The Lost and Found

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

lost2.png

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

lost3.png

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

lost4.png

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

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

Advertisement

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’.

comptoir2.png

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.

comptoir3.png

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

Archie’s Bar

“Stanley Graham, you are charged with breaking three of your self-imposed laws; namely, that you did dine in a public house as opposed to a pure eating establishment, that said public house is one of a chain and that, although said public house was a purveyor of real ale, you ordered a glass of wine. How do you plead?”
“Guilty, Your Honour.”
“Do you have anything to say in mitigation?”
“Your Honour, I went to Granary Wharf with a view to reviewing another establishment but it was full and so I had to look for an alternative. The weather was less than clement and so I chose to remain in the area. I selected Archie’s as, although it is a public house and owned by Ossett Brewery who have other premises in Granary Wharf, The Hop is their main drinking establishment whilst Archie’s is more food orientated.”
“And what is your opinion of the venue?”
“My initial reaction was very positive. I was shown to my table by a charming young lady who immediately presented me with a complimentary large carafe of chilled tap water and a menu. There was a notice on the wall advertising an “Express Lunch” from which I ordered the bbq pulled pork and slaw sandwich. I was informed that chips were included and was given a choice of several variations. One was Roman Chips which were enhanced with parmesan, truffle and rosemary. As these appeared to enhance the sandwich fillings they are the ones for which I opted.”

Archies2

“I understand that this is when the ordering of the wine occurred. Is that correct?”
“Yes, Your Honour.”
“What is the reason for this abomination when a selection of real ales was on offer?”
“As I had ordered bbq pulled pork with chips I surmised that there would be residue of grease on my lips which, as your forensic experts will confirm, takes the head off a pint of ale quicker than Madame Guillotine. As it happens, the chips were remarkably grease-free so I need not have worried about my first option of a pint of Excelsior.”
“You may continue with the defence.”
“Thank you, Your Honour. The wine was a Merlot which was £5.40 for a 250ml glass, and of excellent quality. My only criticism of the lunch was that the pork could have been hotter as it was no more than warm. The chips were superb, the added flavours a real bonus. Speaking of bonuses, had I ordered from the main menu, the sandwich would have cost £6.00 and the chips £3.50, but by taking advantage of the Express Lunch, the cost for the two items was £6.50; a bargain I would submit. I declined dessert and ended with a black Americano at £2.80. I now throw myself on the mercy of the court.”
“Having listened to the evidence and, taking into account that this is your first offence, I am minded to let you off with a caution. I must, however, remind you that although you set your own rules, that is no excuse for breaking them. Where would we be if politicians who make the laws of the land, decided that they could break them willy nilly?”
“Thank you Your Honour. I promise to be as scrupulous in my future conduct as the people aforementioned.”

Article first published by Leeds Living on 30th September, 2019

The Botanist

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

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

botanist2.png

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

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

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

The Alchemist

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

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

alchemist2.png

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

alchemist3.png

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

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

The New Conservatory

According to the online dictionary which I use, the definition of the word ‘conservatory’ is ‘a room with glass roof and walls, attached to a house at one side and used as a sun lounge or for growing delicate plants.’ There is a North American definition which is ‘an alternative word for conservatoire, an institution for teaching music.’ Why then, I wondered, was I descending a flight of steps into the cellar of a Victorian building in the heart of Leeds.

The answer was simple – for lunch of course. I had been attracted by a notice saying that there was a special menu from noon to 7 p.m. at a reasonable £10.95 for two courses and £13.95 for three. When I reached the basement I entered a large, dark room divided into a bar area and a dining room. There was a pool table discreetly tucked away at the opposite side from the eating area but no sign of either a glass sun trap or collection of delicate plants. There was the usual piped music but an absence of teaching staff. Perhaps it was half term. There were lots of books on shelves round the walls, which was a nice touch. I always have my iPad so that I can do the Telegraph crossword whilst dining alone but some other sole diners need a diversion to be provided. The good thing about the books is that they are all second hand and for sale at £1.50 each. The proceeds go into buying further tomes from the local charity shop. Win/win.

I was shown to my table, handed both the special and main menus and informed that the soup of the day was carrot and the pie, steak and mushroom. The menu had a good selection with a choice of six starters, five mains and four desserts. Although the options were cosmopolitain I went old school and ordered homemade chicken liver pate with home baked bread and chutney for starters and the aforementioned homemade steak and mushroom pie with thick cut chips and homemade gravy for main. I decided not to commit to dessert until I had finished the first two courses. It would depend on their quantity and quality. The pate was superb, soft with the consistency of thick double cream or Greek yogurt with the offal flavour making itself known above the other ingredients. The chutney was also excellent, having a fruity tang to complement the creaminess of the pate. The warm bread was light as a feather, a perfectly judged starter garnished with a piece of tomato and two dressed green leaves, one of which was chicory, something I have not seen in a restaurant for a long time. They must have known I was going old school.

Pie time. The main feature arrived without so much as a nod to one’s five-a-day. It was just as described on the menu; nothing more and nothing less. When gravy is served separately to a pie I always wonder why. My question was answered as soon as my knife broke the crust: the ramekin in which it came was absolutely solid with filling so there was simply not the room for much gravy, just enough to keep the meat within moist. It had worked admirably: the steak was succulent, being cooked but still with a hint of chewiness as it needed to be as, had it been cooked until falling apart, the mushrooms, being mini sponges, would have been more mush than room. As it was they also still had some texture. The shortcrust pastry was perfect, with a buttery taste and just the right amount of resistance to the knife. If I had to find something to whinge about it would be the chips. I have nothing against chips per se and these, as you would expect, were cooked just right, but thick cut are not my favourite as to my mind they are too big to be called chips.  They never crisp up on the outside properly, and are not as tasty as roast potatoes. That is just my opinion and I knew what I was getting when I ordered.

The lunch was lubricated by a glass of Shiraz, £6.10 for 250ml. They do a smaller size glass which is good but I wasn’t driving so what the heck. It was very good, another reason for going large.

I decided to go for the dessert as I needed to see if they measured up to the high standard of the meal so far. I had a feeling that they would as each of them was accompanied by Northern Bloc ice cream.  If you are going to buy a product rather than make it yourself, then buy the best and if the best is also locally produced then that is great. Ironically one of the choices on the dessert menu was ‘Old School Dessert’ which turned out to be fruit crumble, but I forsook this in favour of chocolate brownie with Northern Bloc vanilla and bourbon ice cream. Every part of the dish was excellent. A black Americano at £2.50 finished the experience, one which I would recommend you try.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 3rd July, 2016

Turtle Bay

There can be no finer way to spend a summer lunchtime than having a couple of glasses of wine and a salad whilst gazing out over the deep blue/green of the Caribbean Sea, the sun glinting off the waves and the small boats bobbing up and down; the locals in their bright summer clothes passing by at a gentle pace in no particular hurry to get anywhere.

A close second must come the wine, salad and looking across Leeds’ Albion Street to the brown/grey concrete of the Halifax Bank, the heat haze shimmering above the tarmac and the taxis, buses and cars carving one another up in a bid to beat the green light on the Headrow – and the citizens of that wonderful conurbation in a rush to get back to work or catch a bus besporting their pasty white torsos in a weird variety of shorts, tops or overalls with hi-viz vests. Ah! the romance of it all. Turning away from the window the ambience of the West Indies was a little more in evidence with a central island bar and beach hut decor. I say West Indian but, according to Google maps the only Turtle Bay listed is in Hawaii, which is about as far away from the Caribbean as Albion Street is. Nit picking done, let’s eat. I try not to review chains but there are not too many of this franchise so I am willing to stretch a point. The first thing to mention is the service, which was exemplary, so much so that my waitress, Laura Costello according to the bill, even went so far as to laugh at my jokes, definitely above and beyond the call of duty. She showed me to my table, after having given me a choice, and gave me the menu. She informed me that wine was on offer at two for the price of one and so I may wish to peruse the drink menu first and she would bring the booze straight away to enjoy whilst reading the food menu. I love this place already. The wine selection is limited and labelled ‘Good’, ‘Better’ and ‘Best’ with three or four choices in each. From the ‘Better’ section I ordered the Primitivo at £5.60 for 175ml., or should I say 350ml. What a bargain. Not only was it cheap but also very palatable and just light enough to accompany the salad I was about to order. The one problem is that both glasses arrived simultaneously so everyone looking in the restaurant window thinks that I have a drink problem, which I do: I only have one mouth.

turtle2.png

The usual dilemma presented itself in that there was a lunch section, and given my strap line, I could hardly order from anywhere else even though I would have loved a goat curry and dumplings. It was possibly a sign as I am going to Italy next week and need to bank a few saved calories before I hit the gnocchi and polenta. It was also such a lovely day that a salad was probably the better choice. It was billed on the menu as ‘Chicken Festival Salad’ and described as ‘Grilled jerk chicken, dressed rocket, baby gem, sugar snaps, avocado, mango, onion, citrus dressing.’ The price was £9.50. It arrived well presented with the seared jerk chicken atop of the fruit and vegetable components which were all of liberal amounts. The sugar snaps had been cut at an angle like runner beans, rather than left whole which was a nice touch, as was a few shavings of fresh coconut to garnish. The chicken was not as spicy as I was expecting but something lurking in the dressing had a bit of a kick to it. The rest of the dressing had a citrus tang which gave the whole dish a very refreshing taste.

Being a man of iron will, and one who had just consumed half a bottle of Italian red, I asked the waitress for the dessert menu. When she brought it, the ever helpful Laura asked me if I would like her to recommend the dessert which was her mother’s favourite. I replied that it may be more a propos to let me know which one her grandmother would order. This triggered fits of laughter which seemed genuine so I did what I always do when I get a laugh from a young lady and surreptitiously checked my fly. I never did get an answer so I went for the Caymanas Rum Cake with rum caramel and vanilla ice cream at £4.85 and a black Americano (£1.70). The rum cake was not as rich as it sounded and was lovely and light, and the caramel sauce and ice cream complimented each other perfectly, warm and rich and cold and refreshing, in that order! My only quibble about the whole meal was the coffee which was very much on the weak side. Other than that the whole lunch was wonderful. I may even come back for that goat curry and dumplings once I have shed the Venetian calories.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 9th June, 2016

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

Revolucion De Cuba

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

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

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

Bill’s

It is not often that I have the opportunity to dine in a building with a ‘Blue Plaque’ outside. To be fair it is a Leeds City Trust plaque but a plaque it is. Its purpose is to point out that the impressive house in which the restaurant is situated was built for a William Hey in 1794-5 by the architect Thomas Johnson. William Hey was ‘one of the founders and later Chief Surgeon, of Leeds General Infirmary.’ The restaurant in question is called Bill’s. Initially I was under the impression that it was named in honour of the aforementioned medic but it turns out that this is not the case . It is is just as well really as because of the status of the medical profession in the 18th century I am sure that, had he still been practising, he would have given the owner a voucher for a free castration to be done late in the day when the operating staff would have been high on ether and the scalpel blunt from a hard day’s hacking. What to expect from a restaurant located in a doctor’s house? Perhaps hospital food. I have mixed feelings about such fare, having been fed dry cream crackers, which seemed like razor blades, after I had my tonsils removed in 1954. I was also given ice cream, which helped a bit. My other recollection was not so much about the food as the drink. In 1969 I had a cartilage removed from my knee which, in those days, meant ten days in hospital and two weeks on crutches with a full-leg pot. Whilst enduring the first part of that there was a trolley service which provided the normal meals, but before lights out they would bring it round and you were offered a choice of tea, coffee, Horlicks or Guinness. As this was a men’s surgical ward and no one was ill as such, there was a lot more of the first three items returned to the kitchen than the last one. Medical science may have come on in leaps and bounds during the years since then but you can’t get hammered on the NHS anymore.

I visited these premises as I spotted a special lunch menu, and given the title of my reviews it seemed to make sense to check it out. There was a choice of two courses for £10.95 or three for £12.95, and a choice of four items per course. There are vegetarian and gluten free choices on each course as well, which is good. I began with the terrine of ham hock and peas which was served with Bill’s chutney and three thin slices of sourdough toast. The size of the terrine was roughly equal to one of the slices of toast which, being sourdough, shattered when I bit into a slice. The terrine was very good, made from chunks of ham hock and a liberal smattering of peas. Bill’s chutney was a sweet concoction, the main ingredient of which was small rings of onion. It was a safe accompaniment but if it works, and it did, there is nothing wrong with safe. As the weather had turned somewhat chilly outside I spurned the salad dishes in favour of Cumberland sausage, puy lentil and parsley stew with red pepper tapenade and horseradish dressing. My editor, Mags, is quite rightly very keen on correct punctuation, and this was a perfect illustration as to why it is important because the dish was not a stew of the three main ingredients but a grilled or fried Cumberland sausage on a bed of lentil and parsley stew. Drop ’em a letter Mags!

bills1.png

The sausage was a little thin for Cumberland and, although spicy, there seemed to be a disproportionately large amount of skin to chew. My other quibble is that the stew was overpowered by celery, which doesn’t get a mention on the menu. I love lentils as they are great at taking the taste of whatever they are cooked with but in this case that particular characteristic was its downfall as there was no variety of taste. Luckily the tapenade and horseradish were on hand to break up the monotony. I had a glass of a very pleasant house red, a tempranillo garnacha, to accompany the dish. (£4.35 for what looked like 125ml although the size was not specified on the menu nor the bill – no pun intended.) Because I am a professional, I went for the three course option and chose the treacle tart with lemon creme fraiche. This was the surprise package of the lunch. I had expected a French style of tart with a sweet crust filled with a shallow portion of the treacle mix but what came was an oblong shade thin pastry base with a really thick treacle flavoured topping crowned with a quenelle of lemon flavoured creme fraiche and sprig of mint. It was served warm and was excellent. The lemon cut through the sweetness of the treacle and had the topping been cream rather than creme fraiche it would have been too sweet and heavy but this worked a treat. I ended with my usual black Americano coffee at £2.10 which was full bodied but not bitter. A ‘discretionary optional 10% service charge’ is added to the final total but as my waitress, Ella, had done a very good job I saw no reason to ask for it to be removed. I enjoyed my lunch at Bill’s very much but the trolley with the free Guinness never materialised.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 1st April, 2016