House of Fu

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By happy accident I have discovered one of the best value lunch deals in Leeds at £8.95 for two superb courses. Less happily, it cost me substantially more.

My Plan A was to visit a restaurant which had been on my To Do List for a long time and, as it was participating in the Eat Leeds scheme offering three courses for £15, I thought that I would give it a go. When I looked more closely at their website I saw that they normally do a special lunch menu so there was no point in reviewing a deal which will end in a couple of weeks’ time. As I was due to go to Leeds Grand Theatre I thought that I would ask Mick Jagger if he would consider whacking Roger McGuinn and David Crosby, thus killing two Byrds with one Stone. 1960s joke!

I trawled through the list of places which don’t have a dedicated offer at midday and House of Fu looked to be just the thing so, as it is just around the corner from the Grand in Headrow House, I booked a table for one at 5.00pm. I don’t use the name Stan Graham when I book just in case the place in question recognises it, I am flattered to admit that has happened before. I rolled up at 4.45, early as usual, and was escorted to a table smack in front of the counter. I think that it might have been to save the waiting staff from having too far to walk as there was only one other party in the place.

The decor is what might be called industrial pretty, with concrete pillar and wood beamed ceiling from which hangs macrame plant pot holders. The furniture is tubular steel, wood and pink, very pink!

The menu doubles as a table mat but, as I had perused it before I booked I knew what I wanted, and that was the Yuzu Chicken Ramen. It consists of Chicken Broth, Sapporo Noodles, Chicken Chashu, Yuzu, Roast Tomato, Spring Onion, Egg and Nori. £12. I was shown the drinks menu and opted for House of Fu Kombucha at £2.50. I didn’t want anything alcoholic and, as this was home made it was the obvious choice. It is made with strawberry, watermelon and mint mixed with their own kombucha culture. It looks very Delboy and has a distinctive taste. I thought that I detected a hit of ginger but couldn’t be sure, it had an ingredient which I have had before but couldn’t place. Whatever it was it was certainly refreshing.

Now that I had my drink I thought that I would read the other leaflet which was in the menu holder on the table and that is when I saw it !!!!!!!!!!

I confirmed with the waiter that the deal was, in fact, two dishes from the normal menu for £8.95. This really left me with no choice but to order a portion of Gyoza so that I could do a proper review. I opted for the Gyoza of the week which turned out to be Ox Cheek and Water Chestnut. £5.

Because of the staggered ordering, the dishes arrived some time apart, which was not a bad thing.

I must say that the ramen was superb. The broth had a good flavour to it rather than the weak stuff you sometimes get which has obviously only been used as a liquid to cook the noodles, in this case also perfectly done. The egg was also perfectly cooked, having a yolk which had just set but still had a little runniness to it. The tomato had been slightly charred when roasting to intensify the flavour giving yet another dimension to the dish. The nori (seaweed) was decoratively placed on the side of the bowl and was – well – nori. Finally to the thick discs of chicken chashu which were wonderfully succulent. Chicken chashu is rolled thigh fried, braised in soy sauce and left to marinate. It was excellent.

Just as I was seeing off the last of the broth my Gyoza arrived. There were six pieces and once again, the flavour was intense. Gyoza are small pancakes which are filled, in this case with ox cheek and water chestnut, and then pan fried but only on one side. Water is then added to the pan which is then covered allowing the parcels to steam, cooking not only the filling, but also the other side. These were fried a bit darker than ones I have had before and, as with the tomatoes in the ramen, the charring had intensified the flavour and accentuated the difference in texture of the two sides even more. There was an accompanying dip of soy sauce.

I declined the invitation to order dessert as the portions meant that I had no room, although the thought of an ice cream sandwich was rather appealing. I doubt it was the block of vanilla between two wafers which I enjoyed as a kid.

I must say that I really enjoyed my meal, and the service was also excellent from all those who served me. Sadly though, the taste which was left in my mouth was not as pleasant as it could have been had I known that by arriving an hour or so earlier I would have saved myself just over £8. I have double and triple checked House of Fu website, twitter and instagram pages and nowhere is the lunch deal mentioned. Because of this lack of customer service I will only be awarding three stars instead of the four it would otherwise have got.

All photographs by Stan Graham

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Bar Soba

https://www.barsoba.co.uk/

I had set off today with a specific location in mind but when I arrived at the establishment in question it had changed its opening hours without thinking to update its website. Thank you very much!

My first choice was a restaurant specialising in Far Eastern cuisine and I was looking forward to using my considerable chopstick skills so I roamed the area in search of somewhere I might be provided with a pair to eat lunch. As Spike Milligan once said, ‘Chopsticks – the reason the Chinese didn’t invent custard.’

After a while I came upon Bar Soba in Greek Street which proclaimed itself to be the purveyor of Cocktails, Street Food and Music. On perusing the menu the nosh on offer was of an oriental bent and they had a great lunch deal so in I went.

The lunch deal comprised a ‘large plate’ and a soft drink for £7. There was also a selection of ‘Small Plates’ at an extra cost and an invitation to add a portion of Dumplings or Cheeseburger Spring Rolls for £3.

I took advantage of the extras and ordered the Fried Vegetable Gyoza Dumplings with Jalapeño and Coriander Dip for a starter and Katsu Curry from the Large Plates as a main. It was described as Crispy Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Jasmine Rice and Katsu Sauce. I eschewed the soft drink in favour of a pint of Maltsmiths Ale. This turned out to be a great move.

The beer was not only a good choice in that it was a superbly balanced pint with neither the hops nor the malt masking the flavour of the other, but it was to be my sole companion, other than the Telegraph Crossword, for the next forty minutes or so until my food arrived!

It turned out that this is an establishment of two halves. The front of house staff were brilliant and couldn’t do enough for me. I was very impressed from the outset when I was asked if I had any allergies before I had even ordered. After confirming that I am able to eat absolutely anything without ill effects my order was taken. The kitchen, however, was not so efficient and I was left waiting for ages until my food came, then, like buses, both courses arrived within a couple of minutes. To give you some idea of the timescale, I had taken my seat at about 1.50 and was due to meet some friends in City Square at 3.00 so I thought I would have bags of time, but, in the end, I had to go without dessert or coffee as it was 2.45 by the time I had finished my curry. The chap who had been serving me confirmed that there was a backlog in the kitchen and pudding could be some time in arriving.

I must say that the food was well worth waiting for. The dumplings were wonderfully crisp and the sauce had a kick to it which livened up the vegetable parcels no end. By this time I was so hungry that I thought the friction on my wooden chopsticks might cause them to burst into flames.

When the dumplings were delivered the waiter apologised profusely for the delay and said he would bring the curry in a further five minutes, which he did. It was obvious from the surface of the sauce that it had been kept warm during the interim and the rice had begun slightly to dry out. Fortunately these symptoms were not detrimental to the dish and the chicken was still moist with the panko crumb coating perfectly crispy. Katsu Curry can taste like that stuff you get in a Chinese take-away, which is not surprising as they both come from the same part of the world, but this was much more subtle. The chicken pieces were larger than I could handle with my chopsticks so I had to resort to the knife and fork provided in a container which arrived with the meal.

I really hope that this was an isolated glitch in the kitchen as I would have been apoplectic had I needed to get back to work. I don’t like to be rushed but this was taking things to the other extreme.

I also didn’t have time to ask about the name of the place. Bar Soba sounds like an oxymoron, I would have thought that Bar Hammered would have been a little more alluring to the cocktail drinking crowd.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Mommy Thai

https://www.facebook.com/MommyThaiLeeds/

I have been meaning to call here for quite some time now and once even got inside but, having arranged to meet someone and with only half an hour to spare, I walked out when I saw the size of the portions! Today I was back to being Billy Nomates so time was not a factor. 


I read about Mommy Thai in an article in The Times a few months ago so decided to give it a go. I am pleased that I did but I must say that I left a little disappointed. They have a great value lunch deal which is served every day between noon and 4.00pm at £7.95 for two courses, in my case a starter and a main. This being a Thai establishment, however, they are both served in the traditional way on the same plate and at the same time.


The atmosphere is definitely Thai cafe with basic tables and chairs. The posters on the ground floor walls add to the ambiance, as does the upstairs decor, which is where I dined. I took my seat at a small table for two, but given the size of the plates, or small trays as they really were, a pair of diners would be pushed to find enough horizontal space as was proven by the couple on the next table who I let impinge on mine to rid themselves of the cutlery tin and pickle carousel. For one, it was perfect.

 
A charming gentleman arrived to take my order which comprised Steam Pork Dumplings with fried garlic and dumpling sauce for starters and Kra Pow Moo Krob, thankfully translated as crispy pork, holy basil, chilli  garlic, long bean on top of rice. (Add a fried egg for just £1) it continued, so I obeyed. I also got a bottle of Singha Beer to go with it all. The crispy pork dish was from the Foodie’s Menu rather than the normal one so I was informed of a further £1 surcharge. I didn’t mind this because at least I had been told before I ordered, unlike my experience at a Vietnamese place just round the corner a few months ago. What with that and the egg, the meal was £9.95, still good value for what was promised, the beer adding a further £3.50, again not out of the way.


Thankfully the bottle swiftly arrived and was perfectly chilled without being too icy. It was joined after a few minutes, and a couple of small sips, by the food. As I mentioned the whole shebang came on the same dish and looked delicious although when viewed from one angle there was a gap on the plate making it look as though there was something missing. I checked to make sure that this was not the case and, having satisfied myself that it was all present and correct, dug in. The dumplings were amazing, lovely and moist packed with minced pork which still had texture to it. The sauce was superb and the fried garlic topping crisp as a contrasting texture. Sadly the same could not be said for the ‘crispy’ pork which was in no way crispy, just overdone and chewy to the point of being almost leather like and only tepid. The taste was really good and meant that I finished eating the meat but the damage was done. The odd piece was on the tender side and therefore much better but crispy means crispy and, as there seemed to be very little fat content I fail to see how they hoped ever to make it so. The heat, or lack of it, seemed to indicate that it had been kept warm also preventing the promised texture. The rice was bog standard boiled and the egg on top was borderline rubbery. I have had fried eggs on Thai food before so I know that it should have been better than this. 


I am not normally one to shy away from dessert, even if I have somewhat overindulged in the mains but the only three puds on offer were also based on rice this time so I passed. 


All in all I was very disappointed, ironically because the things which were done well, i.e. the dumplings and the rice showed what the kitchen was capable of thus highlighting the failure of the egg and pork. I hope that this was just an aberration and that everything is normally wonderful but that is why I write these articles incognito, so that I get the normal experience. It must also be pointed out that this is a cash only eatery so please make sure that you have the necessary readies when it comes to settling the bill. There is a small sign to this effect by the till but it is better you know before you call.


As is usually the case, everyone else’s choices looked far more appetising than mine, but I dare say that they all thought the same about the pork. Looks can often be deceptive, take me for example, I am not really fat and bald once you get to know me.

https://www.facebook.com/MommyThaiLeeds/

Le Chalet

https://www.le-chalet.co.uk/

Le Chalet is a Salon du Thé, although they describe themselves as a French Tearooms and Bakery.  I am just showing off.  In addition to offering a large range of teas, they are also a French Restaurant with an impressive menu, especially if you like cheese in all its forms.

As this series is called Let’s Do Lunch, afternoon tea was out, as was dinner.  Fortunately, they offer a Lunch Board for £9.95 which looked very appetising.

As its name suggests, you get a full lunch presented on a board, which is a pretty neat idea. The food comprises Sandwich, Soup, Fries, Side Salad and a Small Home Made Cake. The sandwiches are available in either Baguette or Sliced Bread and from the eleven choices, I opted for a Croque Monsieur as it was pretty chilly and wet outside, so I thought that a hot sarnie would warm me up a treat. There was also a choice of soup between Onion and Soup of the Day. Having ascertained that the latter was mushroom I chose that, and no, I am not going to make the joke about my being a fun guy. I settled down to do the Telegraph crossword and take in the opulent surroundings reminiscent of a Parisian Tea Room.

My wine, a Pays d’Oc Merlot at £5.50 for 175ml, arrived swiftly, along with a glass of tap water which I had been offered when ordering but I had to exercise all my self-control by not drinking it before the food arrived.  I don’t mind a delay in service as it indicates that everything is freshly prepared and the place was quite busy.  Eventually, my waitress, Maria J, according to the bill, arrived and placed the board on the table. She then noticed that the sandwich was Egg Mayo in Baguette rather than my actual choice. She offered her sincere apologies and quickly returned the food to the kitchen. After a couple of minutes, she returned to say that the correct sandwich was being prepared and would be out shortly and apologised once again.  A nice touch.  A little while thereafter she returned with the correct combination and laid it on the table, expressing the hope that I found it worth waiting for.  Sadly, I didn’t.

I began, as one does, by attacking the soup, which contained more salt than the Pacific Ocean, an observation I made to Maria when she returned to ask how everything was. The offending cup of broth was swiftly removed and replaced by the Onion soup, which I had said I would be happy to have as a substitute.  I have to say that this was excellent and very authentic, as you would expect, with cheese-covered croutons floating on top melting to form cheesy strings when lifted. The salt content was as you would expect and so all was good in the world. Well, not quite. The Croque Monsieur had been made with extremely fresh bread and so, as it was also made in the traditional French manner by being done in the oven rather than toasted, had not crisped up, meaning that it was a stodgy hot cheese and ham sandwich. I had mentioned this to Marie when she returned with the replacement soup, but it was edible and I was hungry so it had mostly disappeared by the time she got back. Once again, profuse apologies were forthcoming. The fries and the salad were very good and the small chocolate cake in choux pastry was sublime.

Whilst I was finishing my wine before eating the cake, the owner arrived at the table to say how sorry she was about the state of the meal. She was gracious enough to say that, had she been served what I was, she would have had no hesitation in returning it as well. When I had finished I asked for my bill and Maria returned with it, along with the card machine and a voucher for £10 by way of compensation. I am quite willing to accept that it was one of those days when, if something goes wrong, everything goes wrong. I felt almost guilty when I introduced myself and told the owner that I was there to review the place as her disappointment was palpable. She did give me an explanation as to why things had not gone right and said that she has scheduled an appointment with the chef in a couple of day’s time, but she did add that it was an explanation rather than an excuse because there is no excuse for serving food which does not meet her high standards.

I have said many times before in my reviews that anyone can look good when everything is going right.  It is when things go wrong that the real character of a restaurant is revealed. I have been to places where it has almost been insinuated that it was my fault for not putting up with mistakes, but here things could not have been handled better. I must stress that I do these reviews incognito and no one knew who I was until the bill was paid, the voucher issued and I had put my coat on to leave.

This is the first time I have ever wished that I could ignore the lunch and call again another day, but the whole point of these articles is that I tell it as I see it.  I must be true to myself and, more importantly, to you, although I do intend to use the voucher in the future to see exactly what they are capable of when there are no kitchen crises.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 29th April, 2019

Pieminister

https://www.pieminister.co.uk/restaurants/leeds/


As you can probably tell by the photographs for this week’s feature I ate much later than normal, 5.00pm to be exact, but it doesn’t really matter as Pieminister doesn’t have a special midday menu, so this is what you would also have at lunchtime.

Another deviation from the normal review was that I didn’t eat alone. My colleague Charles Eager joined me for the event as we were both going to Leeds Playhouse to do a joint review of their production of Hamlet. That explains the hour as well. As luck would have it it was National Pie Week and there was a 2-4-1 offer running so it was win/win. Sadly, it didn’t apply to the beer.

Regular readers will agree that I have been known to throw in the occasional pun, but the menu here is packed with them so don’t say you haven’t been warned. The first evidence of this was the March Limited Edition Lady Baa Baa lamb pie. It just came in the normal crust rather than being presented in strips of meat as Ms Germanotta famously once did.

The idea is that there is a selection of pies which are available in various forms. You can have them straight for £5.95 or add sides. The Pie Meal Deals add extras for an inclusive price. Charles and I opted for Mothership – when I say we opted for it I mean that he texted me saying that he had been held up so asked me to order for him – so it was my opt! He wanted poultry so he was given the Funghi Chicken as sounded like a goodie, and I went for Kate and Sidney.

The former was described as ‘Free Range British Chicken, Portobello and Chestnut Mushroom Pie’, mine, as you might expect, was ‘British Beef Steak, Kidney and Craft Ale Pie’. By choosing the ‘Mothership’ meal we were served our pies with ‘Mash, Minty Mushy Peas, Cheddar and Crispy Shallots’. Both came with a gravy boat filled with the appropriately flavoured lubrication. The presentation was very appealing, with the pie sitting atop the mash with the peas, cheese and shallot topping the whole thing off. More cheddar was sprinkled around the plate to add a further cheffy touch.  The price was £9.95. As everyone knows, it is highly illegal for a chap to have a pie without a pint so, in order to save us a night in the Bridewell, I added a Freedom Ale each at £4.85. The beer was described as a Pie.P.A. (I did warn you) and was a refreshing craft ale, perfect with the comfort food on offer.

Both the pies were made from shortcrust pastry, which I much prefer over puff pastry but still comes second to the hot water pastry pork pie style.  I did find the bottom to be a bit hard to cut and chew but at least it meant that it was a ‘proper’ pie rather than a ramekin of stew with a crust plonked on top. Both of the offerings were adequately stuffed with filling. Charles said that he was more than happy with his and I felt much the same about mine. The meat was tender and well cooked, and my only criticism would be that the pieces of kidney were chopped very finely. I still had the flavour but missed the texture.

The service was excellent and the food came in good time. All in all, a good lunch stop. If you fancy trying out the goods without going to the restaurant, they are on sale in Waitrose supermarkets.

I think that I have yielded the stage as far as puns are concerned for long enough, so here goes. You May want to keep your eyes Peel(ed) for one of Pieminister’s many special offers or why not have a family pie eating contest and Pitt the Younger members against the Elder. If you decide to eat alfresco you could take them on a picnic to your own corner of Eden on the Heath or up Church Hill but don’t forget the Brown sauce. Sorry, I must go now as I just can’t Blair it any more.

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

http://leedsliving.co.uk/food-drink/review-pieminister-in-pie-week/

Tattu

According to their website the word Tattu is a corruption of Tattoo and Tatau, an ancient eastern word meaning ‘to make a mark’. The first thing which makes a mark is the decor. On entering the restaurant, customers are met with one of a series of huge faux cherry trees in full bloom seeming to span the whole of the room. My coat was taken by the manageress who met me at the door. She gave me a choice of table, which is always a nice touch for lone diners who need a bit of passing interest as we don’t get lost in meaningful conversation. As I was sitting down I was asked if I would like some edamame beans and when I replied in the affirmative I was offered salty or spiced. I opted for the latter. I spurned the cocktail and wine lists as I had seen a couple of beer pumps on the bar, so settled for a half of Asahi and a glass of tap water.

This week I fancied going somewhere a little special. I had heard about Tattu and so I thought that I would give it a try.

All photographs by Stan Graham

I unpacked my trusty iPad, accessed the Telegraph crossword and settled down to be pampered. The beer and water arrived in short order so I started tapping away at the screen. This was an activity which had to cease when the edamame beans arrived. They were fresh, warm and still in their pods, which was great except that the spicy sauce had been poured over the top meaning that I spent some time podding them and getting my fingers covered in the bright red sauce in the process. I don’t know what the purpose of doing this was as it couldn’t permeate the double layer of pod and skin in which this particular bean is encased, so the only way to taste the sauce is by either licking the outside of the pod, or your fingers should you decide to liberate the beans first. I employed a mixture of the two, the waiter having brought me a second napkin to wipe my hands, although a finger bowl may have been a good idea as I needed to wash my hands before the starter arrived. I needn’t have bothered because I had ordered Crispy Pork Belly to begin the meal.

The pork belly looked spectacular and was delivered in four square-based pieces thicker than I have ever been served before. The reason that my hand wash was unnecessary was that they were impossible to pick up using chopsticks so my fingers were employed again. I am sure that I could have eaten them in the traditional Chinese manner had they not been overdone. It seemed as though the belly had been cut into segments before being heated, or probably re-heated, meaning that they were fairly solid rather than tender and unctuous. They were very tasty and the crackling on top was light and crispy but the overcooking let the dish down. I held each piece by the crackling part and ate them from the bottom up. Once I had bitten into the meat part the inside was just right so why they didn’t cook the meat in one piece and then cut it into four is beyond me.

When the starter was delivered to the table I had informed the waiter that I was in no hurry and to give me a break between this and the main course. The interval enabled me to tackle the remaining edamame pods and mess up the second napkin even more. After just the right amount of time the waiter asked if I was ready for the main dish of Crispy Shredded Chilli Beef and I said that I was. When I had ordered this I was asked if I would like steamed rice or vegetables. I chose the former and a couple of minutes later the ensemble arrived along with a second half of beer.

The beef came on a bed of tomato, chilli and garlic along with onions and dried chillis, which I was advised by the waiter to approach with caution as they were very potent. As someone who will do whatever I am told not to, I took a small bite from one of the dried chillis and became so grateful that I had ordered the water. I am no wimp when it comes to hot food but this was off the scale so, discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to leave them at the side of the plate. I once again had a suspicion that the dish had been cooked some time earlier and re-heated as the beef was nothing like crispy and was, once again, simply an overcooked dish.  Its flavour was a bit sweet and sourish, the dried peppers being the only thing to separate it from the run of the mill version.

I am sorry to be so critical but this is not a cheap place to eat and, after reading the ‘Our Story’ section of their website, I would have expected something a little more inspired. The front of house staff were impeccably mannered and very pleasant, although the same could not be said for those working in the kitchen from which came the sound of a continuous argument raging the whole time I was there. I had visions of the oriental versions of Gordon Ramsey and Marco Pierre White having an ‘artistic difference’ regarding some ingredient or another. I may not have been too wide of the mark as, when I asked the waiter what the kerfuffle was about he said that they were developing a new menu. I think that they should get the current one right before moving on.

The expense was increased not only by the two halves of lager and the edamame beans, which I suspected were not included, but the steamed rice also came as an extra. This meant that, with the discretional 10% service charge added, the bill for the £22.50 two-course lunch option came to £35.20. Three courses would have cost an extra five pounds. There is also a Dim Sum Lunch available with two dishes being £13, three dishes £18 and four £22. I prefer to share dim sum which is why I went for the more conventional option.

I must say that I was disappointed with the food mainly because it was so nearly right but not of the quality for this price range, although the rest of the experience was very pleasant. Sadly the tatau for me was of the wrong kind.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 15th October, 2018

Mans Market


I set off to
 Leeds with a specific establishment in my sights but when I arrived I found to my surprise that they don’t have a restaurant, just a bar, so that was that. I took a stroll around the business area of the City but nothing screamed out at me.

The problem was that I was looking for something fairly substantial as I was going away for a few days’ holiday, sorry, research, the following day and I figured that if I ate big at lunchtime I could get away with a sarnie later on, thus saving cooking and washing-up. As I was going to Istanbul, the prospect of Mediterranean food didn’t appeal. By the time I had stopped dredging my memory for likely places I had reached Wellington Street and then it hit me: Man’s Market in West Point. I have read about this place for ages and always meant to give it a try so what better opportunity could there be.

All photographs by Stan Graham

Man’s Market is a Chinese restaurant of the Hong Kong variety situated in the Whitehall Road end of West Point. Entering the establishment felt like going into a sleazy cellar in the Orient and I fully expected to see a high stakes Ma Jong game going on with a group of opium smoking old men huddled round a table in the corner. The lighting was very subdued, the effect of which was accentuated by my reactolite glasses being darkened by the bright sunshine outside. Once past the bar, the lighting improved, as did my glasses, and I was greeted by a young man who told me to choose any table and he would bring me a menu. Fortunately my premonition was wrong and it proved to be a shabby chic room, sans gamblers or smokers, so I had no reservations about my fellow diners.

I was still removing my jacket when the waiter arrived with the bill of fare and asked me if I had eaten there before. I responded in the negative so he went through the procedure with me. There are three cards on the table, each bearing a different legend. The first one, which also doubles as the drinks menu says ‘I’m Thirsty’, the second ‘Feed Me’, and the third ‘I Wanna Go’. The idea is that you write what you wish to order on the back of the appropriate card and then clip it to a rope suspended above the table to attract the waiting staff who take your order to the kitchen. When you want to pay the ‘I Wanna Go’ is suspended and the bill arrives, I mean the invoice, not the police, unless you are threatening to leave without paying I suppose. I enquired as to whether there was a sign to say that I wanted to go to the toilet which produced a laugh and an apology for detaining me. The waiter asked if I wanted a Prawn Cracker, which I did, and it was awaiting me on my return. I was mulling over the choice of words whilst washing my hands, as I have never been served a single prawn cracker before. I have now. It was enormous and came with a chilli dip. Unlike some of the small versions, this one had quite a kick of fish flavour and went well with the dip.

Roast duck with char siu

The menu is split into different sections and there were two options for lunch. The first was the Box and Beer section and the second the Express lunch comprising the former but with the addition of a Dim Sum plate. I opted to go for the Express Lunch. From the Box and Beer Section where there is a choice of eight dishes, all at £6.50 and including a 330cl Tsingtao beer.  I chose Roast Duck with Char Siu upgrading to egg fried rice from boiled rice for 50p. Noodles were an extra £1. Even though I was eating in the restaurant the food came in a box with a groovy handle on the side, and whilst cute, it was unfortunately not very photogenic so I apologise for that. I buy food to eat rather than photograph, and this was excellent. There were three pieces of duck which had been coated in soy sauce and roasted until extremely tender.  They were absolutely delicious, as were the three pieces of char siu which were braised caramelised pork in a batter. The meats were on a bed of vegetables and the aforementioned egg fried rice. At £7.00 this was an absolute bargain in itself but when the Dim Sum plate of Pork War Tip Dumplings were added at £3.45 it was an absolute steal. The Dim Sum had been steamed and then deep fried which gave them a wonderful texture but were delivered some time after the box and I was pretty full by the time they came ,so dessert, which seemed to comprise solely of ice cream, was out of the question.

Pork war tip dumplings

I have no hesitation in recommending Man’s Market to everyone but with one caveat. When I was asked if I wanted a prawn cracker before having looked at the menu, I assumed that it was complimentary, as are popadoms in some Indian restaurants, but when the bill arrived £1.00 had been added for it. When I arrived home I looked at the menu and the prawn cracker was indeed listed at £1.00, but it would have been better had this been made clear when I agreed to one. It is not the price, as it was well worth it; it is the principle.

Be aware that the opening hours for lunch are noon until 2.00pm Monday to Thursday. On Friday and Saturday Mans is open noon to midnight, although it is not made clear on the menu what constitutes ‘lunchtime’ on those two days.

Article first published by Leeds Living on 9th July, 2018

Cosy Club

On a freezing cold February day, what more inviting name could any establishment have than Cosy Club? It had been ‘suggested’ that I call here by Leeds Living’s proofreader, Mags, aka She Who Should Probably Be Obeyed, so I gave it a go. I don’t normally review chains and this is one of twenty-one branches all over the country but I gave it the benefit of any doubt.

Cosyclub2

Entering the premises from Albion Street was like going onto an Edwardian horror movie set, with an assortment of Gentlemen’s Club furniture, period pictures and artefacts strewn around the room. The one incongruous feature was the stainless steel lift door which enabled the less mobile, or energetic, to access the bar and restaurant which is upstairs. This made the chairs totally superfluous, except perhaps for any passing shopper who fancied a sit down for a while, so the space gave the spine-chilling ambience of a ghost ship. Needing a bit of a warm-up, I took the stairs to the main area, where I was greeted at the welcome desk by a waitress who asked me which part of the restaurant I would like to be seated in and took me to the appropriate table, informing me that my waitress for the day would be Ella. I ordered a glass of tap water whilst I peruse.

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There is no lunch menu but they do a brunch until 5.00pm each day, so I ordered from that. I chose the Rather Elegant Brunch at £7.95, which was described as ‘Bacon and Avocado with Herbed Spring Onion and Chive Potato Cake, Baby Kale and Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Topped with a Poached Egg and Pumpkin Seeds’. Had there been any sun visible on such a cold grey day, it would have been well over the yardarm, so I ordered a glass of Rioja at £6.65 for 250ml.

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Every part of the dish was very good but oddly turned out to be less than the sum of its parts. The small pieces of smoked bacon were very tasty, if somewhat tepid, the egg poached perfectly, the potato cake was beautifully creamy on the inside with a crunchy outside and the remaining elements were fresh and well dressed. So far, so good, but it was the amount of food which surprised me. Brunch is a meal which combines breakfast and lunch, but this was hardly enough to suffice as either, never mind both, unless you are a supermodel with a weight issue. There was just enough of each ingredient to comply with the Trades Descriptions Act: I counted three very small thin triangles of avocado, six or seven pumpkin seeds, and half a dozen small pieces of bacon, perhaps amounting to half a streaky rasher to go with the sparsely dispersed tomato. Like the food, the wine was superb but, as it came by the measure, it was in the quantity expected. There was no alternative but to fill up with dessert, honest, so I had a Cosy Sundae, £5.25, and a black Americano coffee at £2.35 for a mug. The sundae was made up of ‘Chocolate Brownie Pieces, Whipped Cream, Chocolate Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream with Boozy Cherries.’ In contrast to the main event, this was a reasonably substantial portion and, again, all of the components were very well made and presented – delicious. The coffee was a bit on the weak side but not too bad.

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Cosy Club is a great example of why I try to avoid chains. I could imagine someone in the Hereford or Taunton branch ordering a Rather Elegant Brunch and the chef counting out the slivers of avocado and the pumpkin seeds. It is good, tasty food and well presented but it conforms to a formula and has no soul. The irony is that the restaurant is situated directly opposite the first floor of the Trinity Shopping Centre, where the street food stalls of Trinity Kitchen are plying their trade and their customers are in full view, sitting enjoying speciality food lovingly made by the owners of the trucks. They believe in what they are doing rather than complying with a tick list from Head Office. Don’t get me wrong, one of the worst lunches I have ever reviewed was taken in Trinity Kitchen but I will happily accept that because the brilliant ones make up for it many times over. I realise that this final part of the review will probably put the Hex on my next lunch experience but once again, the service was superb which, thankfully, is becoming the norm in Leeds.

Article first published on Leeds Living on 9th February, 2018

Comptoir Libanais

A couple of taboos broken this week. Firstly I normally choose the places to review but it was ‘suggested’ by those fine people at Leeds Living that I try Comptoir Libanais, which apparently means Lebanese canteen, so I googled to see where it was. It was then that the second no-no manifested itself, namely that this is a chain and I try to stick to local independents, still, bloggers can’t be choosers so off I went. There are seventeen of these establishments, mainly darn sarf and in strange locations such as airports, shopping malls and even inside a John Lewis store. Not to be outdone the Leeds branch is in the Everyman Cinema at the Trinity Centre. Luckily you don’t have to buy a ticket for the flicks in order to get your food and it does make a change from popcorn and ice cream. The interior is furnished with multicoloured tables and chairs with Middle Eastern themed food, cooking implements and artefacts displayed for sale on shelves around the walls. There were also several fez hats decorating the odd square inch of wall not selling anything else. It gave the impression that the local branch of the Tommy Cooper Appreciation Society was in session. I picked up the menu and decided on my order ‘just like that’.

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There are no starters as such but several mezze. I decided to give them a miss and go straight to the main event. I chose the Lamb and Prune Tagine which as well as the titular ingredients contains butternut squash, peas and roasted almonds (£10.95). It was served with a choice of couscous or vermicelli rice, I opted for the former as I have some wonderful memories of lamb and couscous which used to be served to my wife and me when we would stay with some French friends in Alsace in the early 1970s. Betty’s father was a general in the French Foreign Legion and she was brought up in North Africa where she became an expert on cooking the local dishes, her speciality being lamb with couscous. It was magical and it would be unfair to compare it to the dish I was served here, so I won’t. The lamb was plentiful and very tender as were the other ingredients. The downside was that the grain was bit lumpy and too dry. To be fair, when the manager came to the table and asked how everything was, he offered to provide more sauce but by this time the main parts of the dish had been eaten so it was a bit late. To drink I had the house red at £4.50 for 175ml. It was called St. Alphonse and was the first Lebanese wine I had sampled. There were hints of liquorice and spices which gave it more than a touch of the taste of sherry. It went really well with the tagine.

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For dessert I picked the Pistachio and Rose Mouhalabia, a Lebanese milk pudding, at £4.45 and a black Americano (£2.45). The rose water in the pudding gave it a taste resembling the smell of really expensive soap, but in a good way – honest. The service was very good, a 10% charge is added to the bill which goes to the staff, and the food was well worth the price. The only observation I have is that the speed of service and the presentation remind you that this is one of several branches offering the identical dish with the issues of portion control which that entails, and that it lacked the soul and individuality which you get at an independent.

Article originally published by Leeds Living on 20th December, 2016

Archie’s Bar

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

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

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