Harvey Nichols Carol Evening

Last Sunday evening saw a full Troffer complement attend the annual Harvey Nichols Carol Evening in the Victoria Quarter in Leeds.

It was a big hit last year, so we decided to repeat the event this year and it really is special. This time of the year, the VQ does look fab and by candlelight it looks even better. After a pre dinner pint in Whitelocks (Ilkley Best, from The Ilkley Brewery) we headed over to Harvey Nicks.

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The VQ is closed to the general public and a ‘professional choir’ do their bit whilst a light supper is served of breads, broth and mince pies. All very pleasant. I was glad to see the restaurant in the arcade full of fellow revellers enjoying the atmospheric evening.

The food was of the high standard we’ve come to expect from the HN restaurant – and although this wasn’t strictly a ‘full’ dinner, the chicken broth was excellent. Harvey Nicks Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Malbec were sampled – happy days.

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I tried a new feature on my iphone that stitches together images to create a panorama – I thought this might be a nice way to get the atmosphere of a lovely evening across.

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Home is where the heart is

I’ve been road testing a few new recipes from the River Cottage Everyday book (put it on your Christmas list)

First up is the slow roasted shoulder of lamb cooked with Merguez spices, which I can highly recommend. This is a perfect dinner party dish that you bung in the oven early in the day then forget about it for around 6 hours. What comes out the other end is meltingly tender meat that is nicely spiced on the outside and beautifully moist lamb. We cooked this for some friends recently and finished it off with a limited but exceptional cheeseboard from Anthony’s Fromagerie.

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Whilst I was in Bentleys in Pudsey, I spied a brace of Pheasant that really did look too good to miss out on.

I unwrapped them from their plastic to prevent them sweating and they kept happily in the fridge for a few days. These babies provided a lovely midweek treat. I pot roasted them, coverered to keep them moist, threw in potatoes, celery and smoked bacon. Simple and delicious. I think this recipe came from Nigel Slater’s unassailable Kitchen Diaries. This book is always good for those quick, seasonal suppers and always has a recipe that fits the mood or unusual ingredients.

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Sunday lunch at The Cross Keys

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Winter has properly set in. The relentless gloom of this the shortest days of the year drive us all indoors to seek the comfort of food, friends and fires.

We’d heard about the full rib Sunday roast on offer at The Cross Keys and decided it was a suitable way to while away a winter afternoon. The Cross keys has appeared a number of times on this blog and I make no apologies for its reappearance in the context of what I believe to be the best traditional Sunday lunch experience in a restaurant for a long time.

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Almost a full Troffer contingent gathered to worship at the altar of that king of roasts – forerib of beef. If you’ve never tried it, you must waste no time (Bentleys of Pudsey is a good butcher for a start) and I guarantee that you’ll never turn back to silverside *shudder*. Anyway, for £95 you get a full roast joint which you carve yourself, stacks of roast potatoes, veg and gravy. It would easily feed 10 people – there were only 8 of us, but we’re greedy and there was still some left over.

Good local beers were on offer (a particularly toasty brew from Saltaire) and the wine list was great value with a young Rioja delivering plenty of fruit to combat the beefyness of the main course.

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It was an old fashioned, traditional and long lunch that saw us dining into the darkness of the early evening and then we wandered up into the city to explore the German market and enjoy a chilly outdoor digestif at Casa Mia. Perfect.

York

We travelled over to York last weekend for a relaxed afternoon of pre Christmas shopping and a well overdue day trip. We used the train and it was top tip number one – looking at the hordes that crammed into the city, I don’t think you’d be parking a car anytime soon. Plus it was altogether more relaxed and we’d be able to enjoy a nice lunch without worrying about who was going to drive.

Having to battle through crowds of Christmas shoppers isn’t conducive to a relaxed afternoon, so we soon decamped to The Blue Bicycle for lunch. I was told we were lucky to get in there but we took our chances and they had a table for two, so were were sorted! I omitted to take any photographs, so apologies for that – but I can confirm that we had a very agreeable lunch and managed to polish off a couple of bottles of a quite accepatble Chardonnay in the process.

Starters were a mixed bag – Julie’s veggie potato cake things were a bit lacking in the promised coriander bite and my belly pork and cod cheek was an adventurous failure: the individual elements were a success but together, they didn’t quite work. Mains were excellent – I had the sea bass on a bed of spring onion risotto (portions were very generous too) which worked very well. Julie had the same and was equally please with her choice: the combination of sea bass and risotto offering the kind of glamorous comfort food that we enjoy so much. We skipped dessert (although I quite fancied one, Julie insisted we’d eaten and drunk far too much already) and readied ourselves for the crowds once more.

All in all, The Blue Bicycle is a very pleasant lunch experience (and I expect dinner’s pretty good too). There’s an informal atmosphere, friendly staff, efficient and speedy service too. The prices not overly excessive either for city centre York where the tourist Dollar or Yen rules and the wine list was pretty good value. Although this city centre restaurant clearly caters for the out of town diner, it clearly serves the locals well too and it’s good to see a small, successful independent restaurant continuing to do so well.

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The Cross Keys, Leeds

This ‘traditional’ pub has actually only been open a few years as it’s part of the regeneration and creation of ‘Holbeck Urban Village’. I was told by the developers that part of the planning deal for the entire mixed use development, it had to include a old fashioned pub.

Well it was certainly a good move.

The Cross Keys is a welcome break from ‘style bars’ and is an enjoyably authentic place for a few beers after work or a longer session with food thrown in for good measure. A couple of weekends ago, the boy and I were in town for  few cheeky ones and decided to meet J&L for a light lunch and a beer or two.

The corned beef hash came highly recommended – so it had to be that washed down with a few pints of ‘Night Screamer’ (or something similar). The portions were very generous and it was a great value lunch – the price is definitely right in The Cross Keys.

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