Black Market

I have a set of self-imposed rules which I apply when I decide where to eat for my Let’s Do Lunch series. I drafted this list when I began writing the feature about three and a half years ago in order to be fair to both the restaurant operators and you, my dear reader.  Not to visit anywhere which has not been open for at least six months is a case in point, because it is reasonable to assume that the early days’ experience may differ for readers as the business finds its feet.

It is also not fair to the business as, even with the best preparation in the world, there will be teething troubles. Black Market is a case in point. It has been open for four weeks and I left wishing that my editor hadn’t asked me to visit.  Please don’t get me wrong: I can’t have any regrets about having one of the best lunches it has ever been my pleasure to consume, but I have to mention the inevitable teething troubles, too.

The first glitch was that Black Market doesn’t have its website up and running yet so I could not do my homework before I went. This was not too much of a problem as I often decide where to go on the spur of the moment, but I thought that it might put some people off. My suspicions were confirmed when I left the building and was taking the exterior photograph. A passer-by asked me if I had been there to eat and when I answered in the affirmative he said that he had tried to find out about it online but drew a blank. There is a Facebook page but that is not the same. I told him that it was brilliant and suggested that he give it a try.

The second problem was the menu. The bill of fare from noon until 6.30pm is a choice from ten small plates comprising meat, fish and vegetables. The deal is that you can choose any three for £18. The problem is that if you go for the most expensive three, the total comes to £25.40 so you are saving £7.40 but, should you opt for the cheapest three then it comes to £11.50 which potentially means that you are overpaying by £6.50. In practice this would not happen as when I looked at my bill the items had been charged individually and a discount applied at the end, bringing the cost down to the advertised £18 so I assume that should the total be less, that is what you would pay.  I did draw this to the owners’ attention and it is something that they are looking into. Enough of the negative stuff.  Let’s get down to brass tacks and talk about the good stuff – and it is really good.

All photographs by Stan Graham.

When I arrived my overcoat was taken from me and hung in the cloakroom. Not a big deal you may say but it is surprising how few times this happens and I have to drape it over the back of my seat, where it either falls off or trails on the floor. I was then given a choice of tables, which again was a good touch. I picked the nosy table where I could people-watch if I was struggling with the crossword. A litre carafe of tap water was brought whilst I perused the menu; I had been given the option of tap, bottled still or bottled sparkling. All good.

The items on the menu were varied and seemed to take full advantage of the seasonal availability. It being Halloween, we were in the game season and it was wonderful to see two choices in wood pigeon and guinea fowl. I stuck to meat for the third plate; steak. From the wine list I chose a Rioja (£6.20 for 175ml) which had a lovely liquorice hint, perfect for the meal to come. Before the meat arrived the waitress, whom I found out was one of the partners in the business, appeared with a board laden with home baked bread and home churned butter. There were three variations of each, the cornbread being the star of one half and duck liver butter being the best of the other, just better than the herb butter.

The small plates came out of the kitchen one at a time, about a minute apart, which was fine. First to be delivered was the Tri Tip Fillet with Mushroom Caramel, Horseradish Mousse. The steak was on the rare side of medium and perfectly cooked. It was tender and laid atop the mushroom accompanied by a generous knob of butter. I cannot remember when I have had such an exquisite piece of steak complimented by such flavoursome, but not overpowering, accompaniments. I was in carnivore heaven.

Second to the table was Pan Roasted Guinea Fowl with a Butter Bean Casserole. Once more this was perfectly cooked, with the seasoned skin being on the crispy side and the cassoulet beneath seeing the beans still having a bite to them, neither undercooked nor mushy. Another triumph.  Wild fowl tastes a lot like chicken used to do but with a bit of a stronger edge so can stand the flavour of the tomato sauce quite easily.

Last, but by no means least, came the Pan Fried Wood Pigeon with Fennel and Chilli Black Pudding, Sweet Tamarind Glazed Rhubarb. The wood pigeon was again on the rare side, as it should be, with a strong, earthy, game taste and a hint of liver pierced by the tamarind and rhubarb fruitiness. The home-made black pudding with the aniseed-like taste of fennel and kick of chilli was a masterpiece. I am running out of words to describe just how good this lunch was, so I will shut up and hope that you have the point.

The three dishes, along with the bread, meant that I was fairly full by the time my plates were cleared. I will digress here and say that, in addition to the those laden with food, I was provided with a warm, empty plate to eat from, thus saving me from having them and the glasses arranged around me like Phil Collins’ drum kit. Another good touch. I was toying with the idea of just having a coffee and catching the bus home, but I simply could not tear myself away from the place so I asked to see the dessert menu. I decided on Vanilla Sky (£7.95), advertised as Vanilla Creme Brûlée, Vanilla Syrup, Vanilla Cremeux and Tonka Bean Ice Cream. I don’t know about you but I always expect anything made with tonka beans to arrive in a huge toy truck. OK; it’s just me.

When it arrived it was not quite as advertised in that the creme brûlée had become a vanilla cream filled macaron. Just ask me if I cared. Everything was perfect and surprisingly light, leaving a lovely aftertaste. I finally had my de rigour black Americano at £2.35 whilst I convinced myself that all good things must come to an end and I had better get the bus home before the rush hour began.

As I was paying my bill I had a chat with the partners of the business, Justina and Jon, who like many others I have met recently, are passionate about what they do.  What sets these two apart is that Jon can certainly cook brilliantly and Justina is perfect front of house. All the signs for this new venue tell me that the two will make a great success of Black Market.

An abridged version of this article was first published by Leeds Living on 2nd November, 2018

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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

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

Butler’s

My normal modus operandi is to take a bus into Leeds and let the day take me where it will. This week I was asked to venture out of town to sample the food on offer at Butler’s in the newly opened Number One Kirkstall Forge. The building is an office block with six floors, actually there are seven but that’s another storey! It is a couple of miles outside the City Centre and meant a train ride to the newly opened Kirkstall Forge Station, so I whipped out my Senior Railcard and off I went.
The day turned out to be a nostalgic experience as, in 1976 I joined the civil service and after a year’s training I, along with others on my grade, was ‘invited’ to sit a ‘Computer Aptitude Test’. As (bad) luck would have it I passed and was duly transferred to a large computer installation where I was ensconced in an almost completed office and told to await the delivery of a computer. Luckily I was not alone so the days were spent talking about how great things would be once the monster machine arrived and we were allowed free rein.
We were a very small number in a very large building, with no catering facilities apart from a kettle and toaster. Fortunately, there were several decent hostelries nearby where we could take (very long) lunches. Eventually, a staff restaurant was opened and we were able to dine a lot more healthily, and soberly, which was a good thing as by then the machine had been delivered, installed and signed off, meaning that we had to start reacquainting ourselves with the world of work.
Whilst the decor and facilities of One Kirkstall Forge are far more advanced than the 1970s computer centre, the overall ambience was very similar. Both buildings are just far enough away from the nearest amenities to make it a pain to venture out, especially in bad weather, but both so under occupied that there is a limited menu. Eventually, the computer centre was home to 1,500 employees so that the staff restaurant had a distinct buzz about it – not to mention a bar – and I am sure that in the fullness of time and after the construction of the proposed other office blocks on the adjacent plots, Kirkstall Forge will be the same. The big difference is that Butler’s is open as a stand-alone bar/restaurant, whereas our place was subject to strict security and outsiders were not admitted without the appropriate clearance. I apologise for the long ramble but it would be very unfair of me to review Butler’s as the finished product when it is so obviously a work in progress. As you would expect, the decor is ultra modern and very sophisticated, with a selection of formal dining tables, high breakfast bars and coffee tables surrounded by comfortable armchairs. Staff meetings seemed to be going on all around me with those not speaking to a human being face to face, emailing them via computer. I mentioned earlier that the menu was a little limited but it had a lunch section so I went for that.

Butlers2

The Special of the Day was Black Pudding and Sausage Roll with Salad or Chips for £5.00. It being January and I being a rebel, shunned the healthy detox option and went for the fries. The roll was made in-house and the pastry was spot on, as was the peppery black pudding within. The chips were also cooked to perfection, crisp outside but fluffy within. This came as a bit of a shock as the roll was taken on a plate from the glass heated display unit on the counter to the kitchen and immediately returned with the chips so I assumed that they too had been prepared earlier and kept warm. If that was the case they didn’t taste like it. I accompanied the food with a large black coffee at £2.50. I must say that I was a bit taken aback when I asked for ketchup and was given a sachet for a further 20p. It must be said that the portions were not over-generous so I returned for a piece of carrot cake, £1.80, which was a touch on the dry side but not disastrously so.

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It is very difficult to give a verdict on Butler’s because I am sure that as its catchment area for clientele grows so will its menu. The only non-office personnel I can envisage using it are those waiting for a train at the station next door, and as they are only every hour, that may be a fair number, or should that be fare number.

I wish them well and hope that the staff employed in the area are there a little longer than I was.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 12th January, 2018