Weekend in Leeds

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Sitting outside Sandinista on upper Briggate, watching the world go by is a real local’s pleasure in Leeds. Sandinista has been there for ever and it’s often overlooked in favour of more fashionable restaurants.

 

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The tapas is simple, satisfying and plentiful. The chicken wings get a special mention.

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Breakfast was at the Cross Keys. Bloody Marys got the day off to a boost start (I don’t do this every day, honestly).

 

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For some, Prosecco was the breakfast tipple of choice. There’s nothing like some bubbles with your bacon.

 

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Leeds was packed with TDF revellers. Whilst they jammed into every street corner, we tucked into a full English, Cross Keys style.

 

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And it didn’t disappoint! Spectacular.

From Po Boys to Pulled Pork and beyond

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Just before Christmas, I was invited to eat at the brand new sister restaurant to The Pit in Leeds city centre, the rather sensibly named Pit Chapel Allerton, due to its location. For those of you who don’t know Leeds very well, Chapel Allerton is about ten minutes drive outside of the city centre and quite an up and coming place, if it’s not actually up and come already.  There are already a number of cool restaurants and bars, one being the highly prized Mexican Pinche Pinche, so it’s well worth the detour if you are in the city.
Back in the day, Chapel Allerton wasn’t always this nice so it’s good to see it grow and the out of town vibe spread with new bar and restaurant openings, the latest of which is The Pit. Pretty much a carbon copy of the Central Leeds operation in terms of branding, design, menu and interior, The Pit is a big restaurant with equally large ambition and clearly they believe that the market is there for them to open here.
It was another ‘getting the kitchen up to speed’ event but this time a lunch table was offered. We paid for our drinks and the food was laid on and it was order at the bar as there was no table service for some reason. No issue, so we ordered from the same menu the Central Leeds restaurant has, which is extensive Americana. I’d been to the original restaurant a few months ago and I have to say was a little disappointed, so was eager to see if there was any difference with the Chapel Allerton outpost.
My lunch companion and I went for nachos and fried catch of the day to get things underway, both of which were perfectly good. It’s all straight forward food here so it’s all about getting the small things right – so far so good. I ordered the half roasted chicken for mains with mac and cheese side and my fellow luncher opted for the very good looking fillet burger, which came perfectly rare as ordered. The chicken came with sweet potato fries and a lip smackingly hot peri peri style sauce which was on the money and still makes my mouth water as I write this.
The menu is very much in vogue  right now and the time is right for burger / rib / nachos / po boys / pulled pork et al – and a particular emphasis on attracting a younger crowd will ensure the success of places like this.
With Schooners of Brooklyn lager to wash it down, this was the perfect easy going lunch and, in my opinion, a more enjoyable experience that the previous meal at the Central Leeds restaurant. Perhaps it was down to the food ordered or the nuances of the individual restaurants, I’m not sure. The service was better in Leeds, but the food was marginally better in chapel Allerton.
I’m sure they will iron out these wrinkles in both restaurants in the coming months, but one thing is for sure, restaurants in Leeds that serve this kind of cuisine will have one eye over their shoulder at The Pit Leeds and Chapel Allerton – there is a lot of ambition and investment here, and I get the impression they won’t settle for second best.

Mrs Atha’s and the best breakfast in Leeds

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A bit of an oversight that I’ve not written about Mrs Atha’s yet. It’s been open for absolutely ages and I’m well behind the curve in terms of up to minute coffee reporting. I’d walked past a few times and made a mental note to find the time to visit, then ended up visiting a few times in a flurry of coffee activity.
It’s worth saying a lot of time and effort has gone into the design of Mrs Atha’s, from the branding to interiors and beyond. I always spot this first up as it’s the business I’m in but I am a big believer in businesses that get this right always get the product right too. Other nice touches like Aesop hand wash in the toilets—the only place in Leeds that does so— tell me there is an eye for detail at work here.
The first time I visited it was a quick coffee and I settled at a table waiting for my friend to turn up, I marveled on how Mrs Atha’s actually makes you feel cool just sitting in it: like you’re in the know, and that’s hard to pull off. It’s also hard to pull off a genuine coffee alternative contender in a city dominated by corporates but Layne’s Espresso, Bottega Milanese and a handful of others have done it, so if you get your offer right, it can work.
I have bemoaned the lack of a genuinely great breakfast in Leeds but with Mrs Atha’s we do have a contender. It’s not your standard full English but a component led version, using Lishman’s bacon and sausage, thrillingly creamy scrambled eggs,delicious sourdough toast and buttered crumpets. Team these up with simply great coffee then we have something really good to get the day started.
The location on Central Street is definitely tucked away, not obvious, and I like that. The place isn’t enormous so does get busy quickly although there are seats downstairs. Food and drink are ordered at the counter and it’s brought to you, which works reasonably well although I’d quite like to see table service but I’m sure there are practical reasons why that’s not possible.
So, lagging woefully behind the bleeding edge coffee hipsters, I can now declare Mrs Atha’s my favourite place for breakfast in Leeds, safe in the knowledge that they’ve probably spotted something new anyway and I can enjoy my flat white and bacon sarnie in peace.
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Rare

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It will be difficult to avoid inappropriate puns in this post. Rare is one of those over used pronouns that, in this day and age, gets done to death in marketing schpeak. Rare this, Rare that…But I will do my best.
Rare is a new place recently opened that we were invited along as a free blogger type gig (to get that out of the way) in the hope that if we enjoyed it, we would say nice things about them. When we started writing this blog, I never imagined that anyone would see any commercial advantage in my ramblings, but the world has changed, and continues to do so, and people do read good food blogs (me included) and listen to what they have to say.
Rare sits at the bottom of Leeds’ main shopping street, Briggate, on the edge of the gay quarter, which in turn is packed with great bars and nightclubs. So the location is good for the young crowd, as long as we oldies are allowed in, or at least know where it is. Ground floor is a very low lit bar, spacious and chilled and downstairs is the (even lower lit) restaurant. We were led downstairs into a cool basement dining room—a lot better than that sounds, trust me—intimate and hip without being pretentious. I have no idea how I make that value judgement, but there it is.
A stuffed longhorn cow takes centre stage, gazing wistfully into the near distance, through the gloom, perhaps wondering if his mates are going to be served up for dinner tonight or tomorrow. Either way, it’s a striking emblem and statement of intent.
Our taxidermist specimen offers clues too to the food on offer—steak, obviously—and chicken with pork for good measure. Lots of similarities with the menu at Tramshed, which is not a criticism as we loved it there. Simple is good: restaurants do seem to be adopting this both commercial and customer friendly strategy, which I welcome.
Everything was free tonight as they were trialling the kitchen and menu out but the one thing on the menu that attracted a £25 surcharge was the Longhorn steak for two. Of course, I couldn’t resist and thanks to my irresistible powers of persuasion, J couldn’t either.
Free range, rare breed pork ribs looked good for starters and they were soft and forgiving, a work of a long, slow roast. Spicy sausages were also a delightful mouthful and then the steak arrived. It had been trailed extensively by the attentive, first night staff, ‘it’s on its way!’ we were informed every 5 minutes. I hate it when you don’t know anything in a restaurant, sat for ages waiting for a main course that got lost in the system. No danger of that tonight.
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Then it arrived—a massive T-bone steak. A longhorn T-bone at that. It’s bulk straddled the plate with a challenging demeanor, daring us to come and have a go if we’re hard enough. Proper Leeds beef – or more precisely North Yorkshire beef, from Thirsk. It didn’t disappoint either, cooked to perfection for such a big cut, how did they get it so meltingly good in the short timeframe? Seasoned well on the outside, the medium rare inner contrasted pink and red tenderness with blackened grill frazzle.
I can’t remember what else we had, I think the triple cooked chips were the best I’ve ever had, but I can’t be sure. There will have been some sides or other (I remember some kind of beetroot coleslaw), but I can’t recall as it was irrelevant.
What I do know is that I think we just had the best steak ever in Leeds…a *rare* thing indeed (sorry).

Where are the best steaks in Leeds?

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Hands up who doesn’t like a good steak?

Apart from the justifiably aggrieved vegetarians at the back flicking me the double V’s, I would hazard a guess most people would keep their hands in their pockets. In the UK we do love a good piece of meat and we seem pretty much hard-wired to loving it. Of course, I’m generalising hugely here but meat looms large in our diet and in particular, but we do love a bit of beef.

Our love affair with bovine consumption has been talked about extensively in the context of how expensive meat is to produce and how resource intensive it is to get it from the field onto our plate. We have all seen how the price of said flesh has rocketed in the past few years to reflect this and as a consequence, some cuts of meat have definitely become a luxury item with people even opting to go meat free for one or several days a week.

This rising cost and awareness has made beef  and in particular steak, a once a week affair—or even less— with wallets and consciences joining force to limit consumption. But still it sits at the top of a restaurant menu, the most expensive item and I’m guessing that the reason it still sits there is because customers still crave it. Personally I always find it hard to overlook the indulgence and inherent cave man reflex to order a slab of medium rare beef, although my wife has a more considered, less beefy palate. It’s definitely a blokey thing too and I’ll hold my hands up to that, but the joy of the carnivore is certain to be experienced across the gender divide.

That brings me to one of the most common questions I’m asked after which is the best restaurant in Leeds, and that’s where is the best steak to be had in Leeds? Now there is no simple answer to this. Sure we have plenty of specialist ‘steakhouses’ in the city that would lay claim to this title and we definitely have enough high quality restaurants who say they serve tip top steak action.

It’s all down to the mood you’re in I believe: fancy, informal, quick, leisurely, dirty, clean, flames, saucy. So here is my guide, which is by no means scientific—or exhaustive—but it is based on the hard-won factual approach of hauling my not insubstantial ass around the city in search of beefy nirvana.

Here we go then, in no particular order…

gauchGaucho— top-end Argentinian beef extortion is the game here and if your pockets are deep and you have the eyesight to see your dinner through the gloom, you will be rewarded with steaks of epic proportions and taste. Special occasions only, in my opinion. Nice Chimichurri sauce though.

La-Grillade-signLa Grillade—the only restaurant in Leeds to serve old school French Chateaubriand style fillet. If you can put up with the surly french waiters then you will be rewarded with fillet steak of the gods and proper french fries. Off the scale cheeseboard too.

steak-fazenda-webFazenda—the only Brazilian rodizio in the city where it’s possible to eat your own body weight in meat. Top tip: wait for the good cuts of meat to come out near the end. Watch out for: over ambitious male diners suffering the meat sweats.

Leeds Light opening 2013-1373595175Miller & Carter—small chain of pure play steakhouse restaurants with newish outpost in Leeds. In truth, slightly disappointing but if you must go, the ribeye was very serviceable last time I was there.

Delve-Kendalls-Bistro-Full-Res-001-re-editedKendell’s—Leeds’ best restaurant (I coined that phrase by the way) serves an amazing Cote de Boeuf with an outrageously unctuous cylinder of bone marrow on top. Always a challenge for me, ordering anything else, when I see that on the blackboard. Unfashionably expensive fillet is beautiful here too, pricey but push the boat out. Proper sauces too.

P4308240bThe Cross Keys—I’ve seen grown men cry here when they are told that the steak has sold out, I know, as I was one such man. Unassuming sirloins and twice fried chips have a mainstream following here. Also, Sunday roast beef is the best in Leeds.

bbq-the-restaurant-bar-grill-webRestaurant Bar and Grill—overpriced glamour is what we like in Leeds and you get it in spades here. Food always seems like an afterthought and the steaks are no exception. Oddly, the fish is always good here where the steaks fair to middling (or overcooked like the one in the picture).

cattle-grid-web-668x341Cattle Grid—situated in the worst location, which was the best location 5 years ago, Cattle Grid is an oddity. Part rib shack, burger joint and half hearted steak house it suffers from a serious bout of mediocrity.

let-there-be-meatRed’s—personally I wouldn’t order a steak in here as there’s too much fun to be had with artery hardening burger stacks, proper BBQ ribs, deep fried pickles etc…they do serve a steak if you’re interested, but the real action is dirtbag food from the pit.

crafthouse_menus_653x279The Craft House—swanky Conran gaff atop the Trinity shopping mall (not as bad as it sounds) cooks a mean rib of beef in its josper oven (I have no idea either), and a bank loan is required to foot the bill. The swish setting is oddly unsatisfying and I’ve damned it with faint praise a few too many times.

Rare-5-web-668x341Rare— Leeds’ newest addition to the restaurant scene opening only last week. A daringly simple menu goes for broke with pared back beef, chicken and pork under the watchful eye of a stuffed Longhorn. The said locally sourced rare breed T-Bone steak for two was amongst the best (and biggest) beef I’ve tasted not just in Leeds, but anywhere in the UK.

Rare breed beef, monster T-bone cut, exquisitely seasoned and cooked to perfection—could this be the best steak in Leeds??

Let me know what you think…who do you think I have I missed or what have I got horribly wrong…

 

Festive frolics under canvas

Last night we sat around an open fire, wood smoke gently infusing the air, experienced the joy of live music, drank wine, ate heartwarming food and laughed with friends. Under canvas. In a teepee. Slap bang in the centre of Leeds.

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It sounds bizarre but its true. Legendary Leeds venue The Faversham has long been part and parcel of the student furniture but this year they have a 100 seater teepee in their back garden (no, really). We got an invite to the opening of their ‘Festive TeePee Social Club’ on a cold November night and we were suitably intrigued. Running from now up to Christmas, the enormous tent is home to a chilled out vibe, open fire, bar serving seasonal beverages of the craft beer and mulled wine variety and comfy sofa bed things and picnic tables – it sounds random but it works. So we settled down for a night to remember.

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It so happens that every Thursday is open mic Buskers night where local artists who ply their trade on the streets can come along and have their shot at the big wigwam (sorry). If I’m honest we only intended to stay for an hour or so, but we were drawn in by the steady procession of artists, some good, some brilliant. The fire glowed and the tent filled, people occupying every nook and cranny of the tent sitting on cushions, intoxicated by the joy of the flame, the music and an ancient under canvas feeling when its cold outside – if you’ve camped you’ll know what I mean. Piping hot beef stew with horseradish dumplings were served and greedily devoured, soaking up the very reasonably priced house red wine,£11 per bottle, Rose £9: bargain.

Our plan to leave was shelved and the evening went from good to great with fantastic performances by compere Cleve Freckleton AKA Rev Chunky and the talented singer songwriter Amy Sowerby. This was an unexpectedly brilliant evening and the surroundings made it all the more special, dare I say magical. I’d say we were comfortably the oldest there by a long chalk (although Rev Chunky gave us a run for our money, uncomfortably/accurately dedicating ‘Stuck in the middle with you’ to us) but to be fair, the young crowd weren’t too annoying and studenty and we didn’t feel out of place. In fact we were right at home.

I would conclude that it’s well worth a trip out to The Faversham before the end of December, which is a good 15 minutes walk from the centre of Leeds or a very short cab ride, even if it’s to sit by the fire sipping something warming in the majestic teepee. My top tip would be get there early next Thursday for the Buskers night and if you see us in the corner, come and say hello, we’re easy to spot: stuck in the middle.

The Pit

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When Rib Shakk closed down earlier this year we lost one of our go to rib / dirtbag / not so guilty pleasures restaurants. Anthony’s sous vide ribs were a succulents joy, but that is all in the past. Of course there is Red’s, but if you can get a table good luck and if I’m honest I don’t love their ribs as much as everyone else seems to. So we had what marketing folk call a gap in an emerging market, that is until The Pit opened.

Situated at the other end of town, The Pit is also all about the barbecue: pulled pork, ribs, burgers, wings, nachos… you get the chargrilled message. It’s also huge – the spacious interior used to be part of a nightclub and it’s been given an intelligent designer makeover into a contemporary american vibe, by way of Merrion Street. It’s also part of the ambitious and successful Arc Inspirations Group, the guys behind The Box, Trio, Napa and The Arc etc so we should expect great things.

First impressions are good and on the lunchtime we visited, the staff were on the case, friendly and attentive. After a drink at the bar, we took to our booth (I do like a good booth). At first, the menu is slightly bewildering I’ll be honest – there is a lot to choose from. But if you like this kind of food, and you know the difference between a Po Boy and a Big Link Dog, you’ll be right at home. We fancied the burger and lobster combo made famous by the eponymous swanky London restaurant chain, but the fillet burger was disappointingly off so we all opted for the ribs and lobster. This was the most expensive item on the menu too (why do I always do that?) and quite steep at £25.95 although it looked impressive. Okay, there is half of a (small) lobster, a side of ribs, fries, slaw but still a little on the pricey side for me. I noticed other items such as straight forward burgers were also on the wallet stretching scale for what they were – it did feel a little like the expensive fit out needed to be paid for in some way.

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The food was good, the ribs excellent – probably the best in Leeds right now, smoky, succulent with still some bite – the lobster was a little bland, (it tasted like it was probably frozen) and other stuff is standard fare although the sweet potato fries and mac & cheese were nice alternative sides. I do think sometimes it’s hard to really excel with this type of food as ultimately it has to be the basics done really well. Perhaps I’m being too harsh but I do think that they will have to up their game to compete and take a look at the prices. I’ve said it many times, but some restaurants in Leeds charge London prices without the accompanying quality of service or food. I wouldn’t put The Pit in this category, but if you fancy a plate of nachos, a couple of burgers or sides of ribs, throw in a few beers and before you know it, you’re easily North of £50. In my book, everything has to be brilliant to sustain those prices.

But The Pit is cool, make no mistake about it and any place that has a den in the basement with two ping pong tables available for hire, has to be good. The beer selection is superb and the wine sensibly priced, but this is a beer joint primarily although the cocktails are excellent, as I can testify). It’s location in the burgeoning ‘Northern Quarter’ will mean custom from the arena and out of town visitors.