Kadas Lounge

https://kadas.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All photographs by Stan Graham

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Falafel Guys at Assembly Underground

https://www.assemblyunderground.com/falafel-guys

Come hungry, leave happy. There can be few better strap lines than that of Falafel Guys and while it is great to talk the talk, you also have to walk the walk, which is just what they do. 

For once I was not dining alone and both my companion and I found that we could just not quite manage to finish out meals. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a Man v Food challenge just a generous portion of superbly prepared food.

There are two branches of Falafel Guys, one is a street food cart in Briggate near Marks and Spencer and the other in Assembly Underground one block up Gt George Street from the Town Hall. Ever the gentleman I suggested that we meet at the latter, partly as we had business to discuss and also because the subterranean premises are home to Vocation Bar which has fifty beer lines. 

Whilst we sipped our way through our respective brews we perused the menu book which contains the bill of fare for all of the vendors in the place which is a great touch. I had gone with a mission to review the Middle Eastern gaff and, after a short time, my friend decided to have the same as I, the Triple Decker which is billed as comprising Chicken, Falafel and Halloumi. This description is only a fraction of the ingredients which come with the dish. Other components are revealed when you look at the options of having it in a wrap or a bowl when you are informed of the addition of Homemade Hummus, Fresh Salad and Sauce. The hummus comes in three colours reminiscent of a Neapolitan ice cream, brown, pink and natural. They all tasted similar but in the bowl looked spectacular. This was a treat my friend missed as she had hers in a wrap which was a large flatbread. 

The reason we went for the Triple Decker was that it gave us the opportunity to sample the complete range of food on offer in one fell swoop. The secret of success here is to do a limited range of options but do them well. The dishes on the menu are Falafel – obviously – Chicken Shawarma, Halloumi and Hummus which can be purchased singly or in combinations. There was a very spectacular looking Crispy Cauliflower Bowl on a specials sign but, as this review is meant to act as a guide for those eating in Leeds there is no point in writing about something which might not be available next month. 

I ordered the bowl because I like to be able to sample the elements of a dish individually before combining them and a wrap prevents you from doing that, however, when I saw the flatbread being constructed I was beginning to think that I might have made the wrong decision as the distribution of the fillings was done to accentuate the flavours of the main ingredients whilst adding the co-stars throughout.  Common sense soon prevailed as I began to pick at the chicken which was as spicy as you would think and perfectly cooked being charred on the outside but wonderfully succulent. Likewise the falafel which was crisp on the outside and moist in the middle. There is nothing worse than the stuff you get in supermarkets which is dry as a bone and like eating sawdust. It takes a special talent to mess up chickpeas. The halloumi was just on the right side of chewy which didn’t cook out the cheese flavour.

The extras were superb as well. The salad leaves in the bottom of the bowl were fresh as were the other additions with the large, hot pickled pepper cutting through the comforting textures and flavours of all of the other parts.

For eight quid this is a bargain whichever way you choose to eat it and I thoroughly recommend a visit to Assembly Underground to anyone working in, or visiting Leeds. Although there are other street food traders there please be sure that you call at Falafel Guys at least once, I am sure that you won’t regret it. We were both testament to the philosophy today in that we arrived hungry and left exceedingly happy.

Mr Mackerel

In May 2018, I ticked one more item off my bucket list when I visited Istanbul.  To be fair, this is about my third bucket list as I have been fortunate enough to do lots of stuff I never thought possible, so I am now looking for stuff that I didn’t really want to do but it would be nice if they happened.

Going to Istanbul meant that I could experience a culture different from my own, set foot in Asia, a continent I had not previously visited, and sample some amazing food.

As you will probably remember, May 2018 was at the beginning of the tremendous summer we enjoyed, or endured, depending on your point of view, so I was worried that Turkey might be a bit on the hot side.  I needn’t have fretted as I experienced five days of almost non-stop drizzle.  It was warm drizzle I grant you but drizzle nevertheless. Of the many types of food I sampled, one of the most memorable was the hot fish sandwich bought straight from boats moored on the quayside of the Bosphorus. The craft were highly decorated and had hotplates on which the fish, mackerel, were cooked.  They were served in half a baguette with raw onions and lettuce.  When I bought my sarnie and sat at one of the nearby tables, a vendor arrived with a tray full of plastic cups containing a claret-coloured liquid with chunks of what looked like fruit in it.  I thought that it looked pretty refreshing so I bought one, only to discover that it was pickles. The liquid was some sort of vinegar and the ‘fruit’ small pieces of cucumber. I was given a fork with which to extract and eat the veg, which came as a great relief as I didn’t fancy drinking it.  To say that the pickles were strong would be a bit of an understatement and for the rest of the afternoon I looked as though I was playing the trumpet without noticing that someone had stolen it.  The fish sandwich was excellent, although not fully filleted, so a game of spit out the bones ensued.

Fast forward to December 2018 and I am in the street food section of Leeds Kirkgate Market, queueing at the stall of Mr Mackerel which advertises the same delicacy.  They sell lots of other Turkish dishes to eat at either the communal tables or to take away to enjoy al desko.  The service in Istanbul was instant but sadly in Kirkgate Market it was painfully slow.  I must clarify that this was nothing to do with the efforts of the staff on duty, but by some inconsiderate jobsworth of a food inspector who had chosen 1.00pm to bring proceedings to a halt whilst he had a thorough look at all of the equipment, meaning that my wait was over 20 minutes.  Others in the queue who were on fixed lunch breaks peeled off and bought their food at one of the other stalls.  So much for Leeds Council encouraging business! I’m sure that the job could have been done after 2.00 when the place had quietened down. I was eating with a colleague who had gone for a pizza to another stall and so by the time I joined him his lunch was stone cold. What a gentleman for waiting.

Mr Mackerel photographs by Stan Graham.

While the manager was running around complying with the inspector’s wishes, his assistant was doing a sterling job, making up the orders as best he could with the other two seemingly permanently in his way.  He soon had the sympathy of all of us who were present, except for the white coat of course.  Anyway, eventually my sandwich arrived and I was asked if I would like salad on it.  I declined as I wanted to taste the fish unadulterated and didn’t want to complicate the process of deboning it should that prove necessary. He was more than happy to put the salad in a separate container which was a lovely gesture, unlike the ones which some of my fellow queuers were by now flicking to the food inspector.  The cost of this was £3.00; amazing value.  To drink I had a fresh orange juice at £2.00 which was squeezed before my very eyes, so I was sure that it was not some kind of pickle.

The bread in which the mackerel was served was more like a focaccia than the baguette I was expecting and was lovely and soft – very tasty in its own right.  It is not often that you get food at home which is as good as the native version and this was no exception – it was much better.  Not only was the bread sublime but also there were no bones in the mackerel and the salad was a lot more comprehensive than the authentic raw onion and leaves.  I cannot get over the value for money which this gave and I would be only too pleased to recommend the place to anyone.  Should you pay a visit and see someone in a white coat behind the counter I suggest that you make alternative arrangements for lunch, or order so that it is ready for teatime.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 6th January, 2019

Comptoir Libanais

A couple of taboos broken this week. Firstly I normally choose the places to review but it was ‘suggested’ by those fine people at Leeds Living that I try Comptoir Libanais, which apparently means Lebanese canteen, so I googled to see where it was. It was then that the second no-no manifested itself, namely that this is a chain and I try to stick to local independents, still, bloggers can’t be choosers so off I went. There are seventeen of these establishments, mainly darn sarf and in strange locations such as airports, shopping malls and even inside a John Lewis store. Not to be outdone the Leeds branch is in the Everyman Cinema at the Trinity Centre. Luckily you don’t have to buy a ticket for the flicks in order to get your food and it does make a change from popcorn and ice cream. The interior is furnished with multicoloured tables and chairs with Middle Eastern themed food, cooking implements and artefacts displayed for sale on shelves around the walls. There were also several fez hats decorating the odd square inch of wall not selling anything else. It gave the impression that the local branch of the Tommy Cooper Appreciation Society was in session. I picked up the menu and decided on my order ‘just like that’.

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There are no starters as such but several mezze. I decided to give them a miss and go straight to the main event. I chose the Lamb and Prune Tagine which as well as the titular ingredients contains butternut squash, peas and roasted almonds (£10.95). It was served with a choice of couscous or vermicelli rice, I opted for the former as I have some wonderful memories of lamb and couscous which used to be served to my wife and me when we would stay with some French friends in Alsace in the early 1970s. Betty’s father was a general in the French Foreign Legion and she was brought up in North Africa where she became an expert on cooking the local dishes, her speciality being lamb with couscous. It was magical and it would be unfair to compare it to the dish I was served here, so I won’t. The lamb was plentiful and very tender as were the other ingredients. The downside was that the grain was bit lumpy and too dry. To be fair, when the manager came to the table and asked how everything was, he offered to provide more sauce but by this time the main parts of the dish had been eaten so it was a bit late. To drink I had the house red at £4.50 for 175ml. It was called St. Alphonse and was the first Lebanese wine I had sampled. There were hints of liquorice and spices which gave it more than a touch of the taste of sherry. It went really well with the tagine.

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For dessert I picked the Pistachio and Rose Mouhalabia, a Lebanese milk pudding, at £4.45 and a black Americano (£2.45). The rose water in the pudding gave it a taste resembling the smell of really expensive soap, but in a good way – honest. The service was very good, a 10% charge is added to the bill which goes to the staff, and the food was well worth the price. The only observation I have is that the speed of service and the presentation remind you that this is one of several branches offering the identical dish with the issues of portion control which that entails, and that it lacked the soul and individuality which you get at an independent.

Article originally published by Leeds Living on 20th December, 2016