OBA Kitchen and Bar

https://www.obaleeds.co.uk

Before I begin I must admit to having discovered a new guilty pleasure. As someone who writes about food I am always deconstructing the dish presented to me and analysing the constituent parts both separately and in unison. Fortunately they are usually of good, if not great, quality and cooked to perfection. I have said before that I am not a sycophant but, as it is my own money I am spending, I am not going to waste it on somewhere I have a strong suspicion that the food will be awful. Having said that, there is no greater pleasure than the bit of a meal which is not done as you would expect but is all the better for that.

Who can deny that the best part of a beautifully rare roast beef joint is the burned bit on the outside or that the skin on a home-made rice pudding or jug of custard isn’t the crowning glory of the dessert. I have even been known to deliberately expose the edges of lasagne sheets so that they crisp up whilst in the oven. There, I have said it, and don’t even get me started on scraps with fish and chips!

OBA is a Korean and Japanese Restaurant in the Merrion Centre owned by the people who have Hang Sing Hong food store on Vicar Lane and is their first foray into the restaurant world. They do a lunchtime deal for £12 comprising a starter and a main course from a special menu which is divided into two parts; Set A, and Set B which is vegetarian. I later looked up the dishes I ordered on the normal menu and the cost would have been £17.80, so quite a good saving.

When I arrived I was greeted at the door by a charming woman who escorted me to my seat and gave me my menu. She asked if I wanted a drink and I ordered a pint of draft Japanese lager. I was sitting in front of the bar and saw that beer had obviously run off so the waitress returned to ask if I would like an alternative. I opted for a bottle of Kirin Ichiban at £4.50, a brew with which I was not familiar, but am now! It was delicious.

There were three starters and mains to choose from and I had King Prawn Tempura Rolls and Chicken Bibimbap. The latter was again unfamiliar to me and was described on the menu as Korean Rice Bowl with assorted veg, egg, sweet chilli miso (sic) so what was not to like.

Whilst I was getting acquainted with my beer and awaiting the food, I looked round to see that the place was almost empty which, being just after 1.00pm on a Wednesday, was a bit sad. The decor was more Scandinavian than Far Eastern with a long brown banquette running the length of one wall, marble tables and bright yellow and electric blue dining chairs facing the bench. The crockery and cutlery were modern takes on Oriental style and the whole thing worked very well.

King Prawn Tempura

After a short time the four tempura rolls arrived generously packed with prawn and were as delicious as they appear to be on the photograph. They were firm and the shellfish was cold but not so chilled as to have the flavour impaired. The rice was moist so that the roll didn’t disintegrate when picked up with chopsticks, even in my oversized mitts.

When I had finished my plate was whisked away and the star of the show arrived. Having not sampled Bibimbap before I had no idea what was about to happen, which turned out to be the reverse of everything I have experienced in a restaurant before.

In the olden days, when you ordered something which needed to be prepared at the table, such as Steak Flambé or Crêpes Suzette, the ingredients would be brought and a spectacularly well presented dish created before your very eyes. Bibimbap turns this concept on its head in that the waitress brought a beautiful bowl of food and proceeded to mash it all together!

Bibimbap Before……..

When the course arrived the waitress asked me how spicy I would like it, I said medium to hot and she created a cheffy pattern on the food with the sweet chilli sauce. I could see that she was about to do something else to it as she had picked up a couple of implements so I asked that she pause for a moment so that I could take a photograph. I am glad that I did because if I had only got one of the end product it would not have looked half as appetising as it deserved to.

Bibimbap During…..

Sure enough, when I had finished she attacked the bowl and mixed everything together. In some ways it was a relief as it saved me having to make a decision as to how to eat it myself. Getting a piece of fried egg with runny yolk from bowl to gob without soiling my sweater was already stressing me out so having that problem solved was a definite bonus.

Bibimbap After

As you can see, there would have been no problem in eating it anyway as there was a fork and spoon provided rather than chopsticks. The mixing process put the kibosh on my tasting the constituent parts as mentioned above, so I was left with the conglomeration, which was excellent. The portion size was just right and the flavour wonderful. The chicken was still moist and the veg not too soft. You can see for yourself how perfectly the egg was done. The kick from the chilli sauce made sure that the food would not be bland and was the perfect level of heat for me. The sauce was left just in case.

This is where my new guilty pleasure manifested itself. The bowl is made of stone and was still hot when it arrived thus ensuring the meal didn’t go cold. This meant that the rice and veg in the bottom had carried on cooking and formed an unctuous, overdone layer stuck to the bowl. I scraped a bit off with the spoon and, wow, what a taste. It was as though the flavours of everything I had eaten were magnified twenty times over.

As you will have gathered I enjoyed my meal at OBA very much but I would give you one word of warning. They add a 10% service charge to the bill, something which is not shown on the lunch menu, the main one or their website.

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House of Fu

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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

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

Senbon Sakura

I had decided to have a stroll down Great George Street and in doing so noticed that Centro, the fairly basic English cafe, had morphed into a Japanese cafe kitchen called Senbon Sakura, even though there were still shop signs outside bearing the name of the previous business. This was a novelty for me as it was the first time I had visited premises where I have previously done a review. The restaurant trade being what it is, the premises may be the same but the occupant has changed. I find it to be of great comfort eating in this particular part of Leeds as, should something go horribly wrong, you are just across the road from the Leeds General Infirmary. The air of the establishment reassured me that the only food that I would be reviewing would be that provided by the restaurant rather than the LGI canteen and, taking heed of the sign saying ’New Lunch Menu’, I went in. I was greeted by a very affable man behind the counter who told me that the change occurred just before Christmas. There are no printed menus, the only bill of fare being a large wall mounted list behind the counter. It also seems that the full menu is available all day, including the ‘Lunch’ section. I was told that the curry was popular but I was looking to cut back on the calories as I had a trip abroad booked and would prefer to save my pigging out until I was sur la continent, so I ordered sushi. There was a good selection from which I chose the Meaty Box at £5.95. The contents were listed as being Spicy Chicken Iso (3), Chicken Teriyaki Iso (3) and Cucumber Maki (6). There was no alcohol available so I ordered a cafetiere of Rose Tea at £3.20. I was advised to take a seat and the order would be brought to my table.

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I noticed that all of the other customers seemed to be of far eastern origin, which is a good sign, but when the meal arrived I was a little disappointed to see that the sushi was in a sealed plastic carton and the wasabi in a small sachet. The waiter said that I should give the rose tea a few minutes to infuse. I opened the various forms of packaging and began to eat lunch. My first taste was a tentative dab of the wasabi paste on the tip of my little finger to test where on the nuclear scale it registered, but whilst hot it was not life threatening. I need not have worried about the sushi either as it was the best I think I have ever tasted. The flavour of the various fillings came through strongly, each piece being larger than normal and well constructed. The rose tea was also flavoursome and took the pink colour of the flowers, making it look as good as it tasted. By this time all thoughts of self restraint had evaporated but there was no dessert section to the menu, although there was a plate of Rocky Road on the counter so I had a piece of that(£1.40). After the lightness of the sushi and the delicacy of the rose tea, the cake hit my stomach like a chunk of lead, another case of eyes being bigger than belly.

After chatting to the waiter I learned that some items on the menu are having their recipes tweaked, which I’m quite sure has been achieved by now. I can heartily recommend this place for lunch, either to eat in or take out, and I hope that it remains under the same ownership for years to come. I would suggest giving the Rocky Road a miss though.

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

Sushi Waka

I have had some friends over from Kentucky for a week or so and have been eating out more than normal, i.e. every day. When Linda comes over she develops an addiction to fish and chips which she had four times in one week. The only break in this pattern was the evening we went to Betty’s in Harrogate for afternoon tea and on Saturday when we had been invited to a wedding where food had been promised. One of the piscine dinners was in a pub so Phil, her husband, and I were able to have the steak and kidney pie, but the others were all in fish restaurants which meant that I had them three times. I have not partaken of this delicacy in over three years as I need to keep a tight rein on my calorie intake so it came as a shock to my system. The amazing thing was that, despite the meals consumed, I only gained one pound in weight over the course of the week. My body never ceases to amaze me, in many ways.

I knew that I was going to enjoy lunch at Sushiwaka the minute I walked into the restaurant as there was a pile of Leeds Living magazines on the bar. Getting in is not as easy as it sounds as the entrances which look to be for the place are closed and signs direct you round the corner. You need to use the door under the sign for Mix Karaoke bar. Once inside I was shown to my table by the waiter who asked me what I wanted to drink. He pointed out that beer was half price on Wednesday and so, after considering the alternatives for a full five seconds, that is what I ordered. The lunchtime offer is 20% off the menu prices between noon and five o’clock. When the bill arrived I was surprised to note that the half price beer had been added before the discount applied so it was even cheaper than advertised. As is my wont I like to try a selection of the delights on offer so I chose the Chef Special Bento Box. There was a caveat on the menu that as it was cooked to order there would be a longer delay in service than is normal, something to remember if you are on a set lunch break, although if you are do not order this as it will take all afternoon to eat. I had my cut price Asahi beer so they could take as long as they liked. The description of the dish on the menu was ‘Sushi and sashimi, assorted sashimi on sushi rice and king prawn in crispy batter. It also states that all bento boxes come with rice, miso soup, mixed salad and sushi roll. This sounded like an overdose of sushi, sashimi and rice, but I figured that it would be a lot lighter and healthier than my recent seafood binges. One out of two. It was healthier but the portions of what arrived were enormous, more like a Bento tea chest than a box. Needless to say, being a Japanese restaurant, most of what came was fish, some of which was in batter, as were the vegetables. So much for a change of diet.

The sushi, raw fish with rice, in this case, salmon and what looked like cod, came with the usual pickled ginger, soy sauce and, lurking in the central cavity of the bento box, wasabi paste. I am pleased to report that the wasabi was of a strength that made it hot but edible. A couple of months ago I had wasabi on a sushi sampling plate in a hotel in Lisbon and it all but blew my head off. Being a man I had to have another taste to convince myself that it was as potent as I first thought. I regained the power of speech about three days later. The flavour of wasabi deteriorates really quickly and if it is not processed within fifteen minutes it all but loses its taste. Sometimes horseradish is dyed green and substituted but this tasted like the real thing to me. There was also a flavoured mayonnaise which was very pleasant. Along with the sushi and assorted sashimi there was a green salad, vegetable tempura and deep fried king prawns coated in very fine vermicelli noodles to give it a crispness. A small bowl of miso soup was also brought. The good thing about the meal was that there is no particular order in which the food should be eaten so I was able to rotate. When presented with raw fish, whether in a restaurant or a shop, the first thing I do is to smell it. If it smells of fish it is not fresh, if it has no smell at all it is perfect. There was no aroma of seafood here whatsoever. The tempura batter was as light as you would expect and the king prawns were huge. Although they come from the same source this was about as far from the fish and chips I had been eating as you could possibly get.

The bill, including my half price beer came to £20.80 but after the 20% discount the amount payable was an extremely reasonable £16.60. The card machine was not working so they were only taking cash. There was a notice to this effect on the bar but please be aware in case it is a long-term problem. The service was exemplary and, if you are not familiar with Japanese food, this is a good place to start as explanations and recommendations were readily forthcoming. It is also a great place to eat even if you are familiar with the cuisine. My friends returned to the Blue Grass State on Sunday so I am now avoiding any marine produce for the foreseeable future. They generously left behind a litre bottle of Special Edition Woodford Reserve Bourbon so I don’t think that it will be too long before any memory of fish and chips will be permanently eradicated from mind.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 25th May, 2016

Little Tokyo

I always start to worry when I go out for lunch and the drink comes to more than the food. In the 1970s it was common practice on Friday to hit the pub and have something to eat and several pints but that tradition seems to have died out. It also seems that Friday afternoon is the busiest time of the working week, especially for techies, as clients need problems sorted out for the weekend. Before all of this electronic malarkey Friday was known as POETS day standing for – in the more polite offices – Push Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. This meant that you could pop back into the office a little the worse for wear knowing that you only had an hour or so to survive. The phones rarely rang as workers from every other office in the city were in exactly the same position.These reminiscences came to mind when I got the bill for my lunch at Little Tokyo. I was far from inebriated but the lunch offer was so cheap that it came to exactly the same amount as my glass of wine. As its name suggests Little Tokyo is a Japanese restaurant in Central Road, situated behind House of Fraser. The premises are divided into two parts, a takeaway counter and a restaurant. It was really dark inside, a condition accentuated by the strong sunlight outside, but once my eyes had become accustomed, I could see that there were conventionally proportioned tables and chairs near the window but at the back of the room was a space behind a screen with traditional low Japanese tables and floor cushions for sitting. There was also a large water feature which is full of carp and has a rather noisy waterfall. Should you have any kind of bladder problem I suggest that you acquaint yourself with the whereabouts of the rest rooms on entering as the ceaseless sound of running water is bound to take its toll.

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I declined the offer of the main menu and opted to order from the lunchtime specials. Although sushi is available on the main menu there was none in sight on this one whose main feature was noodles. I chose the Chicken Ramen with Vegetarian Spring Rolls. Of the eight meals on offer, three are vegetarian. All of the choices were priced at £6.99 and consisted of two items which I would have thought may have been a starter and a main course but they were both delivered together. There were three spring rolls which contained vegetables although the only identifiable one was carrot. The others were variations on finely chopped green leaves, but having said that, they were very tasty. The accompanying sauce was sweet rather than piquant but very tasty nonetheless. The ramen came in an enormous bowl which was packed with chicken and vegetables. This time they were identifiable as water chestnut, pak choi, cabbage and the ubiquitous carrot. Again there was nothing to offend a sensitive palate. The chicken came in quite large pieces as did the vegetables and, as you would expect, the noodles were cooked perfectly. I had a glass of Beaujolais at £6.99 for 175ml to accompany the feast, thus bringing the total bill to £13.98. This was amazing value and a pleasant change from the more conventional lunchtime fare. The two ladies at the next table ordered from the main menu and were presented with two of the biggest plates I have ever seen in a restaurant. As I was leaving I asked them as to whether the food tasted as impressive as it looked and they both confirmed that it did. Perhaps a venue to add to the evening meal list.

On leaving I took solace in the fact that the food and the drink bills were equal, so I have not yet reverted to my habits of the era of flared trousers, wide lapels and kipper ties. On reflection, I think that we must probably have done our clothes shopping on Friday afternoons.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 31st July, 2015