meaning that with the 50% discount it would only be £4.62

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Midnight Bell

http://www.midnightbell.co.uk

I have visited a few establishments since the lifting of lockdown but they were places I did not know so, as far as I was concerned, the lack of other diners might have been the norm for the time of day when I called. Today, however, I was made starkly aware of the damage done to our hospitality sector by the pandemic and the measures introduced to combat it.

The Midnight Bell used to be my local when I lived in Candle House on Granary Wharf some years ago and it used to get pretty packed on Friday afternoon so, as I was meeting someone, I took the precaution of booking a table for my lunch at 2.00. I must add that this was just before the introduction of ‘Tiers’ banning people from separate households meeting up indoors. As is my wont I arrived early, at 1.45, but instead of being met by the sound of office workers spending their dinner break discussing their plans for the weekend, I entered to the sound of my own footsteps. I had never seen it so quiet.

After the new normal procedure of checking in, hand sanitising and form filling, I was shown to a table where I was invited to scan the QR code provided in order to read the menu. I had a good idea what I wanted – a pint of Leeds Pale – which was brought to enjoy before my companion arrived. The lunch menu is reasonably varied with a selection of Sandwiches and Wraps along with some Light Bites. Whichever you choose you can opt to include a pint of Leeds Brewery Ale, Leodis Lager, Aspinall Cider, 125ml House Wine, Pepsi or Lemonade for an extra £2. No brainer.

My lunch date arrived and availed herself of the Leodis Lager offer whilst deciding on a Beer Battered Haddock Goujon Sandwich in Granary Bread with Home Made Tartare Sauce. It included chips or salad, again a no brainer! It was £7.50 and looked great. I was informed that it tasted as good as it looked.

Having perused the menu on-line before I made the booking, my fancy was taken by Crispy Pork Belly on a Dressed Mixed Salad served in a Delicate Pastry Basket, again £7.50. They use the same edible receptacle in which to serve Grilled Chicken Caesar salad but I eschewed this as I had enough of Chicken in a Basket in the 1970s.

The pork belly was cut into small pieces and certainly lived up to its description of being crisp, although still retaining the unctuous fatty middle which gives it its wonderful taste. The components of the salad were different sorts of leaves with chopped red onions, spring onions and cherry tomatoes. The tangy vinaigrette counterbalanced the pork belly a treat. Although the ‘delicate pastry basket’ looked like a popadom it was not spicy so didn’t overpower the tastes of the main ingredients.

The service, as you would expect with very few customers – a few came in after us – was exemplary and a second pint appeared without our needing to wait longer than it took to put down the empty glass on the table and indicate to the barman/waiter that we wanted a refill.

It is tragic that such a great pub seems to be suffering so badly, but as it is in the heart of the tech quarter which is so accommodating to home working, it is probably not that surprising. I also noticed that since I moved out of Candle House there is building work going on at the junction of Wharf Approach and Water Lane which renders the pub invisible from Granary Wharf, even I suspect, from the vantage point of my erstwhile 10th floor flat.

I strongly recommend a visit if you are in Leeds as they also have outdoor seating to the rear, enabling you still to meet someone from another household under the new restrictions. I just hope that they haven’t changed by the time you read this.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Fat Annie’s

http://fatannies.co.uk/

When it comes to writing food reviews my hero is the late, and much missed, AA Gill who wrote for the Sunday Times. He had a wonderful style which influenced the way in which I bang out my rubbish, and a knowledge on the subject to which I could not even begin to aspire. Having nicked his modus operandi I thought that I would plagiarise an observation he made after reviewing a hot dog restaurant in London he found to be pretentiously upmarket and expensive.

The venerable Mr Gill pointed out that hot dogs are working class cheap and cheerful food which should be confined to football games, street vendors and the seaside. On this last point, he mentioned Nathan’s by the Boardwalk on Coney Island, Brooklyn which is also the home of the World Hot Dog Eating Competition. This is held on 4th July each year and the object is to down as many hot dogs, including buns, as possible in the space of 10 minutes. The men’s record was set in 2020 by a chap called Joey Chestnut who managed 75 – yes – 75. I am sure that his table manners were impeccable. The women’s champion also set a new record this year at the rather more sedate pace of 48.5 hot dogs in the allotted 10 minutes.

I have had the experience of sampling a hot dog at Nathan’s on Coney Island and I must say that it was truly awful. No, that is not correct. Strictly speaking something with absolutely no taste at all cannot be described as awful. It is no wonder that they eat them as quickly as possible; they are not to be savoured. Fortunately, Fat Annie’s leaves Nathan’s miles back in its dust. 

Let’s face it, the main ingredient of a hot dog is the sausage, it doesn’t matter what you top it with or slather on as a dressing, if the sausage is no good then the whole thing is a waste of time. Fat Annie’s use specially made sausages which are unique to them and contain only prime cuts of pork and beef and are 95% meat, the rest being made up with spices and a little water. There are also vegan versions so don’t feel left out if you are a non-meat eater. Even the casings are natural. When taking so much care with the star of the show, the supporting act, literally, in the bread is also made by their local artisan baker.


Once again I was fortunate enough to have company for lunch and we each had a different item from the menu. She chose The Classic, a straight hot dog with either grilled or crispy onions, whilst I opted for The Annie Mac which is topped with house pickle, American cheese, secret sauce and crispy onions. We shared a portion of fries and I had a Blood Orange San Pellegrino to drink. 

The Classic


The prices are pretty good normally but there is a lunch deal whereby you get a Classic and Fries for £5. My loaded Annie Mac was £6 and worth every penny. 


By the way, my regular reader will know how much I like a good pun, or even a bad one, well there is a version with toppings which include sea salt crisps called Seabrooks In Seattle, and another Asian inspired one for Breaking Bad fans with the moniker Seoul Good Man. 

Annie Mac

The sausages were absolutely amazing and surprisingly easy to eat without dripping the secret sauce down my shirt but we had been brought a plentiful supply of napkins just in case. Although there was a kick of spice in the hot dog it wasn’t overwhelming as that would have been an insult to the meat which wasn’t minced to a paste as with shop bought Frankfurters, but still had some body to it and was chewy without being tough. It was also remarkably juicy which gave a great textural contrast to the crispy onions, the creamy sauce and the soft bread.

The bun was obviously baked specially to be used in making hot dogs as it had a wide, flat base which enabled it to be put down without rolling over as happens with both bridge rolls and baguettes. This meant that the toppings were not unceremoniously dumped onto the paper on which it was served every time you wanted to wipe your mouth or take a drink. I would have added ‘or talk’ but the hot dogs were so delicious we just went ahead and enjoyed them without much conversation. The fries still had their skin on and were, as you would expect, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle with a hit of seasoning for good measure. 

Take A Guess!


Fat Annie’s is in the food hall at the bottom end of Leeds Kirkgate Market but the seating was arranged to cater for social distancing and situated at the back of the stall. You place your order at the front and it is delivered when ready. The chap who brought us our food was called Rick, an extremely efficient and pleasant chap with banter which added to the experience. Should you not be able to make it to the market they do have a presence at various street food events so keep your eyes open for the mobile version. That should please Mr Gill.

 
Sadly we didn’t get to meet Fat Annie, so we had to make do with Skinny Rick. My theory is that she is practising for next year’s World Hot Dog Competition, and if she is, might I make so bold as to give her a word of advice. Forget it – sorry, that’s two words. You would be far better taking your time savouring the wonderful version which you produce rather than trying to force 49 of Nathan’s tasteless concoctions down your gob in 10 minutes. There are some records that are not worth breaking.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Bar Soba

https://www.barsoba.co.uk/

I had set off today with a specific location in mind but when I arrived at the establishment in question it had changed its opening hours without thinking to update its website. Thank you very much!

My first choice was a restaurant specialising in Far Eastern cuisine and I was looking forward to using my considerable chopstick skills so I roamed the area in search of somewhere I might be provided with a pair to eat lunch. As Spike Milligan once said, ‘Chopsticks – the reason the Chinese didn’t invent custard.’

After a while I came upon Bar Soba in Greek Street which proclaimed itself to be the purveyor of Cocktails, Street Food and Music. On perusing the menu the nosh on offer was of an oriental bent and they had a great lunch deal so in I went.

The lunch deal comprised a ‘large plate’ and a soft drink for £7. There was also a selection of ‘Small Plates’ at an extra cost and an invitation to add a portion of Dumplings or Cheeseburger Spring Rolls for £3.

I took advantage of the extras and ordered the Fried Vegetable Gyoza Dumplings with Jalapeño and Coriander Dip for a starter and Katsu Curry from the Large Plates as a main. It was described as Crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Jasmine Rice and Katsu Sauce. I eschewed the soft drink in favour of a pint of Maltsmiths Ale. This turned out to be a great move.

The beer was not only a good choice in that it was a superbly balanced pint with neither the hops nor the malt masking the flavour of the other, but it was to be my sole companion, other than the Telegraph Crossword, for the next forty minutes or so until my food arrived!

It turned out that this is an establishment of two halves. The front of house staff were brilliant and couldn’t do enough for me. I was very impressed from the outset when I was asked if I had any allergies before I had even ordered. After confirming that I am able to eat absolutely anything without ill effects my order was taken. The kitchen, however, was not so efficient and I was left waiting for ages until my food came, then, like buses, both courses arrived within a couple of minutes. To give you some idea of the timescale, I had taken my seat at about 1.50 and was due to meet some friends in City Square at 3.00 so I thought I would have bags of time, but, in the end, I had to go without dessert or coffee as it was 2.45 by the time I had finished my curry. The chap who had been serving me confirmed that there was a backlog in the kitchen and pudding could be some time in arriving.

I must say that the food was well worth waiting for. The dumplings were wonderfully crisp and the sauce had a kick to it which livened up the vegetable parcels no end. By this time I was so hungry that I thought the friction on my wooden chopsticks might cause them to burst into flames.

When the dumplings were delivered the waiter apologised profusely for the delay and said he would bring the curry in a further five minutes, which he did. It was obvious from the surface of the sauce that it had been kept warm during the interim and the rice had begun slightly to dry out. Fortunately these symptoms were not detrimental to the dish and the chicken was still moist with the panko crumb coating perfectly crispy. Katsu Curry can taste like that stuff you get in a Chinese take-away, which is not surprising as they both come from the same part of the world, but this was much more subtle. The chicken pieces were larger than I could handle with my chopsticks so I had to resort to the knife and fork provided in a container which arrived with the meal.

I really hope that this was an isolated glitch in the kitchen as I would have been apoplectic had I needed to get back to work. I don’t like to be rushed but this was taking things to the other extreme.

I also didn’t have time to ask about the name of the place. Bar Soba sounds like an oxymoron, I would have thought that Bar Hammered would have been a little more alluring to the cocktail drinking crowd.

All photographs by Stan Graham

The Whitehall Restaurant and Bar

https://www.thewhitehallleeds.com/

The last time I ate in Whitehall it was 2003 at the Banqueting House in the London thoroughfare of that name at a function where the guest of honour was HRH the Duchess of Gloucester. Whitehall Road in Leeds is a far cry from Whitehall in London but the food, and the company, were much better. That’s my prospects of a mention in the New Year’s Honours well and truly stuffed then!

The Whitehall had been on my radar for quite some time but things always seemed to happen which derailed my plans. Today I at last got to take lunch here and it was well worth the wait. Because of the restrictions currently in place, and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme being in operation, I decided to book. The booking was for two people as I had taken along a friend, sorry, my only friend, to share the experience.

It was good to see that there was evidence of there having been a decent lunchtime trade with quite a few of the tables still occupied although it was gone 2.00pm. The obligatory hand sanitiser was present at the registration point, where my details were checked against the booking and we were shown to our table.

We were immediately asked about water and given the choice of still, sparkling or tap, we chose the latter as I usually prefer my drinks from the tap rather than the bottle. We had both already perused the menu online so we knew what we wanted, a pint of Amstel lager, very reasonably priced at £4.60, in my friend’s case, and a 250ml Pichikura Chilean merlot in mine for £7.50. The important parts of the meal sorted we moved on to the food.

The dedicated lunch menu is priced at £10 for one course, £15 for two and £20 for three, but the thing which impressed me the most was that it is available from noon until 6.00pm. I have a bee in my bonnet about being told when I should feel hungry, it happens when it happens, and there have also been occasions on which I was in a meeting or in the middle of something complex which meant that I could not get away before 2.00pm which used to be the cut-off time for midday dining. The Whitehall is situated in the business quarter so I am sure that they benefit from this relaxed attitude towards timing.

Although my dining companion was only having the one course option I thought that I would be letting you down, dear reader, should I not go ‘through the card’, as we used to say in the betting industry. From the five starters on offer I chose the Pea and Courgette Velouté with Cheddar and Chilli Doughnut. Velouté is normally a creamy sauce but here was served as a soup, and very good it was too. It was bursting with the flavour of pea and courgette, naturally, and the red leaves with which it was garnished added an earthy element. I had been intrigued as to what the doughnut would be like and whether the cream and jam would spoil the effect, but it was actually a small mildly flavoured bread roll made in the manner of a doughnut but without the sweetness. As a footnote I would not order any variation of this dish should you ever go to an establishment producing beer because it is a well known fact that there are an awful lot of people who could not organise a pea soup in a brewery. Come on, give me a break.

For the main course I had Chicken Schnitzel which came with a fried egg, caper lemon butter, and celeriac and carrot remoulade. I have had schnitzel made with pork tenderloin and also the original version with veal but this is the first time I have had a chicken variant. The problem here was that the meat element of schnitzel is beaten until it is thin and then coated in breadcrumbs before being shallow fried. The advantage of the pork and veal varieties is that the meat doesn’t need to be cooked all the way through and so can be served on the rare side, whereas chicken has to be thoroughly cooked to kill the bacteria and so, being this thin, it dries out somewhat. Having said that, it was delicious but I couldn’t help wishing that, instead of the butter, the capers had been accompanied by a slice of lemon which could be squeezed over the dish to help lubricate it. As an experiment, I pinched my friend’s lemon – behave – and drizzled a little of its juice over the chicken. It worked wonders. It is amazing how many times the basics let down a good meal but here the fried egg was done to perfection. The remoulade was also excellent.

The aforementioned lemon arrived with Fish and Chips and was accompanied by crushed peas and tartare sauce. It was described as being brilliant which I took to mean that I wasn’t going to get a bite, which was fair enough as she was only having the one course. She went on to say that it was also very filling, which instilled a glimmer of expectation. Sure enough, the fish had beaten her and so I was offered what was left. I have to say that the haddock which filled every part of its battered coating, was superb and the flakes were as dense as I have ever come across, it was almost like eating meat. The fish also tasted of fish rather than being insipid and I was mightily impressed.

On to dessert. I love Crème Brûlée and this was as good as it gets. The Madagascan Vanilla came bursting through from the custard, which was topped by the hardened sugar top. The Speculoos biscuit added a further sweet dimension to the dish, as did the black coffee (£2.75)

Mention must also be made of the excellent service from the young, enthusiastic staff. Please note, a 10% service charge is added but it is worth every penny.

This really was an excellent lunch and I would recommend The Whitehall to anybody who will listen. The subsidy from The Treasury – based in Whitehall – made the cost very reasonable too.

In future, should I get a choice between eating at the Banqueting House or dining at The Whitehall, I will always plump for the latter, unless I am at a celebration event to mark my being awarded a knighthood, in which case I will contact HRH the Duchess of Gloucester to see if she fancies a replay at her gaff!

All photographs by Stan Graham

Power, Corruption & Lies

Home

Don’t worry, this is not a critique of the US election, or politics in general for that matter, but one of a cocktail bar in Call Lane which also does a pretty good lunch.

I had wanted to try something a bit different once the lockdown was lifted and so decided to trawl through the places offering half price goodies under the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. I have already reviewed a lot of them on this site which cut down my choices somewhat. Added to that, a lot of eateries on the list only open in the evenings or are situated out of town, so that narrowed the field even more. After discounting the chains and those with enough branches to be borderline multiples and have their main outlets in London, my options were dwindling rapidly. From those which were left I opted for Power, Corruption & Lies which seems to be more of a bar than a restaurant, but, nevertheless, came up trumps. Sorry – I said that this wasn’t going to be about the US election.

Sadly, the place was almost deserted when I arrived, although there were people sitting outside enjoying the food, drink and sunshine. It was a little after the conventional lunchtime, whatever that is nowadays, so I hoped that they had been busy earlier on.

I was greeted by a charming young woman who showed me to my table and took my order. They are obviously taking the current situation seriously, as obviously they should, there being a hand sanitiser dispenser on the reception desk and others on each of the tables.

The menu is far-eastern inspired but given a western spin. It is quite short at the moment which could be due to the new opening limitations or because it is mainly a cocktail bar on the Call Lane Trail. The dishes are split into categories: Snacks, Xiaochi, Bao, Dim Sum and Sides. I asked as to the size of the portions and was given the rundown leading me to order a Snack as a starter, a Xiaochi as a main and a Side. This worked perfectly.

My snack/starter was Chicken Karaage at £4.50 which came with Hoisin Ketchup and Szechuan Aioli. The chicken was perfectly cooked, the batter was crisp and the meat moist and tender. The Hoisin Ketchup was just what it says it is and the Szechuan aioli a slightly spiced mayonnaise but with not too much garlic. They both made excellent dips for the bird.

I ordered Crispy Chilli Beef from the Xiaochi which came in at £8.50, and accompanied it with a Side of Steamed Rice for £2.50. According to Google, the word Xiaochi means a dish which is the size of those served from Taiwanese street food stalls. That is obviously of no help whatsoever if, like me, you have never eaten from a street food stall in Taiwan. I think that the photograph is a better indicator of what to expect from this part of the bill of fare. Please excuse the bleaching out of the rice on the shot but I was sitting by a window with the sun streaming in.

If the chicken was good, the beef was magnificent. I love the taste of chilli beef but this is the first place I have ever had it where it actually lives up to the description ‘crispy’. Whether it be from my local Chinese take-away or much more salubrious establishments, I have always found it to be flaccid. This has not affected the taste but has done nothing for the texture. Here, however, there was a resistance to the teeth from the batter which was just right. The beef itself was cooked perfectly too. If I have any gripe it is that the broccoli was a bit overdone and lacked crispness, ironic really.

As it was a sweltering day I had a half of Jisaku Pilsner (the house brew) for £2.60 to keep me cool and it was far more suited to the occasion than a glass of wine would have been. As previously stated, I have never been to a street food stall in Taiwan but I doubt that they would be quaffing Pinot Noir with their Xiaochi.

I was very pleased to see that they do not do desserts as I was pleasantly full and wouldn’t have wanted to cross the frontier into the land of bloat. I did loiter long enough to partake of a black Americano for £2.50 in order to put off venturing out into the hot afternoon for as long as I could.

Power, Corruption & Lies is a very pleasant place in which to have lunch and, if I were forty years younger, I would imagine I would very much enjoy the evening vibe. It was made more so by the 50% discount which meant that the bill came to £13.66 including service charge.

One final observation. As the global pandemic continues to rage on and countries are reporting a second wave, I could not ignore the sentiment of the first groovy tune to come over the sound system when I took my seat, it was the wonderful REM serenading me with ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, And I Feel Fine’. By the time I left, it was the perfect description of my lunchtime.

All photographs by Stan Graham

The Owl, Kirkgate Market

Home

It is ironic that I was quite comfortable during lockdown with my daily walk and two or three trips to the shops each week but since the restrictions have been lifted I feel that it is a great effort to go out and start socialising again. I am not afraid of becoming infected it is just that I have got into a routine which has seen me keep fit and lose weight but has become a bit of a rut. Somebody once told me that a grave is only a deep rut so I resolved to snap out of it and get back into the fray.


If I needed an incentive to resume my previous life, Eat Out To Help Out was just the catalyst required. Having paid tax for over 50 years I thought that the least the government could do was to bung me a tenner to go towards a decent meal but having perused the list of those taking part in the scheme I decided that I would ditch that strategy and put my ten spot towards a superb one instead. 


When I was a kid – now you know I am back to my old self – the only eateries in Kirkgate Market were a pie and pea stall and another selling tripe and vinegar. I loved them both but now the culinary range is vast and goes from greasy spoon to fine dining, as exemplified by The Owl, a gastropub run by Liz Cottam and Mark Owens who also have the amazing Home restaurant in Kirkgate. I was invited to the launch of Home which was held in the grounds of Harewood House as the restaurant was not yet open, and the food was terrific. Under normal circumstances I couldn’t afford to frequent places like these, which is another reason I threw caution, and my credit card, to the wind.


On arrival I was met at the door by Emily, who was to be my waitress. She politely asked me to use the hand sanitiser before entering, gave me a disposable slip of paper on which was a mobile phone number to which I was asked to send a text with my name, and then showed me to my table. I was asked if I would like to see the lunch menu or the one displaying the bar food. I opted for the former, I think that the title of this website explains why I did that.


I was given time to sit down and make myself comfortable before Emily returned to ask if I would like something to drink. She had brought a glass of water with her anyway. I asked for a Pinot Noir but was told that this was no longer available and had been replaced by a Montepulciano so I ordered that instead. Both of these wines are favourites of mine but can be of variable quality so I hoped for the best. I needn’t have worried, in fact I was cross with myself for doubting for even one minute that this place would serve anything which didn’t come up to muster, it was superb. I had already looked at the menu on-line and so I knew what I wanted which meant my stopping Emily in full flow whilst attempting to tell me what the catch of the day was. I must apologise for my rudeness. 


As I was taking the first sip of wine a bowl of beer bread arrived along with two small quenelles of butter, one seaweed flavoured and one Marmite. The bread was warm and delicious, as were the varieties of butter. My only problem was that the bread had a coating which was still sticky but Emily quickly saw my dilemma and brought me a finger bowl. 


For starter I had chosen North Yorkshire red deer tartare, blackcurrants and beets and charcoal oil. It attracted a £2 supplement to the fixed price lunch but I really had to try it. The combination of flavours was superb and the addition of pickled carrot added the extra dimension of acidity to the dish. The red deer was amazing and I couldn’t help but wonder as to whether it had come from the aforementioned Harewood Estate, via their Food Project. I was pleased to see that it had been chopped into pieces which could still be identified as meat. So many times I have had steak tartare cut so finely as to be almost mince and displayed as though it were a raw burger. This was satisfyingly chewy, although not overly so, and the flavour tremendous. It was also surprisingly filling.


The second course was another masterpiece: Herb roasted poussin, pearl barley stew, summer vegetable and truffle. When I saw this on the menu at home I didn’t know what to expect, I couldn’t have imagined that I would be presented with two incredible dishes in one course. It appears that kale is the summer vegetable as mentioned in the description as it was an element in the stew and presented crispy on the poussin. The bird was perfectly cooked, moist and tender with the herb seasoning having coated the outside to an extent so as not to overpower the meat. There were several small – obviously – pieces from different parts of the bird and the shaving of truffle along with some enokidake  mushrooms made up the dish. The accompanying stew of pearl barley, kale, truffle and lardons in a creamy broth was a meal in itself and a sublime combination of flavours equalling more than the sum of its parts. I had been initially supplied with a knife and fork with which to eat the course but there was no way on earth that I was going to leave any of the stew uneaten so the ever obliging Emily brought me a spoon to finish the job.


My good intentions of sticking to two courses were soon forgotten as I didn’t want this experience to end, and I had also seen one of my favourite combinations on the dessert menu, chocolate and cherries. The exact description was Cherry and chocolate cake, bourbon sauce and cherry ice cream. The cake was layered like a sophisticated Black Forest Gateau without the cream, and topped with a small chocolate truffle. It looked and tasted superb. The ice cream had a sour cherry tang which was just the thing to counteract the richness of the confection. The bourbon sauce, which had been ceremoniously poured between the two other elements, by guess who, certainly had a kick to it and added the third dimension. 


I ended with a black Americano which arrived with a petit four of fudge. It was made just the way I like it, being strong and flavourful rather than the weak concoction often served at even fairly upmarket restaurants. A wonderful way in which to end a memorable meal.


I was immensely impressed by my lunch today. Every element was damned nigh perfect. The food, the drink, the presentation, the attention to safety and the service. I am so pleased that I made the effort to clamber out of my rut before it got too deep.

The bill came to £30 after the Chancellor’s contribution so was still more than I would normally pay but you can’t put a price on perfection, salvation and a reminder of just how wonderful the good things in life are. 


Don’t miss my review next week when I will again be taking advantage of the government’s half price offer, although I have a feeling that Rishi and Boris will only be stumping up for 50% of beans on toast.


The lunch menu at The Owl is £24 for two courses and £27 for three and is served Tuesday – Saturday from noon until 3.00pm. Two of the starters, one of the mains and a dessert have supplements. The Montepulciano was £7.50 and the coffee £3.50. 

I would just like to add a point of clarification. Although I have met Ms Cottam a couple of times in the past, she was not there when I called today and the review was done, like all of the others on this site, totally incognito.


All photographs by Stan Graham

Café 164

http://www.cafe164.com

I say, I say, I say! What do you get if you cross a library, an art gallery, a bakery, a coffee house and a philanthropic organisation? 
I don’t know, what do you get if you cross a library, an art gallery, a bakery, a coffee house and a philanthropic organisation? 
Café 164. 
I don’t wish to know that, kindly leave the page!


The other day I had an early afternoon appointment in an East Leeds suburb so I decided to walk it from the bus station. Before setting off I thought that a spot of food would be in order to make sure that the fuel tank was full enough to last me for the journey. I have called into Café 164 before but it was during the late afternoon and they were just about to close meaning that I couldn’t get a fair idea of the place so I decided to pay another visit at lunchtime and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. 

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On walking into the café which is in Munro House, on Duke Street opposite the bus station, you are confronted by a raised serving bar with the usual display cabinets and shelves. They seem to do a roaring trade in takeaway food as there were several people milling around waiting for their orders. I perused the wares and opted for a Bacon and Brie sandwich in ciabatta for £3.50 which I thought would fit the bill perfectly. The sight of squares of Raspberry and Hazelnut Cake at £3.00 got me wondering as to whether I would need additional energy for the walk ahead. No prizes for guessing which way my decision went. Finally I ordered a black Americano at £2.10, which I was told would be prepared and should be collected at the end of the counter shortly. At this point I discovered the main flaw in the system as there were no trays provided. Even though I didn’t have anything else to carry I only have two hands and so decided that I should find a table, deposit my eats and return for the coffee and napkins, which I did. Not greatly satisfactory. 

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When I found a space I put my sarnie and cake on the table and went back for the coffee at the far end of the counter, an exercise which nearly caused me to closely examine the flooring as there is a step down at the end of the bar which is not very well marked and so I missed it and lost my balance, just recovering it in the nick of time. I got my brew and returned to my seat. The table was for two people but, had I taken the chair which I first meant to, it would have caused the main access route from one part of the room to the other to be blocked, so I sat at the other side instead. Even so it was still a bit of a squeeze for those passing opposite.

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Once ensconced in my seat I proceeded to unwrap the sandwich. The bread was perfectly fresh and the filling generous. All of the bread is baked on a daily basis both on the premises here and at the take-away shop, Bakery 164 on Woodhouse Lane, so is wonderfully light and soft. They bake both ciabatta and focaccia using just water, extra virgin olive oil, yeast, flour and salt. As well as the fillings advertised on the wrapper there were lettuce and tomatoes, again perfectly fresh. The creamy brie had its normal fruity tang but it was the bacon which had the starring role. Bacon in cold sandwiches is usually either flaccid and fatty or crispy to the point of being borderline pork scratchings, this was cooked just right and very much on the lean side. There was a constant stream of people appearing from the kitchen and bakery round the back to replenish the displays which was good to see. 
I referred to the philanthropy earlier and this is displayed by giving any unsold sandwiches at the end of the day to food and homeless charities, meaning that as well as doing good, they ensure that every sandwich served has been freshly made that day. Win/win.


If the sandwich was very good then the cake was well up there with it. I thought that it might have been a bit heavy and that my eyes had made a promise my stomach couldn’t keep but it turned out to be lovely and light. The cherries were liberally spread amongst the piece and had a taste which was sweet with just a hint of bitterness to counteract the nuts and sweetness of the featherlight cake. 

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The coffee was just how I like it, being on the strong side, again with a hint of bitterness but not excessively so. Had it been a wine I would have called it a perfect pairing for both dishes, not a bad trick with one being sweet and the other savoury. 


On the previous visit to which I referred earlier, I had partaken of the Beef Pastrami with mustard mayo, spinach, vine tomato, Emmental cheese and dill chips which was also a superb combination and equally fresh even though purchased last thing.

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A look around the premises revealed that the walls were either bedecked with paintings and other artworks, or artworks in themselves, the most striking being that between the café and the kitchen/bakery. In the part of the space accessed by passing my table, there was an exhibition of screen prints by Mick Marston called From Angler To Helicopter (& Stuff In Between) which is running until 18th April so the eye had plenty to occupy it whilst chomping away.

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By the toilets there is a small library facilitating the exchange of books, which is a nice touch, hopefully not leading to people lingering longer than necessary in the facilities having become engrossed!

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I must say that I enjoyed my lunch very much indeed and, at £8.60 for the lot is much better in both value and ambience than the large chains in the city centre. So if you want something quick, fresh and good value then I suggest that you pop in but please, mind the step!

This article is also available on my other site Tyke It To The Limit

http://www.tyke-it-to-the-limit.com

All photographs by Stan Graham

Sarto

https://www.facebook.com/sartopasta/

Before you read this article please be aware that, unlike previous reviews, it was not done incognito as I was honoured to be the first person asked to review it in October 2019 for my other site tyke-it-to-the-limit.com As the aim of the-eat-is-on.com is to be a guide as to where to have lunch in Leeds I felt that I should include it as it is both great value and the food is excellent. I have been back at my own expense on several occasions since I wrote the original article and the standard has been superb on each occasion. Bearing that in mind please read on.

Another day, another Day. There seems to be a never-ending string of Days to celebrate something or other, this time it is World Pasta Day but it was purely by coincidence that I was invited to call at Sarto, the eagerly anticipated new collaboration between Laynes Espresso and The Brunswick, to see what I made of it. 


As my lead-in would suggest, the establishment specialises in pasta, but not just any old pasta, this is fresh, home made and as good as it gets. It is not only the pasta which is top notch however, the other ingredients are specially sourced wherever possible from local producers, they only go farther afield when there is no suitable alternative, so most are as fresh as you could get without eating in the field. This would not have been a very good idea on the day I went as it was absolutely chucking it down so it would have taken you all day to finish the soup!  


I am struggling to find the correct word to describe Sarto, it is a laid back dining room with a combination of long tables with benches, more conventional smaller tables with four chairs, and high seats at the counter should you wish to observe the skills of the chef and his happy band of helpers in the open kitchen behind. Although casual and relaxed in atmosphere, the food is meticulously prepared and presented. The philosophy is that less equals more with some of the dishes comprising  just three ingredients. 


The menu is divided into three sections; Snacks, Pasta, and Sweet. You will notice that the word ’Sweet’ is in the singular as today’s offering is Tiramisu, which I don’t particularly like, or should I say, didn’t until I tried this one. I think that it is good touch to label the small plates as ’Snacks’ because it signals that it is OK to have one on its own without feeling that they are part of a bigger meal as the term ’Starters’ would have suggested. They are very reasonably priced at between £3 and £6 each. 


I ordered a glass of House Red wine which came in an authentic rustic Italian style tumbler. Somehow drinking from the correct vessel seems to enhance the flavour and although I am sure that this glass did just that, I doubt the contents needed too much assistance as it was sublime.

My host, who has eaten here three times already, even though it has only been open for four days, opted for Baby San Marzano tomatoes, ricotta, pomegranate and marjoram which came surrounded by olive oil, and was served a couple of slices of bread with which to mop it up, at £4.50. As his dish was delivered first I was getting food envy before we had even started but I need not have worried as mine was even more spectacular. He said that his tasted amazing.

My choice swiftly followed and was Beetroot, Knockraich Crowdie, radish, walnuts and balsamic which also comes in at £4.50 and was worth every penny and more. The presentation was spectacular without being too arty and the taste was to die for. The earthy flavour of the beetroot was offset by the creaminess of the cheese and the subtle heat of the radish. The walnuts gave a different texture and the fourth flavour. Each component tasted excellent in its own right but when sampled together became more than the sum of their parts. An inspired melange. For anyone not familiar with Crowdie it is a soft lactic cheese meaning that it uses natural bacteria to convert it to curds without the need for rennet. It has a wonderfully rich flavour and this version from Knockraich Farm in Stirlingshire is even more so as they use whole, un-homogenised Scottish milk with nothing added. 


I normally don’t mention the service until the end of my reviews but I think that here is the best place for this one. The beauty of Sarto is that you can go at your own pace so that you decide when to catch the eye of the waiting staff for your next course rather than their turning up as soon as your knife and fork hit the plate from the previous one. That meant the four people at the table close to ours could finish their lunch and get back to work well within their allotted break time whilst we, and a couple of ladies who had obviously been getting drastic with the plastic in the Victoria Quarter, could take our time and stretch out the occasion, which is what Friday lunchtimes are all about. 


On requesting our Pasta course we were introduced to the stars of the show. I had Rigatoni, lamb shoulder, sheep rustler and mint to keep me entertained whilst I watched my fellow diner polish off his Fettuccine, beef chuck ragu and Old Winchester. Once again the prices were great for Leeds centre, ranging from £7 to £9.50. My rigatoni was perfectly al dente just on the right side of chewy. You can’t really do dried pasta like this as it has to rehydrate which means that it becomes overdone or still has a dry sawdust texture in the middle. The topping was as simple as you could get, except it wasn’t. The lamb had been slow cooked so that it was still in small lumps rather than minced. Lamb is perfect for this method as it not only falls apart after cooking but also absorbs any flavours in which it has been marinated. Pork and beef just seem to get coated which is why I suppose they are normally minced. The appropriately named ’sheep rustler’ cheese which was grated on top had a flavour which complimented the lamb and pasta rather than overpowered it as parmesan might have done. It is unusual in that it is made from ewe’s milk rather than cow’s, hence the name. Mint leaves added to the taste both in flavour and aesthetics. Once again, the four ingredients punching far above their weight. I am reliably informed that the beef was equally as good, the empty plate saying more than a thousand words could. 


As I have previously said, the tiramisu was sublime. It is obvious that I have had bad experiences with this dessert in the past because I have always found it far too rich and heavy. This example was subtle and light as a feather, melting in the mouth. At £4 a steal.


When we had finished eating I had a word with the co-owner, Dave Olejnik who told me that the pasta is made from Petra organic flour which is only produced in Italy. It is made by crushing the grain thus maintaining the wheatgerm giving it flavour and a healthier quality. I must admit it did taste different from other pasta I have had, hardly surprising as Sarto is the only restaurant in Leeds to use it. Dave also said that because it is made fresh it only takes forty seconds to cook which is why I got my al dente kick. I was also told about the effort being made to help the environment by sourcing their wine through Vinnaturo Ltd who import it in boxes, bags and kegs thus reducing CO2 emissions by about 80% compared to transporting heavier glass bottles. Sarto also have a nifty way with their spirits. They dispense them from bottles but only buy the first one, after that they wash the bottle and refill it from pouches in which the next batch is delivered. The pouches are then returned to the distillery who clean them and reuse them for subsequent orders. Brilliant.


I would like to wish all those concerned with Sarto the best possible success because not only do they are they environmentally aware but they serve brilliant food, which is what it is all about. 


I wonder what Day it is tomorrow!

All photographs by Stan Graham

Owt

https://www.owtleeds.com/

Please note that since I wrote this article Owt has relocated to the magnificent Corn Exchange. Another reason you should give it a try.

I have learned a lot since I began doing my restaurant reviews but the one thing which has struck me more than the rest is that, as a rule of thumb, the nicer the owners, the better the food.


When a friend and I decided to call into Kirkgate Market for old times’ sake, her father once had a stall there as did my great grandparents, we had to try one of the newer establishments which have sprung up in the last couple of years. Not only does the food hall at the exit to the open market have a great choice of excellent eateries, but the delicacies on offer in the main part of the building have also moved upmarket –  literally.


Owt is one of these establishment which is situated on Fish and Game Row and, as its name implies, sells anything which is available and in season from the surrounding stalls so the menu changes on a regular basis with the fish dish being reviewable weekly. For my readers who are not from the County of Yorkshire, many of them are not even based in this country, the word ‘owt’ is a part of the local dialect and means ‘anything’. The main use would be in the phrase, ‘As tha gorr owt teat?’ Which roughly translated means, ‘Would you happen to have anything which would serve to satisfy my appetite?’ Na tha nors (now you know). 


As it was fairly early for lunch, being just turned noon, we were not exactly ravenous, just a little peckish so we decided to share a Fish Butty. This request was greeted with a cheery smile and we were asked to take a seat. A jug of water and two glasses were swiftly provided as were the coffees we had ordered at the same time as the sandwich. As the fish was cooked to order it arrived a few minutes later complete with the other elements described on the menu, viz Tartare Sauce, Lemony Slaw and  Triple Cooked Chips. The bread part of the dish was a large toasted bread cake and the whole shebang was garnished with chopped parsley. 


I suspect that the fish in the butty changes according to availability as it was not the normal cod or haddock but a tasty darker species, yes I know, I should have asked. The breadcrumb coating was wonderfully crispy and the fillet lay atop the chips and the base of the bread cake. The tartare sauce had the sharp hint of gherkin but it was much richer and creamier than normal so didn’t overpower the other ingredients, the slaw added a freshness being akin to sweet and sour. All in all, a triumph. Now then, here’s the rub, the butty came in at £7 which was good value in itself but the coffee was also included and, not only that, we were asked if we would like a refill. I mean, two coffees would normally set you back four quid which made this dish of fish and chips in a bun ridiculously cheap. Even though we split the sandwich we were both still provided with the beverages and water at no additional charge.


The owners were the most delightful people and couldn’t do enough for us thus reinforcing my initial statement. Oh, another thing I have learned since writing my reviews is that as well as the conventional five base tastes in food; salt, sweet, bitter, sour and umami, there is a sixth and one which I have come to be able to taste above all the rest, and that is love. It is present in several establishments in Leeds and at Owt it is the one thing which never goes out of season.

https://www.owtleeds.com/

All photographs by Stan Graham