The Foundry

Some people just do some things so well that they garner a loyalty amongst their clientele that when they move from a successful joint to start another place their success is never in doubt. Big Phil at The Foundry is one of those Leeds restaurateurs that is just one of these people. At the famous Leodis he was part of a great Leeds legend and when it was sold to Raymond Blanc’s Brasserie Blanc chain he set up The Foundry in the up and coming Round Foundry complex in Holbeck. A risk for some and even I thought it would be a challenge to make it work particularly as the competition included Sous le Nez, La Grillade, Kendals etc all very good in similar markets.
Anyhow Phil has built a great place that does excellent dishes that are traditional and in a good way predictably consistent.
We get to the Foundry about once every couple of months and I stick to the same few dishes but my absolute favourite is the black pudding and bacon salad starter which is fantastic. I had a confit of duck leg as a main which would be a match for any Parisian restaurant. Honestly one of the most honest great meals I have had over the last 12 months.
My dining partners had, chicken liver pâté and moules for starters. Mains were rib eye steak, calves liver with bacon and beef wellington, not a complaint to be made!
Sometimes you just need to be fed well and The Foundry won’t let you down unlike my visits to Brasserie Blanc.

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Ambiente

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Another new opening in Leeds, this time a tapas-style bar/restaurant situated in the Calls part of the city. Housed in the building that was previously River Plate, the owners of Ambiente have titivated the previously quite tired restaurant, put up a few Spanish posters and hey presto, we have a tapas joint that to be fair, does looks the part.

With a sister restaurant in nearby York, Ambiente comes highly recommended by the usually reliable Trip Advisor and as it’s been open a few weeks we thought we’d try it out for a light midweek dinner.

We booked a table only to be confronted by a quite empty restaurant at 7.15, but people came in dribs and drabs after then until it was about half full. Leeds already has some perfectly acceptable tapas places already – Sandinista, La Tasca, Azucar, Dos Amigos and Viva Cuba who, in their own way, are all good enough for our needs. So any new place has to be delivering over and above what we have already to stand any chance.

And does Ambiente do this? Sadly no. The menu reads like a beginner’s guide to Tapas and when we order the prerequisite Pimiento de Padron whilst we perused the menu, what arrived definitely weren’t the peppers in question, although our waitress insisted they were. Not wanting to get pedantic about padrons we left it. Not a good start then.

We ordered a wide selection of dishes, which were all reasonably priced for the Leeds market (i.e. not cheap) and they came as they were being cooked in true tapas style and looking back on it, there weren’t bad per se, they were just all right. There was some weird thai flavours happening in the prawns and the baked egg pot and aubergine with fennel were declared winners. Everything else was by the numbers tapas which is easily surpassed by the large chain La Tasca which says something (and they have proper Padron peppers too).

Service was not particularly good either with our waitress struggling to open a bottle of wine, insisting Padrons were flat and red and putting my coat on the coat hooks where she said ‘the restaurant cannot be responsible if anything happens to it’ and then leaving it there.

These are all small things but they make a difference. Whilst it’s early days and the food probably deserves another chance, I’m not sure we’ll be rushing back anytime soon. They have to up their game if they want to survive – currently at least four other tapas bars/restaurants are ahead of them in Leeds and we know it’s survival of the fittest out there.

Footnote: We left with that unsatisfactory tapas feeling – we’d not actually had any proper cured meat (the meats on the menu in Ambiente did not light our fire) and headed out to the superb Friends of Ham, where that was sorted out sharpish as the photograph below testifies.

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Create Leeds

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Create is a restaurant in Leeds with a real social conscience, just one part of a social enterprise founded over six years ago helping to train people from vulnerable backgrounds and get them into the workplace. It’s our very own West Yorkshire version of Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen and perhaps even wider reaching supporting over 500 people in the past six years. The restaurant also won best ethical restaurant in The Observer Food Awards 2012.

I have to admit we never go to the restaurant enough – three times in a six month period isn’t a lot – but I’ve written before about how competitive the Leeds restaurant scene is and the challenges (and opportunities) the independents have. Whenever we walked past it never seemed rammed but always a few people in and we always said we’d give it a go next time we were out. But the location didn’t help keep the place front of mind for us, awkward to get to and park and on the fringe of the central part of the city in the heart of the financial/legal quarter, which should have been good for lunches at least.

All three times I visited it was a 100% per cent great experience. The food was excellent, the prices on the right side of keen and the service and place first rate. And even though I told people about it, not that many people knew about it. Twitter folk seemed to be aware of it and those ‘in the know’, but not it seems the valuable mass market.

On Friday I had lunch with a friend there and we had a lovely two courses each for £20, which given the quality of the food was a complete bargain and we both said so. After lunch we were told by the waitress that the restaurant was closing, the official line being a refurb but she informed us that it was closing due to economic pressures. If this is the case, then it’s a shame as Create is an absolute gem. But I know social enterprises have the same commercial pressures commercial enterprises face and the harsh economic climate continues to claim its victims right across the board.

I am passionate about the independent businesses in Leeds and will support them at all costs, but as the customer choice increases in the city – as it surely will with the monolithic Trinity Shopping Centre coming on stream in March – the indies have to continue to their thing brilliantly well, or they will be picked off one by one by the corporate snipers.

Gail’s Kitchen

Continuing the London theme, I had breakfast at a cool little place in Bloomsbury called Gail’s Kitchen. It’s rather oddly situated in the foyer of the hip MyHotel as their in house/external dining room that serves for all the meals on offer. But having said that it all works reasonably well.

Unusually for London, the cooked breakfasts are all to order. I note that even in the most expensive of central London hotels, the vile breakfast buffet rules supreme and I for one will seek out alternative hotels that offer an edible, human breakfast experience. I generally don’t eat one at home midweek, so it’s a treat for me to do so when travelling and rubber eggs and poisonous sausages do not light my fire.

Anyway Gail’s kitchen is simple, cool and unpretentious in a pretentious kind of way. Clearly the hip choice for breakfast meets, I followed suit and had a breakfast meet there.

Coffee was acceptable and the poached eggs on San Francisco sourdough with bacon jam (I know) was on the right side of funky. I felt cool just ordering it. Either way it was all good, if a little pricey given the Bloomsbury address but worth the extra as other options were corporate Costas or touristy outlets. Service was a little confused, requiring some chivvying although quite amiable.

No pics of food unfortunately this time but I did get a pic of the bill and a handful of cards that came in an old John Player cigarette tin. Lovely touch. Nice branding too.

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Barrafina

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If you are a regular viewer of this site you will notice that I have recently been going down to London quite regularly and the posts reflect that. However it was not until last Wednesday that I managed to get to my favourite Tapas actually perhaps my current favourite restaurant, Barrafina on Frith Street in the heart of Soho. Yes you have to queue (1 hour) along the side as you can’t book but the buzz and anticipation is worth it, particularly as the obligatory Gitana with Padron peppers keeps you going. I am not going to eulogise about the dishes AGAIN, specials menu and a selection dishes are pictured below, traditional meats etc are of the very highest calibre.

YOU MUST GO!

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