Diva Italiana

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Not a newcomer to this blog – in fact an old favourite.

A very welcome Monday night initiative from the entrepreneurial Pudsey Italian restaurant saw all the Troffers (minus John and Linda, still States-bound) convene for a chilled out  Monday evening dinner.

Now I realise that Mondays are really meant for an early night and a cup of cocoa after a weekend of excess (discuss), but this was the first of Diva’s special Italian ‘home cooking’ nights. There’s no menu. It’s fixed at £15 for 5 or so course and then you pay on top for drinks, coffees, desserts etc. The chef asks if you’re seafood, meat or happy to try both and you take pot luck. You get what you get.

We all had a bit of both and the highlights included bruschetta, pate, gamberoni, gnocchi — all the food was intended to be just how it is back home in Italy. Simple. The pannecotta I had for dessert deserved a mention and the tiramasu went down well too. Wine was good too – authentic and not overpriced..

All in all, a fantastic treat for a Monday evening where the best you can expect is a late tea and and early bed. Instead we were still sat out drinking Limoncello whilst the taxi showed up.

It would be churlish to point out that the Monday evening ‘event’ is just an opportunity to get diners in when we’re most likely to be sat in front of BBC2. But you know what, when food is cooked so passionately and the service is so attentive, it’s a travesty to stay at home. Thanks to the Troffers (in particular D&G) for making it happen.

Great neighbourhood restaurants are rare – we should cherish this one.

Sorry about the lack of pics – the food came thick and fast – I just got stuck in!

Breakfast at Anthony’s

I’m on a quest. I’m looking for the very best breakfast in Leeds.

I realise that it’s not exactly Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, but it’s my challenge all the same. I’m reading some great reports about the breakfast offering of Leeds, so I thought I would start at a restaurant where the bar is set pretty high already.

Whilst the lovely JD was having a cut & perm, I settled down at a table for one in Anthony’s in the Corn Exchange.

I ordered orange juice, coffee and eggs benedict. The full english sounded mighty enticing, but I resisted as there’s not many places that serve eggs benedict and I felt sure it would be good here. First up, the orange was clearly freshly squeezed as it had a lovley tangy sweetness and it was served long with ice, so full marks there. Coffee americano was good too and extra points for the hot milk.

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The eggs benedict arrived about ten minutes after I’d ordered them and full marks for presentation as always. Poached eggs were perfectly cooked and the combination of bacon and toasted bread and hollandaise was sublime.

The only bum note was for service – when the waiter asked if I wanted  black pepper, I replied in the affirmative, then he forgot all about it! It was no biggie and I’d scoffed it all down pretty quickly anyway it was that good!

The bill was £11 including service (added on the bill as is the norm it seems these days).

I’m looking for suggestions where to try next – I’m looking for recommendations!

Leon

Before the big London pitch last week, we were in need of sustenance as we’d not eaten – top tip, never go into a pitch on an empty stomach. We found the client address easily enough so we set about finding somewhere quick and easy for lunch as we only really had half an hour.

we spotted a cool looking place just on the Strand (on the corner of a road I can’t remember the name of) called Leon. It had a lofi funkiness to the signage and branding that was instantly attractive amongst the corporate frontages on offer in central London.

Take out or sit and most people seemed to be taking out an there were a few tables free so we settled in. They pride themsleves in real fast food and not junk and you know what – they weren’t kidding. We ordered at the counter and food was served in neat boxes. We had superfood chicken salad and grilled chicken with rice. It was tasty and tasted like real food, which for a place like this is no mean feat. Prices were pretty good too for WC1 with mains around £5-£6 – which doesn’t buy you much darn sarf.

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The surroundings are ‘home-made’ in a cool, but clearly designed way and it didn’t feel like it was part of a chain (although it turn out it’s a small chain of five restaurants) they have got it all right. One look at their website and they’ve got some serious followers with the likes of Nigel Slater and Gordon Ramsay fans. If there was a Leon in Leeds, I think it would do very well catering for the office bids during the day and then social dining of an evening.

Highly recommended for fast, quality, well sourced food thoughtfully prepared and well presented. We’ll definitely be back.

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Harvey Nicks 4th Floor with my girls

Last Friday Jenny took a well deserved a day off so we decided to go for a nice lunch to Harvey Nicks as a treat. I arrived a little after Dawn and Jenny, they had already started on Pink Champagne, I started with a super Peroni Reserva. After a couple drinks we took a lovely table by the window and with the sun pouring into the restaurant it was European chic!

Jenny and I had asparagus with fried duck egg and hollandaise, Dawn had cold aubergine salad all very good. Mains were, calves liver with beetroot and pine nuts for myself, rib eye steak with chips for Jenny and plaice with samphire for Dawn all were just top draw!! The girls enjoyed a second bottle of Pink Champagne and I had 3 glasses of a lovely crisp Chablis. A short break before puddings, then the girls ordered a kind of assiette special mention has to go the Victoria Sponge Cake. I didn’t fancy a pudding but asked if they would add a packet of Cantucci biscuits from their deli with a glass of Tokaji( a la Diva Ialiana), which was no problem and very nice indeed. Pricey but still one of the top spots in Leeds.

The weather was so good we decided to have a fire that evening and invited the Dean’s and Tess to join us in the garden. However the decision to walk Chester first meant a stop off at the Cricket Club for a couple of pints……………we were then late for our own fire but Jenny entertained our guests for a short while until we arrived, inevitably some wine was opened, hey we slept very well.

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Ye Olde Punch Bowl Inn

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Saturday saw us travel up to darkest North Yorkshire with friends Jon and Sam for a long awaited and well overdue dinner date.

Jon had booked the restaurant and so it was a lovely surprise when we found out we were heading for Ye Olde Punch Bowl Inn – the pub co-owned by Neil Morrisey of ‘Men behaving badly’ fame. We’d seen the TV series featuring their purchase of the pub, its conversion and home made beer exploits. A perfect evening you would think. Well, think again.

First impressions of the pub are fantastic – situated at the heart of the  lovely village Marton cum Grafton, good parking and the inside has been beautifully refurbished – kind of a combination of urban cool and country pub. The first round of drinks were bought and Jon and I had a pint of the Morrisey Fox Best Bitter, which I have to say was spot on. Light, hoppy and quite fruity. Fantastic we thought. But it went down hill, fast.

When presented with the menus we were told they’d run out of fish and chips and there was only a couple of portions left of some other dishes. Fair enough – busy night, you’d expect a few best sellers. By the time we were ushered to our table Julie’s first choice of trout fishcake was off too and by this time we could see signs that the front of house were very stretched with some big parties in already.

I ordered belly pork as a starter portion (it was available as a main course only), Jon had potted shrimps and Julie had ham hock terrine. These were all very good and served promptly. Drinking the house Merlot as recommended we were happy enough and it’s here that things really did start to unravel.

After asking twice we got our jug of water. Then they couldn’t find any glasses for the water and they arrived warm from the dishwasher. Then our unused wine glasses were taken from our table not because Jon & Sam weren’t drinking wine (as you would expect) but because “we’ve run out of wine glasses”! Mains took about 40 minutes to arrive and then the wheels fell off good and proper. Sam’s gastro burger arrived with a pile of sliced, boiled potatoes, excuse: “we’ve run out of chips”. Five minutes later, the waiter turned up with two bowls of chips for Julie and I! It really was farcical. By now every time a waiter came near he apologised before doing anything. On top of this, Jon’s main course was the same size as my starter! Now, Jon’s a farmer so he likes his grub and plenty of it so this really was the last straw! (the chips were superb, by the way – twice fried). 

It seemed like the kitchen was in meltdown and the front of house were doing their best to manage a very full restaurant. We summoned the manager and to be fair to him he sat with us whilst we all complained – Jon’s lesson in how to complain was a joy to behold. He was firm, fair but delivered his opinions without holding back! At the end of the day, the prices weren’t cheap so they really have to do better.

The manager promised he’d fix it and fair play to him, he took off the booze and Jon’s main course. So meal for 4 of us was just £55. Even so, we were very disappointed and from the food we tasted I think there’s a good chef at work, it was just a shame that on the night we visited, the service and organisation was all over the place. It was that bad, we kept expecting Neil Morrissey to pop around the corner with a film crew making the latest episode in the documentary series “When gastro pubs go wrong”.

On balance I would recommend the place and we said we’d go back…but to be honest it was all a bit embarrassing so we probably wouldn’t pay a return visit. This site has always got to be warts and all and it’s extremely rare that we have this kind of experience, which does speak volumes about the general quality levels these days.

Azucar Tapas Bar

A sunny afternoon in Leeds and after a nice mooch round the city centre we fancied eating alfresco in the sun.

Funnily enough, Leeds is not blessed with lots of places where we can take advantage of the sunny weather and pretend we’re in Valencia (most unlike this city as we’re good at pretending we’re lots of things we’re not, but I digress). Anyway, we’d been looking at buildings down by Brewery Wharf and spotted a cool looking, busy and sun kissed Tapas place. It was reassuringly busy and people seemed to eating, drinking and just hanging out so it looked promising.

I find most Tapas to be enjoyable whilst you’re there and whilst the food is not the main event, it adds to the overall experience rather than being the focus. This was no different and we over-ordered (something I always do in a Tapas bar) so wave after wave of food arrived and filled the table. We ordered three dishes each and unfortunately the rose wine took its toll in the sun quite quickly and I forgot to note these down. Nice fat gambas, juicy chorizo, chicken tortillas all stood out and  all added to an overall satisfying experience.

If you a fancy a ‘chillax’ (to use the modern parlance) in the sun whilst enjoying some good food, this place will definitely do the trick. Efficient service too, which I didn’t expect. It does bustle very well too, we felt like we were somewhere else and as we were leaving the restaurant next to us cranked up a BBQ which was very popular with booze addled sun worshippers making a beeline for the grill.

Lovely summer side salad

This is a sublime salad (with a nod to Rick Stein) that’s dead easy to do and works every time as a great side for anything meaty and rich.

It’s super quick to rustle up and consists of sliced tomatoes marinated with shallots (or red onions as here) dressed with a simple vinaigerette using extra virgin olive oil, white wine vinegar and seasoned well.

Top tip here – make sure that your tomatoes have been out of the fridge for at least 24 hours and preferably left in the sun for at least 3/4 hours. it really does help to deliver that mediterranean sun kissed vibe!

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