Kadas Lounge

https://kadas.co.uk

When the pandemic struck I had just begun to compile another bucket list, my last one being completed with a trip to Istanbul. Although I found that particular place somewhat less sophisticated and a lot more phrenetic than the usual big cities I love to visit, it gave me the taste for somewhere a little more exotic. North Africa seemed to fit the bill, even if it were only to include a musical reference to the Marrackech Express. Obviously the bucket has now got a lid sealed on it for the foreseeable future.

After my visit to Kadas Lounge I don’t think that I need to bother testing, self-isolating and quarantining in order to experience the atmosphere of Tunis or Algiers. As soon as you walk in the door you are transported to a different place and time. The aroma of the spices, the furniture and the music made everything feel like the real thing. I am not talking romantic, travel brochure representation here, there is nothing worse than an English pub in the US where everything is so over the top it is ridiculous and the most authentic thing is always missing – proper hand pumps. I have even seen ‘English’ pubs decorated in tartan!

The furniture and decoration is on the mismatched shabby side which I find great, it was reminiscent of some of the dives I visited in Turkey, as was the teapot and food presentation. The only thing different was the spotless stainless steel and glass of the counter area. Although it was 1.30 on a Thursday I had the place to myself, which is a tragedy. A party of three arrived after a little while and made use of the pavement tables, giving an even more exotic air, or it would have done had the day not been so chilly meaning that they were a bit more togged up than would have been the case in Casablanca.

The music coming through the speakers also added to the feeling that I was in a different country. It wasn’t what you would expect, in fact I thought that it was an Italian crooner with a big band but it was a popular Iranian singer so was more like you would probably hear in restaurants and tea houses in that part of the world. I found it very evocative.

The two men running the restaurant were the epitome of politeness and I was made to feel most welcome. I was given a menu but had already looked on-line so knew what I was going to have. My order was the Special Full Mezze with Cheese, amazing value at £10. It is even better value when you see that a second plate with bread, dips and salad came with it. As you would expect, there is no alcohol for sale so I opted for Mint Tea at £1.60 for which I was given the option of having straight away or with the food. I chose the former so it would have more time to infuse, although, as you can see, there was no shortage of mint in the brew!

The Full Mezze comprised Vine Leaves, Homemade Falafel, Moroccan Chicken, Chicken Shawarma, Grilled Mushroom, Aubergine, Grilled Peppers and Bulgur, although there was a choice of Potato instead of the latter. I didn’t opt for the change but got potatoes anyway! Melted Cheese covered all of the components except for the falafel, vine leaves and bulgur.

Every part of the dish was superb and, by the way, the plate was a lot bigger than it looks on the photograph. The food was hot and all perfectly cooked. Even the mushrooms and aubergines had not gone too soft. Both types of chicken had got a bit of a kick and the potatoes were sautéed to perfection.

The side plate contained hot, soft flat bread with Hummus and Tzatziki to dip it in. The salad was beautifully fresh with the tomatoes, cucumber and olives being dressed. I love hummus, in fact I love chickpeas in whatever form they are served, this was up there with the best, the comfort food quality being countered by the tzatziki.

Now, come on, tell me that this spread is not a steal at £11.60. Especially when you consider that it has saved me a few hundred quid in flights, hotels, testing and three-hour queues at the airports. Not to mention the threat of self-isolation on return or, even worse, having to consume airline food before I could get to the good stuff.

Kadas describes itself as being the oldest Shisha Bar in Leeds, having been established in 1997, and I wish it every success so that it may flourish for many more years to come.

I suppose that if I had wanted the true feeling of hustle and bustle of a souk I could have called later on and walked out into the melee at the Corn Exchange bus stops in the rush hour – you remember rush hours don’t you?

All photographs by Stan Graham

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Laynes

https://www.laynesespresso.co.uk/

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

House of Fu

Homepage

By happy accident I have discovered one of the best value lunch deals in Leeds at £8.95 for two superb courses. Less happily, it cost me substantially more.

My Plan A was to visit a restaurant which had been on my To Do List for a long time and, as it was participating in the Eat Leeds scheme offering three courses for £15, I thought that I would give it a go. When I looked more closely at their website I saw that they normally do a special lunch menu so there was no point in reviewing a deal which will end in a couple of weeks’ time. As I was due to go to Leeds Grand Theatre I thought that I would ask Mick Jagger if he would consider whacking Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, thus killing two Byrds with one Stone. 1960s joke!

I trawled through the list of places which don’t have a dedicated offer at midday and House of Fu looked to be just the thing so, as it is just around the corner from the Grand in Headrow House, I booked a table for one at 5.00pm. I don’t use the name Stan Graham when I book just in case the place in question recognises it, I am flattered to admit that has happened before. I rolled up at 4.45, early as usual, and was escorted to a table smack in front of the counter. I think that it might have been to save the waiting staff from having too far to walk as there was only one other party in the place.

The decor is what might be called industrial pretty, with concrete pillar and wood beamed ceiling from which hangs macrame plant pot holders. The furniture is tubular steel, wood and pink, very pink!

The menu doubles as a table mat but, as I had perused it before I booked I knew what I wanted, and that was the Yuzu Chicken Ramen. It consists of Chicken Broth, Sapporo Noodles, Chicken Chashu, Yuzu, Roast Tomato, Spring Onion, Egg and Nori. £12. I was shown the drinks menu and opted for House of Fu Kombucha at £2.50. I didn’t want anything alcoholic and, as this was home made it was the obvious choice. It is made with strawberry, watermelon and mint mixed with their own kombucha culture. It looks very Delboy and has a distinctive taste. I thought that I detected a hit of ginger but couldn’t be sure, it had an ingredient which I have had before but couldn’t place. Whatever it was it was certainly refreshing.

Now that I had my drink I thought that I would read the other leaflet which was in the menu holder on the table and that is when I saw it !!!!!!!!!!

I confirmed with the waiter that the deal was, in fact, two dishes from the normal menu for £8.95. This really left me with no choice but to order a portion of Gyoza so that I could do a proper review. I opted for the Gyoza of the week which turned out to be Ox Cheek and Water Chestnut. £5.

Because of the staggered ordering, the dishes arrived some time apart, which was not a bad thing.

I must say that the ramen was superb. The broth had a good flavour to it rather than the weak stuff you sometimes get which has obviously only been used as a liquid to cook the noodles, in this case also perfectly done. The egg was also perfectly cooked, having a yolk which had just set but still had a little runniness to it. The tomato had been slightly charred when roasting to intensify the flavour giving yet another dimension to the dish. The nori (seaweed) was decoratively placed on the side of the bowl and was – well – nori. Finally to the thick discs of chicken chashu which were wonderfully succulent. Chicken chashu is rolled thigh fried, braised in soy sauce and left to marinate. It was excellent.

Just as I was seeing off the last of the broth my Gyoza arrived. There were six pieces and once again, the flavour was intense. Gyoza are small pancakes which are filled, in this case with ox cheek and water chestnut, and then pan fried but only on one side. Water is then added to the pan which is then covered allowing the parcels to steam, cooking not only the filling, but also the other side. These were fried a bit darker than ones I have had before and, as with the tomatoes in the ramen, the charring had intensified the flavour and accentuated the difference in texture of the two sides even more. There was an accompanying dip of soy sauce.

I declined the invitation to order dessert as the portions meant that I had no room, although the thought of an ice cream sandwich was rather appealing. I doubt it was the block of vanilla between two wafers which I enjoyed as a kid.

I must say that I really enjoyed my meal, and the service was also excellent from all those who served me. Sadly though, the taste which was left in my mouth was not as pleasant as it could have been had I known that by arriving an hour or so earlier I would have saved myself just over £8. I have double and triple checked House of Fu website, twitter and instagram pages and nowhere is the lunch deal mentioned. Because of this lack of customer service I will only be awarding three stars instead of the four it would otherwise have got.

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

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

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

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

Mommy Thai

https://www.facebook.com/MommyThaiLeeds/

I have been meaning to call here for quite some time now and once even got inside but, having arranged to meet someone and with only half an hour to spare, I walked out when I saw the size of the portions! Today I was back to being Billy Nomates so time was not a factor. 


I read about Mommy Thai in an article in The Times a few months ago so decided to give it a go. I am pleased that I did but I must say that I left a little disappointed. They have a great value lunch deal which is served every day between noon and 4.00pm at £7.95 for two courses, in my case a starter and a main. This being a Thai establishment, however, they are both served in the traditional way on the same plate and at the same time.


The atmosphere is definitely Thai cafe with basic tables and chairs. The posters on the ground floor walls add to the ambiance, as does the upstairs decor, which is where I dined. I took my seat at a small table for two, but given the size of the plates, or small trays as they really were, a pair of diners would be pushed to find enough horizontal space as was proven by the couple on the next table who I let impinge on mine to rid themselves of the cutlery tin and pickle carousel. For one, it was perfect.

 
A charming gentleman arrived to take my order which comprised Steam Pork Dumplings with fried garlic and dumpling sauce for starters and Kra Pow Moo Krob, thankfully translated as crispy pork, holy basil, chilli  garlic, long bean on top of rice. (Add a fried egg for just £1) it continued, so I obeyed. I also got a bottle of Singha Beer to go with it all. The crispy pork dish was from the Foodie’s Menu rather than the normal one so I was informed of a further £1 surcharge. I didn’t mind this because at least I had been told before I ordered, unlike my experience at a Vietnamese place just round the corner a few months ago. What with that and the egg, the meal was £9.95, still good value for what was promised, the beer adding a further £3.50, again not out of the way.


Thankfully the bottle swiftly arrived and was perfectly chilled without being too icy. It was joined after a few minutes, and a couple of small sips, by the food. As I mentioned the whole shebang came on the same dish and looked delicious although when viewed from one angle there was a gap on the plate making it look as though there was something missing. I checked to make sure that this was not the case and, having satisfied myself that it was all present and correct, dug in. The dumplings were amazing, lovely and moist packed with minced pork which still had texture to it. The sauce was superb and the fried garlic topping crisp as a contrasting texture. Sadly the same could not be said for the ‘crispy’ pork which was in no way crispy, just overdone and chewy to the point of being almost leather like and only tepid. The taste was really good and meant that I finished eating the meat but the damage was done. The odd piece was on the tender side and therefore much better but crispy means crispy and, as there seemed to be very little fat content I fail to see how they hoped ever to make it so. The heat, or lack of it, seemed to indicate that it had been kept warm also preventing the promised texture. The rice was bog standard boiled and the egg on top was borderline rubbery. I have had fried eggs on Thai food before so I know that it should have been better than this. 


I am not normally one to shy away from dessert, even if I have somewhat overindulged in the mains but the only three puds on offer were also based on rice this time so I passed. 


All in all I was very disappointed, ironically because the things which were done well, i.e. the dumplings and the rice showed what the kitchen was capable of thus highlighting the failure of the egg and pork. I hope that this was just an aberration and that everything is normally wonderful but that is why I write these articles incognito, so that I get the normal experience. It must also be pointed out that this is a cash only eatery so please make sure that you have the necessary readies when it comes to settling the bill. There is a small sign to this effect by the till but it is better you know before you call.


As is usually the case, everyone else’s choices looked far more appetising than mine, but I dare say that they all thought the same about the pork. Looks can often be deceptive, take me for example, I am not really fat and bald once you get to know me.

https://www.facebook.com/MommyThaiLeeds/

Tortilla

It wasn’t so long ago that you seemed never to be more than a tostada’s throw from a Mexican eatery, but recently they seem to be a threatened species.

Mexico is not in the EU so it can’t be Brexit and I doubt whether President Trump’s wall is likely to have had an effect yet, so I can only put it down to a change in food fashion and the trend for ethnic food to be sold from street food stalls rather than permanent restaurant premises.

One place which seems to be bucking the trend is Tortilla in Trinity Kitchen. I don’t normally review chain restaurants and until I got home and looked at the website I didn’t realise that this establishment fell into that category. In my defence I don’t get around much anymore and, even if I did, there are only two others in the North of England, one in Newcastle and the other in Liverpool. The reason I don’t do chains is that you all know what to expect from a Burger King and the portions seem to be regulated by accountants rather than chefs. On top of that, I like to promote local independent businesses.

After all that, it would appear that Tortilla is not a Mexican Restaurant anyway but ‘Real California Burritos and Tacos’ which means that it doesn’t sell tortillas. I am so confused. Not to worry, because the one thing about those good folks from the US of A is that they exaggerate their ancestors’ country of origin to such an extent that the longer they live there the more entrenched in their ethnic roots they become. You only need to look at the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York to see how it outstrips by miles anything Dublin has to offer, even though the nearest any of the participants has been to the Emerald Isle is a theme pub in Brooklyn.

Fortunately, the same goes for ex-pat Mexicans in the Golden State, a fact which I discovered when I found myself in San Diego on 5th May 1989.  San Diego is probably one of my favourite places in the world, with the mixture of ultra modern and old world Spanish as it’s just north of the border.  I didn’t realise then that that particular date, Cinco de Mayo, is a Mexican national holiday, meaning I couldn’t sit and have a quiet beer and a read of the newspaper without being assaulted by a Mariachi Band every five minutes.  I also discovered that the only tune that these players know is ‘Roll Out The Barrel’, which is very surreal.  I was back two years later so decided to nip across the border to celebrate the National Day in Tijuana to get the ‘authentic’ experience, and what do I find? Nothing – nada. They just let it pass them by.  Before I draw the curtains and get the slide projector out to bore you rigid with my holiday snaps, I had better get on with my review.

Tortilla is one of those build-it-yourself places. You are first presented with the choice of base dish – Burrito, Naked Burrito or Tres (that’s three to you and me) Soft Shell Tacos.  As I intended eating on the premises and not walking around town with a cylinder of silver foil in front of my mouth, looking like a seventies glam rock singer, I went for the Naked Burrito.  This is where the Californian authenticity was destroyed in that there is a choice of Medium at £5.80 or Large for £6.80 and, as everyone who has visited the other side of the pond knows, there is no such thing as Medium on any menu, it is either Large or Regular.   It was advertised as including rice and beans.

I must say that ordering lunch here is not as straightforward as it sounds, because the choice of base dishes is only the start of a number of multiple choice questions with which you are bombarded.  I thought that the sentence ‘Includes rice and beans.’ would take care of the first bit but no, I had to say whether I wanted tomato based rice or the coriander option.  After going for the latter, there was then the matter of the pulses, and from an exhaustive list offered to me at a speed quicker than the terms and conditions of a finance deal at the end of one of those commercial radio adverts, I opted for black beans.

I believe that I passed that test as I was then given a choice of one of four fillings, the Marinated Grilled Chicken being the object of my affection but, wait, did I want any extras?  I was getting the hang of this now so with my new found cockiness I told them to add chorizo for a quid and flashed a smug glance in the direction of the young woman who was loading my carton (not a euphemism).  She added sour cream and cheese, but then we were back to the exam:  I needed to choose two salsas from a selection of containers displayed on the counter .  I didn’t want to have her go through the full description of each, so I pointed at one and asked for a hot chilli sauce to complete the quota. I declined the offer of guacamole as another extra because the carton was beginning to look like a Man v Food challenge.  Serves me right for ordering the large.  A bottle of cold Corona beer at £3.10 accompanied me and my meal to one of the communal tables in the street food hall of Trinity Kitchen and the three of us began to get to know one another.

There were two things I had noticed whilst being served: first was that the portions had most certainly evaded the company’s bean counters – literally – as the components were liberally added, and secondly, when they were added they had not been piled one on top of the other so that I ended up with every forkful tasting exactly like the last, but had been distributed in different parts of the carton, meaning I could mix the various tastes in myriad combinations. The chicken had been diced into fairly small pieces but was still tender and juicy of texture, with the marinade adding to the joy.  All of the other parts were equally fresh, something which is not always the case when ingredients are displayed for any length of time.

I am sure that the queue of people meant that the turnover was such that nothing had a chance to deteriorate too badly.  The salsa was hot but not excessively so and the beans still had a bit of a bite rather than being a mush like the refried variety.  I have to say that I was very impressed with not only the food, but also the chirpy service. I was also pleased to see that both the chicken and pulled pork were sourced from suppliers with Red Tractor credentials. My only regret about the meal was that I ordered the large portion and it did start to get a bit monotonous by the end.   A medium would have been more than adequate at lunchtime.  Mea culpa.

Whilst chomping away and people watching, the thought crossed my mind that should I visit the USA again I will make sure I am there on 1st August – Yorkshire Day – and see what extravaganza they put on with Whippet Racing and Flat Cap Parades. We can then all go to the pub and stand looking at our feet until someone else offers to buy the first round.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 19th August, 2019

Pho

I have been meaning to call at Pho – pronounced Fuh – for quite some time now, but I always seem to get diverted.  

Because of other stuff I had to do in this part of Leeds, today seemed the perfect time to put on my blinkers and call in. I have eaten here before but it was in the dim and distant past before I began writing reviews so, as I had enjoyed my first visit, I hoped that it had not changed very much. I need not have worried; the place looked exactly the same right down to the broad smile which greets you when you order.  

Pho, the restaurant, is one of the original permanent occupants of Trinity Kitchen and has obviously got something right as it still attracts queues of people to sample its wares. Pho, the dish, is Vietnamese Noodle Soup and, as you would expect, is their speciality. There are lots of other South-East Asian street dishes on offer, such as Pho Xao, Com Tam and Bun, and don’t worry if you are not familiar with the names as the menu contains descriptions of what they are and the ingredients used. There is a selection of Starters and Small Plates should you fancy a tapas-style experience, and Vietnamese Salads by way of contrast.  

The idea, as with most of the other permanent eateries in Trinity Kitchen, is that you order at the counter where you are given a pager which illuminates and vibrates when your meal is ready to collect. I like this system as it suggests that the food is cooked to order and not ladled out of a bain-marie where it has lain for some time. Although you can take any meal from any outlet and eat it anywhere in the communal seating area, Pho is designed to suggest that the food be eaten in its confines and that is what seemed to happen, with everyone chomping on noodles and rice with only the odd burger or taco in evidence.  

I took my place in the queue and ordered a starter of Tender Fried Baby Squid with a salt, pepper and lime dip at £5.75, and a Pho from the House Specials section, the King Prawn and Steak Special containing king prawns, chicken and flash fried steak with garlic in beef broth for £8.95.  To save queuing twice I ordered them both at the same time, which was no problem as the Pho was very hot even by the time I got around to eating it, so it must have been nuclear when it was dished up. From the range of soft and alcoholic drinks, I chose a freshly squeezed Apple, mint and lime juice with the optional ginger (£2.95). Yes, you did read that correctly – there were beers and wines available but I had juice. I must go for a lie down later.  

As I have discovered in the past, dining alone at one of the communal tables can be a bit of a problem if they are busy as, when you get back from collecting your food, someone else has snaffled your seat, but fortunately it wasn’t too crowded when I went and a lovely couple seated nearby offered to keep my place for me. On my return, I set about eating my food.  

Both of the dishes I had ordered involved a bit of culinary effort on my part. The salt, pepper and lime dip for the squid needed to be mixed in a small plastic pot. This is a great idea as the pepper part was red chillies, so you can make it as hot or not as you like. I squeezed the lime over the salt and chillies and began to tuck in. There was also a sprig of coriander to take or leave as you wish. The squid was perfectly cooked and very tender, with its batter being crisp yet melting in the mouth. The added umph of the dip was not really needed but I had a few dunks amongst the ones I ate au naturel.  

The Pho itself, although clear, was bursting with flavour but even this could be enhanced by the addition of extra herbs provided in a paper tray to add, or not, as you like. There were the ubiquitous red chillies, lime, bamboo shoots, mint, coriander and galangal, all of which I ripped apart to release the flavours and added. The steak was superb, being tender but not so much so that it disintegrated when I tried to bite it, as were the prawns, which were huge and perfectly done. The chicken did fall apart on eating, but it was no bad thing. There is a danger in soups and stews containing different meats that they all take on the same taste when cooked together, but this was not the case here.  The prawns were as fishy as you would expect but that flavour had not permeated the meats, with the chicken especially tasting as it should and not being there as just another texture.

The juice was a perfect complement to the food, with the oriental hint of ginger and lime to link it to the dishes, whilst being supremely refreshing, thanks to the apple and lime again.  

It has to be said that this is not the cheapest two-course street food lunch in Leeds, but my goodness it was worth every penny, and far better than a conventional Vietnamese restaurant I recently reviewed, but the Pho was ample in itself without the starter. The setting of Trinity Kitchen also helps create the atmosphere of a busy street and long, communal dining tables make it easy to strike up a conversation with your fellow diners, although sometimes that might not always be an advantage.  Just ask the couple who saved my seat!

Article first published by Leeds Living on 26th April, 2019