Almost Famous

https://www.almostfamousburgers.com/

It is the normal way of things that when stuff doesn’t work out the way you planned, it is a disappointment but my experience at Almost Famous in Great George Street was quite the reverse.

During the various lockdowns I had managed to shed about a stone in weight and now that we are moving towards a new normal I am not exactly anxious to pile it back on again. Looking down the various eateries on line I had covered most of the foods listed – how many more noodle houses can Leeds take – but I realised that I hadn’t been out for chicken or a burger for ages so that was my short list. Whilst on my weight loss regime I had more than my fair share of chicken at home so I thought burger it!

Obviously lots of burger places are chains and the one I looked at has four branches, two in Manchester, one in Liverpool and this Yorkshire outpost, but it seemed to be an independent so that was fine by me. The only problem was that the photograph on their website made it look as though their concoctions were constructed especially for an edition of Man v Food. With the price of the cheapest version on offer at £9.50 that did nothing to allay my fears. My need was something a little more conventional but I thought that I would take a chance anyway.

The premises are a large, sparsely furnished room stripped back to brick with another huge room at the back. As it was about 2.30 when I called and there were very few other customers, the chasm seemed even greater.

There is a bar to your left with the dining area to the right of the entrance. I was told to sit anywhere so I picked a seat near the window. The choice was more for the light than the view as they are too high to see out of from a seated position.

Having perused the menu before leaving home I had decided on the Phoenix at £10.50, but first a pint of Corona, £5.50. As I was expecting a burger of gigantic proportions, and there was no-one eating in the vicinity from whom I could get an idea, I didn’t augment the order with fries although there were several types to choose from.

The constituent parts of the Phoenix were listed as double cheeseburger, bacon, shoestring onions, frazzles, red chillies, redneck BBQ, bacon bacon mayo (sic) and bacon ketchup. That seemed to cover all the bases.

My Corona was swiftly delivered with the food following shortly after. As you can see from the photograph, there was a long enough interval for me to have taken a couple of gulps before I remembered I need to take a photograph. As you can also see from the photograph, the size of the burger was nothing like as large as I was expecting and my first thought was that it didn’t seem like something I would normally pay north of a tenner for.

The empty side of the tray seemed to be pleading for some fries but it was a bit late by then. Anyway, the proof etc etc… As it turned out, the eating was a revelation with a mass of flavours vying for my attention. The beef was extremely succulent and the bacon smoky. It wasn’t until I got nearer the centre that the chillies kicked in which added another dimension. They were not overly hot, just piquant enough to let you know they were there and wanting to be acknowledged. I am not usually a lover of BBQ sauce but this was as good as I have had.

If I have one criticism of the meal it is that instead of there being two thinnish patties I would have preferred one thick one so that it could have been a bit rarer in the middle. Otherwise it was fine. Although not the tower of food I had anticipated, it still needed eating with a knife and fork as not even a gob like mine was big enough to get round it. The less than picture perfect image below will illustrate the ingredients better than the above shot.

As delicious as the dish was, I still think that £16 for a pint and a burger – pushing a score with basic fries – is a bit steep but that is the way of things at the moment. I fear that because any rent, business rate and tax holidays granted during lockdown have now to be repaid this kind of price point will be part of the aforementioned new normality.

There are no desserts on the menu but that might not be a bad thing because I did find that my appetite had been sated and so it would have just meant extra unneeded calories. Unneeded calories? That is like leftover wine, a fantasy.

All photographs by Stan Graham

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Tapped

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Tapped is a word I associate with pubs inside City Station rather than outside, although I haven’t been asked for spare change even there since the terminus’ refurbishment. The Tapped I am concerned with today is the pub/microbrewery/pizza house on Boar Lane just off City Square where I recently whiled away a very pleasant hour or so having lunch.

Although the inside is fairly basic, being a large room with not much in the way of frippery, the welcome from the bar staff was warm and jovial, and the service top notch. As the social distancing rules had been relaxed I ordered from the bar as I wanted advice as to which beer was not too potent but still flavoursome enough to handle the pizza I had seen on the website menu before setting off. It was a delicious old-style bitter at 3.8% but, due to the constantly rotating ales it is no longer on offer so I am afraid that you will have to furnish your own libation specification, which I am sure that you would have done anyway.

There is an extensive range of drinks on tap, who’d have thought it, including various casks and kegs covering porter, IPA, weissbier, fruit beer, cider, perry, lager and pilsner. You don’t have to be a brew drinker to enjoy the place as there are plenty of wines, spirits and soft drinks with coffee also available.

Once I had ordered I took my seat where I was provided with a packet of bread sticks to ward off any hunger pangs before the main event arrived.

The pizza I chose was the Tre Carne (Three Meats) comprising Cotto Ham, Pepperoni and N’Duja Sausage on Mozzarella. All pizzas are available in 12″ and 18″ versions, mine being the former, costing £11.00. Having delighted the large devil on my left shoulder I ordered a salad to appease the small angel on my right one. It contained Wild Rocket, Parmesan, Cherry Tomatoes with an Olive Oil and Balsamic Glaze, and a bargain at £3.50.

When the food arrived I was surprised by the size of the salad which could have sufficed as a light lunch in itself and was utterly delicious. I was also impressed by the provision of a side plate to give the choice of eating the pizza from the full round or separating the segments to eat individually or with a bit of the salad.

When it comes to pizza I am not a lover of a thick base, preferring the thin and crispier Roman variety, this was just a tad more substantial than that, but nevertheless was lighter than I expected and not in the least bit stodgy. I now have two favourites.

The combination of flavours in both the salad and the main were perfect. The salad having the freshness of the vegetables – alright, I know that tomatoes are fruit – contrasting with the sweetness of the glaze and the tang of the cheese. Similarly with the pizza, the spiciness of the pepperoni and n’duja tempered by the ham and mozzarella.

There are no desserts shown on the menu but there is far more than enough in the main courses and sides to satisfy all but the most rapacious of appetites.

So, should you fancy a pint and a pizza for lunch then this is the place as both are excellent and, although sounding a bit basic, the choices cater for all tastes. I can report that there was never a hint that anyone would ask me if I could spare some money, except when it came to the bill of course.

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

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

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

Power, Corruption & Lies

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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

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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

Stuzzi

http://www.stuzzi.co.uk

Sometimes I find food to be really complicated and I’m at the time of life when I don’t want to be bamboozled.

It’s enough of a challenge nowadays remembering whether I should call a member of the distaff gender a woman, lady or girl without causing offence, let alone worry about what I should call a small plate of food. Don’t say tapas because that only applies to certain places in Spain – in others they are pincho but in the Basque region they are pintxos, so you are walking on eggshells there. Italy is no better, where they can be aperitivo, cicchetti or stuzzichini. Why can’t they do what we do in Yorkshire and call small plates of food you buy with a drink pork pies.

To be fair, I have spent many a happy hour, literally, in Venice, topping up with free cicchetti when ordering a drink, but the more elaborate ones have to be paid for as do the ones at Stuzzi , a contraction of stuzzichini, the Harrogate favourite which has now opened a branch in Leeds.  It is situated at the bottom of Merrion Street but there is also an entrance in the Grand Arcade.

I suppose it’s the Italian influence, in that if you are wining and dining someone you shouldn’t be, you can slip out of the opposite door should their spouse arrive unexpectedly. Knowing the Italians, the spouse would probably be with someone they shouldn’t be as well.  OK that is la dolce vita taken care of.  What most of the names of these small plates have in common is that they are based on the word for toothpick, as that’s how they were traditionally skewered.

If I know where I am going to do a review I usually try to look at the menu on line to gain a feel for the prices and also to save time and dithering when faced with too much of a choice.  Stuzzi doesn’t have a website but keeps customers up to date via facebook and twitter, hence no menu. There is a good reason for this, which is that the food on offer changes constantly, so today’s selection might not be available tomorrow. I did glean, however, that there is a summer lunch deal of the day’s pasta and a glass of wine for £10 so I called to give it a whirl. As you will have gathered, even the pasta changes on a daily basis, so I was none the wiser but guessed that the choice would be so limited that I would not have too much of an attack of the dithers.

On arrival, I was greeted by two charming young women/ladies/girls (I have probably still got it wrong), one of whom said that I could choose my table.  No sooner had I sat down when she arrived with a wine bottle filled with water which was very welcome, the temperature being in the high twenties outside.  I was asked if I had eaten there before and when I replied in the negative I was given an explanation as to how to order and the size of each dish, which was very helpful.  I told her that I was there for the lunch special and she directed my attention to the two pasta dishes at the bottom of the main menu which comprised one vegetarian offering of Orecchiette tossed with ‘Pipi e Patati’ – Roasted red and yellow peppers, chilli, fresh basil and potatoes finished with Planeta olive oil, or the carnivore’s option of Homemade parsley tagliatelle, tossed with a slow braised ox cheek and red wine ragu. I went for the meat.  Just to illustrate what a great deal this lunch special is, the pasta were £8.50 and £9.50 respectively, so you were getting a 125ml glass for either £1.50 or 50p.  My ten bob red was Nero D’Avola and very nice too. Nowhere near as nice as the pasta though.  Fortunately, I was also provided with a knife, fork and spoon so didn’t have to twirl the tagliatelle round a toothpick.

I can honestly say that I have never had such a great plate of tagliatelle, the homemade strands beautifully flavoured with parsley and the ox cheek was in large pieces and so tender that I could separate it using just my fork.  I would love to know what it was marinated and cooked in as it was beyond delicious.  The dish took about ten minutes to arrive, suggesting that the pasta had been cooked to order, which is what it deserved, and it had then been amalgamated with the ragu, as is the correct way to serve all dishes of this type. You do not pile the sauce on the pasta like a topping, unless it is spag bol of course, in which case you can do what you like as it is a pretend dish.

Whilst eating I perused the rest of the menu with which I had been presented and found the dishes to be very innovative, seemingly influenced by the various regions of Italy rather than slavish copies.  It is at times like this that I wish I had a dining companion as it would have been great to order three or four dishes to share and have a cross section of the food on offer. I am sure that my antisocial persona is not really of any interest to you so I will move on to dessert.

There was a choice of five ‘proper’ desserts, as well as a homemade watermelon granita, three gelati sourced from Bocca Di Lupo in Soho, and cheese. As already mentioned it was boiling outside, and, as I was sitting under the glass roof, inside as well. I ordered the granita (£3.50) as I wanted something cold and homemade, a black americano (£2.25), and asked if I could move to a shadier table – shadier in the light sense of course, not the one near the door for the quick exit.  The granita cooled me down just by looking at it as the glass had been kept in the freezer and so was frosted and cold to the touch.  I didn’t have much hope for the flavour of watermelon ice but it was superb, fruity and intense. I was asking myself how many watermelons had to be reduced to get this tang. The coffee was Italian, so also intense and strong, just as I like it.

Since I moved to Harrogate a few years ago people have been telling me that I should go to Stuzzi and I find it ironic that I had to wait for them to open in Leeds before I did so. I’m just sorry that I ignored the advice as I now know what I’ve been missing.

The service was superb, as is the room, which has retained the beautifully tiled arch window overlooking Vicar Lane. Like those who had my wellbeing at heart I would urge you to pay Stuzzi a visit.  I doubt you will get better food and wine for a tenner this side of Sicily.

Please be aware that you will have to wait until Wednesday for your treat as Stuzzi is not open on Monday or Tuesday.

Review first published by Leeds Living on 25th July, 2019

North Brewing Co Tap Room and Little Bao Boys

https://www.littlebaoboy.com/

Not for the first time, my plans for the day had gone awry and also not for the first time the disaster turned to triumph.

I had chosen a venue for my review before I left home rather than winging it as is my wont, but the place I had earmarked was not really suitable in that it didn’t have much of a choice and was basically an all day breakfast bar.  What to do?  My first thought was to cheer myself up by blowing the budget on somewhere fancy, but then I thought again and decided to treat myself by going to a place where I could rely on a good pint and hopefully a decent lunch.  I have visited most of the North Brewing Co.’s pubs but never been to the new Tap Room in Sovereign Street, so I thought that I would pay them a call.

I might very well be mistaken, I seem permanently to be so nowadays, but I think that the new building in which the Tap Room is situated used to be the site of the Queen’s Hall, which was Leeds’ main concert venue in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  It played host to such legends as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Duran Duran and even Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band.  More significant than all of these, however, was that it was the annual venue for the Great British Beer Festival, so it seems like a great place to open a boozer.

Thankfully, the new building is much better suited to dispensing beer than the old place, which was probably the worst in the world for serving ale, as it had a glass roof and the GBBF was always held in July or August, so the hall was turned into a huge greenhouse, meaning that your pint was at body temperature or above despite the cooling ‘snakes’ which were employed to keep the ale chilled.  Incidentally, in winter it was not much better for staging bands because the sweat generated by the audience’s gyrations would condense on said glass roof, which in January would be freezing cold, and fall back to earth akin to a storm in the Amazon Rain Forest.

Any road up, it is the here and now we are bothered about and the large modern bar area is a very pleasant space and laid out so that there is plenty of room either to sit down or mill around.  What I like about North Brewery pubs is that they are all different and not clones of one another.  I ordered a pint of Sputnik at £4.70 and then went to the food counter which is run by another Leeds institution, Little Bao Boy.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that they have a lunchtime special, where you can have two baos for £7 which can be a £2 saving on the regular price.  For those who are not familiar with these oriental delicacies, bao are fluffy discs of bread which are lovely and light because they are steamed rather than baked.

For my two I chose the East Meets West, which was filled with pork shoulder slow cooked in chilli, soy sauce, ginger, apple juice, five spice and garlic.  It is served with cucumber, spring onion, toasted sesame seeds, hoisin glaze and sriracha mayonnaise.  Sriracha is another form of chilli sauce.  Don’t be put off by the seeming excess of chilli – the bun was not an assault on the taste buds but subtly flavoured which, along with the other components, spanned the gamut of tastes.  My second choice was Beer Battered Cauliflower.  I think that cauliflower is my favourite vegetable and here it was fried in Sputnik beer batter mix and topped with similar goodies to the pork, except for the glaze.  Not only were they both excellent but were also able to be eaten in the hand without disintegrating, a plus when you are wearing pale brown chinos and a white shirt.  The pork was beautifully unctuous and tender whilst the cauliflower still had a crispness to the stalk of the floret.  Perfect.  What also made the day complete was that there is outside seating; not the greatest view in the world, granted, which I made use of and wondered why so many people go to sandwich shops when there is food like this available at the same price, if not cheaper.

Once again I have had a great lunch at a Plan B venue, which just goes to show what a great place Leeds is at the moment when it comes to dining out, even in a beer hall.  If you are not adventurous enough to try the bao buns, might I recommend your calling at the North Bar in New Briggate, where you can get the great Yorkshire lunch of a pint and a pork pie.  Go on, you know you want to – and the brown sauce is free.

Article first Published by Leeds Living on 4th July, 2019

The Reliance Bar and Dining Room

http://www.the-reliance.co.uk/

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