The Eat Is Off

This is one of the saddest days of my writing career as it is when I bid a fond goodbye to this website. It’s not a huge wrench as I haven’t posted a review since February, but it is a symbolic occasion as these incognito food reviews are how my late-blossoming vocation started.

It was in Spring 2015 that my great friend Paul Sweeting said that one of his associates, Paul Simon, had started an on-line magazine and would like to know if I was interested in contributing to it. I asked how much it paid and he said nothing. He didn’t say nothing in that he stayed silent, he said that it paid nothing. I thought about this proposition for a while and after two seconds I declined the offer. I was then told that he wanted me to write about food and drink and, whilst there was no fee involved, I could choose where I reviewed and I would be reimbursed the amount of the bill. After a further two-second pause I said I would give it a go and see how it went.

I decided to write lunch reviews and keep my identity a secret so that I would be treated like any other punter when I called, hence the baby photograph on my business card, website headings and social media. Even after seven years you will see very few photographs of me on-line although there are are one or two on my other website I must be one of the very few who never show their face on Facebook or twitter. You can thank me later.

Tile Hall 2015. iPhone cameras were not that great back then.

I called my series of articles Let’s Do Lunch and on 13th May, 2015 I queued up with my tray at the counter of the fabulous Tile Hall in Leeds Central Library to partake of my first feed. The review was published on and off I went. I had decided that I wouldn’t spend a huge amount each week as the series was aimed at office workers and visitors to our great city who were either just grabbing a bite to eat in their lunch break or wanted something sensible to see them through to dinner when they would go for a treat. I must admit to blowing the budget on a couple of occasions, which somehow seemed to coincide with my birthday, but I never took the proverbial.

I stayed with Leeds Living until Autumn 2019 when I set up this site and I must say that, until a few months ago, I enjoyed every minute of it.

There are several reasons I have decided to put my knife and fork next to each other on the plate and ask for the bill. The main one is that the site was meant to be a reference resource, where else would you get a hundred reviews all done by the same person so as to give consistency. Since lockdown, however, the whole food scene in Leeds has changed so as to make it irrelevant.

There is also the constant battle with my waistline, the fact that I am on a fixed income and my slush fund having contracted sufficiently to make me think twice about spending twenty quid or more to write an article. I don’t blame the restaurants for this, they now have to start repaying the loans from the pandemic and catching up with rent which had been suspended during lockdown. The prices of ingredients and fuel have also gone through the roof so, like a lot of the general public whose living costs have also increased, I have had to trim my sails, otherwise I would be out there supporting them.

I have every intention of keeping my other site going so you don’t get rid of me that easily, in fact, now that I don’t have to lurk in the shadows any more, you might just see a raised profile on social media. I think I’ll keep the baby photo though.

I will leave the site as its is until the hosting fee becomes due again so you can have a final look.

Obviously, without you, dear reader, it would have been pointless in my carrying on for all these years so please be aware that you will forever hold a special place in my heart. Mange toutes.

I would just like to end as I began, by mentioning Paul Sweeting and Paul Simon, two great blokes who have improved my lifestyle beyond my wildest dreams. I can never thank you enough gentlemen.

Images by Stan Graham.


Bar Soba

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