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

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Eat Your Greens

https://www.eatyourgreensleeds.co.uk/

In the words of another grumpy old man, ‘I don’t believe it!’  I have battled my way through countless vegan and vegetarian meals and one of the best I have had so far is here at Eat Your Greens, which is not a vegan or vegetarian restaurant.

I will repeat that:  Eat Your Greens is NOT a vegan or vegetarian restaurant.  They cater for everyone.  I promised Oliver, the chap who was running the place when I called, that I would make that perfectly clear. It has to be said that the menu is heavily skewed towards plant-based food, but there was chicken, fish, and even wood pigeon on the menu.

The reason I called was that I wanted to balance my reviews and so needed to go meat-free for a change.  I now know how vegetarians must have felt in days of yore when dining out with omnivores, but the choices I was given far outshone some of the reverse offerings.  I remember in the sixties, if you were a veggie you were given the roast beef and two veg but without the beef, or gravy!  The first ever vegetarian eatery I remember was called Cranks, the irony of which speaks for itself.  As I was here and the menu looked interesting, I thought that I would give Vejuneuary a try.

The next thing which needs to be said is that the meals on the menu are not imitation meat dishes but have been assembled to make use of the great flavours which vegetables have to offer.  When I go for a beer I want a properly brewed one and not an alcohol free version. I don’t want a glass of Ribena with vodka when I order red wine, so why do very competent chefs spend hours doing experiments with jack fruit and whip up the juice from cans of chickpeas to make pretend junk food?  Not only do they not taste remotely of the real thing but I am also sure that they put people off becoming vegan if that is all there is on offer.  Would anyone swap a proper veggie diet to live on Big Macs or chicken nuggets?  I wouldn’t.

When I arrived I noticed that there were quite a lot of people still there; it was the fag end of lunchtime, but the layout of the place with the bar being an island in the middle, breaks up the space, so it seemed quite empty.  I took my seat and was brought a set of menus.  I normally buy from the lunch specials, but as there was only a choice of three sandwiches I ordered from the Big Plates section of the main bill of fare which looked a lot more interesting. The menu obviously changes with availability as Jersey Royals were included on one dish and they have a very limited season.  Eventually, I decided on Black Pepper Swede, described as Fried black pepper, swede and pea flour bake, wholegrain quinoa pilaf with chilli, mixed seasonal greens and house kimchi, £10.

A very pleasant waitress brought me a carafe of water and a glass without having to be asked, and took my order for the food and a glass of red house wine, a Tempranillo at £4.50 for 125ml.  A short time later the goodies appeared. The cubes of swede were golden brown, crisp on the outside but fluffy in the middle, just like the best roasties you have ever had.  They were also very hot, so I worked my way around the rest of the components to let them cool down a bit.  The mixed seasonal greens were kale and small onions.  The texture of the kale was so much different from the swede, having cooked but still crunchy stalks and soft wilted leaves.  The quinoa grain was still whole grain, which again gave it some resistance to the tooth – did I just write that?  Finally, the kimchi was taking no prisoners whatsoever, having a kick like a mule but a very refreshing one, cutting through the warm comfort of the rest.  The whole balance was brilliant.  The wine was very smooth – I am a fan of the tempranillo grape but it’s not often you get an Austrian example like this Wagram Zweigelt and, even rarer, an organic version coming in a bag.

For dessert I chose one scoop of rhubarb sorbet for £2 (3 scoops are £5) which was not totally smooth but had some larger ice crystals to give it texture and interest.  The rhubarb certainly came bursting through. A black Americano for £2.20 arrived in a large mug, which gave me a chance to sit and reflect on the wonderful things which can be created from vegetables when you have the flair and imagination to use them as they were meant to be.  A further side-effect of this was that my appetite was satisfied but I didn’t feel as though I had eaten a ton of stodge.

If you should pay a visit to this place, and why wouldn’t you, then try something a bit different, but if you do decide on the meat or fish, don’t forget to eat your greens.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 9th June, 2019

Livin’Italy

A few years ago when I was in fairly handsomely rewarded employment I spent a year living in Candle House, the round building in Holbeck Urban Village which looks like a stack of pizzas.

It was a great place to live, only a couple of minutes’ walk to City Square and the train station, another couple of minutes’ drive to the motorway system and with a fine selection of bars and restaurants on the doorstep. My favourite haunt was Vineataly where I would call for coffee and a bite should the mood take me. They had to change their name after another establishment of the same name got a strop on and it became Livin’Italy and styled itself as a Bar, Italian Kitchen and Deli.  Fortunately, the casual vibe didn’t change.

All Livin’Italy photographs by Stan Graham

The reason I mention the above, apart from having to start my article somehow, is that I had arranged to meet an old, sorry, former, workmate for lunch and as they were coming by train I thought that this would be a good place to revisit. By using the new South Entrance to the station you come out in the dark arches about twenty yards from Granary Wharf, so before we knew it we were waiting to be seated. We were found a table for two in the upstairs room which, like the ground floor, is decorated in industrial chic style. They have also moved the Italian racing red motor scooter up here and it is displayed in the front window. Even though it was pushing two o’clock when we arrived the place was still fairly full with diners, and the buzz of conversation gave it a wonderful atmosphere.  I wasn’t going to write about the visit as I thought that someone might recognise me from the days when I was a regular, but the staff had changed and the boss, Alessandro, was on holiday. On thinking back, it is over six years since I moved away so it is not surprising no one knew me. Not only has the staff changed but the menu has too and is now much more expansive.

I began with Nduja, on crostini bread, topped with Stracciatella, a creamy mozzarella, then dressed with Rocket leaves (£7.50). Should you be unfamiliar with nduja it is a spreadable type of salami with added spices and a heavy kick of chillies, so approach with caution if you are not into hot tastes. If that is the case you may prefer what my friend had, the Bruschetta Pugliese which is Friselle crostini bread topped with an abundance of cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and dressed with fresh oregano and basil.(£5.95). The combination of fresh tomatoes and basil is a marriage made in heaven and this was divine.

For our main course we chose from the Meat and Fish section of the menu.  My choice was Braised Tuscan Sausage in Borlotti Beans served with char-grilled sourdough (£11.95).  The taste was amazing and comfort food par excellence. The seasoning of the sausage turned the humble banger into something very special and the beans in their sauce were a million miles away from the canned variety, still having some bite to them rather than being cooked to a mush.

I accompanied the food with an excellent glass of House Montepulciano at £6.95 for 175ml. Tuscan Sausage was also my partner’s choice but this time in a burger which contained smoked cheese, crispy pancetta, salad leaves and  a side of roast potatoes and spicy sauce. This came in at £10.95. As the dish was rather large the bun was stripped of its contents and unfortunately had to be left, but the sausage etc. was said to be very good; so good in fact that I wasn’t offered a taste!  I was told, however, that I was welcome to the bun. Cheers mate. With no room left for dessert we decided to bid arrivederci to Livin’Italy and made our way back to the station.

It is always a gamble returning to somewhere you knew and loved after all this time, but it was far from disappointing in this instance. The only disappointing part is that I can no longer afford to live in this, now salubrious, part of town with its huge range of facilities. On second thoughts, I am probably getting a bit long in the tooth for la dolce vita.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 11th October, 2018

Smak

I have been writing our Let’s Do Lunch series for two and a half years now and enjoyed every minute of it.

After a year I was asked if I would like to try going to press nights to write articles promoting restaurants and I was only too pleased to oblige. Then came, ‘How about doing some theatre reviews?’ Once more I responded in the positive. From there we progressed to Farmers’ Markets and all seemed well but imagine my surprise and shock when I received an email asking me if I would like to try Smak. I remembered the ‘Just Say No!’ Campaign of the mid eighties and was about to write an angry reply but then I noticed that there was no letter ‘c’ in it.

Now I might not know much about Class A drugs but I do know how to spell them and being aware of what a stickler Leeds Living’s copy editor is I knew it could not be a mistake so I googled ‘smak’ and found that it was Polish for ‘taste’. It is also the name of an establishment on Kirkstall Road which serves the food from that particular Eastern European country. Once I had composed myself I agreed and put a lunchtime aside for a visit.

There seems to be a burgeoning international food scene on this part of the thoroughfare opposite Cardigan Fields Leisure and Entertainment Centre, of which Smak is the latest addition. Their aim is to serve traditional Polish food but give some of it a modern twist. For quite some time now I have been bemoaning the lack of Polish, Jewish and West Indian restaurants in a city which has a sizeable population of each of these groups, and whose cultures we should be celebrating, and what more appropriate way is there to celebrate than by eating and drinking.

I was told by Moniker, the owner, that Smak is more of a coffee shop than a restaurant and, as such, the portions were a bit on the small side so she suggested I order two dishes; the idea being that people not used to Polish food could test the water. There was a special lunch dish but I wanted to sample the specialities on the normal menu. The specials change on a daily basis anyway so would not be the same should you decide to pay a visit.

I know from my Polish friends that Pierogi is more or less the national dish so I just had to try those. Pierogi are dumplings which are cooked by boiling them in water. There are as many recipes for the dough as the fillings but it is basically flour and water, although some people add an egg or even mashed potato. There is a choice of three fillings, one of which is vegetarian and another vegan. I went for the third, being ground pork, beef and herbs. They were well worth the wait of all those years, being very light and the filling beautifully seasoned, with the flavour of each of the two meats discernible which takes some doing. They were topped with chopped chives and small pieces of bacon. A dollop – pardon the technical term – of mayonnaise completed the dish. An absolute delight and worth a fiver of anybody’s money.

My second dish was a Kanapka z Kietbasa (smoked sausage sandwich) of which there is a choice of three, mine being Angry Bull – beef and pork with chilli. It came in a lightly toasted bun containing house slaw, Polish gherkin, cheese and horseradish sauce. There were salad leaves with a pesto dressing on the side. The sausages were extremely tasty and had the required chilli kick, although not overpowering. The slaw and gherkin cut through the flavour of the sausage to form a formidable combination. If I have one criticism it was that the toasting of the bun dried it out a little. All of the sandwiches are £6.

I asked what would be the appropriate drink to have with the meal and I was recommended Summer Fruit Kompot, a homemade juice drink which was extremely refreshing and not too sweet at £1.50.

When I had finished lunch and revealed that I was there to write a review I had a conversation with the owner, who is obviously passionate about what she does and told me the story behind the dishes I had. The pierogi were made to her grandmother’s recipe and the smoked sausage her grandfather’s. He would smoke them using the pork from the pigs on the family’s small farm, selling them to the villagers nearby, Moniker now uses finest Yorkshire pork. During the war, her father used to take the kielbasa into the local forest to feed the resistance fighters who were holed up there. That’s a dangerous job if ever there was one.

Should you pay a visit, and why wouldn’t you, I suggest that you just have one of the dishes on offer so as to save room for a piece of the home baked cake for dessert.  Unfortunately I didn’t have room but it was plum sponge cake with a crumble topping and looked divine.

So children, be like the kids from Grange Hill in that advertising campaign and if someone enquires if you want to try smak ask them to spell it. If it is with a ‘c’ Just Say No!  If it is without a ‘c’ definitely Just Say Yes! – please.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 28th September, 2018

Simpatico

Temporarily closed

This lunchtime saw me take a trip to Simpatico, which is a pizza restaurant in Queen’s Arcade.

We are so lucky to live in a city where the Victorian architects were so forward thinking as to build these wonderfully ornate structures in order to protect shoppers from the ravages of the Northern climate. I often wonder what they would think of their being used as ‘outdoor’ seating to accommodate diners at the plethora of cafes, delis and restaurants which have sprung up over the past decade. I am sure that their progressive outlook would mean that they would wholeheartedly embrace the change. I know I do, as they add a Continental vibe to the city and make great places to people-watch whilst eating, whether those being scrutinised are wearing summer clothes or snow boots.

Had it not been for the County Arcade I would probably not be writing this article, as that is where my mother and father met, he being the manager of the Mecca Ballroom which used to occupy the premises now trading as the Reiss ladieswear shop, and my mother a regular at the Saturday night hops.

All photographs by Stan Graham.

Simpatico sells Pizza Al Taglio which means pizza by the slice, and offers a different slant on the normal version as the dough is made from whole grain, spelt and other cereals. It has a high hydration and is left to prove for 72 hours, which gives it a totally different texture from either the traditional Roman base which is thin and crisp or the Chicago version which is the thickness of a duvet. The result is a very tasty, if odd, combination. The bottom of the base, if you follow my drift, is very crisp, but the top layer is a bit like sourdough with the air bubbles creating a light bread texture. They are cooked in special ovens shipped in from Moretti Forno in Rome. The result is a base which could quite easily be eaten just as it comes and be delicious, which would make my job a lot easier than it has turned out to be because I am now about to tackle the topping.

From the range available I opted for the Ham and Balsamic at £3.95, which was wonderful. The homemade tomato sauce and cheese topping were enhanced by thicker than normal strips of fresh ham and cherry tomatoes dressed in a rich balsamic sauce. Nothing very clever, but when you are dealing with such good ingredients I don’t think that you need to mess about with them too much. ‘What is so difficult about that?’ you may ask.  Well, because fresh ingredients are used, the toppings change on a daily or even hourly basis, so if you turn up wanting a slice of what I have just described you could be disappointed. On second thoughts, you will probably not be disappointed as I am sure that whatever is on offer will be just as good.

The advice on an information card in the restaurant is two slices for lunch and three for dinner. I just settled on the one as I had seen suppli in the display unit and decided to give one a try.  Suppli are rice balls coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They are a lot like the Sicillian Arancini but normally contain a filling of tomato sauce and cheese rather than ragu and peas. The suppli sold here are larger than I have seen in Rome and pear-shaped, only in appearance not result. The chunk of Mozzarella in the centre was wonderfully stringy and it is this which gives them their Italian nickname of ‘telephones’ as, when they are cut in half, the cheese which joins the two parts together makes it look like an old corded phone. It is only a matter of time before Apple bring out a ‘smart’ version at a grand a pop. The taste was again very good, with the cheese making itself known rather than just being there for effect. A snip at £3.50.  I could not let the opportunity of a glass of red go begging so I had a very pleasant house Merlot at £4.50 for 175ml.

The service was extremely good, with the young lady behind the counter informing me that the suppli would take about 4 minutes and did I want the pizza straight away or to wait and have both dishes served at the same time, which I thought was a nice touch. There were potted basil plants on the tables, which gave a good atmosphere and could also be used to enhance the flavour of your lunch should you so desire.

Simpatico is Italian for ‘nice’ or ‘friendly’ but in this case, it means both.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 22nd August, 2018

Mill Kitchen

Farsley in the late 1970s when I lived there was hardly the most alluring suburb of the City, possibly because I lived there.

It had all of the disadvantages of a village, i.e. shops which closed at lunchtime on Saturday and no nightlife except for a couple of pubs, a decent chippy and a Chinese take-away. It was losing its identity as the conurbations of Leeds and Bradford were expanding, thus absorbing small communities such as this and turning them into commuter belt. Most buses missed the place out altogether by using the B6157 Stanningley Road extension or Rodley Lane.  The only way you could visit the village was if you made a special journey, but few did.How times change! Farsley has become cool. There are several wine bars, restaurants of various origins and delis, but the decent pubs and shops have been retained, although sadly not the chippy. Even the Leeds – Halifax bus route has diverted to take in the views.  Sunny Bank Mills has had a great deal of money spent on it and been turned into work units for small businesses, an art gallery, studios and the place I had made a not so sentimental journey to see, Mill Kitchen.

All photographs by Stan Graham

I review eateries of all sorts in most parts of Leeds, and I must say that this ranks amongst the best. It is not fine dining and it does not have the most expansive menu, but what it does it does well.  The lunch menu consists of the daily savoury bake, and three salads. There is a larger choice for breakfast/brunch as well as a range of sandwiches and a soup. I was here to sample lunch so I had the daily bake which on the day was Feta and Tomato Fritatta. It costs £7.75 and comes with three portions of the salads on display which also vary depending on the ingredients available. A large portion of salad for a main course is £6.75. The choice of the day was between Kale, apple, hazelnut and feta, Fennel, orange and goat’s cheese; and Pattypan squash, quinoa and seeds. I ordered a black Americano (£2.20) to drink as it was a tad early to hit the booze, although there is a good selection of craft ale and wine should you be so inclined.

A lovely touch was the acknowledgement of the building’s wool processing heritage by giving diners a large wooden bobbin with a number attached as identification for the waiting staff when serving your dish.  It was a Saturday and the inside of the deli was full of brunchers and families so I decided to brave the wind and sit outside. When the food arrived it was just as spectacular as the building.  It was delivered to my table as I had been asked on ordering whether I would prefer the frittata hot or cold, a nice touch, and as I opted for the former, it took a little time to heat.

The portion size was of Yorkshire proportions with the plate full of goodies. The frittata was wonderfully light, even though it was a thick piece, and the salads inventive and complimentary. There was enough of each to experiment with the flavours by mixing them up a bit. I enjoyed every mouthful.  I gave dessert a miss as the cloud cover increased and I didn’t fancy a soggy bun, or bum. I must, once again, praise the service, which was excellent and very friendly.Should you not wish to have anything to eat there is a deli counter selling produce as well as Leeds Bread Cooperative loaves, not to mention the craft beers and wine. I told you not to mention the craft beers and wine – sorry.

If you find yourself in this now trendy suburb then you could do worse than call here for sustenance. There most certainly is no trouble at t’mill.

Article first published by Leeds Living 2nd August, 2018

North Star Coffee House

I must admit that I was not looking forward to doing this particular article as it was the end of the last working week before Christmas and the City Centre was awash with workers in their posh frocks subtly accessorised with Santa hats or flashing reindeer antlers.

The women were not much more sophisticated either. This is great if you are among their number but as a sole diner it instigates a feeling of isolation and you know that the service at whichever restaurant you choose will be stretched wafer thin and, likely as not, there will be a special ‘festive’ menu, meaning that turkey and all the trimmings will be churned out ad nauseam but if you dare opt for the ‘normal’ menu you will be waiting all afternoon. All right, I am exaggerating a bit, but my main concern is that it would not be fair to judge an establishment which is rammed with partygoers against one visited in early February when you walk into the soundtrack of your own footsteps.

As it happens, the editor of Leeds Living had suggested that I venture a little way out of the City Centre for once and try out North Star Coffee House so I forsook the jollity of the revellers for a stroll along the river bank to Leeds Dock. Should you be a visitor to Leeds I must point out that there is a free water taxi to Leeds Dock from outside the new South Entrance to City Station. The editor is so tight with expenses that he won’t even spring for a free water taxi which is why I had to hoof it. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but I refuse to pay for my own free trip when I am on an assignment for someone else.

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When I arrived at Leeds Dock I was relieved to discover that life was going on much as normal so I headed for North Star Coffee House, which is a cafe and shop adjoining a coffee roasters. I was also pleased to see that there was a special lunch menu offering a choice of sandwiches and bowls, all of which were imaginative, but I decided on a bowl of the soup of the day with half a toasted sandwich, £6.50. The soup of the day was parsnip, which was just the ticket on a chilly day after a stroll. The sandwich was toasted cheese. The combination could have been a bit bland but this version was far from being that. The soup was rich and creamy with a drizzle of tarragon oil lifting it from the very good to the sublime. Likewise the sandwich was prepared with thinner sliced bread, allowing the heat to permeate through to the cheese, rather than insulate it as a thick slice would have done. This resulted in the perfect combination of properly toasted bread at one with the soft, hot, runny cheese within. Both parts of the lunch went to show how good quality simple ingredients, given a bit of care and a lot of skill, can give a result far in excess of the sum of its parts.

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I would not have countenanced leaving without sampling the coffee on offer. After all, it had made the long journey from the roasters, though the glass partition, to the coffee machine. Like the soup and other dishes in the cafe, the coffee varies according to the season and my black coffee was a delight, not too strong but with a fairly complex flavour, a bargain at £2.30. As it was Christmas I thought that I should give a nod to that fact so I accompanied the coffee with a Cranberry Apple Crumble Bar, £3.00, from the Noisette Bakehouse Bakery. It was very flavoursome but a tad dry for my taste, although I do realise that it is a crumble.

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The premises are cool and modern but very relaxed and the service exemplary. This is a perfect place to unwind from work for a little while, or just chill from a visit to the docks or the Royal Armouries next door.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Leeds City Centre revellers for driving me out of town to a gem in Leeds Dock. I hope that you all had as good a time as I did, albeit a bit rowdier.

May I take this opportunity to wish my readers a very Happy Christmas and please join me for lunch in the New Year when who knows what gems, and duffers, we may discover.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 20th December, 2017

The Union

Please note. Closed for refurbishment but is reopening. Please keep checking social media for opening date.

http://theunioncoffeehouse.co.uk/

Writing articles for publication is like talking to yourself but through a loudspeaker. In the absence of any feedback you just have to imagine who, if anyone, is reading the stuff you churn out and how you can make it relevant to them. In my case I assume that my readership mainly comprises city centre workers and visitors to our wonderful metropolis. Even within these two categories there is a broad spectrum of people. The heart of Leeds is kept beating by people who do all manner of jobs, from keeping the City clean and tidy to running multinational companies. Similarly the visitors come here for all kinds of reasons; shopping, be it a splurge at Harvey Nicks or getting a new mobile phone cover from the market, culture at the museums and art galleries or just a day out wandering to where fancy takes.

I must admit that I never imagined my typical reader to be someone who is having lunch in a coffee house to kill time before they have the pot removed from their broken wrist. This was the case this week when I visited Union Coffee House in Great George Street. The premises are opposite the old entrance to the Leeds General Infirmary and the lady sitting opposite had called in for that very purpose.

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The menu is original and I was sorely tempted to try the Olive and Rye Breakfast from the brunch section as it contained crispy pork belly, home made black pudding, chorizo beans, grilled tomato, free range eggs and sourdough toast but my good post-Christmas intentions prevailed and I opted for the hot venison scotch egg with home made brown sauce and dressed green bean salad at £6.50. My self-control wasn’t total as I augmented the dish with a side of skinny chips for £2.00. A glass of pinot noir lubricated the food at £6.00 (175ml). I love venison; it has a wonderful flavour and has far less fat than other red meat. If you think that I am going to say that the only problem is that it is dear (deer – geddit?) then you would be correct, I never let a bad joke slip by. The lower fat content means that the texture of the mince used to make the scotch egg is denser than it would have been had pork been used and this made it far more interesting. The yolk of the egg was perfectly cooked, being soft but just beyond runny. The taste was excellent as was that of the brown sauce, which came in a small jar. The spices gave the sauce not only a tang but also a rounded finish. I enjoyed it so much that I was given a small ‘doggy tub’ to use on my Sunday morning bacon butty. The salad, as the name would suggest, contained green beans along with chopped spring onions, rocket, red lettuce and lamb’s lettuce. The french dressing was exquisite. I have not enjoyed a lunch so much in a while. Because of the quality of the main course and the tempting appearance of the sweet counter, I threw my good intentions right out of the window and decided to put the one remaining piece of carrot cake out of its misery along with a black coffee at £2.30. The pride in the food and the level of service manifested itself when the waiter brought me the cake. He said that, as it was the last piece, it was a little less fresh than he would have liked it to be so he said that I could choose an alternative or have the carrot cake on the house. In the interest of the coffers of Leeds Living I opted for the latter, hence no price is shown in the review as there was nothing on the bill. If this is a cake approaching its sell by date it must have been amazing on the day it was baked. It was only a smidgeon on the dry side but still as good, if not better than I have had in other establishments when fresh. All in all this is a brilliant place to have lunch. I now know another great place to eat but in the interest of my readers I am compelled to try somewhere else next time. I will console myself in the knowledge that, had I revisited a past favourite, I would not have found this new one.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 9th February, 2017

Olive and Rye

https://www.oliveandrye.co.uk/

Writing lunch reviews is a really great job except that, with all lines of work, you come across situations which make you wish that you did something else.

Over the past couple of years or so I have been lucky in that I have only had to send one meal back because it was inedible and only had a single case of atrocious service. This is not the problem with the occupation; the real downside is that whenever I go into Leeds for lunch I feel as though I have to try somewhere different in order to write an article which means that I never get a chance to go back to some of the amazing places I have discovered. This week none of that mattered as I was asked to visit an establishment which was as good as any I have previously enjoyed. Olive and Rye is one of the wonderful independent deli restaurants in our great City, a lot of which are springing up in the various arcades, and this one is in Queens.

The menu is original and I was sorely tempted to try the Olive and Rye Breakfast from the brunch section as it contained crispy pork belly, home made black pudding, chorizo beans, grilled tomato, free range eggs and sourdough toast but my good post-Christmas intentions prevailed and I opted for the hot venison scotch egg with home made brown sauce and dressed green bean salad at £6.50. My self-control wasn’t total as I augmented the dish with a side of skinny chips for £2.00. A glass of pinot noir lubricated the food at £6.00 (175ml).

I love venison; it has a wonderful flavour and has far less fat than other red meat. If you think that I am going to say that the only problem is that it is dear (deer – geddit?) then you would be correct, I never let a bad joke slip by. The lower fat content means that the texture of the mince used to make the scotch egg is denser than it would have been had pork been used and this made it far more interesting. The yolk of the egg was perfectly cooked, being soft but just beyond runny. The taste was excellent as was that of the brown sauce, which came in a small jar. The spices gave the sauce not only a tang but also a rounded finish. I enjoyed it so much that I was given a small ‘doggy tub’ to use on my Sunday morning bacon butty. The salad, as the name would suggest, contained green beans along with chopped spring onions, rocket, red lettuce and lamb’s lettuce. The french dressing was exquisite.

I have not enjoyed a lunch so much in a while. Because of the quality of the main course and the tempting appearance of the sweet counter, I threw my good intentions right out of the window and decided to put the one remaining piece of carrot cake out of its misery along with a black coffee at £2.30. The pride in the food and the level of service manifested itself when the waiter brought me the cake. He said that, as it was the last piece, it was a little less fresh than he would have liked it to be so he said that I could choose an alternative or have the carrot cake on the house. In the interest of the coffers of Leeds Living I opted for the latter, hence no price is shown in the review as there was nothing on the bill. If this is a cake approaching its sell by date it must have been amazing on the day it was baked. It was only a smidgeon on the dry side but still as good, if not better than I have had in other establishments when fresh.

All in all this is a brilliant place to have lunch. I now know another great place to eat but in the interest of my readers I am compelled to try somewhere else next time. I will console myself in the knowledge that, had I revisited a past favourite, I would not have found this new one.

Article first published in Leeds Living on 26th January, 2017

Friends Of Ham

Friends of Ham describes itself as a ‘bar and charcuterie.’ I was just relieved to find that it is not the fan club of some third rate actor. Whilst bar and charcuterie does indeed sum up the concept, it is much more than that. As well as a menu boasting cured meats and cheeses from all over Europe, there is a large range of international draught beers available along with an interesting wine list including a range of sherry. The dominant influence on the ham is Spanish whereas the cheeses are mainly English. There are options for diners; larger plates from the specials section of the menu, sharing boards of meat, cheeses or a mixture of both and finally a small plate section which can be either from the tapas type section or mixed and matched cheeses and meats. The waitress appeared promptly with the menu which was bound in soft leather; obviously nothing is wasted here. From the specials I chose Cecina de Leon, hazelnuts and pickled beetroot with sourdough croutes and horseradish at £6.00. I asked whether the portion would be large enough in itself to comprise lunch and was told that whilst the plate was fairly large, she would recommend the bread and olive oil (£1.75) to accompany it. To wash it all down I chose the Romanian Pinot Noir, I told you the wine list was interesting, at £4.90 per 175ml glass.

On arrival the bowl of olives turned out to be more of a bucket so I began to make inroads. Among them was the odd slice of mushroom and onion, a nice touch. The salad was presented on a wooden board and was absolutely delicious. There was a very generous amount of roast chicken which came in lumps torn rather than carved from the bird. The other components were several types of leaves, red onion, spring onion, cubes of butternut squash, small cherry tomatoes and the eponymous quinoa. The dressing was fresh tasting and brought all of the other flavours together.

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I should have left it there but the devil noticed a delicious looking blueberry cheesecake in the chiller cabinet and pointed out that I had hardly taken in any calories so far so I had every right to sample it. In fact, he went on to say that I owed it to my readers to give it a try. How could I possibly let you down my friends, especially as I may need you as character witnesses when my case comes to court. I ordered a piece (£2.50) along with a £2.30 black Americano. The cheesecake was just as delicious as the rest of the meal with a compressed biscuit base which was so dense that it seemed like pastry. The coffee was large but was not watered down as some of this size can be. I would go so far as to say it was just about perfect. The total bill for a wonderful lunch came to £14.80.

The meat arrived sliced wafer thin as you would expect and was absolutely delicious. It was just right: chewy without being tough. The hazelnuts added a creamy taste and obviously a bit of a crunch which complemented the acidic taste of the pickled beetroot. Good as this was, the star of the show had to be the bread. I can’t ever recall having such a delicious example of the baker’s art. The slices were thick cut and soft with a chewy crust rather than a solid one. They had also been pre-drizzled with oil which enhanced the taste even more. In the small bowl of dipping oil was just a touch of balsamic vinegar, enough to taste but not enough to overpower. I cannot thank the waitress enough for the recommendation, although I went some way towards doing so with the tip. The service all round was very good. I was asked twice, each time by a different person, if everything was all right; attentive without being overbearing, and each time I could only answer in the affirmative. I must now own up to making a fundamental reviewer’s mistake, mea culpa. I went into this bar when I was starving hungry and tucked straight into the meal as soon as it came and I had taken a photograph. I have already said that the menu was brought by the waitress and, after I had had time to read it thoroughly, she took it away again. Fair enough. I prefer that to having the table cluttered up with menus or, worse still, the Great Wall of Menu when they are in a stand in the middle of the table. As you will see from the photograph, and as I realised when I reread the menu on-line later, the sourdough croutes and horseradish failed to appear. Such was the service that I am sure they would have appeared had I pointed out the omission. Unfortunately, what did appear without my asking were two items on the bill which I had neither ordered nor had served. When I pointed them out to the waitress they were quickly removed and apologies proffered. Now, it is my belief that you can really tell how good a place is when something goes wrong. Anyone can smell of roses when everything goes right, and the situation was resolved in a very professional manner. social media In conclusion, Friends of Ham offers a great concept and I would gladly return; in fact I will certainly return either here or to sample the branch which is due to open in Ilkley in August.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 29th June, 2015