Burgamoré

https://www.burgamore.co.uk/

In the horseshoe shaped section of Trinity Centre by the Everyman cinema is Burgamoré an Italian Street Food restaurant, and a first venture into the business by the Leeds company. Still basking in the glory of being asked to be a judge in the Northern Heat of the 2021 British Street Food Awards, I thought it appropriate that I give it the once over.

From the outside it could be part of a national, or even multi-national, chain much like its neighbours, than the stand-alone independent restaurant it actually is. I thought that it would be interesting to see how serving food in a permanent static venue would differ from doing so out of the back of a van at a food festival or other outdoor event. We all know how much better fish and chips taste when eaten out of the paper whilst walking along the seafront at Scarborough than being served on a bone china plate in a posh gaff, would the same be true here.

The interior designer has decided to go for the full blown restaurant vibe rather than opt shabby chic to make the feeling more basic. The tiles on the walls and exposed extractor ducts scream Industrial but the floor tiles are more opulent but offset by the adjoining bare varnished floorboards. The tables are uniform wood as are the dining chairs although the latter are painted in different colours and mismatched. This is contradicted by a deep buttoned bench seat along one wall. Very odd but it works. There are also tables outside if you enjoy watching the world go by or instilling food envy into those who have opted for the corporate, accountant-controlled menus of the competition.

Anyway, I am not here to look at the fixtures and fittings but to taste the grub, which, should it be between 11.30am and 5.00pm Monday to Friday, is on offer at 2 courses for £13.95 or 3 courses for £16.95. I opted for the former made up of a main course and a dessert. The bulk of the menu comprises various riffs on Italian classics, pizza, pasta, risotto and salads, along with a selection of burgers – obviously.

My choice was the USP of the restaurant, which sounds more like an episode of Friends than a meal, The One In The Black Bun. It is a classic burger in a black brioche bun with Nduja sausage, salami, Buffalo Mozzarella, rocket, tomato salsa and spicy mayonnaise. I did have to smile whilst making my choice as it seems that the Italian theme has embraced Yorkshire culture in that their Fish Burger is Goujons of battered cod on a bed of minted mushy peas, baby gem, watercress and chunky tartar sauce, although I would have thought that haddock would have been more authentic.

As always, my first job was to slake my thirst and the beverage of choice was an Italian brew which was new to me, Menabrea, at £5.45, which I must say was excellent.

Before long the star of the show appeared in all its splendour. I had cranked the bill up by £1.50 (rather than the usual £2.95) by adding a portion of fries to the dish, just in case the burger proved to be of a less than filling size. Sod’s law prevailed and it turned out to be more than adequate in its own right but, hey, any excuse for some fries.

The bun gets its colour from charcoal which is added to the dough making it look as though it has been burned in the toaster, when you think about it, burning the bun would have the same effect except that it would have ruined the taste. Charcoal powder has no flavour, odour or aftertaste and so its only purpose is to colour the food, which it does spectacularly well. OK, so it is a gimmick but nowadays you have to separate your offerings from everyone else’s and this is as good a way as any to do that. I did find, however, that it seemed to make the bun a little lighter tasting than a normal brioche. Another bonus is that charcoal, unlike the squid ink in black pasta, doesn’t make your mouth look like the the entrance to a coal mine.

The combination of flavours in the filling was very well balanced. The thick meat patty given a spicy kick by the nduja, salami and mayo with the salad ingredients and salsa adding a fresheness to the whole thing so that it didn’t become cloying.

The fries were done just right, thin and crispy but not so much so that they shattered when you tried to stick your fork into them.

There were no less than fourteen desserts on the menu although a couple were off when I called but a dozen isn’t bad. Still, it’s quality rather than quantity we are interested in and the Amaretto Cake was sublime. It was a large oblong of two layers of sponge soaked with Amaretto liqueur and filled with cream. The sides were decorated with crushed macaroons and the whole shebang topped with rosettes of Chantilly cream and more macaroons, this time whole. It was artistically placed upon a plate decorated with chocolate sauce and powder, this time not charcoal, and was worth the intake of every single calorie.

It was a tad lighter than it looked but you still knew that you had had a dessert. My black Americano at £2.55 was a good complimentary accompaniment.

What I liked about Burgamoré was that they have gone wholeheartedly into the restaurant business and not tried to turn a street food cart into a static premises. The number and variety of dishes on offer could not have been served from a trailer so they are now catering – literally – to a different market. I wish them well as it is good to see a local independent establishment competing cheek by jowl with the big boys. I wish them every success, they deserve it.

Finally, I was pleased to see that the well deserved 10% Service Charge added to the bill was mentioned on the menu, so it wasn’t slipped in sneakily at the end, as seems to be the practice with an increasing number of food outlets nowadays. Well done for being upfront and honest.

Opening hours are Sunday-Thursday 11.30am to 8.00pm and Friday and Saturday 11.30am until 10.00pm.

All photographs by Stan Graham

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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.

Kerala

https://kerala-restaurant.com

I had had Kerala on my ‘to do’ list for some time but life, and a pandemic, kept getting in the way. I also had a long-pending lunch date to arrange with a pescatarian friend and, as there were a large number of suitable options on the menu, I thought it would fit the bill admirably. As it turned out the bill was not my problem.

On arrival we were greeted by one of the most pleasant waiters I have ever had the pleasure to have met. We had a lot of catching up to do and so ordering was not a top priority so we just asked for drinks and proceeded to have a good chelp. The order was a large bottle of Cobra Beer and a Coke. Guess which one of us had what. We were put under no pressure whatsoever to get on with it, although I accept that the place was all but empty.

Speaking of the place, it had a traditional Indian feel, the region of Kerala is in the south of the country, and exuded a homely feel, especially after an Asian family arrived with their little girl who took a shine to my female companion.

Eventually we got round to looking at the menu, which came as a bit of a surprise to me as I had perused it on-line and the section relating to Lunch Specials had disappeared. I double checked with the waiter who confirmed that, like other restaurants post-Covid, the menu had been somewhat condensed. No matter, the prices were very reasonable and it was the company which counted.

Pipes

We decided to get some Poppadoms and a Pickle Tray to help the drinks go down. An entry next to those nibbles intrigued us so we had to order a portion of Pipes. These turned out to be tubes of the same texture as Prawn Crackers but without the fishy aftertaste and in an array of colours. They turned out to be fairly subtly flavoured but very moreish, especially when dipped in the sauces of the pickle tray.

Paneer Masala

My friend ordered Paneer Masala which was cubes of Indian cheese in a thick curry sauce. She said that it was a touch sweeter than she imagined but delicious anyway, especially as she had opted for the accompaniment of Lemon Rice to give a little sharpness and providing a portion large enough to demand the services of a doggy bag at the end.

I ordered a Lamb Thali, and this is where my education on the consumption of Indian food was enhanced. There was no further description of the dish on the menu but I have had Thali before, although, it must be said, mainly in a street food setting rather than a ‘proper’ restaurant, where it has been served on a tray with compartments containing rice, bread, and a selection of curries. Here, I got the whole shebang of three courses plus nibbles. It also came on a large circular tray containing separate stainless steel dishes in which was the food.

Lamb Thali

Atop the selection was a huge Dosa, which is a pancake made from lentils and rice, and rolled up like a carpet, had it been unfurled it would have covered half the table! Beneath this behemoth were another Poppadom with a couple of dips and pickles, a Samosa, Raita, two curries and a dessert of Gulab Jamun.

I set about tackling this in the same way that I would have done with the street food variety, i.e. by transferring some of the curry into the rice but, in this instance trying not to let any of it fall into the sweet. Noticing my somewhat unorthodox technique the waiter approached and suggested I try eating it in the way that a southern Indian would, that is by removing all of the dishes from the tray and then utilising it in the same way as one would a plate, tipping out the rice and curry etc. Suddenly everything made sense, or at least as much sense as anything can make with a pint of Cobra inside me.

Thali sans Dosa

I have to salute the waiter once again for the way in which he imparted this information to me, I know places where they would have gone into the kitchen to tell the staff that they had a novice in and to have a good laugh before putting me right. Well, that’s what I would have done when I used to work in a restaurant.

I must say that the food was excellent on all counts and tasted even better knowing that I would not be contaminating one course with another. It is a tragedy that there were so few people there on a Friday lunchtime, the place deserved to be bursting at the seems.

You will have noticed that I have not put any prices against the dishes but this was because the lunch was generously paid for by my friend and I am too much of a gentleman to argue with a lady. This means that I did not get the bill to refer to and, as the menu has changed from the on-line version, I don’t want to give you any duff gen. As a guide, the virtual menu shows the Paneer Masala as £8.99 with Lemon Rice an extra £3.99. The Lamb Thali is shown as being £15.99 which would suffice as a lunch even with no extra trimmings.

Whether or not you decide to visit Kerala at least you now know how properly to tackle a Thali, although I suspect that most of you already did and were rolling your eyes when reading that paragraph.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Almost Famous

https://www.almostfamousburgers.com/

It is the normal way of things that when stuff doesn’t work out the way you planned, it is a disappointment but my experience at Almost Famous in Great George Street was quite the reverse.

During the various lockdowns I had managed to shed about a stone in weight and now that we are moving towards a new normal I am not exactly anxious to pile it back on again. Looking down the various eateries on line I had covered most of the foods listed – how many more noodle houses can Leeds take – but I realised that I hadn’t been out for chicken or a burger for ages so that was my short list. Whilst on my weight loss regime I had more than my fair share of chicken at home so I thought burger it!

Obviously lots of burger places are chains and the one I looked at has four branches, two in Manchester, one in Liverpool and this Yorkshire outpost, but it seemed to be an independent so that was fine by me. The only problem was that the photograph on their website made it look as though their concoctions were constructed especially for an edition of Man v Food. With the price of the cheapest version on offer at £9.50 that did nothing to allay my fears. My need was something a little more conventional but I thought that I would take a chance anyway.

The premises are a large, sparsely furnished room stripped back to brick with another huge room at the back. As it was about 2.30 when I called and there were very few other customers, the chasm seemed even greater.

There is a bar to your left with the dining area to the right of the entrance. I was told to sit anywhere so I picked a seat near the window. The choice was more for the light than the view as they are too high to see out of from a seated position.

Having perused the menu before leaving home I had decided on the Phoenix at £10.50, but first a pint of Corona, £5.50. As I was expecting a burger of gigantic proportions, and there was no-one eating in the vicinity from whom I could get an idea, I didn’t augment the order with fries although there were several types to choose from.

The constituent parts of the Phoenix were listed as double cheeseburger, bacon, shoestring onions, frazzles, red chillies, redneck BBQ, bacon bacon mayo (sic) and bacon ketchup. That seemed to cover all the bases.

My Corona was swiftly delivered with the food following shortly after. As you can see from the photograph, there was a long enough interval for me to have taken a couple of gulps before I remembered I need to take a photograph. As you can also see from the photograph, the size of the burger was nothing like as large as I was expecting and my first thought was that it didn’t seem like something I would normally pay north of a tenner for.

The empty side of the tray seemed to be pleading for some fries but it was a bit late by then. Anyway, the proof etc etc… As it turned out, the eating was a revelation with a mass of flavours vying for my attention. The beef was extremely succulent and the bacon smoky. It wasn’t until I got nearer the centre that the chillies kicked in which added another dimension. They were not overly hot, just piquant enough to let you know they were there and wanting to be acknowledged. I am not usually a lover of BBQ sauce but this was as good as I have had.

If I have one criticism of the meal it is that instead of there being two thinnish patties I would have preferred one thick one so that it could have been a bit rarer in the middle. Otherwise it was fine. Although not the tower of food I had anticipated, it still needed eating with a knife and fork as not even a gob like mine was big enough to get round it. The less than picture perfect image below will illustrate the ingredients better than the above shot.

As delicious as the dish was, I still think that £16 for a pint and a burger – pushing a score with basic fries – is a bit steep but that is the way of things at the moment. I fear that because any rent, business rate and tax holidays granted during lockdown have now to be repaid this kind of price point will be part of the aforementioned new normality.

There are no desserts on the menu but that might not be a bad thing because I did find that my appetite had been sated and so it would have just meant extra unneeded calories. Unneeded calories? That is like leftover wine, a fantasy.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Tapped

Home

Tapped is a word I associate with pubs inside City Station rather than outside, although I haven’t been asked for spare change even there since the terminus’ refurbishment. The Tapped I am concerned with today is the pub/microbrewery/pizza house on Boar Lane just off City Square where I recently whiled away a very pleasant hour or so having lunch.

Although the inside is fairly basic, being a large room with not much in the way of frippery, the welcome from the bar staff was warm and jovial, and the service top notch. As the social distancing rules had been relaxed I ordered from the bar as I wanted advice as to which beer was not too potent but still flavoursome enough to handle the pizza I had seen on the website menu before setting off. It was a delicious old-style bitter at 3.8% but, due to the constantly rotating ales it is no longer on offer so I am afraid that you will have to furnish your own libation specification, which I am sure that you would have done anyway.

There is an extensive range of drinks on tap, who’d have thought it, including various casks and kegs covering porter, IPA, weissbier, fruit beer, cider, perry, lager and pilsner. You don’t have to be a brew drinker to enjoy the place as there are plenty of wines, spirits and soft drinks with coffee also available.

Once I had ordered I took my seat where I was provided with a packet of bread sticks to ward off any hunger pangs before the main event arrived.

The pizza I chose was the Tre Carne (Three Meats) comprising Cotto Ham, Pepperoni and N’Duja Sausage on Mozzarella. All pizzas are available in 12″ and 18″ versions, mine being the former, costing £11.00. Having delighted the large devil on my left shoulder I ordered a salad to appease the small angel on my right one. It contained Wild Rocket, Parmesan, Cherry Tomatoes with an Olive Oil and Balsamic Glaze, and a bargain at £3.50.

When the food arrived I was surprised by the size of the salad which could have sufficed as a light lunch in itself and was utterly delicious. I was also impressed by the provision of a side plate to give the choice of eating the pizza from the full round or separating the segments to eat individually or with a bit of the salad.

When it comes to pizza I am not a lover of a thick base, preferring the thin and crispier Roman variety, this was just a tad more substantial than that, but nevertheless was lighter than I expected and not in the least bit stodgy. I now have two favourites.

The combination of flavours in both the salad and the main were perfect. The salad having the freshness of the vegetables – alright, I know that tomatoes are fruit – contrasting with the sweetness of the glaze and the tang of the cheese. Similarly with the pizza, the spiciness of the pepperoni and n’duja tempered by the ham and mozzarella.

There are no desserts shown on the menu but there is far more than enough in the main courses and sides to satisfy all but the most rapacious of appetites.

So, should you fancy a pint and a pizza for lunch then this is the place as both are excellent and, although sounding a bit basic, the choices cater for all tastes. I can report that there was never a hint that anyone would ask me if I could spare some money, except when it came to the bill of course.

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

Laynes

https://www.laynesespresso.co.uk/

I am pretty open minded when it comes to food, but try as I might, I cannot come to terms with the concept of midweek brunch. I associate the word with a long, lazy late weekend breakfast and the items on a typical menu do nothing to contradict this view. I have been wanting to review Laynes for years but they have never seemed to cater for people who have had breakfast at the conventional time and so want something a bit more suitable for 1.00pm on a rainy working day in February, when spending a couple of hours reading the papers over granola just doesn’t cut it.

It appears that I am in a minority of one when it comes to this train of thought because Laynes is one of the busiest eateries in Leeds. I made it even busier the other day when I saw on their website that they have started offering a dedicated lunch menu, an offering I couldn’t refuse.

I really wanted to enjoy my lunch at Laynes as the owner is a partner in that amazing pasta restaurant Sarto, one of my favourite spots in Leeds. This made the odds of my being disappointed about 20/1 on. Fortunately that was yet another bet on a hot favourite which let me down, as the meal I had was brilliant.

There were only three choices on the Lunch Special section of the menu but that didn’t matter because I only wanted one – don’t panic you brunch lovers, the breakfast style food range was far more comprehensive. The opening hours of 7.30am until 3.00pm would explain that. I did note that items on the menu are labelled Food, Sides, Sweet and Bakery, the headings Brunch and Breakfast being nowhere to be seen.

I settled on the Hot Smoked Salmon Fishcake with Pickled Cucumber, Creme Fraiche, Poached Egg and Lemon Dressing for £8. I had a Long Black Coffee at £2.90 to accompany the dish. The coffee arrived first and was superb. Not only do I take my coffee black but I don’t have sugar either so the only taste I get is of the brew. This was strong and on the bitter side, just as I like it. It wasn’t a face-pulling bitter but just enough to give it character and compliment the food in the same way as a decent glass of dry wine would, had they sold it.

The term ‘hot smoked salmon fishcake’ is a bit ambiguous, did it mean that the fishcake was served hot or that the salmon had been hot, rather than cold smoked. As it turned out both terms applied. The fishcake had been freshly cooked and the salmon within had a wonderfully flaky texture from being hot smoked, rather than the more silky cold smoked feel, which is great in sandwiches with cream cheese but probably not in a fishcake, especially one as wholesome as this. The potatoes which joined the salmon in the cake were cooked and left in small chunks. So many fishcakes are basically croquettes where the contents have been mashed together giving every bite the same flavour and texture. This was several cuts above those. The poached egg was perfectly cooked with the white solid and the yolk runny. The comforting combination of fish, potato and egg yolk is a classic and is one of my favourites. To offset the richness of the main components there was dressed cress, creme fraiche, dill and the most amazing pickled onion and cucumber. The accompanying wedge of lemon was left unsqueezed as I was afraid the pungency might overwhelm the main flavours and it would have been criminal to do that.

There is a Sweet section of the menu but, when I saw that the Bakery items were from Baltzersen’s in Harrogate, I had to go for one of those. I chose the Spandaur at £3.75, which is a Danish pastry with a topping of egg custard and jam which, along with the drizzle of icing made it a total treat. So much for eschewing brunch items. I just had to order a second coffee to go with it. Ignoring the teaspoon provided I used my hands to eat the confection which was every bit as good as I had hoped. It was so good that I considered ordering another one to take home but it seemed full of calories as well as taste and I didn’t want to develop Spandaur Belly – True. I also wouldn’t have been able to get a joke out of ice cream.

I must also mention the staff on both sides of the counter who were absolutely terrific. They were friendly and efficient making my visit even more memorable. Thank you.

Unlike a lot of things in life, this was an experience all the better for the long wait and I would urge you to be a bit more decisive than I and get along as soon as you can. If you can’t manage a working day lunch, might I suggest a late two-hour weekend breakfast with the newspapers. I am sure that there must be a name for that.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Graveley’s in The Core

The other day I decided to review the entries on this site to see what was left after the devastation caused by Covid. I deleted the ones where it was obvious from the websites that the businesses had ceased to be, but with others I needed to have a stroll round Leeds to verify their status. Some have closed, others no longer open at lunchtime and more are still in limbo. The bottom line is that of the 99 eateries I had reviewed by the beginning of the first lockdown, only 72 were still in existence. Needless to say, my mood was not the lightest it has ever been so I thought that comfort food was badly needed and it just had to be fish and chips.

Not only is fish and chips one of the ultimate comfort meals, but Graveley’s in particular brings back fond memories of a great time when life was so different. I am privileged to count as a friend one of the strongest, most inspirational, but still humble women – make that people – on the face of the planet. Many of us faced with half the tragedies she has had to endure would have crumbled and given in but she has weathered the storm and come out the other side. The most surprising thing is that she is not even from Yorkshire, although I will always regard her as an honorary Tyke. She lives in Kentucky and has been to this side of the pond three times during which she developed a taste for our National Dish, so much so that when she brought her husband across in 2016 she had fish and chips every day! As I live in Harrogate, when we were not eating them in Whitby or Scarborough, we would end the days’ outings at Graveley’s, although that branch has now changed hands. We were allowed to eat in a pub one evening when we blokes – sorry, guys – had steak and kidney pie, but even then she ordered haddock and chips. Living in Lexington there is not a lot of fresh seafood on hand so, what the heck, get it while you can.

Sitting in the food section of The Core was a far cry from the up-market restaurant in HG1 and the menu is a tad more basic, but in these circumstances it was the food that mattered. The service was also a little different from the other place, even the take-away counter, where efficiency ruled. For the first time since the end of lockdown I was able to approach a counter and order face to face although this took some doing. I stood about for a minute or two, the only one in the queue, whilst those behind the structure were doing whatever. I caught the eye of a woman and asked if the unnamed ‘fish’ on the menu was haddock, a suspicion which she confirmed. I don’t think that she was supposed to be the one taking orders as she then approached a colleague and asked her to attend to me. I felt so ignored that I confirmed with her as to whether it was correct to order from the counter or should I take a seat and wait to be served. She advised that I should let her know what I wanted and she would give me a call when it was ready. As I had not visited a chippy since the 2016 Transatlantic Fishfest I decided to go the full monty with fish, chips, mushy peas, a bread cake and tea. I paid my bill and took a seat quite close to the counter to do the Telegraph sudoku on my phone. My tea was served in double quick time but it became obvious that the food was going to be cooked to order, not a bad thing. In other food halls they give you a pager or some other electronic gizmo to let you know when the nosh is ready but here I got her dulcet Yorkshire tones at full volume. ‘Fish, chips, mushy peas and bread cake!!’ Music to my ears..

The science behind a perfect battered fish is that it should be cooked in beef dripping rather than oil, which I suspect this was. The idea is that the fat needs to be searingly hot so that the instant the fish is dropped into it, the outside of the batter seals thus preventing the dripping from penetrating and contaminating the fish. The effect is that it forms a little oven and whilst the batter continues to fry and become crispy, the fish steams inside using its own water content. Whatever the frying solution at Graveley’s it did the trick in that the batter was extremely crispy, albeit a bit on the light side for my taste, it was more like tempura batter which shattered when I tried to cut it with the wooden knife. I have no problem with this as it is a matter of taste and that of the shards was very good indeed. The haddock within was beautifully flaky with not the slightest sign of oil ingress so job done. When I had finished I did notice a residue of grease on the plate which I took to indicate that the fish had been put straight on the plate from the fryer rather than being ‘rested’ for a minute or two on a metal grid to drain. Once again, I can happily live with that.

I am not a great lover of chips but these were pretty good and you can’t have a fish lunch without them. Unlike the fish they had probably been batch cooked and kept warm until needed, in the manner of about every chippy in the country. I might not be a chip fan but I love mushy peas and these were great. I last had this delicacy in a pub where they had been sweetened with sugar and were awful, here, however, they were au naturel with the underlying hint of bicarbonate of soda giving them that slightly sour taste. Absolutely spot on. Incidentally I googled mushy peas and saw the most ridiculous recipes using garden peas, cream, butter and mint. The only way to do them is by using marrowfat peas and bicarb, soaking them overnight and boiling when needed. Just a word of warning, if you try it at home, or even if you don’t, the volume increases by a huge amount during soaking and if you overdo the portion you could wake up to a scene from a horror film all over the kitchen.

The bread cake was lovely and soft, being cut along the middle and buttered to allow for the construction of a butty should you so wish, and the tea had the bag left in so you could leave it to stew to your taste.

The bill came to £11.25 which sounds a lot for fish and chips but is not too bad at all. The one thing I noticed by perusing the menus of the restaurants on my site which are still open, is that the prices seem to have increased substantially but that is only to be expected after they have lain empty for over a year and have some catching up to do revenue-wise.

Should you not be in the mood for fish and chips, the menu has been extended to reflect the changing tastes of the great Yorkshire public, so Battered Halloumi Cheese with a Frappe anyone?

I would like to end by saying that I wish all of the owners of the businesses which have not reopened all the very best and hope that they can swiftly move on, and also to apologise to my friend in the Blue Grass State for subjecting her to a review of her favourite Britfood when she is unable to partake. I hope that it is not too long before you can get over here again and attempt to get haddock placed on the endangered species list.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Manahatta Greek Street

https://www.manahatta.co.uk/bars/greek-street

Just after national lockdown in March I saw a posting on social media which said that when the restrictions are lifted we will be a hunk, a chunk or a drunk. I have made it my mission to prove them wrong.

Sadly, no matter how much I exercise there is very little chance of my emerging as a hunk so I could discount that straight away.

As for a drunk, it is ironic that my alcohol intake has declined over the past six months as, until recently, there have been no bars or restaurants to review and, those which did manage to reopen, are naturally concentrating on attracting paying punters rather than giving freebies to people like myself. (I stress that none of the establishments reviewed on this site gives me anything at all, and they have no idea I am calling, I even book my table under a different name just in case.) Similarly with the theatres. They are, understandably, unable to offer any hospitality as the catering parts of the buildings are still closed. This might be an advantage as I can at least remember the performance once I get home to write about it!

Finally we get to the ‘chunk’ part. Once again because of my drastically reduced social life I have managed to lose well over a stone since March.

The above is apropos of nothing at all, I just want to brag, but it does explain my choice of dish from the menu at Manahatta in Greek Street.

I had booked a table for 2.00pm and so arrived at 1.45 to the now familiar sight of an almost empty bar. To be fair it was a Tuesday and so not exactly Party Prime Time. As they had my details from my on-line booking, it was just the hand sanitising and temperature checking ritual before I was allowed in.

The waiter, Josh, showed me to my table, which, to my dismay was a very tall affair, a bit like a long poseur, and the seating a banquette equally elevated. I am a smidgeon short of six feet tall so it was not a problem except that my past experiences of this type of furnishing instilled a fear of my inability to get comfortable, the footrests invariably proving inadequate for proper balance. This, however, was great, as under the table there was a long rail at a perfect height and sturdy enough to rest my feet without fear of slipping off. After a minute or so it felt as though I were seated at a conventional level.

I was asked if I wanted anything to drink and ordered tap water which appeared in a flash. Actually I lie, it appeared in a large carafe with lots of ice. I had read the menu on-line before booking and thought that the £6 lunch deal looked like a bargain but I was informed that it was not available on Mondays or Tuesdays in October as they were offering 50% off all food prices on those days. That threw me into something of a quandary as there were some larger priced items on the main menu which looked very tempting. I resisted, however, as the offer is only valid for two days per week and would be over at the end of the month so not really in keeping with the ethos of this website.

As it happens my original option of the Sunshine Powerbowl was on the main menu priced at £9.25 so the discount made it cheaper than it would have been on the normal lunch deal. I decided to splurge and added the chicken option for an extra £2.50 which made it cheaper still. Revelling in my new found bargain I celebrated by ordering a 250ml glass of Cramele Recas Pinot Noir which was brilliant value at £7.50. I don’t recall having had a Romanian version of my favourite grape variety before but this was right up there with the better versions.

I mentioned my weight loss regime at the beginning and the Sunshine Powerbowl was in keeping with my efforts. It comprised avocado, golden and red beetroot, spinach, turmeric quinoa, roast sweet potatoes, pickled onion and red cabbage, with an agave and wholegrain mustard dressing. Had I wanted an extra other than chicken there was halloumi or felafel to choose from.

As well as being healthy and nutritious, this was absolutely delicious. Living alone, a salad is normally a fairly basic affair as to add too many elements ties you to having to make so much that it lasts all week and come Friday the novelty has begun to wear off. The variety in this bowl was tremendous with the flavours and textures contrasting amazingly well. The quinoa, which was lurking beneath the other elements, was a good filling staple enhanced by its absorption of the dressing, whilst the lighter parts such as the leaves and vegetables gave a freshness. When I saw the pickled cabbage and pickled onion on the list of partygoers I could not help but visualise the contents of a couple of Garner’s jars thrown in. In fact the onions were thinly sliced and subtly home pickled the cabbage being equally light. A couple of radishes had crashed the event but were more than welcome. The stars of the show though were the perfectly ripe pieces of avocado and the roasted sweet potatoes. I am not usually a fan of this vegetable as I find sweet potatoes, well – sweet. These cubes, however, were seasoned, which reduced the effect, and cooked to perfection. I would love to be able to put it another way but I will have to fall back on the old cliche of their being wonderfully crispy on the outside whilst soft and fluffy on the inside. A hackneyed description which does not do them justice. The chicken was also succulent and in a more abundant quantity than it appears to be on the photograph.

My total bill, including a post meal black Americano at £2.40, was £16.23, excellent value for money and would have been even at the full lunch menu price. It should have been more but the main course was so filling as to leave me no room for a dessert. In truth I could probably have squeezed one down but the three on offer were in keeping with the New York vibe of the Manhatta and a tad heavy or over-embellished for my taste.

The Manahatta is essentially a cocktail lounge and bar and is decorated as an homage to what is perceived as a New York joint. In my trips to the Big Apple I have not come across anywhere quite like this but it works well in the same way as an English Bar in New York would convey the mood of a Leeds boozer rather than faithfully replicate an original. There is also a fairly large outdoor seating area where, unless we have been moved to Tier 3, a couple of households can mix.

I really feel for those in the hospitality sector at the moment with all that they are going through so I hope that their efforts and initiatives such as this are justly rewarded, they certainly deserve to be.

As a footnote, I am very disappointed that my spellchecker has not prompted me to replace Manahatta with Mad Hatter, it really should have as, with a menu and service this good, it is Wonderland.

All photographs by Stan Graham

My original lunch menu choice was also on the main menu priced at £9.25, meaning that with the 50% discount it would only be £4.62

Midnight Bell

http://www.midnightbell.co.uk

I have visited a few establishments since the lifting of lockdown but they were places I did not know so, as far as I was concerned, the lack of other diners might have been the norm for the time of day when I called. Today, however, I was made starkly aware of the damage done to our hospitality sector by the pandemic and the measures introduced to combat it.

The Midnight Bell used to be my local when I lived in Candle House on Granary Wharf some years ago and it used to get pretty packed on Friday afternoon so, as I was meeting someone, I took the precaution of booking a table for my lunch at 2.00. I must add that this was just before the introduction of ‘Tiers’ banning people from separate households meeting up indoors. As is my wont I arrived early, at 1.45, but instead of being met by the sound of office workers spending their dinner break discussing their plans for the weekend, I entered to the sound of my own footsteps. I had never seen it so quiet.

After the new normal procedure of checking in, hand sanitising and form filling, I was shown to a table where I was invited to scan the QR code provided in order to read the menu. I had a good idea what I wanted – a pint of Leeds Pale – which was brought to enjoy before my companion arrived. The lunch menu is reasonably varied with a selection of Sandwiches and Wraps along with some Light Bites. Whichever you choose you can opt to include a pint of Leeds Brewery Ale, Leodis Lager, Aspinall Cider, 125ml House Wine, Pepsi or Lemonade for an extra £2. No brainer.

My lunch date arrived and availed herself of the Leodis Lager offer whilst deciding on a Beer Battered Haddock Goujon Sandwich in Granary Bread with Home Made Tartare Sauce. It included chips or salad, again a no brainer! It was £7.50 and looked great. I was informed that it tasted as good as it looked.

Having perused the menu on-line before I made the booking, my fancy was taken by Crispy Pork Belly on a Dressed Mixed Salad served in a Delicate Pastry Basket, again £7.50. They use the same edible receptacle in which to serve Grilled Chicken Caesar salad but I eschewed this as I had enough of Chicken in a Basket in the 1970s.

The pork belly was cut into small pieces and certainly lived up to its description of being crisp, although still retaining the unctuous fatty middle which gives it its wonderful taste. The components of the salad were different sorts of leaves with chopped red onions, spring onions and cherry tomatoes. The tangy vinaigrette counterbalanced the pork belly a treat. Although the ‘delicate pastry basket’ looked like a popadom it was not spicy so didn’t overpower the tastes of the main ingredients.

The service, as you would expect with very few customers – a few came in after us – was exemplary and a second pint appeared without our needing to wait longer than it took to put down the empty glass on the table and indicate to the barman/waiter that we wanted a refill.

It is tragic that such a great pub seems to be suffering so badly, but as it is in the heart of the tech quarter which is so accommodating to home working, it is probably not that surprising. I also noticed that since I moved out of Candle House there is building work going on at the junction of Wharf Approach and Water Lane which renders the pub invisible from Granary Wharf, even I suspect, from the vantage point of my erstwhile 10th floor flat.

I strongly recommend a visit if you are in Leeds as they also have outdoor seating to the rear, enabling you still to meet someone from another household under the new restrictions. I just hope that they haven’t changed by the time you read this.

All photographs by Stan Graham