Fat Annie’s

http://fatannies.co.uk/

When it comes to writing food reviews my hero is the late, and much missed, AA Gill who wrote for the Sunday Times. He had a wonderful style which influenced the way in which I bang out my rubbish, and a knowledge on the subject to which I could not even begin to aspire. Having nicked his modus operandi I thought that I would plagiarise an observation he made after reviewing a hot dog restaurant in London he found to be pretentiously upmarket and expensive.

The venerable Mr Gill pointed out that hot dogs are working class cheap and cheerful food which should be confined to football games, street vendors and the seaside. On this last point, he mentioned Nathan’s by the Boardwalk on Coney Island, Brooklyn which is also the home of the World Hot Dog Eating Competition. This is held on 4th July each year and the object is to down as many hot dogs, including buns, as possible in the space of 10 minutes. The men’s record was set in 2020 by a chap called Joey Chestnut who managed 75 – yes – 75. I am sure that his table manners were impeccable. The women’s champion also set a new record this year at the rather more sedate pace of 48.5 hot dogs in the allotted 10 minutes.

I have had the experience of sampling a hot dog at Nathan’s on Coney Island and I must say that it was truly awful. No, that is not correct. Strictly speaking something with absolutely no taste at all cannot be described as awful. It is no wonder that they eat them as quickly as possible; they are not to be savoured. Fortunately, Fat Annie’s leaves Nathan’s miles back in its dust. 

Let’s face it, the main ingredient of a hot dog is the sausage, it doesn’t matter what you top it with or slather on as a dressing, if the sausage is no good then the whole thing is a waste of time. Fat Annie’s use specially made sausages which are unique to them and contain only prime cuts of pork and beef and are 95% meat, the rest being made up with spices and a little water. There are also vegan versions so don’t feel left out if you are a non-meat eater. Even the casings are natural. When taking so much care with the star of the show, the supporting act, literally, in the bread is also made by their local artisan baker.


Once again I was fortunate enough to have company for lunch and we each had a different item from the menu. She chose The Classic, a straight hot dog with either grilled or crispy onions, whilst I opted for The Annie Mac which is topped with house pickle, American cheese, secret sauce and crispy onions. We shared a portion of fries and I had a Blood Orange San Pellegrino to drink. 

The Classic


The prices are pretty good normally but there is a lunch deal whereby you get a Classic and Fries for £5. My loaded Annie Mac was £6 and worth every penny. 


By the way, my regular reader will know how much I like a good pun, or even a bad one, well there is a version with toppings which include sea salt crisps called Seabrooks In Seattle, and another Asian inspired one for Breaking Bad fans with the moniker Seoul Good Man. 

Annie Mac

The sausages were absolutely amazing and surprisingly easy to eat without dripping the secret sauce down my shirt but we had been brought a plentiful supply of napkins just in case. Although there was a kick of spice in the hot dog it wasn’t overwhelming as that would have been an insult to the meat which wasn’t minced to a paste as with shop bought Frankfurters, but still had some body to it and was chewy without being tough. It was also remarkably juicy which gave a great textural contrast to the crispy onions, the creamy sauce and the soft bread.

The bun was obviously baked specially to be used in making hot dogs as it had a wide, flat base which enabled it to be put down without rolling over as happens with both bridge rolls and baguettes. This meant that the toppings were not unceremoniously dumped onto the paper on which it was served every time you wanted to wipe your mouth or take a drink. I would have added ‘or talk’ but the hot dogs were so delicious we just went ahead and enjoyed them without much conversation. The fries still had their skin on and were, as you would expect, crisp on the outside and soft in the middle with a hit of seasoning for good measure. 

Take A Guess!


Fat Annie’s is in the food hall at the bottom end of Leeds Kirkgate Market but the seating was arranged to cater for social distancing and situated at the back of the stall. You place your order at the front and it is delivered when ready. The chap who brought us our food was called Rick, an extremely efficient and pleasant chap with banter which added to the experience. Should you not be able to make it to the market they do have a presence at various street food events so keep your eyes open for the mobile version. That should please Mr Gill.

 
Sadly we didn’t get to meet Fat Annie, so we had to make do with Skinny Rick. My theory is that she is practising for next year’s World Hot Dog Competition, and if she is, might I make so bold as to give her a word of advice. Forget it – sorry, that’s two words. You would be far better taking your time savouring the wonderful version which you produce rather than trying to force 49 of Nathan’s tasteless concoctions down your gob in 10 minutes. There are some records that are not worth breaking.

All photographs by Stan Graham

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The Whitehall Restaurant and Bar

https://www.thewhitehallleeds.com/

The last time I ate in Whitehall it was 2003 at the Banqueting House in the London thoroughfare of that name at a function where the guest of honour was HRH the Duchess of Gloucester. Whitehall Road in Leeds is a far cry from Whitehall in London but the food, and the company, were much better. That’s my prospects of a mention in the New Year’s Honours well and truly stuffed then!

The Whitehall had been on my radar for quite some time but things always seemed to happen which derailed my plans. Today I at last got to take lunch here and it was well worth the wait. Because of the restrictions currently in place, and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme being in operation, I decided to book. The booking was for two people as I had taken along a friend, sorry, my only friend, to share the experience.

It was good to see that there was evidence of there having been a decent lunchtime trade with quite a few of the tables still occupied although it was gone 2.00pm. The obligatory hand sanitiser was present at the registration point, where my details were checked against the booking and we were shown to our table.

We were immediately asked about water and given the choice of still, sparkling or tap, we chose the latter as I usually prefer my drinks from the tap rather than the bottle. We had both already perused the menu online so we knew what we wanted, a pint of Amstel lager, very reasonably priced at £4.60, in my friend’s case, and a 250ml Pichikura Chilean merlot in mine for £7.50. The important parts of the meal sorted we moved on to the food.

The dedicated lunch menu is priced at £10 for one course, £15 for two and £20 for three, but the thing which impressed me the most was that it is available from noon until 6.00pm. I have a bee in my bonnet about being told when I should feel hungry, it happens when it happens, and there have also been occasions on which I was in a meeting or in the middle of something complex which meant that I could not get away before 2.00pm which used to be the cut-off time for midday dining. The Whitehall is situated in the business quarter so I am sure that they benefit from this relaxed attitude towards timing.

Although my dining companion was only having the one course option I thought that I would be letting you down, dear reader, should I not go ‘through the card’, as we used to say in the betting industry. From the five starters on offer I chose the Pea and Courgette Velouté with Cheddar and Chilli Doughnut. Velouté is normally a creamy sauce but here was served as a soup, and very good it was too. It was bursting with the flavour of pea and courgette, naturally, and the red leaves with which it was garnished added an earthy element. I had been intrigued as to what the doughnut would be like and whether the cream and jam would spoil the effect, but it was actually a small mildly flavoured bread roll made in the manner of a doughnut but without the sweetness. As a footnote I would not order any variation of this dish should you ever go to an establishment producing beer because it is a well known fact that there are an awful lot of people who could not organise a pea soup in a brewery. Come on, give me a break.

For the main course I had Chicken Schnitzel which came with a fried egg, caper lemon butter, and celeriac and carrot remoulade. I have had schnitzel made with pork tenderloin and also the original version with veal but this is the first time I have had a chicken variant. The problem here was that the meat element of schnitzel is beaten until it is thin and then coated in breadcrumbs before being shallow fried. The advantage of the pork and veal varieties is that the meat doesn’t need to be cooked all the way through and so can be served on the rare side, whereas chicken has to be thoroughly cooked to kill the bacteria and so, being this thin, it dries out somewhat. Having said that, it was delicious but I couldn’t help wishing that, instead of the butter, the capers had been accompanied by a slice of lemon which could be squeezed over the dish to help lubricate it. As an experiment, I pinched my friend’s lemon – behave – and drizzled a little of its juice over the chicken. It worked wonders. It is amazing how many times the basics let down a good meal but here the fried egg was done to perfection. The remoulade was also excellent.

The aforementioned lemon arrived with Fish and Chips and was accompanied by crushed peas and tartare sauce. It was described as being brilliant which I took to mean that I wasn’t going to get a bite, which was fair enough as she was only having the one course. She went on to say that it was also very filling, which instilled a glimmer of expectation. Sure enough, the fish had beaten her and so I was offered what was left. I have to say that the haddock which filled every part of its battered coating, was superb and the flakes were as dense as I have ever come across, it was almost like eating meat. The fish also tasted of fish rather than being insipid and I was mightily impressed.

On to dessert. I love Crème Brûlée and this was as good as it gets. The Madagascan Vanilla came bursting through from the custard, which was topped by the hardened sugar top. The Speculoos biscuit added a further sweet dimension to the dish, as did the black coffee (£2.75)

Mention must also be made of the excellent service from the young, enthusiastic staff. Please note, a 10% service charge is added but it is worth every penny.

This really was an excellent lunch and I would recommend The Whitehall to anybody who will listen. The subsidy from The Treasury – based in Whitehall – made the cost very reasonable too.

In future, should I get a choice between eating at the Banqueting House or dining at The Whitehall, I will always plump for the latter, unless I am at a celebration event to mark my being awarded a knighthood, in which case I will contact HRH the Duchess of Gloucester to see if she fancies a replay at her gaff!

All photographs by Stan Graham

Power, Corruption & Lies

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Don’t worry, this is not a critique of the US election, or politics in general for that matter, but one of a cocktail bar in Call Lane which also does a pretty good lunch.

I had wanted to try something a bit different once the lockdown was lifted and so decided to trawl through the places offering half price goodies under the Eat Out To Help Out scheme. I have already reviewed a lot of them on this site which cut down my choices somewhat. Added to that, a lot of eateries on the list only open in the evenings or are situated out of town, so that narrowed the field even more. After discounting the chains and those with enough branches to be borderline multiples and have their main outlets in London, my options were dwindling rapidly. From those which were left I opted for Power, Corruption & Lies which seems to be more of a bar than a restaurant, but, nevertheless, came up trumps. Sorry – I said that this wasn’t going to be about the US election.

Sadly, the place was almost deserted when I arrived, although there were people sitting outside enjoying the food, drink and sunshine. It was a little after the conventional lunchtime, whatever that is nowadays, so I hoped that they had been busy earlier on.

I was greeted by a charming young woman who showed me to my table and took my order. They are obviously taking the current situation seriously, as obviously they should, there being a hand sanitiser dispenser on the reception desk and others on each of the tables.

The menu is far-eastern inspired but given a western spin. It is quite short at the moment which could be due to the new opening limitations or because it is mainly a cocktail bar on the Call Lane Trail. The dishes are split into categories: Snacks, Xiaochi, Bao, Dim Sum and Sides. I asked as to the size of the portions and was given the rundown leading me to order a Snack as a starter, a Xiaochi as a main and a Side. This worked perfectly.

My snack/starter was Chicken Karaage at £4.50 which came with Hoisin Ketchup and Szechuan Aioli. The chicken was perfectly cooked, the batter was crisp and the meat moist and tender. The Hoisin Ketchup was just what it says it is and the Szechuan aioli a slightly spiced mayonnaise but with not too much garlic. They both made excellent dips for the bird.

I ordered Crispy Chilli Beef from the Xiaochi which came in at £8.50, and accompanied it with a Side of Steamed Rice for £2.50. According to Google, the word Xiaochi means a dish which is the size of those served from Taiwanese street food stalls. That is obviously of no help whatsoever if, like me, you have never eaten from a street food stall in Taiwan. I think that the photograph is a better indicator of what to expect from this part of the bill of fare. Please excuse the bleaching out of the rice on the shot but I was sitting by a window with the sun streaming in.

If the chicken was good, the beef was magnificent. I love the taste of chilli beef but this is the first place I have ever had it where it actually lives up to the description ‘crispy’. Whether it be from my local Chinese take-away or much more salubrious establishments, I have always found it to be flaccid. This has not affected the taste but has done nothing for the texture. Here, however, there was a resistance to the teeth from the batter which was just right. The beef itself was cooked perfectly too. If I have any gripe it is that the broccoli was a bit overdone and lacked crispness, ironic really.

As it was a sweltering day I had a half of Jisaku Pilsner (the house brew) for £2.60 to keep me cool and it was far more suited to the occasion than a glass of wine would have been. As previously stated, I have never been to a street food stall in Taiwan but I doubt that they would be quaffing Pinot Noir with their Xiaochi.

I was very pleased to see that they do not do desserts as I was pleasantly full and wouldn’t have wanted to cross the frontier into the land of bloat. I did loiter long enough to partake of a black Americano for £2.50 in order to put off venturing out into the hot afternoon for as long as I could.

Power, Corruption & Lies is a very pleasant place in which to have lunch and, if I were forty years younger, I would imagine I would very much enjoy the evening vibe. It was made more so by the 50% discount which meant that the bill came to £13.66 including service charge.

One final observation. As the global pandemic continues to rage on and countries are reporting a second wave, I could not ignore the sentiment of the first groovy tune to come over the sound system when I took my seat, it was the wonderful REM serenading me with ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It, And I Feel Fine’. By the time I left, it was the perfect description of my lunchtime.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Café 164

http://www.cafe164.com

I say, I say, I say! What do you get if you cross a library, an art gallery, a bakery, a coffee house and a philanthropic organisation? 
I don’t know, what do you get if you cross a library, an art gallery, a bakery, a coffee house and a philanthropic organisation? 
Café 164. 
I don’t wish to know that, kindly leave the page!


The other day I had an early afternoon appointment in an East Leeds suburb so I decided to walk it from the bus station. Before setting off I thought that a spot of food would be in order to make sure that the fuel tank was full enough to last me for the journey. I have called into Café 164 before but it was during the late afternoon and they were just about to close meaning that I couldn’t get a fair idea of the place so I decided to pay another visit at lunchtime and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity. 

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On walking into the café which is in Munro House, on Duke Street opposite the bus station, you are confronted by a raised serving bar with the usual display cabinets and shelves. They seem to do a roaring trade in takeaway food as there were several people milling around waiting for their orders. I perused the wares and opted for a Bacon and Brie sandwich in ciabatta for £3.50 which I thought would fit the bill perfectly. The sight of squares of Raspberry and Hazelnut Cake at £3.00 got me wondering as to whether I would need additional energy for the walk ahead. No prizes for guessing which way my decision went. Finally I ordered a black Americano at £2.10, which I was told would be prepared and should be collected at the end of the counter shortly. At this point I discovered the main flaw in the system as there were no trays provided. Even though I didn’t have anything else to carry I only have two hands and so decided that I should find a table, deposit my eats and return for the coffee and napkins, which I did. Not greatly satisfactory. 

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When I found a space I put my sarnie and cake on the table and went back for the coffee at the far end of the counter, an exercise which nearly caused me to closely examine the flooring as there is a step down at the end of the bar which is not very well marked and so I missed it and lost my balance, just recovering it in the nick of time. I got my brew and returned to my seat. The table was for two people but, had I taken the chair which I first meant to, it would have caused the main access route from one part of the room to the other to be blocked, so I sat at the other side instead. Even so it was still a bit of a squeeze for those passing opposite.

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Once ensconced in my seat I proceeded to unwrap the sandwich. The bread was perfectly fresh and the filling generous. All of the bread is baked on a daily basis both on the premises here and at the take-away shop, Bakery 164 on Woodhouse Lane, so is wonderfully light and soft. They bake both ciabatta and focaccia using just water, extra virgin olive oil, yeast, flour and salt. As well as the fillings advertised on the wrapper there were lettuce and tomatoes, again perfectly fresh. The creamy brie had its normal fruity tang but it was the bacon which had the starring role. Bacon in cold sandwiches is usually either flaccid and fatty or crispy to the point of being borderline pork scratchings, this was cooked just right and very much on the lean side. There was a constant stream of people appearing from the kitchen and bakery round the back to replenish the displays which was good to see. 
I referred to the philanthropy earlier and this is displayed by giving any unsold sandwiches at the end of the day to food and homeless charities, meaning that as well as doing good, they ensure that every sandwich served has been freshly made that day. Win/win.


If the sandwich was very good then the cake was well up there with it. I thought that it might have been a bit heavy and that my eyes had made a promise my stomach couldn’t keep but it turned out to be lovely and light. The cherries were liberally spread amongst the piece and had a taste which was sweet with just a hint of bitterness to counteract the nuts and sweetness of the featherlight cake. 

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The coffee was just how I like it, being on the strong side, again with a hint of bitterness but not excessively so. Had it been a wine I would have called it a perfect pairing for both dishes, not a bad trick with one being sweet and the other savoury. 


On the previous visit to which I referred earlier, I had partaken of the Beef Pastrami with mustard mayo, spinach, vine tomato, Emmental cheese and dill chips which was also a superb combination and equally fresh even though purchased last thing.

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A look around the premises revealed that the walls were either bedecked with paintings and other artworks, or artworks in themselves, the most striking being that between the café and the kitchen/bakery. In the part of the space accessed by passing my table, there was an exhibition of screen prints by Mick Marston called From Angler To Helicopter (& Stuff In Between) which is running until 18th April so the eye had plenty to occupy it whilst chomping away.

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By the toilets there is a small library facilitating the exchange of books, which is a nice touch, hopefully not leading to people lingering longer than necessary in the facilities having become engrossed!

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I must say that I enjoyed my lunch very much indeed and, at £8.60 for the lot is much better in both value and ambience than the large chains in the city centre. So if you want something quick, fresh and good value then I suggest that you pop in but please, mind the step!

This article is also available on my other site Tyke It To The Limit

http://www.tyke-it-to-the-limit.com

All photographs by Stan Graham

Falafel Guys at Assembly Underground

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indian Tiffin Room

It turns out that this is National Curry Week so the decision as to what to eat was made for me. All I needed to do was work out which of the sub-continent’s restaurants I would choose.

To people of a certain age, the word Tiffin summons up memories of a chocolate bar made by Cadbury’s which contained raisins and biscuit but it seems to have gone the way of many a confection such as Five Boys and Spangles. There are recipes on-line for the choccy version but Tiffin really means a snack although in some parts of India it refers to lunch, so there was really only one place I could choose.

Indian Tiffin Room has been on my radar for some time but I have not called before. I seem to remember that I was late in dining one day and the lunch offer ends at 2.30 and on another occasion I was due to meet someone in the afternoon so didn’t want to risk curry breath. Today it was not yet one o’clock and my appointments calendar is empty until the Christmas after next so it was a perfect time to see what they had on offer.

What they had on offer was everything. By that I mean that they have Thali on the lunchtime special menu which comes in a choice of vegetarian at £8.75 and non-vegetarian £9.75. I love it when this happens as it means that I get to try a selection of the kitchen’s output without putting on a couple of stones in weight.

When I had taken a seat my order was taken by a very pleasant waitress who brought me a jug of water from which she filled the metal beaker on the table. The jug was taken away but I was told to ask if I wanted a refill. The order I gave her was for the non-vegetarian Thali, and a Lassi for £2.50. At the risk of sounding like a fifties film, I love lassi.

When the lassi arrived, in another metal beaker, I took a taste and found that it was the real deal plain version not a fruit one. I have nothing against the mango flavour but it is a little sweet for my taste, a bit like a healthy milkshake.

Within a couple of minutes I was presented with a huge platter upon which was a selection of dishes which had a starter, several main dishes and a dessert. See what I mean about it having everything.

The starter was a pakora which contained potato, hidden in the photograph by the large puri, on a bed of salad. Anticlockwise from the puri are rice, chicken curry, cauliflower and potato, lentil, raita and finally phirni, which is a rice pudding.

Everything was wonderful and the small dishes were bigger than they looked being deceptively deep. The chicken curry especially had a distinctive taste which I could not place so I asked a waiter what it was and he said it was chicken coriander curry, they are obviously, and quite rightly, protecting a secret ingredient here. The vegetable dishes also contained my favourite ingredients in cauliflower, potatoes and lentils. Had there been chickpeas it would have been a full house.

Although the three curries had lots of flavour none of them was very hot, so you won’t be challenged in that respect. If you enjoy the challenge of a vindaloo or even a Madras you might be a little disappointed but this is lunch not Man v Food. The website does point out that ‘our menu is healthy, less influenced by heavily flavoured spices but is filled with the authentic flavours of India’. I was relieved to read that it was not just me then.

I ended the meal with my usual black coffee which came in at £3.00 but if you are content to stick with tap water this is a great value meal with effectively three courses for under a tenner.

Thank you to whomever dreamt up National Curry Week which has given me the nudge I needed to visit Indian Tiffin Room, roll on National Pie and Pea Week.

Tortilla

It wasn’t so long ago that you seemed never to be more than a tostada’s throw from a Mexican eatery, but recently they seem to be a threatened species.

Mexico is not in the EU so it can’t be Brexit and I doubt whether President Trump’s wall is likely to have had an effect yet, so I can only put it down to a change in food fashion and the trend for ethnic food to be sold from street food stalls rather than permanent restaurant premises.

One place which seems to be bucking the trend is Tortilla in Trinity Kitchen. I don’t normally review chain restaurants and until I got home and looked at the website I didn’t realise that this establishment fell into that category. In my defence I don’t get around much anymore and, even if I did, there are only two others in the North of England, one in Newcastle and the other in Liverpool. The reason I don’t do chains is that you all know what to expect from a Burger King and the portions seem to be regulated by accountants rather than chefs. On top of that, I like to promote local independent businesses.

After all that, it would appear that Tortilla is not a Mexican Restaurant anyway but ‘Real California Burritos and Tacos’ which means that it doesn’t sell tortillas. I am so confused. Not to worry, because the one thing about those good folks from the US of A is that they exaggerate their ancestors’ country of origin to such an extent that the longer they live there the more entrenched in their ethnic roots they become. You only need to look at the St Patrick’s Day Parade in New York to see how it outstrips by miles anything Dublin has to offer, even though the nearest any of the participants has been to the Emerald Isle is a theme pub in Brooklyn.

Fortunately, the same goes for ex-pat Mexicans in the Golden State, a fact which I discovered when I found myself in San Diego on 5th May 1989.  San Diego is probably one of my favourite places in the world, with the mixture of ultra modern and old world Spanish as it’s just north of the border.  I didn’t realise then that that particular date, Cinco de Mayo, is a Mexican national holiday, meaning I couldn’t sit and have a quiet beer and a read of the newspaper without being assaulted by a Mariachi Band every five minutes.  I also discovered that the only tune that these players know is ‘Roll Out The Barrel’, which is very surreal.  I was back two years later so decided to nip across the border to celebrate the National Day in Tijuana to get the ‘authentic’ experience, and what do I find? Nothing – nada. They just let it pass them by.  Before I draw the curtains and get the slide projector out to bore you rigid with my holiday snaps, I had better get on with my review.

Tortilla is one of those build-it-yourself places. You are first presented with the choice of base dish – Burrito, Naked Burrito or Tres (that’s three to you and me) Soft Shell Tacos.  As I intended eating on the premises and not walking around town with a cylinder of silver foil in front of my mouth, looking like a seventies glam rock singer, I went for the Naked Burrito.  This is where the Californian authenticity was destroyed in that there is a choice of Medium at £5.80 or Large for £6.80 and, as everyone who has visited the other side of the pond knows, there is no such thing as Medium on any menu, it is either Large or Regular.   It was advertised as including rice and beans.

I must say that ordering lunch here is not as straightforward as it sounds, because the choice of base dishes is only the start of a number of multiple choice questions with which you are bombarded.  I thought that the sentence ‘Includes rice and beans.’ would take care of the first bit but no, I had to say whether I wanted tomato based rice or the coriander option.  After going for the latter, there was then the matter of the pulses, and from an exhaustive list offered to me at a speed quicker than the terms and conditions of a finance deal at the end of one of those commercial radio adverts, I opted for black beans.

I believe that I passed that test as I was then given a choice of one of four fillings, the Marinated Grilled Chicken being the object of my affection but, wait, did I want any extras?  I was getting the hang of this now so with my new found cockiness I told them to add chorizo for a quid and flashed a smug glance in the direction of the young woman who was loading my carton (not a euphemism).  She added sour cream and cheese, but then we were back to the exam:  I needed to choose two salsas from a selection of containers displayed on the counter .  I didn’t want to have her go through the full description of each, so I pointed at one and asked for a hot chilli sauce to complete the quota. I declined the offer of guacamole as another extra because the carton was beginning to look like a Man v Food challenge.  Serves me right for ordering the large.  A bottle of cold Corona beer at £3.10 accompanied me and my meal to one of the communal tables in the street food hall of Trinity Kitchen and the three of us began to get to know one another.

There were two things I had noticed whilst being served: first was that the portions had most certainly evaded the company’s bean counters – literally – as the components were liberally added, and secondly, when they were added they had not been piled one on top of the other so that I ended up with every forkful tasting exactly like the last, but had been distributed in different parts of the carton, meaning I could mix the various tastes in myriad combinations. The chicken had been diced into fairly small pieces but was still tender and juicy of texture, with the marinade adding to the joy.  All of the other parts were equally fresh, something which is not always the case when ingredients are displayed for any length of time.

I am sure that the queue of people meant that the turnover was such that nothing had a chance to deteriorate too badly.  The salsa was hot but not excessively so and the beans still had a bit of a bite rather than being a mush like the refried variety.  I have to say that I was very impressed with not only the food, but also the chirpy service. I was also pleased to see that both the chicken and pulled pork were sourced from suppliers with Red Tractor credentials. My only regret about the meal was that I ordered the large portion and it did start to get a bit monotonous by the end.   A medium would have been more than adequate at lunchtime.  Mea culpa.

Whilst chomping away and people watching, the thought crossed my mind that should I visit the USA again I will make sure I am there on 1st August – Yorkshire Day – and see what extravaganza they put on with Whippet Racing and Flat Cap Parades. We can then all go to the pub and stand looking at our feet until someone else offers to buy the first round.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 19th August, 2019

Noodle House

https://www.facebook.com/NoodleHouseLeeds/

Currently take-away only

I have never had an inclination to visit the Far East, although in a previous life I did go to Hull quite regularly, so I’m not in a position to compare the food on offer in Leeds with ’the real thing’.

I would venture to suggest, however, that the dishes on offer at Noodle House in Merrion Street are about as authentic as it gets.  My reason for saying this is that when I called I was the only person of occidental origin in a room which was full except for one small table. Obviously an omen.

Chinese food is probably the first exotic food that anyone of my age tried, what with the post-war proliferation of Chinese Restaurants, followed some years later by take-aways.  Although Noodle House is nothing like the 1950s version of oriental exotica, the memories came flooding back.  Yes, there is yet another reminiscence coming, so please feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs should you so choose.

I started at Leeds Central High School in 1961 and became pally with a boy.  The School was a single sex establishment placed frustratingly next door to a girls’ school, Thoresby, and for some inexplicable reason we would go for a Chinese meal on the last day of each summer term.  Our restaurant of choice was The Golden Ring, just across Merrion Street from Noodle House on the balcony crossing the top entrance of the Grand Arcade.  They offered, as did others of their ilk, a Businessman’s Lunch, with three courses for four shillings (20p).  There were very few choices and we always seemed to have Chicken and Sweetcorn Soup, Chicken Chop Suey and Banana Fritter for dessert, which came with translucent yellow custard.  The height of sophistication.

Five years later, I was at Park Lane College, which in those days was half a dozen Portakabins in the playground of a Victorian infants’ school, rather than the monolith it is today.  One of the other students was a Chinese lad whose father owned, you guessed it – Golden Ring – so off I went with him for a sentimental journey.  Instead of climbing the stairs to the restaurant, we descended into the cellar where there was a Chinese youth club with people playing table tennis and reading Chinese comics and newspapers.  I was stunned.  As an aside, the now long-gone ABC Cinema on Vicar Lane, or Ritz as it was previously known, would show Chinese films in the early hours of the morning when all of the restaurants had shut.  As they were purely film shows with no catering, the patrons took bowls of their own ice cream to accompany the flick; a strange sight at 2.00am!

Okay, you can come back now!

There is a reason for these reflections in that Noodle House is much more like the Youth Club at the Golden Ring rather than the restaurant.  As I mentioned, it seems to cater mainly for the Asian community with no comprehensive explanation as to the dishes on the menu.  The very charming lady who, sensing that this was my first visit, took me through the basics of ordering, i.e. go to the counter, place your order, sit down and you will be called when your food is ready.  Unfortunately, she did this quite speedily and, combined with a broad accent, it meant that at the end of the tutorial I was no wiser than at the beginning.  I got the bit about the menu being split into noodle and rice dishes and the noodles subdivided into soup and stir fried, but that was on the menu so I returned her smile and looked as though I knew what I was doing.

As it is called Noodle House, my choice in that department was made for me, and as it was mid twenty degrees outside I thought that soup was not appropriate, so I went to the stir fried section.  My years of experience of ordering takeaways drew me to No.42 Special Noodle Ho Fun.  Special usually means that they put the full range of meats etc into the dish and I have never been known to refuse fun of any description, so this seemed to be just the thing.  There was a choice of five sauces:  Satay, Curry, Maggie, Thai and the one I went for, Spicy Hot.  To drink, I had a bottle of Lemon Ice Tea which was predominantly labelled in Chinese but fortunately had a small translation on it.  The total for this was £8.60, so if I had got everything disastrously wrong it wouldn’t break the bank.

Whilst I was placing my order I got my first bout of food envy as a couple of plates of the most amazing looking pieces of meat were being put on the counter awaiting collection by the fortunate recipients. These were followed by a chicken dish which I wished I had ordered.  Never mind, I must concentrate on the positives – mine was just as likely to turn my fellow diners’ eyes green when it arrived.  When it was ready, the chap behind the counter shouted ‘Mixed Chow Mein’, so I ignored him but he then addressed me directly to let me know that it was mine. There goes my lunchtime of adventure then, chow blooming’ mein.  I could not have been more mistaken as the dish contained food which was as far removed from the take-away version as it could possibly be, especially in the quality department.

As expected the noodles, which still had a bit of bite, were accompanied by a selection of goodies, including chicken, pork, beef, prawns and what at first I took to be octopus but in fact turned out to be tripe.  It is years since I have had tripe, which I loved as a kid but again this was nothing like I have ever tasted before.  Superb.  Sadly, the photographs do not do the dish justice as, unlike the meat I saw earlier, it is not very spectacular, but the taste more than made up for the looks.  The meat and noodles were done to perfection and the portion more than ample.  The spicy sauce was hot without being overpowering, but the addition of a couple of spoonfuls of the home made chilli sauce from a container on the table provided some further heft.  I am not a heat addict but like to try everything on offer, so I just put it on a small section of the dish.

I had meant to call here a few weeks ago but I found out the hard way that they close on Wednesdays, so should you fancy a visit then please avoid that day.  I will also give you a tip in that the chap behind the counter spoke pretty much perfect English, so I would suggest that you have a word with him as to what to have.  A bigger tip would be to look as if you are perusing the contents of the drinks chiller cabinet which is next to the counter and if you see something spectacular come out for another diner, point to it and tell him that is what you want.

I still have no real desire to visit the Far East and even less so now that I know that there is a part of it very conveniently situated in Merrion Street.

Thai A Roy Dee

http://www.thaiaroydeeleeds.com/

Many, many moons ago every village, town and city had half-day closing, which meant that shops and other businesses would shut at lunchtime on one day a week.

The reason was that, as they only opened from 9.00am until 6.00pm, they could work with one set of staff putting in a five and a half day week.  The consequence was that if you travelled around the country you would need to know what the local half-day was or risk going to an appointment and finding the place shut or not being able to pick up something for dinner.

In Leeds, Wednesday was the designated half-day. To complicate things even further, there was a posh department store called Schofield’s, which was a privately owned business and very pioneering.  They demolished their old store and built a big new one on the Headrow where the Core is now, which stayed open on Wednesday but closed all day Monday.  They were also the ones to introduce late night shopping to Leeds on Thursdays.  Once stores started opening six days a week, then having late nights and ultimately trading all seven days, they needed to hire extra people to work on a rota basis.

The reason I begin with this piece of history is that I set out to review an eating house in Leeds only to discover that it closes all day on Wednesday and so the memories came flooding back, not least because Wednesday was the blooming day I had chosen to pay it a visit!   Undaunted, I turned to Plan B and, realising that I didn’t have a Plan B, went to the nearest place I hadn’t reviewed before, Thai A Roy Dee on Vicar Lane.  Serendipity.

The outside is not very impressive and the inside is a bit basic as well, but the food and service are wonderful.  I was seated at a small table and given a menu.  Thai is not my first language and it took me a while to work my way through the menu, so when the waiter arrived to take my order I was still musing over the choices.  He was happy to let me take my time to continue perusing and smiled when I asked for a further five minutes.  Obviously, the minute he had left I decided on my dishes and a charming waitress came back to take my order.  I could not believe the deal here.  They have a Happy Hour menu which runs from noon until 5.00pm (they obviously cross the time zones) and is £6.95 for a starter, a main course and rice or chips.  Amazing value.

The menu is divided into starters and main courses but, as is the way with Thai restaurants, they both arrive together, in this case also on the same plate.  My starter was Chicken Satay served with peanut sauce and pickled vegetable, and my main Pad Pad Nor Mai, which is stir fried special red curry paste with bamboo shoots and lime leaves.  As with all of the main dishes, you choose what you want to add to the sauce from a list of chicken, beef, pork, tofu or vegetables.  I had the beef and jasmine rice.  It doesn’t matter that everything comes at once as the curry was in a porcelain bowl with a lid which trapped the heat.  I was so far into the Thai mode that I eschewed alcohol for one of the Special Thai Cold Drinks, Longan Juice made from dried longans sweetened with syrup for £2.00 and delicious it was, too.  The berries were floating on a small iceberg which made them very Instagram friendly but, as the ice melted, they sunk to the bottom of the brown liquid, making the glass resemble a laboratory sample, but the flavour intensified with their dunking.  I tried one of the floating berries which was a bit chewy.  Later I asked the waiter if one should eat the berries.  He smiled and told me that they were edible, but the look on his face said that only a total plonker like myself would actually try.

The satay was delicious if unspectacular to look at.  It is chicken skewers when all said and done, but the meat was lovely and tasty, being cooked to perfection.  The peanut sauce tasted as it should and the whole lot was very satisfying.  The curry was the star of the show, with large pieces of beef mixed with the bamboo shoots and perfectly cooked green beans, which still had a crunch but were cooked enough to heat them through and soften them a little. There were plenty of red chillies to give the dish a kick as well.  This item was identified on the menu with two chillies out of a possible three to indicate medium heat, but while it was on the hot side of medium it was not so much so as to obliterate the taste of the meat and vegetables.  The lime leaves and Thai basil gave that distinctive fragrance and flavour associated with the nation’s cuisine and the rice again was perfectly cooked.  The red curry sauce was the consistency of ghee or oio but it had a red colour to it – obviously – and was totally delicious when spooned over the rice.

The cooking and price made this one of the most outstanding meals I have had for a long time and I heartily recommend it.  A cafetière of coffee, enough for two cups, was only £2.00 as well.

In those dim and distant days I used to curse the half-day closing tradition but today I could not have been more pleased to be a victim once again as I doubt if Plan A could have beaten the non-existent Plan B.   I will try again soon and find out.  I had better not go on a Monday, though, in case they have taken a leaf out of Schofield’s book.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 7th July, 2019

North Brewing Co Tap Room and Little Bao Boys

https://www.littlebaoboy.com/

Not for the first time, my plans for the day had gone awry and also not for the first time the disaster turned to triumph.

I had chosen a venue for my review before I left home rather than winging it as is my wont, but the place I had earmarked was not really suitable in that it didn’t have much of a choice and was basically an all day breakfast bar.  What to do?  My first thought was to cheer myself up by blowing the budget on somewhere fancy, but then I thought again and decided to treat myself by going to a place where I could rely on a good pint and hopefully a decent lunch.  I have visited most of the North Brewing Co.’s pubs but never been to the new Tap Room in Sovereign Street, so I thought that I would pay them a call.

I might very well be mistaken, I seem permanently to be so nowadays, but I think that the new building in which the Tap Room is situated used to be the site of the Queen’s Hall, which was Leeds’ main concert venue in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.  It played host to such legends as The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Duran Duran and even Mr Acker Bilk and his Paramount Jazz Band.  More significant than all of these, however, was that it was the annual venue for the Great British Beer Festival, so it seems like a great place to open a boozer.

Thankfully, the new building is much better suited to dispensing beer than the old place, which was probably the worst in the world for serving ale, as it had a glass roof and the GBBF was always held in July or August, so the hall was turned into a huge greenhouse, meaning that your pint was at body temperature or above despite the cooling ‘snakes’ which were employed to keep the ale chilled.  Incidentally, in winter it was not much better for staging bands because the sweat generated by the audience’s gyrations would condense on said glass roof, which in January would be freezing cold, and fall back to earth akin to a storm in the Amazon Rain Forest.

Any road up, it is the here and now we are bothered about and the large modern bar area is a very pleasant space and laid out so that there is plenty of room either to sit down or mill around.  What I like about North Brewery pubs is that they are all different and not clones of one another.  I ordered a pint of Sputnik at £4.70 and then went to the food counter which is run by another Leeds institution, Little Bao Boy.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that they have a lunchtime special, where you can have two baos for £7 which can be a £2 saving on the regular price.  For those who are not familiar with these oriental delicacies, bao are fluffy discs of bread which are lovely and light because they are steamed rather than baked.

For my two I chose the East Meets West, which was filled with pork shoulder slow cooked in chilli, soy sauce, ginger, apple juice, five spice and garlic.  It is served with cucumber, spring onion, toasted sesame seeds, hoisin glaze and sriracha mayonnaise.  Sriracha is another form of chilli sauce.  Don’t be put off by the seeming excess of chilli – the bun was not an assault on the taste buds but subtly flavoured which, along with the other components, spanned the gamut of tastes.  My second choice was Beer Battered Cauliflower.  I think that cauliflower is my favourite vegetable and here it was fried in Sputnik beer batter mix and topped with similar goodies to the pork, except for the glaze.  Not only were they both excellent but were also able to be eaten in the hand without disintegrating, a plus when you are wearing pale brown chinos and a white shirt.  The pork was beautifully unctuous and tender whilst the cauliflower still had a crispness to the stalk of the floret.  Perfect.  What also made the day complete was that there is outside seating; not the greatest view in the world, granted, which I made use of and wondered why so many people go to sandwich shops when there is food like this available at the same price, if not cheaper.

Once again I have had a great lunch at a Plan B venue, which just goes to show what a great place Leeds is at the moment when it comes to dining out, even in a beer hall.  If you are not adventurous enough to try the bao buns, might I recommend your calling at the North Bar in New Briggate, where you can get the great Yorkshire lunch of a pint and a pork pie.  Go on, you know you want to – and the brown sauce is free.

Article first Published by Leeds Living on 4th July, 2019