Manahatta Greek Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All photographs by Stan Graham

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

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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

Cosy Club

On a freezing cold February day, what more inviting name could any establishment have than Cosy Club? It had been ‘suggested’ that I call here by Leeds Living’s proofreader, Mags, aka She Who Should Probably Be Obeyed, so I gave it a go. I don’t normally review chains and this is one of twenty-one branches all over the country but I gave it the benefit of any doubt.

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Entering the premises from Albion Street was like going onto an Edwardian horror movie set, with an assortment of Gentlemen’s Club furniture, period pictures and artefacts strewn around the room. The one incongruous feature was the stainless steel lift door which enabled the less mobile, or energetic, to access the bar and restaurant which is upstairs. This made the chairs totally superfluous, except perhaps for any passing shopper who fancied a sit down for a while, so the space gave the spine-chilling ambience of a ghost ship. Needing a bit of a warm-up, I took the stairs to the main area, where I was greeted at the welcome desk by a waitress who asked me which part of the restaurant I would like to be seated in and took me to the appropriate table, informing me that my waitress for the day would be Ella. I ordered a glass of tap water whilst I peruse.

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There is no lunch menu but they do a brunch until 5.00pm each day, so I ordered from that. I chose the Rather Elegant Brunch at £7.95, which was described as ‘Bacon and Avocado with Herbed Spring Onion and Chive Potato Cake, Baby Kale and Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Topped with a Poached Egg and Pumpkin Seeds’. Had there been any sun visible on such a cold grey day, it would have been well over the yardarm, so I ordered a glass of Rioja at £6.65 for 250ml.

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Every part of the dish was very good but oddly turned out to be less than the sum of its parts. The small pieces of smoked bacon were very tasty, if somewhat tepid, the egg poached perfectly, the potato cake was beautifully creamy on the inside with a crunchy outside and the remaining elements were fresh and well dressed. So far, so good, but it was the amount of food which surprised me. Brunch is a meal which combines breakfast and lunch, but this was hardly enough to suffice as either, never mind both, unless you are a supermodel with a weight issue. There was just enough of each ingredient to comply with the Trades Descriptions Act: I counted three very small thin triangles of avocado, six or seven pumpkin seeds, and half a dozen small pieces of bacon, perhaps amounting to half a streaky rasher to go with the sparsely dispersed tomato. Like the food, the wine was superb but, as it came by the measure, it was in the quantity expected. There was no alternative but to fill up with dessert, honest, so I had a Cosy Sundae, £5.25, and a black Americano coffee at £2.35 for a mug. The sundae was made up of ‘Chocolate Brownie Pieces, Whipped Cream, Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream with Boozy Cherries.’ In contrast to the main event, this was a reasonably substantial portion and, again, all of the components were very well made and presented – delicious. The coffee was a bit on the weak side but not too bad.

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Cosy Club is a great example of why I try to avoid chains. I could imagine someone in the Hereford or Taunton branch ordering a Rather Elegant Brunch and the chef counting out the slivers of avocado and the pumpkin seeds. It is good, tasty food and well presented but it conforms to a formula and has no soul. The irony is that the restaurant is situated directly opposite the first floor of the Trinity Shopping Centre, where the street food stalls of Trinity Kitchen are plying their trade and their customers are in full view, sitting enjoying speciality food lovingly made by the owners of the trucks. They believe in what they are doing rather than complying with a tick list from Head Office. Don’t get me wrong, one of the worst lunches I have ever reviewed was taken in Trinity Kitchen but I will happily accept that because the brilliant ones make up for it many times over. I realise that this final part of the review will probably put the Hex on my next lunch experience but once again, the service was superb which, thankfully, is becoming the norm in Leeds.

Article first published on Leeds Living on 9th February, 2018

East 59th

https://www.east59th.co.uk/


What with one thing and another I have not done a Let’s Do Lunch for quite some time. As those of you who have been reading my articles for will know, I am asked cover the openings of new restaurants which is very nice but it means that the experience I am privileged to enjoy is not the same as that of a casual customer. I have no problem with this as I make it plain that this is the case, but my Let’s Do Lunch articles are different in that I call at premises incognito so that I can review an establishment through the eyes of a normal customer. I am given free rein so I can choose my own venues which I normally do about two minutes before my visit.

Such was the case this time as I was looking to visit a part of the City Centre which I had not frequented before, not easy when I have been writing this column for two and a half years. It then struck me that I had not been to the new Victoria Centre since it opened other than to review the casino during National Afternoon Tea Week (don’t ask!). I figured that it would be a good time to go as the dust has settled on the new development and so it is now fair game. I didn’t want to do a Let’s Do Lunch article before now as it would not have been fair; not fair on the restaurants as they are bound to have teething troubles and not fair on you, dear reader, as new businesses try a lot harder in the first few weeks of existence before they settle into the way they will be trading for the years to come. Anyway that is where I went.

There are several interesting places to eat at lunchtime but the one which caught my eye was East 59th which is an American style restaurant on the third floor and not that easy to locate. The menu outside looked promising with the half rack of ribs being particularly inviting. When I walked out of the lift I was welcomed to the premises by a lady behind the reception desk who escorted me to a table for one. I was then greeted by a waiter who not only gave me a copy of the menu I had seen outside but also an Express Menu which is available from Noon to 7.00pm Monday to Friday. Much as the ribs appealed they were not on the Express Menu so I thought that I should change my mind and order from that. This must be one of the best value lunch deals in Leeds as for £9.95 you choose one of the main courses on the special menu, a snack from the main menu, a choice of a 125ml glass of house wine, half a pint of Perone or a soft drink, and a take away brownie for afters.

For my main course I chose the Hot ‘n’ Sour Glazed Chicken Burger with guacamole, lettuce, red onion and sriracha in a brioche bun. The chicken did not come minced in a patty but was a piece of breast in batter and was absolutely perfectly cooked, being moist and succulent. It could easily have been bland as the avocado and lettuce hardly put up much of a fight in the taste game but the onion did its job and the sriracha gave the whole thing a hot kick up the brioche. For the accompanying snack I ordered the Perreroncini peppers stuffed with feta but I was told that they were not available. As nothing else in this part of the menu seemed to go with a burger I asked if I could have fries in lieu and this presented no problem. They came in a small metal bucket and were nicely crisp. The house wine I chose was a Nero d’Avola which was very palatable. What I liked about the wine list was that along with a glass and a bottle it was possible to buy a 37.5cl carafe which is great for lone diners and especially so in that most of the options were exactly half the price of a full bottle. I decided to have a black Americano coffee with my brownie which came wrapped in paper. Well, it was listed as being take away. In addition to its moist and chewy texture, there was a layer of chocolate on the brownie which made it feel very sinful.

So far so good, but when the bill arrived it was for over £20. The coffee was good but not worth the cost of the rest of the lunch. I pointed out to the waiter that I had been charged for the components individually rather than for the Express Menu deal. He apologised and returned shortly thereafter with a correct bill but minus the Americano which he said was on the house for the mistake. There was 10% service charge added which I had no problem in paying as it was exemplary. I have said many times before that it is easy to be good when everything goes well but it is how matters are handled when things go wrong which separate the wheat from the chaff, and in this case they could not have done any better.

I must say that I enjoyed my lunch at East 59th and, had the weather been a bit warmer, I would have enjoyed it even more as there is a roof terrace complete with dedicated bar where it would have been good to dine alfresco. On second thoughts, the illusion of dining in Manhattan may have been ruined had I eaten outside as there would have been no constant screaming of police sirens and car horns to accompany the food.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 8th October, 2018

The Lost and Found

When it comes to the English language Americans can be so annoying. From the inability to spell words like ‘colour’, the mispronunciation of others such as ‘research’, the invention of terms as in ‘winningest’ to the totally erroneous use of vocabulary, witness ‘momentarily’. That is before we even come to the regional accents. I was once visiting friends in Kentucky when I was referred to by one of their acquaintances as being ‘retard’ when what she meant was ‘retired’. On the plus side, however, are the terms they use for institutions which are far more positive than our equivalent. Whereas we have the Prison Service, they have Departments of Corrections which implies that the inmates will come out of confinement as better people than when they went in. There is the Department of Homeland Security which gives the citizens a feeling of safety, we have the Home Office which sounds like the spare room between the second bedroom and the bathroom. They may sound more positive but probably are not. The thing which got my mind thinking on these lines is the name of this week’s eating house, The Lost and Found. The UK has the Lost Property Office which gives no hint that what has been lost will ever be recovered. I asked the manager of the establishment in Greek Street where the name comes from and he said that he thought that it referred to the Birmingham branch which was a bolt hole with hidden rooms in the 19th century. I must admit I didn’t fully get the connection but nothing new there. I had looked on the website before visiting and there are drawings of ladies with rather flamboyant headgear representing the three outlets which made me think that whoever had drawn them had Lost the sugar lump which they were going to put into their coffee and Found another one with a liberal dose of LSD applied.

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The building is like the Tardis, there is a small street presence but the bar and restaurant are enormous an lavishly furnished. I seem to have been eating in quite basic diners lately so this was a welcome change. I was shown to my table by a very pleasant waitress who offered me a carafe of water whilst I studied the menu. She endeared herself to me even more by telling me that there was a lunchtime promotion and all of the sandwiches, baguettes and pizzas were priced at £6.00. Result.

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As the pizzas were advertised as being on a crisp sourdough base I opted for one of those topped with chorizo, salami pepperoni, beef ragu and prosciutto ham. There was the option to have half a pizza and a house salad for the same price so I thought that I would go for that. I chose a Primitivo red wine to go with the meal at £8.05 for 250ml which was excellent and a great compliment to the dish. The pizza was done to perfection, the base was crisp but would take a fork without shattering like a popadom and the sourdough gave a wonderful flavour. I imagine that it was cooked in two parts as the ragu and chorizo were properly cooked through but the prosciutto must have been added just before the end of the process as it was hot but still had its texture rather than being burned to a crisp. The ensemble was delicious as was the salad which comprised contrasting green leaves of cos and rocket, sun dried tomatoes, croutons, pumpkin seeds and shavings of parmesan cheese all drizzled with a balsamic dressing. As I had foregone half of a pizza I thought I deserved a dessert so had the sticky toffee pudding, £6.25, a dark concoction served with fudge butterscotch sauce and vanilla pod ice cream a wonderful contrast of hot and cold and surprisingly light.

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My spending spree was completed by a long black coffee at £2.00 which is excellent value for central Leeds, or anywhere for that matter. Being able to eat such good food in opulent surroundings for what you could easily pay for a take away sandwich is amazing and I cannot recommend this place highly enough. There is also a popular cocktail bar if you like that kind of thing. I was hoping that after an hour and a half in The Lost and Found I might have been claimed by some careless lady who thought that she may have left me on a bus but no such luck so I was returned to the person who brought me in.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 17th February, 2017

The Botanist

Stan Graham enjoys the lunch-time offerings of The Botanist during his latest visit to Leeds. My name is Stan and I am a breadaholic. Being a good food lover I have not yet resorted to delving through wheelie bins for discarded bags of white sliced but my addiction does mean that I have to make a weekly trip from Harrogate to Leeds for a loaf of malthouse sourdough from those wonderful bakers at Leeds Cooperative Bakery. Once I have obtained my fix, usually from Friends of Ham, my mind is clear enough to decide where I will go for lunch. This week I needed to find somewhere local as I was in a bit of a hurry so when I came across a couple of places on Boar Lane I just had to read their menus and make a choice. I promise that I will go to the other in due course. The establishment I chose was The Botanist as there were tables outside which looked rather inviting. When I got to them, however, the seats were stools which swivelled out from beneath the tables and didn’t look like the most comfortable place for a gentleman of advancing years to rest his bottom for the best part of an hour so I ventured inside. Once ensconced within I realised that this was yet another cocktail bar which has an area set aside for food. I will not go off on one about cocktails again, although I will make reference to them a little later, but will concentrate on the food, which after all is why I write these articles.

I was shown to a table by a young man who said that he hoped that I would enjoy my lunch and that I would be served by Rheal. Being a nosy devil I don’t like being in the middle of a room so I said that I would prefer another vacant table near the wall in order that I could survey the whole restaurant. This proved to be no problem so I took my seat and prepared for a jolly hour of food, drink, the Telegraph crossword and people-watching. My only disappointment was that the person, and I use the term loosely, who set the Telegraph crossword seemed to be living in a parallel universe, so I had to content myself with staring at a black and white grid and watching my fellow diners whilst occasionally stabbing at the screen of my iPad, so that they may credit me with a little more intelligence than I deserved.

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After a couple of minutes Rheal appeared with a menu and welcomed me to the establishment. With a name like ‘The Botanist’ you could be forgiven for assuming that this was a vegetarian restaurant. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had been lured, not only by the alfresco tables but also by the Deli Board from the menu, which gives a choice of four dishes from twenty-one items in this section for £10.50. I thought that I would test the kitchen by ordering my two lunchtime favourites of all time: Scotch eggs with piccalilli, and pork pie, which came with fig chutney. I know, pork pie comes with brown sauce; anything else is weird. The four items were completed by adding hand-carved honey mustard glazed ham and a Greek salad, a pathetic nod to my five-a-day. Regardless of whatever combination you order you get Fougasse bread. Not wishing to dehydrate during the meal I added a glass of Little Eden Pinot Noir at £8.50 for 250ml. The wine was sensational so that is all I need to say about that. The food does not get away with it so easily. I was once dining with someone who remarked that she thought that I was an only child, and when I confirmed the fact she said that she knew because when we were having dinner I left my meat until last. She said that had I have had siblings I would not dare to do that as one of them would have pinched it before I got round to finishing it off. This observation came back to me as I was in a real quandary as to what to make the grand finale of the deli board. The ham was good but the slices were compressed which suggested that it was prepacked so that ruled them out; the Greek salad was in a small bowl and totally delicious with the leaves, tomato, red onion and feta dressed to perfection, but not in the same league as the remaining two morsels on my plate, or should I say board. The Scotch eggs were a masterpiece – a small egg, boiled to perfection with the yolk still just on the runny side of hard boiled and the sausage meat covering was warm with a crisp outer coating. Heaven. The pork pie was beautifully made but was a chef’s pork pie rather than a proper growler and the fig chutney accented the ethos of the place by being presented in a mini wheelbarrow – purleeze. I have been spoiled with regard to pork pies as I worked in Barnsley in the 1970s so we used to send the office junior to the local pork shop each morning to bring us all a pie with the jelly still warm and oozing out when we bit into its hot water pastry. Unfortunately Albert Hirst, the pork butcher in question, went out of business during the miners’ strike and I doubt that we will see its like again. It is really unfair to make a comparison so I will just say that that last two items on my plate were the pie and the egg. The egg won because piccalilli is real and fig chutney is showing off.

For once I declined dessert as I was full but had a double Americano coffee at a very reasonable £2.00 which was excellent. Anyone who is inclined to read my reviews on a regular basis will know my attitude to cocktails. As I was struggling with the crossword I decided that I should look a bit interested in the booklet on the table explaining the thinking behind the cocktail menu. I will give The Botanist my award for producing the most pretentious document it has ever been my misfortune to read! Thank goodness for the scotch eggs and the pork pie.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 29th July, 2016

The Alchemist

Recently I have been eating at street food stalls so I thought that I deserved a bit of a treat this week and get to use a knife and fork. I also wanted to try somewhere nearer the office quarter, therefore I made a beeline for Greek Street. The eateries in this area seem to be a little more pricy than in other parts of town so I thought that I would give value for money by reviewing The Alchemist as it has two outlets; one here and one in the Trinity Centre. The large room acts as both a restaurant and a cocktail lounge and, as you would expect, is very tastefully furnished. There are tables with bench seats at either side as well as conventional tables and chairs. I sat at one of the latter type set for two and situated in the window so that I could engage in my favourite pastime euphemistically called people watching but is actually just being plain nosey.

I don’t ‘get’ cocktails. I feel that they are like the proliferation of coffee concoctions which are basically different flavoured hot milk for people who don’t like coffee, so cocktails are alcoholic drinks for people who don’t like alcohol. I can go along with a whiskey sour or a dry martini, but the Delboy jobs which are all dayglo colours and fruit with names straight out of a Carry On film, ooh er missis, are more for effect than taste. Anyway, the best thing to do when you don’t like something is to shut up and not have it, so I did and I didn’t. What I did have in the drinks line was a complimentary bottle of tap water which had been placed on the table, and a glass of A Mano Primitivo which was unfortunately not free but £8.25 for 250ml. It was superb and completely without pieces of floating fruit or paper umbrella embellishment. The weather on the day I called was one of those English summer ones when it was hot and sticky but there was very little sun about so the water was very welcome as were the cold, lighter dishes on the menu. I began with the intriguing Truffle and Parmesan Popcorn at £2.50. I had decided not to have anything too heavy so this was just the thing. It arrived as described, a mug of popcorn which had been infused with the aforementioned flavours. It was surprisingly good. Popcorn is one of those infuriating foods – I am moaning a lot today aren’t I? – which you can’t stop eating even if you don’t like the first mouthful. No such problem here and I will never go to a cinema which doesn’t have it as an option in the foyer. It would be a great accompaniment to a French or Italian subtitled film.

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My main course was Bang Bang Chicken Salad at £10.50 for the main course size although you can get a smaller one for a starter or a snack at £5.50. The chicken was just as I like it, moist, not just breast meat and a good sized portion. It was also torn rather than sliced which I always think is proof, if proof were needed here, that it is real chicken rather than formed and pressed meat. A selection of red and green leaves surrounded the chicken which was on a bed of beansprouts and topped with coriander and thinly sliced red chilli. The dressing was mayonnaise flavoured with Chinese five spice and gave the dish an authentic oriental tang. If I have one criticism it is that the leaves were totally bereft of dressing of any kind as the mayo was concentrated in the middle of the dish on the chicken and beansprouts. I continued the theme of cold dishes through to the dessert, a salted caramel cheesecake as recommended by the waitress. It was £5.75 and absolutely delicious being presented with a strawberry garnish and a scoop of creme fraiche and light as a feather. Perfect, as was the double Americano coffee £2.50.

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The waiting staff were excellent all the way through the meal except that, when I was ready to pay it took quite a while to attract the attention of any of them. In their defence a few larger parties had filled up several of the bench-style tables so they were under a tad more pressure than is probably normal. When I had finished lunch I had to check my position on Google Maps as I needed to make sure that I was still in Leeds. What disorientated me was that the toilets were on the ground floor so I didn’t have several flights of stairs to negotiate. This must make it unique within the city centre. I have tried to work out where the name comes from as an alchemist was a person who tried to make gold out of base metals. I am sure that they will have no trouble in making gold but it will be out of good food, oh and drinks with sparklers in them.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 22nd July, 2016

Revolucion De Cuba

I normally visit restaurants on Friday lunchtimes because it gets the weekend off to a good start and shows off the service under pressure but I called at Revolucion de Cuba on a Tuesday as I had to go to the dentist to have a bridge fitted in the afternoon. I thought that I had better have something substantial for my one meal of the day as I knew that I would be banned from eating for the rest of the day. For once I have a huge criticism of the experience. My bill was highly inflated for what I had. Not at the restaurant, that was amazing value, but at the dentist. I think I was charged for the Humber Bridge instead of a couple of fake gnashers. Goodness knows what the Osmonds’ dental bill is. The premises are a huge room with a cocktail bar on one side and various styles of tables and chairs – the restaurant, not the dentist. Unsurprisingly the walls were covered with photographs of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Ernest Hemingway. Strictly speaking Hemingway had nothing to do with the Cuban Revolution which overthrew Fulgencio Batista in 1959; in fact he left for Idaho in 1960 when he heard that Castro wanted to nationalise American property on the island and never went back. The music was good and introduced a sunny Latin/Caribbean ambience to a rainy Leeds. The main menu looked really interesting but I went for one of the Cuban sandwiches. There are three to chose from but I went for the Classic Cubano billed as ‘the cornerstone of any Cuban lunch hour.’ The description is ‘two toasted slices of glazed Cuban style bread stuffed with roasted mojo pork, sliced ham, cheese, dill pickles and a layer of mustard served with fries.’ The bread was basically a large baguette warm and crusty on the outside and soft in the middle. Although all of the ingredients were present and correct the dill pickle was a little overpowering and masked the taste of the meats and cheese. The fries were thin cut and thankfully came unsalted. I do like salt on fries but I like to be able to regulate the amount. They were crispy and perfectly cooked. The price for this was £8.95 but that included a small glass of Merlot so excellent value. The service was superb, just the right balance of attentiveness without being overbearing. I would return here but next time I will try something from the main menu.

My mind starts wandering in all sorts of directions when I am waiting for meals in restaurants and this time it turned to the after effects of various styles of food. I must stress that it is thirty-six hours since this meal and I am fine. In fact it is one of the cleanest eateries I have visited in ages, especially the toilets, so this is just hypothetical. I was thinking that the after effects from a bad Indian is called Delhi Belly and a duff Mexican will invoke Montezuma’s Revenge so would a dodgy Cuban give you Castroenteritis? Just a thought.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 10th May, 2016