I am pretty open minded when it comes to food, but try as I might, I cannot come to terms with the concept of midweek brunch. I associate the word with a long, lazy late weekend breakfast and the items on a typical menu do nothing to contradict this view. I have been wanting to review Laynes for years but they have never seemed to cater for people who have had breakfast at the conventional time and so want something a bit more suitable for 1.00pm on a rainy working day in February, when spending a couple of hours reading the papers over granola just doesn’t cut it.

It appears that I am in a minority of one when it comes to this train of thought because Laynes is one of the busiest eateries in Leeds. I made it even busier the other day when I saw on their website that they have started offering a dedicated lunch menu, an offering I couldn’t refuse.

I really wanted to enjoy my lunch at Laynes as the owner is a partner in that amazing pasta restaurant Sarto, one of my favourite spots in Leeds. This made the odds of my being disappointed about 20/1 on. Fortunately that was yet another bet on a hot favourite which let me down, as the meal I had was brilliant.

There were only three choices on the Lunch Special section of the menu but that didn’t matter because I only wanted one – don’t panic you brunch lovers, the breakfast style food range was far more comprehensive. The opening hours of 7.30am until 3.00pm would explain that. I did note that items on the menu are labelled Food, Sides, Sweet and Bakery, the headings Brunch and Breakfast being nowhere to be seen.

I settled on the Hot Smoked Salmon Fishcake with Pickled Cucumber, Creme Fraiche, Poached Egg and Lemon Dressing for £8. I had a Long Black Coffee at £2.90 to accompany the dish. The coffee arrived first and was superb. Not only do I take my coffee black but I don’t have sugar either so the only taste I get is of the brew. This was strong and on the bitter side, just as I like it. It wasn’t a face-pulling bitter but just enough to give it character and compliment the food in the same way as a decent glass of dry wine would, had they sold it.

The term ‘hot smoked salmon fishcake’ is a bit ambiguous, did it mean that the fishcake was served hot or that the salmon had been hot, rather than cold smoked. As it turned out both terms applied. The fishcake had been freshly cooked and the salmon within had a wonderfully flaky texture from being hot smoked, rather than the more silky cold smoked feel, which is great in sandwiches with cream cheese but probably not in a fishcake, especially one as wholesome as this. The potatoes which joined the salmon in the cake were cooked and left in small chunks. So many fishcakes are basically croquettes where the contents have been mashed together giving every bite the same flavour and texture. This was several cuts above those. The poached egg was perfectly cooked with the white solid and the yolk runny. The comforting combination of fish, potato and egg yolk is a classic and is one of my favourites. To offset the richness of the main components there was dressed cress, creme fraiche, dill and the most amazing pickled onion and cucumber. The accompanying wedge of lemon was left unsqueezed as I was afraid the pungency might overwhelm the main flavours and it would have been criminal to do that.

There is a Sweet section of the menu but, when I saw that the Bakery items were from Baltzersen’s in Harrogate, I had to go for one of those. I chose the Spandaur at £3.75, which is a Danish pastry with a topping of egg custard and jam which, along with the drizzle of icing made it a total treat. So much for eschewing brunch items. I just had to order a second coffee to go with it. Ignoring the teaspoon provided I used my hands to eat the confection which was every bit as good as I had hoped. It was so good that I considered ordering another one to take home but it seemed full of calories as well as taste and I didn’t want to develop Spandaur Belly – True. I also wouldn’t have been able to get a joke out of ice cream.

I must also mention the staff on both sides of the counter who were absolutely terrific. They were friendly and efficient making my visit even more memorable. Thank you.

Unlike a lot of things in life, this was an experience all the better for the long wait and I would urge you to be a bit more decisive than I and get along as soon as you can. If you can’t manage a working day lunch, might I suggest a late two-hour weekend breakfast with the newspapers. I am sure that there must be a name for that.

All photographs by Stan Graham


Graveley’s in The Core

The other day I decided to review the entries on this site to see what was left after the devastation caused by Covid. I deleted the ones where it was obvious from the websites that the businesses had ceased to be, but with others I needed to have a stroll round Leeds to verify their status. Some have closed, others no longer open at lunchtime and more are still in limbo. The bottom line is that of the 99 eateries I had reviewed by the beginning of the first lockdown, only 72 were still in existence. Needless to say, my mood was not the lightest it has ever been so I thought that comfort food was badly needed and it just had to be fish and chips.

Not only is fish and chips one of the ultimate comfort meals, but Graveley’s in particular brings back fond memories of a great time when life was so different. I am privileged to count as a friend one of the strongest, most inspirational, but still humble women – make that people – on the face of the planet. Many of us faced with half the tragedies she has had to endure would have crumbled and given in but she has weathered the storm and come out the other side. The most surprising thing is that she is not even from Yorkshire, although I will always regard her as an honorary Tyke. She lives in Kentucky and has been to this side of the pond three times during which she developed a taste for our National Dish, so much so that when she brought her husband across in 2016 she had fish and chips every day! As I live in Harrogate, when we were not eating them in Whitby or Scarborough, we would end the days’ outings at Graveley’s, although that branch has now changed hands. We were allowed to eat in a pub one evening when we blokes – sorry, guys – had steak and kidney pie, but even then she ordered haddock and chips. Living in Lexington there is not a lot of fresh seafood on hand so, what the heck, get it while you can.

Sitting in the food section of The Core was a far cry from the up-market restaurant in HG1 and the menu is a tad more basic, but in these circumstances it was the food that mattered. The service was also a little different from the other place, even the take-away counter, where efficiency ruled. For the first time since the end of lockdown I was able to approach a counter and order face to face although this took some doing. I stood about for a minute or two, the only one in the queue, whilst those behind the structure were doing whatever. I caught the eye of a woman and asked if the unnamed ‘fish’ on the menu was haddock, a suspicion which she confirmed. I don’t think that she was supposed to be the one taking orders as she then approached a colleague and asked her to attend to me. I felt so ignored that I confirmed with her as to whether it was correct to order from the counter or should I take a seat and wait to be served. She advised that I should let her know what I wanted and she would give me a call when it was ready. As I had not visited a chippy since the 2016 Transatlantic Fishfest I decided to go the full monty with fish, chips, mushy peas, a bread cake and tea. I paid my bill and took a seat quite close to the counter to do the Telegraph sudoku on my phone. My tea was served in double quick time but it became obvious that the food was going to be cooked to order, not a bad thing. In other food halls they give you a pager or some other electronic gizmo to let you know when the nosh is ready but here I got her dulcet Yorkshire tones at full volume. ‘Fish, chips, mushy peas and bread cake!!’ Music to my ears..

The science behind a perfect battered fish is that it should be cooked in beef dripping rather than oil, which I suspect this was. The idea is that the fat needs to be searingly hot so that the instant the fish is dropped into it, the outside of the batter seals thus preventing the dripping from penetrating and contaminating the fish. The effect is that it forms a little oven and whilst the batter continues to fry and become crispy, the fish steams inside using its own water content. Whatever the frying solution at Graveley’s it did the trick in that the batter was extremely crispy, albeit a bit on the light side for my taste, it was more like tempura batter which shattered when I tried to cut it with the wooden knife. I have no problem with this as it is a matter of taste and that of the shards was very good indeed. The haddock within was beautifully flaky with not the slightest sign of oil ingress so job done. When I had finished I did notice a residue of grease on the plate which I took to indicate that the fish had been put straight on the plate from the fryer rather than being ‘rested’ for a minute or two on a metal grid to drain. Once again, I can happily live with that.

I am not a great lover of chips but these were pretty good and you can’t have a fish lunch without them. Unlike the fish they had probably been batch cooked and kept warm until needed, in the manner of about every chippy in the country. I might not be a chip fan but I love mushy peas and these were great. I last had this delicacy in a pub where they had been sweetened with sugar and were awful, here, however, they were au naturel with the underlying hint of bicarbonate of soda giving them that slightly sour taste. Absolutely spot on. Incidentally I googled mushy peas and saw the most ridiculous recipes using garden peas, cream, butter and mint. The only way to do them is by using marrowfat peas and bicarb, soaking them overnight and boiling when needed. Just a word of warning, if you try it at home, or even if you don’t, the volume increases by a huge amount during soaking and if you overdo the portion you could wake up to a scene from a horror film all over the kitchen.

The bread cake was lovely and soft, being cut along the middle and buttered to allow for the construction of a butty should you so wish, and the tea had the bag left in so you could leave it to stew to your taste.

The bill came to £11.25 which sounds a lot for fish and chips but is not too bad at all. The one thing I noticed by perusing the menus of the restaurants on my site which are still open, is that the prices seem to have increased substantially but that is only to be expected after they have lain empty for over a year and have some catching up to do revenue-wise.

Should you not be in the mood for fish and chips, the menu has been extended to reflect the changing tastes of the great Yorkshire public, so Battered Halloumi Cheese with a Frappe anyone?

I would like to end by saying that I wish all of the owners of the businesses which have not reopened all the very best and hope that they can swiftly move on, and also to apologise to my friend in the Blue Grass State for subjecting her to a review of her favourite Britfood when she is unable to partake. I hope that it is not too long before you can get over here again and attempt to get haddock placed on the endangered species list.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Midnight Bell

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

The Whitehall Restaurant and Bar

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

The Owl, Kirkgate Market


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


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.

All photographs by Stan Graham

The Reliance Bar and Dining Room

When I started this series four years ago I set myself some rules, most of which I have since broken.  Hey, what else are rules for?  This visit to The Reliance Bar and Dining Room has prompted me into abandoning all of them and just doing what the heck I like.

Two of the no-nos were that I wouldn’t do pubs and that I would always order from the lunch menu which, whilst they made sense at the time, are meaningless now because of the ever-changing face of the eating scene in Leeds.

Reliance has been on both my ‘to do’ list and bucket list for some time now as I pass it on the bus every time I enter the City, so today I decided to get off and give it a go.  The lunch menu looks stupendous, with a range of dishes to die for as well as equally impressive daily specials.  What they are really famous for, however, is the home-cured charcuterie which changes on a regular basis.  This being the case, I took a seat and, there being a choice of three meats, I had a portion of each at the very reasonable price of £3.25 an item.  I also had a glass of house red, a 2017 Allamanda Sangiovese at £4.85 for the glass.  As the sun was out and the temperature in the 20s, a lighter red with the cold platter seemed just the thing and so it proved to be – robust enough to handle the meat but not cloying. My mind was wandering and I thought that I could have easily been in a small bar in a Milanese piazza or a Sicilian osteria, an image quickly shattered by a procession of double-decker buses plying their trade up and down North Street.  Hey ho.

Annoyingly, the wine was quickly delivered so I had to stare at it longingly until the food arrived, needing as I do to take photographs of the whole ensemble.  Just watch now, my copy editor will put the food and drink pictures on the article separately!   Fortunately, the food was not far behind and appeared with a generous helping of focaccia and olive oil for dipping.  I must say that the portions of meat were more than adequate and the addition of a few silverskin onions and cornichons were a nice touch to add a bit of bite.

The meats were Fennel Salami, Chilli and Black Pepper Salami and Bresaola and all were excellent.  The balance of the meat and flavouring in the salamis were spot on, with the fennel providing a lovely liquorice tang to the one and the chilli and black pepper a quiet kick to the other.  These were so obviously homemade, and done so with care and love, as there was none of the chewiness which you get with even the best shop bought salami.  The bresaola was equally impressive and once again had wonderful texture, the meat being al dente to the point of seeming as though it had been roasted rather than cured.  For £14.70 this was a veritable feast rather than a lunch, an experience enhanced by the excellent service and friendliness of the staff.

I am just left with one dilemma now. How do I explain to my friends that I have been to one of the best pubs in town and not ordered a pint of cask and the black pudding?  A prime example of a reputation which has taken a lifetime to build and a moment to destroy.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 1st July, 2019


As you can probably tell by the photographs for this week’s feature I ate much later than normal, 5.00pm to be exact, but it doesn’t really matter as Pieminister doesn’t have a special midday menu, so this is what you would also have at lunchtime.

Another deviation from the normal review was that I didn’t eat alone. My colleague Charles Eager joined me for the event as we were both going to Leeds Playhouse to do a joint review of their production of Hamlet. That explains the hour as well. As luck would have it it was National Pie Week and there was a 2-4-1 offer running so it was win/win. Sadly, it didn’t apply to the beer.

Regular readers will agree that I have been known to throw in the occasional pun, but the menu here is packed with them so don’t say you haven’t been warned. The first evidence of this was the March Limited Edition Lady Baa Baa lamb pie. It just came in the normal crust rather than being presented in strips of meat as Ms Germanotta famously once did.

The idea is that there is a selection of pies which are available in various forms. You can have them straight for £5.95 or add sides. The Pie Meal Deals add extras for an inclusive price. Charles and I opted for Mothership – when I say we opted for it I mean that he texted me saying that he had been held up so asked me to order for him – so it was my opt! He wanted poultry so he was given the Funghi Chicken as sounded like a goodie, and I went for Kate and Sidney.

The former was described as ‘Free Range British Chicken, Portobello and Chestnut Mushroom Pie’, mine, as you might expect, was ‘British Beef Steak, Kidney and Craft Ale Pie’. By choosing the ‘Mothership’ meal we were served our pies with ‘Mash, Minty Mushy Peas, Cheddar and Crispy Shallots’. Both came with a gravy boat filled with the appropriately flavoured lubrication. The presentation was very appealing, with the pie sitting atop the mash with the peas, cheese and shallot topping the whole thing off. More cheddar was sprinkled around the plate to add a further cheffy touch.  The price was £9.95. As everyone knows, it is highly illegal for a chap to have a pie without a pint so, in order to save us a night in the Bridewell, I added a Freedom Ale each at £4.85. The beer was described as a Pie.P.A. (I did warn you) and was a refreshing craft ale, perfect with the comfort food on offer.

Both the pies were made from shortcrust pastry, which I much prefer over puff pastry but still comes second to the hot water pastry pork pie style.  I did find the bottom to be a bit hard to cut and chew but at least it meant that it was a ‘proper’ pie rather than a ramekin of stew with a crust plonked on top. Both of the offerings were adequately stuffed with filling. Charles said that he was more than happy with his and I felt much the same about mine. The meat was tender and well cooked, and my only criticism would be that the pieces of kidney were chopped very finely. I still had the flavour but missed the texture.

The service was excellent and the food came in good time. All in all, a good lunch stop. If you fancy trying out the goods without going to the restaurant, they are on sale in Waitrose supermarkets.

I think that I have yielded the stage as far as puns are concerned for long enough, so here goes. You May want to keep your eyes Peel(ed) for one of Pieminister’s many special offers or why not have a family pie eating contest and Pitt the Younger members against the Elder. If you decide to eat alfresco you could take them on a picnic to your own corner of Eden on the Heath or up Church Hill but don’t forget the Brown sauce. Sorry, I must go now as I just can’t Blair it any more.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 7th March, 2019

The Swine That Dines

Please check on opening hours before calling. They have been altered since lockdown.

Now here’s a first; two firsts in fact. This is the first time I have done a second Let’s Do Lunch article at premises still run by the same owner, and it is the first time I have eaten in a restaurant named after me – how flattering!

My first visit was in January 2016, when the establishment had a dual identity, being called The Greedy Pig during the day  (All right, I have reviewed a place named after me before) and changing to The Swine That Dines in the evenings. The owner has now decided to use the latter moniker on a permanent basis as it has built up quite a following.  No surprise there, as the food was absolutely wonderful.

The lunch menu, served from noon – 3.00pm on Wednesday to Saturday, is adventurous but not in a show-off, look-how-clever-I-am kind of way; just a list of imaginative dishes served straight and honest but with a twist. I had quite a struggle working out what I would order but I narrowed it down to two choices and, as they are small plates which I was told would be just right for lunch, I asked for them both. The first to arrive was Mussels, Sesame and Mint Harissa. The molluscs arrived on three generously loaded skewers, having been cooked on an open grill, and had a wonderful barbecue flavour which did not overpower the delicacy of the seafood. I have written before about twice cooked mussels and how difficult it is to do this without their turning into rubber, but here they were done to perfection. They had obviously lost some of the moisture during the grilling process but still had enough to make them a pleasure to eat. The harissa added a hint of heat but again was not overpowering. The dish was beautifully presented and well worth the £6.

All photographs by Stan Graham

My second choice was seemingly old school, being GPK Scotch Egg with Piccalilli, again £6. If this sounds a bit steep for a picnic staple it wasn’t because it wasn’t. It wasn’t steep because it wasn’t the picnic staple we all know and love. The egg was perfectly cooked, being soft boiled, and the meat wrapping was enhanced with chorizo. Once again an ingredient had been twice cooked and served spot on, not as easy as it sounds. A perfectly soft boiled egg is difficult enough, so to then drop it in iced water to stop the cooking process, wrap it in the meat casing and deep fry it so that the sausage meat is cooked through but the egg keeps its soft boiled property with runny, hot yolk, is no mean task. The home made piccalilli was beautifully sweet and piquant, finishing the plate off a treat.

Although I had probably eaten enough I had to have a dessert, which again was a familiar item on a menu: Custard Tart, £5. This arrived as expected, with no twists or turns but with baking this good, who wants twists and turns. If you do then there is Leeds Blue Ice Cream with Poached Pear and Black Pepper, yes, cheese ice cream!

The Swine That Dines is a short walk down North Street but is well worth the effort. It is not licensed so I had a SanPellegrino Blood Orange drink at £1.50. You can take your own booze and there are three excellent watering holes within a few yards of the restaurant, so there are opportunities to have a drink if fancy takes you.

I cannot recommend this place highly enough as, not only is the food good, the philosophy is faultless as well. Fresh ingredients, skill, love and soul.

Article first published by Leeds Living 13 July 2018