J Baker’s Bistro Moderne

Even though I’m not officially working at the moment, I am managing to get out and about and this week is no exception – I had a long standing lunch arranged with a business associate in York at J Baker’s. This restaurant has been much recommended and it’s devilishly hard to get in there as it’s always booked up, so I was really looking forward to it.

Situated a shortish walk from the station, it’s right in the heart of the shopping and attractions in York and as such, perfect for a lunch on a day trip. On the day I visited it was full downstairs (there’s a sizeable upstairs too) and the atmosphere was lively. Service was immediate and attentive –  our little freebie starter was a brown paper bag full of mini roasties and an aioli dip, which was delightful.

The menu is interesting with a choice of tradional two/three courses or a mini taster menu lunch – all reasonably priced, although I guess the affluence of York and its environs dictates a slightly higher price point. Surprisingly for a city with such a well-off catchment area, I expected to see more restaurants of this quality but according to my colleague, they are few and far between (I believe we suffer  the same affliction in Leeds too).

On to the food. We opted for a fairly traditional approach with two courses and no dessert. Starters ordered were Whitby potted crab and ox cheek. Both were superb I have to say, with full marks for presentation. Jeff Baker and his team clearly know what they are doing in the kitchen – but then again, I expect no less from the first chef to get a Michelin star in Leeds at the famous (but alas defunct) Pool Court.

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I ordered the sea bass special – which really was special – and my dining partner ordered the crispy sardines. My fish was spanking fresh and cooked to perfection and the chips on the side had the tell tale beef dripping aroma and were delicious. The purple kale accompanying the seabass had me guessing for a while too!

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All in all, it was one of the best lunches I’ve had so far this year (and I seem to have had a few) and it was good at last to try a restaurant that has been raved about by so many for so long. I can now join the ranks of supporters and I will definitely try to book a table next time we are in York.

Pin

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In Leeds there’s a local brewery that I think is taking the city by a very quiet storm. I first came across the Leeds Brewery in The Victoria or I think The Adelphi a year or so ago (it may be longer) with their excellent Leeds Best Bitter and their sublime Leeds Pale Ale.

Quite quickly, it seemed, they had a foothold in the competitive Leeds bar market with great bars/pubs The Midnight Bell, The Brewery Tap and Pin. Each place has its own ‘USP’-  apologies for the marketing terminology (unique selling proposition, if you’d like to know) – and they have firmly established themselves on the scene.

Good food and drink in cool surroundings seem to be the bare minimum and fair play to them I say. In Holbeck, The Midnight Bell does everything right and is part of a scene which includes The Cross Keys that helps to keep people down that part of town. The Brewery Tap is a bit odd, but it works. Huge plate glass windows aren’t conducive to a quiet drink in daylight hours at least.

That brings me to Pin. Tucked away on Dock Street, just around the corner from The Adelphi, it’s laid back and has something about it. I had lunch there today. Just a simple sandwich with a glass of Rose but the ambience and the quality of the food, drink and service made me want to spend more time in its modern/eclectic vibe.

I like the fact that these places take as much care with their food as they do with their beer. They deserve to be successful because there’s a care being taken with pretty much the whole operation that is sadly lacking in many of the city’s bars and restaurants.

But that’s OK, because I won’t be going there – I’ll be going to Pin, Midnight Bell and Brewery tap because at the end of the day, I like places that care about their customers and what they do.

Monmouth Coffee Company

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On my trip to London this week, I fortuitously met up with my good friend Jon Moss who happened to be in town seeing a couple of clients. We’d both managed to finish our meetings early and met up in Covent Garden.

Jon insisted we had a coffee in ‘ London’s BEST coffee shop’. Now that’s big talk from Mr Moss, especially given his high brow coffee appreciation. Jon buys his own beans from Has Bean Coffee and knows a thing or two about good coffee, so I followed his lead and ordered a Macchiato whilst Jon ordered ‘the drink that’s taking London by storm – a flat white’. All the rage in Australia and New Zealand, apparently. And both were excellent, as expected.

The shop was buzzing and doing a roaring trade, testament itself to the quality of the coffee on offer. Although I’m no coffee expert, you could tell there was an expert barista behind these sublime beverages. With so much competition for the hot drink dollar in London, Monmouth Coffee sets itself apart by appearing small and independent from the chains. All of their coffee comes from sources they know well: single farms, estates and co-operatives. They adopt a very refreshing approach to sourcing and using coffee they simply like the taste of and know where it’s come from.

Next time you’re in Covent Garden (or Borough Market) give them a try, you won’t be disappointed.

Wild rabbit

Sitting at home tonight, watching the Sport Relief version of Dragons Den, the evening was progressing well. I’d had a bath to ache my limbs from the game of tennis and walk I enjoyed today. Julie was dozing nicely.

Cue a knock at the door at 9.30. My mate Jonathon stood on the doorstep, smiling, with a pick up truck full of wild rabbit he’d just shot. When I say, just shot, I mean about 20 minutes ago. It was impressive stuff. Before all the animal welfare activists get excited about murdered bunnies (not that they read this blog, I’m sure) it’s a job that has to be done to keep the population under control and the benefit to them is they can sell them too at the farm shop.

Anyway, as promised he delivered super fresh wild rabbit from the blue hills of West Yorkshire – apparently this was a small catch by his usual standards.

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Although I was game (sorry) to skin the critter, Jon offered and who was I to turn him down. ‘Like taking off a pair of pyjamas’ he said. Yes, the same pyjamas Carrie wore on her prom  night when she was drenched in blood, I thought. Anyway he made short work of Roger, claiming it was a tricky one, and promptly asked me if I had an axe.

This, by the way, was happening on my driveway in full view of the neighbours. It was truly a suburban gore fest and I hope it put them right off their ready meals.

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Into the garage next  – which I’d just tidied up by the way – for an impromptu butchery session with the bluntest axe in the world (sorry Dad, I promised I’d keep up to it). Jon made short work of the de-pyjama’d rabbit and hey presto it started looking a lot like something you’d see in a butchers and not running around in a field.

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With a flourish, he hacked off the rest of the furry bits including the head and drew out the remaining internal stuff having already gutted them in the field. We stood around talking about bee

La Bottega Milanese

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As recommended by a couple of our highly respected foodie blogging fraternity (thanks to Katie @leedsgrub and Rich @themapples), I paid a visit to La Bottega Milanese – a relative newcomer to the cafe scene in Leeds.

Tucked away down on The Calls, this is a cafe that is serious about its coffee and well worth going out of your way for. Although it’s been open a matter of weeks, on the day I was in there were plenty of regulars who have discovered one of the cities foodie gems: very, very good coffee served with style and properly authentic italian accompaniments.

I’ve never seen coffees made with such care and the attention to detail is superb. These guys just care about everything that they do, and it shows. La Bottega Milanese deserves to go straight into the Leeds foodie hall of fame. I can’t believe it’s the first bar of its kind in Leeds and on this performance it will be around for a very long time to come.

Beat a path to their door.

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No 3 York Place, Leeds.

D and I decided to entertain a business associate of mine at No. 3 York Place as we’d not been there for ages. We started the evening with G&T for D and bloody mary’s for the lads. Bloody Mary’s were spicy and an 8/10 is in order. Starters included Canneloni of duck for D which was a tad bland, Scallop and Tuna which was “very good” but their black pudding with foie gras was not a patch on Andrew Pern’s (Star Inn) signature dish.

3 mains of lamb cutlets with pearl barley were ok but 2 small cutlets each was stingy, the beef fillet was “very good. An assiette of deserts was shared but was disappointing.

Overall at £75 a head ( with 2 bottles wine) our impression was that No. 3 York Place is nowhere near up with the best Leeds has to offer.

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Piccolino’s, Leeds

My good friend Andy organised a night out in Leeds so Luke and I rose to the challenge. After a couple os swift ones in Weatherspoons we crossed over the road to Piccolino’s which is a chain of Italian restaurants that I think are part of the Bar and Grill Group. The service was excellent and with 9 of us in attendance the food arrived in good time. A selection of Pizza and Pasta was enjoyed by the crew. My seafood linguini was good and Luke’s pepperoni pizza passed his discerning pizza palate. Montepulciano and Pinot Grigio plus the obligotory  Peronis/Morretis all added to a fun night. Piccolino’s is high brow Italian but mid range fat and furious.

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