Eat Your Greens

https://www.eatyourgreensleeds.co.uk/

In the words of another grumpy old man, ‘I don’t believe it!’  I have battled my way through countless vegan and vegetarian meals and one of the best I have had so far is here at Eat Your Greens, which is not a vegan or vegetarian restaurant.

I will repeat that:  Eat Your Greens is NOT a vegan or vegetarian restaurant.  They cater for everyone.  I promised Oliver, the chap who was running the place when I called, that I would make that perfectly clear. It has to be said that the menu is heavily skewed towards plant-based food, but there was chicken, fish, and even wood pigeon on the menu.

The reason I called was that I wanted to balance my reviews and so needed to go meat-free for a change.  I now know how vegetarians must have felt in days of yore when dining out with omnivores, but the choices I was given far outshone some of the reverse offerings.  I remember in the sixties, if you were a veggie you were given the roast beef and two veg but without the beef, or gravy!  The first ever vegetarian eatery I remember was called Cranks, the irony of which speaks for itself.  As I was here and the menu looked interesting, I thought that I would give Vejuneuary a try.

The next thing which needs to be said is that the meals on the menu are not imitation meat dishes but have been assembled to make use of the great flavours which vegetables have to offer.  When I go for a beer I want a properly brewed one and not an alcohol free version. I don’t want a glass of Ribena with vodka when I order red wine, so why do very competent chefs spend hours doing experiments with jack fruit and whip up the juice from cans of chickpeas to make pretend junk food?  Not only do they not taste remotely of the real thing but I am also sure that they put people off becoming vegan if that is all there is on offer.  Would anyone swap a proper veggie diet to live on Big Macs or chicken nuggets?  I wouldn’t.

When I arrived I noticed that there were quite a lot of people still there; it was the fag end of lunchtime, but the layout of the place with the bar being an island in the middle, breaks up the space, so it seemed quite empty.  I took my seat and was brought a set of menus.  I normally buy from the lunch specials, but as there was only a choice of three sandwiches I ordered from the Big Plates section of the main bill of fare which looked a lot more interesting. The menu obviously changes with availability as Jersey Royals were included on one dish and they have a very limited season.  Eventually, I decided on Black Pepper Swede, described as Fried black pepper, swede and pea flour bake, wholegrain quinoa pilaf with chilli, mixed seasonal greens and house kimchi, £10.

A very pleasant waitress brought me a carafe of water and a glass without having to be asked, and took my order for the food and a glass of red house wine, a Tempranillo at £4.50 for 125ml.  A short time later the goodies appeared. The cubes of swede were golden brown, crisp on the outside but fluffy in the middle, just like the best roasties you have ever had.  They were also very hot, so I worked my way around the rest of the components to let them cool down a bit.  The mixed seasonal greens were kale and small onions.  The texture of the kale was so much different from the swede, having cooked but still crunchy stalks and soft wilted leaves.  The quinoa grain was still whole grain, which again gave it some resistance to the tooth – did I just write that?  Finally, the kimchi was taking no prisoners whatsoever, having a kick like a mule but a very refreshing one, cutting through the warm comfort of the rest.  The whole balance was brilliant.  The wine was very smooth – I am a fan of the tempranillo grape but it’s not often you get an Austrian example like this Wagram Zweigelt and, even rarer, an organic version coming in a bag.

For dessert I chose one scoop of rhubarb sorbet for £2 (3 scoops are £5) which was not totally smooth but had some larger ice crystals to give it texture and interest.  The rhubarb certainly came bursting through. A black Americano for £2.20 arrived in a large mug, which gave me a chance to sit and reflect on the wonderful things which can be created from vegetables when you have the flair and imagination to use them as they were meant to be.  A further side-effect of this was that my appetite was satisfied but I didn’t feel as though I had eaten a ton of stodge.

If you should pay a visit to this place, and why wouldn’t you, then try something a bit different, but if you do decide on the meat or fish, don’t forget to eat your greens.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 9th June, 2019

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Pizza Fella

https://pizza-fella.co.uk/

The phrase ‘less is more’ springs to mind when reviewing Pizza Fella, the restaurant on Vicar Lane.  I pass the place fairly regularly so thought that it was about time I called in to test their wares.

Not only does the less is more philosophy apply to the decor but also the food, which is what makes this place stand out from a lot of the others.

This is the second time in a week I have come face to face with a stripped back pizza.  The last one was ordered by a friend of mine at another establishment, but today I had one all for myself.  I realise that the cuisine of Italy is as varied as anywhere else and so dishes with the same name vary from region to region, as happens in this country when, if moving from Cornwall to Devon, the way in which you eat a cream and jam scone differs fundamentally. Pizzas are a case in point, where the base and the toppings are changeable.  In Rome, the base is thin and crispy, whereas in Naples it will be lighter and thicker.  There are then the American abominations with a further range of combinations such as the Chi-town ‘deep pan’ base, which is as stodgy as you can manage.  Then there are the toppings, the Italians keeping it simple with locally produced delicacies, whilst Americans pile them high with everything they can lay their hands on.  Until recently we were not much better – witness the great pineapple debate of a few years ago, but thankfully there are now more authentic versions being produced in the UK and in Leeds in particular.

The decor at Pizza Fellas is stripped back, with basic tables and chairs or longer benches from which you can sit and watch the world go by. The menu continues this theme, with the pizzas themselves not having names but numbers. Most of the choices have a maximum of six toppings, two of which are the basic fior di latte and tomato, the vegan options dispensing with the former.  I was dining with a friend, so we had a bowl of nocellara olives dressed with extra virgin olive oil to start with, and at £3.50 there were ample for two. The other starters were either salads, not really suitable for sharing, or bread based, meaning that with the pizza we would have had more carbs than a Ferrari. I had a glass of Nero D’Avola at £4.75 for 175ml, whilst my friend had an Italian Cola (Baladin) £3.00.

For the main course, we had a Number Four at £9, which had the addition of portobello mushrooms and thyme, and a Number Eight with nduja, balsamic onions and fresh chilli at £11.  A note in the menu says ‘We make our dough on site using 4 ingredients – caputo flour, Yorkshire water, salt and yeast. We then let the dough prove at room temperature to create a soft, light, easy to digest pizza.  We hand stretch the dough and cook in our wood fired oven for 60-90 seconds to create a soft and floppy Neapolitain pizza.’ A minute doesn’t sound a lot of time to cook dough, but the oven is so hot that it is fine.  My companion and I both agreed our pizzas were excellent.  The nduja, a spicy, spreadable sausage, strategically placed in dollops on the cheese and tomato, carried a fair bit of a kick and livened up the pizza no end.  The base was just as described and meltingly delicious. It would have been a tragedy to have piled it high with unnecessary toppings, thus masking the subtle taste. For the same reason, I was also pleased to see that the tomato didn’t cover the base completely.

Desserts were similarly straightforward – a Tartufo Lemo with an unctuous gooey lemon filling, and my Affogato, both £4.50. It is ages since I have had Affogato, which is vanilla ice cream with a shot of espresso. They are served separately but the idea is that you pour the coffee over the ice cream. Because I was taking photographs, the espresso had cooled down a bit too much so I didn’t get that hot v cold battle going on in my mouth but it was good nevertheless. A black Americano at £2.30 completed the meal. I sometimes wonder how I ever get to sleep. Fortunately, I don’t seem to be affected by caffeine.

Finally, the service kept up the minimalist theme with the waitress, Alexandra, delivering everything in a pleasant, efficient way.  She was attentive without being overbearing. What made her a cut above the rest was that she was always scanning the room, even when not taking or serving orders and so you could instantly attract her attention should you need anything. There is nothing so annoying as wanting your bill and all of the serving staff are in a huddle or looking everywhere but towards the customers, especially at lunchtime if you have to get back to work. Well done indeed.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 3rd June, 2019

Pho

I have been meaning to call at Pho – pronounced Fuh – for quite some time now, but I always seem to get diverted.  

Because of other stuff I had to do in this part of Leeds, today seemed the perfect time to put on my blinkers and call in. I have eaten here before but it was in the dim and distant past before I began writing reviews so, as I had enjoyed my first visit, I hoped that it had not changed very much. I need not have worried; the place looked exactly the same right down to the broad smile which greets you when you order.  

Pho, the restaurant, is one of the original permanent occupants of Trinity Kitchen and has obviously got something right as it still attracts queues of people to sample its wares. Pho, the dish, is Vietnamese Noodle Soup and, as you would expect, is their speciality. There are lots of other South-East Asian street dishes on offer, such as Pho Xao, Com Tam and Bun, and don’t worry if you are not familiar with the names as the menu contains descriptions of what they are and the ingredients used. There is a selection of Starters and Small Plates should you fancy a tapas-style experience, and Vietnamese Salads by way of contrast.  

The idea, as with most of the other permanent eateries in Trinity Kitchen, is that you order at the counter where you are given a pager which illuminates and vibrates when your meal is ready to collect. I like this system as it suggests that the food is cooked to order and not ladled out of a bain-marie where it has lain for some time. Although you can take any meal from any outlet and eat it anywhere in the communal seating area, Pho is designed to suggest that the food be eaten in its confines and that is what seemed to happen, with everyone chomping on noodles and rice with only the odd burger or taco in evidence.  

I took my place in the queue and ordered a starter of Tender Fried Baby Squid with a salt, pepper and lime dip at £5.75, and a Pho from the House Specials section, the King Prawn and Steak Special containing king prawns, chicken and flash fried steak with garlic in beef broth for £8.95.  To save queuing twice I ordered them both at the same time, which was no problem as the Pho was very hot even by the time I got around to eating it, so it must have been nuclear when it was dished up. From the range of soft and alcoholic drinks, I chose a freshly squeezed Apple, mint and lime juice with the optional ginger (£2.95). Yes, you did read that correctly – there were beers and wines available but I had juice. I must go for a lie down later.  

As I have discovered in the past, dining alone at one of the communal tables can be a bit of a problem if they are busy as, when you get back from collecting your food, someone else has snaffled your seat, but fortunately it wasn’t too crowded when I went and a lovely couple seated nearby offered to keep my place for me. On my return, I set about eating my food.  

Both of the dishes I had ordered involved a bit of culinary effort on my part. The salt, pepper and lime dip for the squid needed to be mixed in a small plastic pot. This is a great idea as the pepper part was red chillies, so you can make it as hot or not as you like. I squeezed the lime over the salt and chillies and began to tuck in. There was also a sprig of coriander to take or leave as you wish. The squid was perfectly cooked and very tender, with its batter being crisp yet melting in the mouth. The added umph of the dip was not really needed but I had a few dunks amongst the ones I ate au naturel.  

The Pho itself, although clear, was bursting with flavour but even this could be enhanced by the addition of extra herbs provided in a paper tray to add, or not, as you like. There were the ubiquitous red chillies, lime, bamboo shoots, mint, coriander and galangal, all of which I ripped apart to release the flavours and added. The steak was superb, being tender but not so much so that it disintegrated when I tried to bite it, as were the prawns, which were huge and perfectly done. The chicken did fall apart on eating, but it was no bad thing. There is a danger in soups and stews containing different meats that they all take on the same taste when cooked together, but this was not the case here.  The prawns were as fishy as you would expect but that flavour had not permeated the meats, with the chicken especially tasting as it should and not being there as just another texture.

The juice was a perfect complement to the food, with the oriental hint of ginger and lime to link it to the dishes, whilst being supremely refreshing, thanks to the apple and lime again.  

It has to be said that this is not the cheapest two-course street food lunch in Leeds, but my goodness it was worth every penny, and far better than a conventional Vietnamese restaurant I recently reviewed, but the Pho was ample in itself without the starter. The setting of Trinity Kitchen also helps create the atmosphere of a busy street and long, communal dining tables make it easy to strike up a conversation with your fellow diners, although sometimes that might not always be an advantage.  Just ask the couple who saved my seat!

Article first published by Leeds Living on 26th April, 2019

Crown Buffet

https://www.crownbuffetleeds.com/

When I heard that Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham-Carter were going to be in The Crown I just had to pop along to see if I could catch a glimpse.

Not for the first time in my life, and probably not the last, I had got the wrong end of the stick and the aforementioned ladies are apparently on the cast list of a Netflix programme of that name rather than the Chinese restaurant in Gower Street.

I had been told by Leeds Living’s copy editor that the dim sum is highly rated, so I thought that I would give them a go. The sign outside the premises proclaims it as being Crown Buffet, which would have normally had me fleeing in the opposite direction but, as I was eschewing this for the snack section, I entered. Crown is old school Chinese, not in its concept but in that it is situated in an old school which was opened in 1875 and served Leyland, one of the most deprived areas in the City at that time. Thankfully, things have bucked up more than somewhat nowadays and it is a hub of industry.

My first experience of dim sum was in 1982 when my favourite Chinese restaurant, Sang Sang, moved from Lower Briggate to the Headrow, where it expanded its menu to incorporate these small portions. At the Sang Sang, now long gone, they were served mainly on a Sunday and partaking of them was the perfect way to while away the afternoon before shops were allowed to open on that day. It also meant that parking was free and unrestricted on yellow lines.

Dim sum is small portions of food which are normally served either steamed or fried and include things which are a little different from the norm. That being the case, I decided to order one steamed, one fried and one odd. From the fried section I opted to have something fishy in Deep Fried Squid Rings at £3.80, which were excellent.  If overcooked, squid and octopus can have the texture of elastic bands, but these were coated in a breadcrumb and fried to perfection so that they were crisp but the filling retained its tenderness. There was some dipping sauce which gave the rings a bit of oomph and which I used to lubricate my second choice, Roasted Pork Bun at £3.50. The buns were fantastic, very thick but light and filled with a dollop – excuse the technical term – of pork stew. They were delightful but could have done with something to alleviate the dryness of the bun, hence the utilisation of the dipping sauce.

Back in Sang Sang days I had noticed a dim sum which always intrigued me but which I never got round to ordering. Today, however, as I was not paying, was the perfect time to experiment, so along came the Chicken Feet in Black Bean Sauce, £3.50. They didn’t come of their own accord you understand; they were cooked and on a plate. The waiter, who was extremely helpful, gave me a crash course on how to eat them. It is not a very elegant process as you pick them up to get the meat off the bone. It is also not very straightforward as there are several small bones and they must not be swallowed. The black bean sauce meant that the flavour of the meat was somewhat masked, but I found them to be glutinous of texture, being more skin than flesh, and, as one would expect, not exactly filling. They are a delicacy and so eaten on special occasions rather than for sustenance.

The waiter told me a joke about a High Ranking American at a state banquet who was given chicken feet and picked up a knife and fork. Etiquette decreed that everyone else had to follow his lead, which led to mayhem as you can’t eat them with western cutlery and the Chinese didn’t know how to use a knife and fork anyway. Those Yanks, eh! I am really glad I tried them but will probably not be rushing back for seconds. The sauce did come in handy once again for the pork buns.

Although there is a range of drinks on offer, both alcoholic and soft, I went for my favourite brew of tea, the subtlety and dry taste of which complement Chinese food no end. I had to try a dessert and was thinking about being adventurous yet again by having the Papaya and White Fungus Sweet Soup, but my waiter buddy steered me towards the Chilled Mango Sago Cream with Pomelo at £3.60. I would like to thank him for this as it was delicious. I was one of those kids at school dinners who loved sago pudding so this was a special treat and the chunks of mango gave it a brilliant texture.

When I had finished lunch I introduced myself to the waiter and had a chat with him about Sang Sang, which he remembers fondly, and also the buffet, of which I saw no sign. He said that they now do an à la carte buffet, meaning that people choose their dishes from the menu and smaller portions are cooked to order so that they are not left lying around in a bain-marie for hours on end. Chinese food, especially stir fry, needs to be served and eaten as soon as it leaves the pan, so this is a great way to do things. The diners are more than welcome to order extra portions or more dishes if they wish. I should imagine that this also cuts down on the dreaded waste of food. I am always appalled at ‘all you can eat buffets’ when people pile up their plate and then leave half of it because their eyes are bigger than their bellies. Well done Crown on getting this right.

I do recommend the restaurant for its friendly staff, well cooked food and extensive menu but I would just like to inform the waiter that it is my job to do the jokes, Sunshine!

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

Let’s Do Lunch at Crown Buffet

Cantinho do Aziz

A couple of weeks ago I was asked if I would pop along to Holbeck Urban Village to take some photographs at Round Foundry, so I took my usual route through the Dark Arches and Granary Wharf to Water Lane.

Wharf Approach was closed to traffic, so it was lucky I don’t have a car, and some work was going on by the pavement, but the chap driving the small vehicle digging up the road was good enough to move his ride so that I could get past.

When I had done my job I set off back and rather than disturb the workman again I returned to City Square via Neville Street, which I crossed at the Hilton Hotel. I relate this story as, had I not taken this circuitous route, I might never have known of the existence of Cantinho do Aziz which is situated in a railway arch at 1 Sovereign Place, just off the main road where the bridge crosses it. I try to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to Leeds eateries but, although it was established a year ago, this one had slipped under my radar .

All photographs by Stan Graham.

As you might have deduced from the name, this is a Portuguese restaurant and as authentic as you can get. There are two branches, this one in Leeds and the other in Lisbon. It doesn’t doesn’t stop there, though, as they cook dishes from the other Portuguese former colonies of Brazil, Mozambique and Angola. The full menu looked very interesting, with about a dozen dishes I would have liked to have tried, but in this series I am limiting myself to the lunch specials, which again proved a poser even though there were only five options plus soup. I passed on the Peri-Peri Chicken, which would have been the obvious choice and instead went for Aziz Steak Sandwich which contains Stir Fry Beef topped with Fried Egg, Salad, Olives, crisps and a ‘Unique Portuguese Delicious Sauce’. How could I resist?

When I went inside I was ushered upstairs to some extra seating, which was just the job as it was very windy outside and sitting by the door might have been a bit of an adventure. When I took my seat and ordered I was asked which soft drink I would like. I eschewed the fizzy stuff and went for a bottle of still water. Two of the other tables were occupied by a couple of young men at each, one of whom had ordered the Peri-Peri Chicken, so I asked him if I could take a photograph of it for your benefit and he agreed. The portion was massive. The guys on the other table were halfway through the same dish and were visibly affected by the hot chilli sauce which comes with it, their paper napkins doubling as face towels and tissues.

I sat smugly awaiting my much tamer choice. It may have been tamer but it was no smaller, the beautifully soft bread containing more than enough of the advertised ingredients. The beef was extremely tasty, as were all the other components.  The egg yolk was still a little runny but the white was fully cooked. Just before Christmas I had been to an upmarket steak house and had their fillet steak sandwich which cost about three times the price but was no better than this. My smugness soon disappeared when, along with the plate containing the sandwich, a small pot of red sauce was delivered which I recognised as being of the same ilk as that given to the chicken chaps. The owner said that it was on the hot side and gave me the condiment dish containing some regular tomato ketchup which I put on the chips conspicuously enough so that if any of my fellow diners happened to look, it might seem as though I was relishing the, well, relish, which was so much affecting them.

After going round the plate and dissecting some of the sandwich so that I could sample the flavours of each component separately, I could resist it no longer and dipped a chip lightly in the chilli sauce. Kabooom!! I once underestimated the potency of some wasabi paste in a Japanese restaurant in Oslo which proved to be a near death experience, and this was right up there alongside it. It was lethal. I took a gulp of water and went back to the sandwich and the chips bearing the ketchup.

I am a man and I still do not understand the things which make us do the things we do, so when the sound of my Adam’s Apple sizzling had subsided, I had another taste of chilli, or should that be unique, Portuguese, delicious, sauce-covered chip. I don’t know whether my taste buds had been totally destroyed or merely anaesthetised, but it was much better, in fact it was quite tasty so I had a bit more. Suffice it to say that the remnants of the worst cold I have had in many a year disappeared almost at once. The owner came upstairs to ask me how the meal was and I said it was great but the sauce was a little on the nuclear side to which he replied that they do it either with or without chillis. Please learn from my experience if you are not one to abuse the Scoville scale of chilli heat. I must say that if I return here I will still have the hot version as it was very good after the first hit.

You might be wondering why I haven’t quoted any prices yet.  Well, I thought that I would leave you wondering about that. The lunch deal is £5 or £6 for the chicken including a soft drink. Some bars in Leeds would charge that for a Coke alone.

I decided that I needed to order something sweet to go with my usual Black Americano because I had seen a plate of my favourite cake in the world behind the counter when I came in, Pastel de Nata. These are the traditional Portuguese egg custards but made with puff pastry rather than short crust. It arrived warm and was just as good as the ones I eat about a dozen a day of when in Lisbon. The coffee was £1.75 and the pastel £1.50. For the sum total of £8.25 it was brilliant.

I had a chat with the owner whilst paying my bill and he told me that it is a family affair: his brother runs the Lisbon restaurant, which is where he was born, and the women doing the cooking here were his cousins. One of them comes from what is now quite a large town on the coast just outside the capital called Cascais. It was the first place I ever stayed in that lovely country back in the late nineties, and although not wishing to sound like a representative of the Portugal Tourist Board, if you ever have the chance, give it a try. It still has the charm of a fishing town but is now just as swish as anything the French Riviera has to offer.

With the thought of the warm Mediterranean lapping against the harbour wall, I donned my scarf, gloves and thick sheepskin jacket to face the teeth of a February gale in Leeds. I still wouldn’t swap.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 13th February 2019

Mr Mackerel

In May 2018, I ticked one more item off my bucket list when I visited Istanbul.  To be fair, this is about my third bucket list as I have been fortunate enough to do lots of stuff I never thought possible, so I am now looking for stuff that I didn’t really want to do but it would be nice if they happened.

Going to Istanbul meant that I could experience a culture different from my own, set foot in Asia, a continent I had not previously visited, and sample some amazing food.

As you will probably remember, May 2018 was at the beginning of the tremendous summer we enjoyed, or endured, depending on your point of view, so I was worried that Turkey might be a bit on the hot side.  I needn’t have fretted as I experienced five days of almost non-stop drizzle.  It was warm drizzle I grant you but drizzle nevertheless. Of the many types of food I sampled, one of the most memorable was the hot fish sandwich bought straight from boats moored on the quayside of the Bosphorus. The craft were highly decorated and had hotplates on which the fish, mackerel, were cooked.  They were served in half a baguette with raw onions and lettuce.  When I bought my sarnie and sat at one of the nearby tables, a vendor arrived with a tray full of plastic cups containing a claret-coloured liquid with chunks of what looked like fruit in it.  I thought that it looked pretty refreshing so I bought one, only to discover that it was pickles. The liquid was some sort of vinegar and the ‘fruit’ small pieces of cucumber. I was given a fork with which to extract and eat the veg, which came as a great relief as I didn’t fancy drinking it.  To say that the pickles were strong would be a bit of an understatement and for the rest of the afternoon I looked as though I was playing the trumpet without noticing that someone had stolen it.  The fish sandwich was excellent, although not fully filleted, so a game of spit out the bones ensued.

Fast forward to December 2018 and I am in the street food section of Leeds Kirkgate Market, queueing at the stall of Mr Mackerel which advertises the same delicacy.  They sell lots of other Turkish dishes to eat at either the communal tables or to take away to enjoy al desko.  The service in Istanbul was instant but sadly in Kirkgate Market it was painfully slow.  I must clarify that this was nothing to do with the efforts of the staff on duty, but by some inconsiderate jobsworth of a food inspector who had chosen 1.00pm to bring proceedings to a halt whilst he had a thorough look at all of the equipment, meaning that my wait was over 20 minutes.  Others in the queue who were on fixed lunch breaks peeled off and bought their food at one of the other stalls.  So much for Leeds Council encouraging business! I’m sure that the job could have been done after 2.00 when the place had quietened down. I was eating with a colleague who had gone for a pizza to another stall and so by the time I joined him his lunch was stone cold. What a gentleman for waiting.

Mr Mackerel photographs by Stan Graham.

While the manager was running around complying with the inspector’s wishes, his assistant was doing a sterling job, making up the orders as best he could with the other two seemingly permanently in his way.  He soon had the sympathy of all of us who were present, except for the white coat of course.  Anyway, eventually my sandwich arrived and I was asked if I would like salad on it.  I declined as I wanted to taste the fish unadulterated and didn’t want to complicate the process of deboning it should that prove necessary. He was more than happy to put the salad in a separate container which was a lovely gesture, unlike the ones which some of my fellow queuers were by now flicking to the food inspector.  The cost of this was £3.00; amazing value.  To drink I had a fresh orange juice at £2.00 which was squeezed before my very eyes, so I was sure that it was not some kind of pickle.

The bread in which the mackerel was served was more like a focaccia than the baguette I was expecting and was lovely and soft – very tasty in its own right.  It is not often that you get food at home which is as good as the native version and this was no exception – it was much better.  Not only was the bread sublime but also there were no bones in the mackerel and the salad was a lot more comprehensive than the authentic raw onion and leaves.  I cannot get over the value for money which this gave and I would be only too pleased to recommend the place to anyone.  Should you pay a visit and see someone in a white coat behind the counter I suggest that you make alternative arrangements for lunch, or order so that it is ready for teatime.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 6th January, 2019

Livin’Italy

A few years ago when I was in fairly handsomely rewarded employment I spent a year living in Candle House, the round building in Holbeck Urban Village which looks like a stack of pizzas.

It was a great place to live, only a couple of minutes’ walk to City Square and the train station, another couple of minutes’ drive to the motorway system and with a fine selection of bars and restaurants on the doorstep. My favourite haunt was Vineataly where I would call for coffee and a bite should the mood take me. They had to change their name after another establishment of the same name got a strop on and it became Livin’Italy and styled itself as a Bar, Italian Kitchen and Deli.  Fortunately, the casual vibe didn’t change.

All Livin’Italy photographs by Stan Graham

The reason I mention the above, apart from having to start my article somehow, is that I had arranged to meet an old, sorry, former, workmate for lunch and as they were coming by train I thought that this would be a good place to revisit. By using the new South Entrance to the station you come out in the dark arches about twenty yards from Granary Wharf, so before we knew it we were waiting to be seated. We were found a table for two in the upstairs room which, like the ground floor, is decorated in industrial chic style. They have also moved the Italian racing red motor scooter up here and it is displayed in the front window. Even though it was pushing two o’clock when we arrived the place was still fairly full with diners, and the buzz of conversation gave it a wonderful atmosphere.  I wasn’t going to write about the visit as I thought that someone might recognise me from the days when I was a regular, but the staff had changed and the boss, Alessandro, was on holiday. On thinking back, it is over six years since I moved away so it is not surprising no one knew me. Not only has the staff changed but the menu has too and is now much more expansive.

I began with Nduja, on crostini bread, topped with Stracciatella, a creamy mozzarella, then dressed with Rocket leaves (£7.50). Should you be unfamiliar with nduja it is a spreadable type of salami with added spices and a heavy kick of chillies, so approach with caution if you are not into hot tastes. If that is the case you may prefer what my friend had, the Bruschetta Pugliese which is Friselle crostini bread topped with an abundance of cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and dressed with fresh oregano and basil.(£5.95). The combination of fresh tomatoes and basil is a marriage made in heaven and this was divine.

For our main course we chose from the Meat and Fish section of the menu.  My choice was Braised Tuscan Sausage in Borlotti Beans served with char-grilled sourdough (£11.95).  The taste was amazing and comfort food par excellence. The seasoning of the sausage turned the humble banger into something very special and the beans in their sauce were a million miles away from the canned variety, still having some bite to them rather than being cooked to a mush.

I accompanied the food with an excellent glass of House Montepulciano at £6.95 for 175ml. Tuscan Sausage was also my partner’s choice but this time in a burger which contained smoked cheese, crispy pancetta, salad leaves and  a side of roast potatoes and spicy sauce. This came in at £10.95. As the dish was rather large the bun was stripped of its contents and unfortunately had to be left, but the sausage etc. was said to be very good; so good in fact that I wasn’t offered a taste!  I was told, however, that I was welcome to the bun. Cheers mate. With no room left for dessert we decided to bid arrivederci to Livin’Italy and made our way back to the station.

It is always a gamble returning to somewhere you knew and loved after all this time, but it was far from disappointing in this instance. The only disappointing part is that I can no longer afford to live in this, now salubrious, part of town with its huge range of facilities. On second thoughts, I am probably getting a bit long in the tooth for la dolce vita.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 11th October, 2018

Smak

I have been writing our Let’s Do Lunch series for two and a half years now and enjoyed every minute of it.

After a year I was asked if I would like to try going to press nights to write articles promoting restaurants and I was only too pleased to oblige. Then came, ‘How about doing some theatre reviews?’ Once more I responded in the positive. From there we progressed to Farmers’ Markets and all seemed well but imagine my surprise and shock when I received an email asking me if I would like to try Smak. I remembered the ‘Just Say No!’ Campaign of the mid eighties and was about to write an angry reply but then I noticed that there was no letter ‘c’ in it.

Now I might not know much about Class A drugs but I do know how to spell them and being aware of what a stickler Leeds Living’s copy editor is I knew it could not be a mistake so I googled ‘smak’ and found that it was Polish for ‘taste’. It is also the name of an establishment on Kirkstall Road which serves the food from that particular Eastern European country. Once I had composed myself I agreed and put a lunchtime aside for a visit.

There seems to be a burgeoning international food scene on this part of the thoroughfare opposite Cardigan Fields Leisure and Entertainment Centre, of which Smak is the latest addition. Their aim is to serve traditional Polish food but give some of it a modern twist. For quite some time now I have been bemoaning the lack of Polish, Jewish and West Indian restaurants in a city which has a sizeable population of each of these groups, and whose cultures we should be celebrating, and what more appropriate way is there to celebrate than by eating and drinking.

I was told by Moniker, the owner, that Smak is more of a coffee shop than a restaurant and, as such, the portions were a bit on the small side so she suggested I order two dishes; the idea being that people not used to Polish food could test the water. There was a special lunch dish but I wanted to sample the specialities on the normal menu. The specials change on a daily basis anyway so would not be the same should you decide to pay a visit.

I know from my Polish friends that Pierogi is more or less the national dish so I just had to try those. Pierogi are dumplings which are cooked by boiling them in water. There are as many recipes for the dough as the fillings but it is basically flour and water, although some people add an egg or even mashed potato. There is a choice of three fillings, one of which is vegetarian and another vegan. I went for the third, being ground pork, beef and herbs. They were well worth the wait of all those years, being very light and the filling beautifully seasoned, with the flavour of each of the two meats discernible which takes some doing. They were topped with chopped chives and small pieces of bacon. A dollop – pardon the technical term – of mayonnaise completed the dish. An absolute delight and worth a fiver of anybody’s money.

My second dish was a Kanapka z Kietbasa (smoked sausage sandwich) of which there is a choice of three, mine being Angry Bull – beef and pork with chilli. It came in a lightly toasted bun containing house slaw, Polish gherkin, cheese and horseradish sauce. There were salad leaves with a pesto dressing on the side. The sausages were extremely tasty and had the required chilli kick, although not overpowering. The slaw and gherkin cut through the flavour of the sausage to form a formidable combination. If I have one criticism it was that the toasting of the bun dried it out a little. All of the sandwiches are £6.

I asked what would be the appropriate drink to have with the meal and I was recommended Summer Fruit Kompot, a homemade juice drink which was extremely refreshing and not too sweet at £1.50.

When I had finished lunch and revealed that I was there to write a review I had a conversation with the owner, who is obviously passionate about what she does and told me the story behind the dishes I had. The pierogi were made to her grandmother’s recipe and the smoked sausage her grandfather’s. He would smoke them using the pork from the pigs on the family’s small farm, selling them to the villagers nearby, Moniker now uses finest Yorkshire pork. During the war, her father used to take the kielbasa into the local forest to feed the resistance fighters who were holed up there. That’s a dangerous job if ever there was one.

Should you pay a visit, and why wouldn’t you, I suggest that you just have one of the dishes on offer so as to save room for a piece of the home baked cake for dessert.  Unfortunately I didn’t have room but it was plum sponge cake with a crumble topping and looked divine.

So children, be like the kids from Grange Hill in that advertising campaign and if someone enquires if you want to try smak ask them to spell it. If it is with a ‘c’ Just Say No!  If it is without a ‘c’ definitely Just Say Yes! – please.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 28th September, 2018

Simpatico

Temporarily closed

This lunchtime saw me take a trip to Simpatico, which is a pizza restaurant in Queen’s Arcade.

We are so lucky to live in a city where the Victorian architects were so forward thinking as to build these wonderfully ornate structures in order to protect shoppers from the ravages of the Northern climate. I often wonder what they would think of their being used as ‘outdoor’ seating to accommodate diners at the plethora of cafes, delis and restaurants which have sprung up over the past decade. I am sure that their progressive outlook would mean that they would wholeheartedly embrace the change. I know I do, as they add a Continental vibe to the city and make great places to people-watch whilst eating, whether those being scrutinised are wearing summer clothes or snow boots.

Had it not been for the County Arcade I would probably not be writing this article, as that is where my mother and father met, he being the manager of the Mecca Ballroom which used to occupy the premises now trading as the Reiss ladieswear shop, and my mother a regular at the Saturday night hops.

All photographs by Stan Graham.

Simpatico sells Pizza Al Taglio which means pizza by the slice, and offers a different slant on the normal version as the dough is made from whole grain, spelt and other cereals. It has a high hydration and is left to prove for 72 hours, which gives it a totally different texture from either the traditional Roman base which is thin and crisp or the Chicago version which is the thickness of a duvet. The result is a very tasty, if odd, combination. The bottom of the base, if you follow my drift, is very crisp, but the top layer is a bit like sourdough with the air bubbles creating a light bread texture. They are cooked in special ovens shipped in from Moretti Forno in Rome. The result is a base which could quite easily be eaten just as it comes and be delicious, which would make my job a lot easier than it has turned out to be because I am now about to tackle the topping.

From the range available I opted for the Ham and Balsamic at £3.95, which was wonderful. The homemade tomato sauce and cheese topping were enhanced by thicker than normal strips of fresh ham and cherry tomatoes dressed in a rich balsamic sauce. Nothing very clever, but when you are dealing with such good ingredients I don’t think that you need to mess about with them too much. ‘What is so difficult about that?’ you may ask.  Well, because fresh ingredients are used, the toppings change on a daily or even hourly basis, so if you turn up wanting a slice of what I have just described you could be disappointed. On second thoughts, you will probably not be disappointed as I am sure that whatever is on offer will be just as good.

The advice on an information card in the restaurant is two slices for lunch and three for dinner. I just settled on the one as I had seen suppli in the display unit and decided to give one a try.  Suppli are rice balls coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. They are a lot like the Sicillian Arancini but normally contain a filling of tomato sauce and cheese rather than ragu and peas. The suppli sold here are larger than I have seen in Rome and pear-shaped, only in appearance not result. The chunk of Mozzarella in the centre was wonderfully stringy and it is this which gives them their Italian nickname of ‘telephones’ as, when they are cut in half, the cheese which joins the two parts together makes it look like an old corded phone. It is only a matter of time before Apple bring out a ‘smart’ version at a grand a pop. The taste was again very good, with the cheese making itself known rather than just being there for effect. A snip at £3.50.  I could not let the opportunity of a glass of red go begging so I had a very pleasant house Merlot at £4.50 for 175ml.

The service was extremely good, with the young lady behind the counter informing me that the suppli would take about 4 minutes and did I want the pizza straight away or to wait and have both dishes served at the same time, which I thought was a nice touch. There were potted basil plants on the tables, which gave a good atmosphere and could also be used to enhance the flavour of your lunch should you so desire.

Simpatico is Italian for ‘nice’ or ‘friendly’ but in this case, it means both.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 22nd August, 2018

Mill Kitchen

Farsley in the late 1970s when I lived there was hardly the most alluring suburb of the City, possibly because I lived there.

It had all of the disadvantages of a village, i.e. shops which closed at lunchtime on Saturday and no nightlife except for a couple of pubs, a decent chippy and a Chinese take-away. It was losing its identity as the conurbations of Leeds and Bradford were expanding, thus absorbing small communities such as this and turning them into commuter belt. Most buses missed the place out altogether by using the B6157 Stanningley Road extension or Rodley Lane.  The only way you could visit the village was if you made a special journey, but few did.How times change! Farsley has become cool. There are several wine bars, restaurants of various origins and delis, but the decent pubs and shops have been retained, although sadly not the chippy. Even the Leeds – Halifax bus route has diverted to take in the views.  Sunny Bank Mills has had a great deal of money spent on it and been turned into work units for small businesses, an art gallery, studios and the place I had made a not so sentimental journey to see, Mill Kitchen.

All photographs by Stan Graham

I review eateries of all sorts in most parts of Leeds, and I must say that this ranks amongst the best. It is not fine dining and it does not have the most expansive menu, but what it does it does well.  The lunch menu consists of the daily savoury bake, and three salads. There is a larger choice for breakfast/brunch as well as a range of sandwiches and a soup. I was here to sample lunch so I had the daily bake which on the day was Feta and Tomato Fritatta. It costs £7.75 and comes with three portions of the salads on display which also vary depending on the ingredients available. A large portion of salad for a main course is £6.75. The choice of the day was between Kale, apple, hazelnut and feta, Fennel, orange and goat’s cheese; and Pattypan squash, quinoa and seeds. I ordered a black Americano (£2.20) to drink as it was a tad early to hit the booze, although there is a good selection of craft ale and wine should you be so inclined.

A lovely touch was the acknowledgement of the building’s wool processing heritage by giving diners a large wooden bobbin with a number attached as identification for the waiting staff when serving your dish.  It was a Saturday and the inside of the deli was full of brunchers and families so I decided to brave the wind and sit outside. When the food arrived it was just as spectacular as the building.  It was delivered to my table as I had been asked on ordering whether I would prefer the frittata hot or cold, a nice touch, and as I opted for the former, it took a little time to heat.

The portion size was of Yorkshire proportions with the plate full of goodies. The frittata was wonderfully light, even though it was a thick piece, and the salads inventive and complimentary. There was enough of each to experiment with the flavours by mixing them up a bit. I enjoyed every mouthful.  I gave dessert a miss as the cloud cover increased and I didn’t fancy a soggy bun, or bum. I must, once again, praise the service, which was excellent and very friendly.Should you not wish to have anything to eat there is a deli counter selling produce as well as Leeds Bread Cooperative loaves, not to mention the craft beers and wine. I told you not to mention the craft beers and wine – sorry.

If you find yourself in this now trendy suburb then you could do worse than call here for sustenance. There most certainly is no trouble at t’mill.

Article first published by Leeds Living 2nd August, 2018