Auchentoshan Presents at The Wardrobe, Leeds

Last Sunday D and I went to a whisky tasting event promoting the Auchentoshan Classic and 3 Wood whiskies at The Wardrobe Leeds. We were welcomed by the PR lady DK with a free Classic whilst we waited for an eclectic mix of bloggers and barmen/women to join us.
When everyone had arrived we were given background details by Zoran the Brand Ambassador who explained that the Auchentoshan was a small boutique distillery based in lowland region of Scotland and the only one with 3 stills for triple distillation The Classic was younger at 6 years old, light pale gold colour and matured in American Bourbon oak casks giving it a lovely woody smoked flavour. The 3 Wood is matured in three different cask types, American Bourbon, Spanish Oloroso and finally Pedro Ximenez (I think 10 years min) giving it a rich golden bronze colour like a good cognac. The flavour is warmer with toffee, sherry, butterscocth flavours and far more complex than the classic.
We were then entertained by Mike from Soulshakers Ltd who must be one of the most knowledgable and skilled cocktail makers we have ever met. Mike showed us how to make both classic Old Fashioned and some with a twist as well as Whisky Sours after which some of us had a go ourselves. We had great fun and the Wardrobe is a top place for such events.



Curry festival and a visit to Zouk

Twitter inspired us to visit the Bradford curry festival held in City Park central Bradford. The area is a great space for such events and we were anticipating a full afternoon, sadly the event was not as well supported as we had expected with probably about 12 stalls which included Zouk, Manjit’s kitchen, Hasans and Kings of Chaat, the Prashad. We were surprised not to see Akbars, Aagrah, Nawaab or Mumtaz represented. Zouk’s chicken tikka wrap £4 was delicious with plenty of filling and G’s Chaat from Prashad £2.50 was fresh and tasty.



Still hungry we decided to stop at Zouk cafe and restaurant, we ordered masala chai, a tea spiced with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and ginger, simply delicious… To eat, I had lamb chops and a keema paratha, G had a mixed tandoori starter and mushroom bhaji, the food was cooked to perfection and the bill was £21…great..

Note … Prashad are opening 1st week in December in Drighligton…

Portuguese holiday diary

We had a lunch stop in Tavira a few years ago when we were on our way to El Bulli, Hotel Benazuza and found the little harbour town quaint enough to say we would come back for longer. Well we eventually got around to it and booked a week at The Hotel Pousada an old converted monastery. D found the place on the Internet and the pics looked nice but the reviews for a higher end hotel were mixed. I must admit that having stayed in old conversions before I was a little apprehensive, anyway there was absolutely no need as the place was fantastic! A sanctuary has been created that is characterful but with a contemporary finish. The service from the staff is excellent.
We were at Leeds/Bradford airport for 6 am and didn’t bother with breakfast so as soon as we had unpacked we headed into the town for lunch. There are a number of waterside cafes and we just picked one that looked friendly, Saveur – Sabor. D opted for the king prawns in garlic and butter and I went for “the road” a selection of 5 tapas which were meatballs, chicken wings, chorizo, octopus and a tuna/potato salad. A couple of small carafes of local rose to wash it idown sitting under a parasol in the lovely heat and voila we were on holiday finishing off with a perfect cafe gourmand.
After the obligatory read on a sunbed and a few dips in the pool followed by a nap we were ready to try the hotel restaurant.
The whole place is on the quiet side as everyone seems to whisper, perhaps the monks are still in charge. We asked to be seated in the open roofed courtyard which is very atmospheric, we watched the sky get darker and waited for the stars to come out.
I ordered a curried octopus starter dish and D went for the goats cheese starter. The octopus was very mildly flavoured and very good but they served rice on the side which in my opinion wasn’t necessary. For mains D ordered the lamb and I decided on confit of cod. D’s lamb came with Mediterranean vegetables and sliced crispy potatoes everything was presented superbly and was superbly cooked but there was enough lamb to feed two hungry blokes. My confit of cod was truly sublime, served on asparagus spears acting as a rack on top of a green risotto. The asparagus was soggy but the cod and risotto was the best I have ever tasted in my life. We shared a bottle of Rose and the bill was only €85 which did make us feel guilty as it was worth more.
The following day was spent at the hotel with a late breakfast in the courtyard and then reading, writing, swimming (only two work calls and 4 emails were made….). In the evening we had a walk around the town which was reasonably busy for this time of year. We had decided to try another outdoor cafe by the fish market which looked seaside authentic. We were seated, drinks were brought out, we ordered clams for a starter and sardines for me and chicken piri piri for D. The waiter came out to inform us that there were no clams on the days catch and they had run out of the piri chicken. We decided to cancel and go back to Saveur – Sabor which was awkward BUT and this is top draw service, the waiter said no problem the drinks were on the house and to come back when the piri chicken will have had time to marinate properly, how great is that?
We then had lots of cheap wine and paella plus made two new friends……





On Sunday we had a very lazy relaxing morning around the pool, reading writing, swimming and other forms of hard work! Early afternoon we decided to wander into town via the old castle ruins that were a 100 yards from the hotel. The view from the precarious ramparts is superb and the gardens are very pretty. We walked over to the church but as you would expect the on a Sunday the church was full of worshippers so we looked around it another day. Around the back of the church is a lovely courtyard with hibiscus trees for shade and we fell upon a restaurant called A Ver Tavira which is stunning with great views from the veranda, as you would expect we decided to stay right there. The food did not live up to the look and setting but we had a lovely afternoon, my salmon with Algarvian carrots was decent but they did a “Sunday roast” which was dry and boring.
We did eventually get to town late evening and took a table at a cafe called Brisa do Rio, D had a pork and prawn kebab which was lovely if too big and my clam with “black ham” stew was wonderful. We got chatting to a Portuguese couple who were holidaying from Lisbon and had travelled 15 km for the fish. Conversation as was a regular occurrence came around to the economy and it is really evident things are very tough for Portugal, we can count ourselves relatively lucky. A local resident provided music via an open balcony above the street and we were the only two tables in the middle of the street at 1 am, a wonderful day.
Out of all the places our favourites was Saveur – Sabor for simple and eclectic great food (try the raclette) and the hotel Pousada for fine dining (except steaks as they are not like UK).
We hope to return next year.





Red’s True BBQ

At the weekend, we were invited to the press launch of Leeds’ newest restaurant, Red’s. There have been a few restaurant openings in Leeds which can only be a good thing for us customers – more competition means more choice and higher quality food and service which in turn makes for competitive prices. I’m sure not everyone sees it that way but I do and it’s exactly what a city like Leeds should have.

I have to admit I was quite excited about this opening – having seen the posters in the window a week before, it looked exactly like the kind of place I’d love. American-style meat feast – what’s not to love about that?

So Red’s is essentially a sexed up version of the classic American BBQ joint that serves ribs, wings, burgers and all the paraphernalia you’d come to expect around that. Admittedly, you can get all of the above currently in the city – Rib Shakk has been rocking the only rib choice in town and young upstarts like Johnny Fontane’s and upmarket GBK serving fancy burgers for fun. But the key here is no-one is really doing it all in a stylish one stop shop meaty BBQ approach.

The great news is that Red’s is a baby born of a passion for all things meaty and the owners clearly know what they’re talking about. On the opening night, co-owner Scott spoke of their passion to get this right and seeking out specialist smoking equipment and shipping it to the UK. So, Red’s is full of passionate people who care about meat and on top of that, it’s an independent restaurant. Full marks so far.

Everything from the branding through to the interiors of Red’s is top-notch, with no corners visibly cut. This restaurant looks the part and for me, that matters a lot. I suspect it matters a lot for the image conscious diners it plans to attract. In my experience it’s usually the big boy chains who get this right as they have pretty deep pockets.

The vibe in the restaurant was exciting and full of energy – it was press night after all and staff were in abundance to deal with what I thought was a pretty full restaurant. on the whole I think they coped well and although we had a few glitches like mains arriving when we were still eating starters, but it’s early days and the staff were charming enough.

So what about the food?

Well Red’s has one of those menus where I wanted to try everything but that’s clearly not a good idea. So we opted for spicy chicken wings, poppers (stuffed jalapeños) to get started and smoked brisket and a bucket o bones for mains with a few sides for good measure. Every table comes with a range of delicious home-made sauces so you can spice things up as far as you want to – the hot sauce did it for me by the way. The highlight for me was the smoked brisket which was meltingly tender. The ribs were good – a selection of beef and pork – but I think next time I’ll try a full rack. For all you rib aficionados out there it’s worth pointing out that these ribs are cooked on the BBQ, not sous vide (ie in water) the results are quite different and it’ll come down to personal taste which you prefer. I happen to like both methods.

The cocktails and drinks list are pretty extensive too ( and reasonably priced for central Leeds) although we stuck to beer on this occasion. Prices are sensible too for a prime location in the heart of the ‘going out’ district in Leeds. Although we had our food paid for on the night, we will definitely return on our own dollar to explore further.

Red’s is a welcome addition to restaurant scene in Leeds with no real direct competitor to what they’re offering and I believe that on this first experience I can see it flourishing. My advice would be to let the fuss die down for a week or two and then head right over, preferably on an empty stomach.

In meat we trust indeed.

Wahaca – Covent Garden

On a walk across London to collect our Paralympics Opening Ceremony tickets we, quite by chance, stumbled across a Wahaca. We had no plans for lunch, other than to try something new, so as soon as my son realised there were Churros on the menu we decided to give it a go. It was a bonus for us that they don’t take bookings as we were able to stroll straight in and were taken down to the brightly decorated basement seating area.

We have Thomasina Miers ‘Mexican Food – Made Simple’ Cookbook so I knew we were in for something spicy. The waiters were great at suggesting milder options for George though, or offering to put the spicy salsa on the side.

Because we wanted to make sure we tried lots of different things on our trip the Street Food part of the menu was ideal, allowing us to try several smaller plates of food, leaving room for something else later. I started with a beer and the boy had a freshly made lime and mint soda to wash down the tortilla chips with an excellent guacamole that we both loved. This must have been obvious to our waiter as he offered to refill our tortilla tin; we finished them off in seconds.

Next we had Cactus Tacos: Pretty damned spicy grilled cactus with courgette, topped with grilled cheese on soft corn tortillas. My favourites were the Chicken Guajillos and George loved the Taquitos, so much so that we had to try to recreate them at home. The boy got his Churros that came with a cup of strong dipping chocolate. I thought it was nice that the waiter said we were welcome to just come in for Churros anytime, no need to have a whole meal if that was all we fancied.

It’s a good place to stop off for something fresh and tasty for lunch and it seems that Wahaca’s are popping up all over the place as we saw one later at Westfield, just outside the Olympic Park. The Street Food dishes are all under £4 too, so it’s good value.

We’d definitely go again, not least because we didn’t take Ed, so he wants to join in on our next visit…perhaps then we can hit a few of the 100% Blue Agave Tequilas.

The Mansion, Roundhay Park, Leeds

Last Saturday we decided to take advantage of the rarity that is sunshine this summer by talking a walk around Roundhay park with The Lad. We decided a light lunch at the recently refurbished Mansion was a nice way to start. Sitting outside the restaurant it is impossible not to admire the Victorians for their ambition and need to create wonderful spaces with spectacular views for the masses to enjoy, if only we had such foresight nowadays.
We both chose from the “Daily Specials list” ordering two dishes of Whitby Crab and King Prawn Salad with cucumber ribbons plus a bowl of chips to share. D had a glass of Rose and I ordered a bottle of Peroni. The salads looked great but the chips did appear to be anaemic but were actually crispy and very tasty. The service despite the place being busy was excellent and very friendly. We could have sat there all afternoon but The Lad was impatient and loves his walk around this super park. The bill was just £35 and all three of us will be back.


Sunday Lunch at The Cross Keys, Water Lane, Leeds..

The Cross Keys is probably our favourite pub in Leeds so I will apologise up front if this review appears a tad biased. Although we visit The Cross Keys around five or six times a month on any given day it is the on a Sunday that we find it a comforting sanctuary and enjoy most regularly.
We tend to start by walking” The Lad” aka Chester our old dog along the canal and end up at the pub. This Sunday the Great British weather was behaving and the sun was out to play, the canal side is really wonderful and Leeds looks so different from this perspective, kind of comfortable in it’s post industrial makeover.
We sat in the courtyard at the back of the pub and enjoyed a beer/wine before moving inside for lunch. The place is wood and stone floors, the beers are true and varied, the food just great quality pub dishes nothing more or less. The team is led by Andy the Manager and is knowledgeable and very service orientated, table waiting, although you can just stand at the bar and enjoy the selection of real ales and a packet of scratchings if you prefer….
The a la carte menu changes regularly according to seasons but for us on a Sunday it has to be, beef, pork or lamb with all the trimmings. The Lad is spoilt and as a regular his bowl of water is generally served even before our drinks are! Andy is in the habit of bringing out some off cuts (which to my eye look suspiciously like prime bits of beef) for The Lad , which are eaten with absolute joy and followed by a nap under the table!
A really nice touch for Sundays is the Feasting Menu which has to be ordered 72 hours in advance and is a choice of rib beef, pork shoulder or leg of lamb brought out and carved (by yourself if you so wish) at the table. Each cut of meat serves about 8 hungry people and is served with vegetables, big Yorkshire puddings and whatever condiments you desire.
We have done the feasting menu with family and friends on cold rainy Sundays when the log fires are roaring away, it truly is the perfect Sunday.
No wonder then that the Guardian Food Magazine regularly has The Cross Keys as the runner up in their Sunday Lunch Pub competition, funny enough I never asked who is the winner.
Well worth a visit.