Tramshed

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It’s not in every restaurant that you see a real Damian Hirst artwork in the middle of a dining room, but then London’s Tramshed isn’t your everyday kind of restaurant. Tucked away in the super cool hipster backstreets of Shoreditch, Tramshed is the latest restaurant opened by Mark Hix, he of Chophouse and Lyme Regis fame.
The name gives away the building’s previous existence and the cavernous exposed brick interior is both wow and cool from the get go. We visited on a Sunday night and it was still jammed, so much so we could only get a seat at the counter, which turned out to be a great move.
Sitting at the counter you get instantaneous service, the eye of your server but a blink away. It delivers a more engaging experience too, one which we tend to shy away from in this country, perhaps it’s our famous reserved nature – but we really enjoyed it and I would recommend it here. We even discovered that our server’s dad came from Wakefield, now that wouldn’t have happened if we’d sat at a table.

The place is all hustle and bustle, with a lively, laid back, family friendly vibe early on a Sunday evening. Watched studiously by the cow and chicken in formaldehyde—which has pride of the place in the centre of the room – we ordered cocktails and perused the menu. The staff are friendly and knowledgeable taking you through the form on the menu—what you should order, how much etc,  some people get annoyed with this perceived nannying approach, but I like it: information is power, especially in a cool London restaurant.

The menu is very simple indeed, chicken or beef ( hence the Hirst artwork and many others in the same vein adorning the Hoxton hipster brick) except for a few bits and bobs, which add some variety to the stripped back offering. I confess I do like this kind of menu: it makes life super easy for me and given I’d had beef the day before, my life just got even easier so we shared a full Swainson House Farm chicken (barn-reared Indian Rock, no less) and the birds are served legs akimbo, with feet attached, golden roasted with a ceramic pot where the head could be. Quite dramatic and very cool.
Starters were simple but lovely: light as air Yorkshire pudding with whipped chicken livers (oh my) and a shaved pumpkin and walnut fennel salad paved the way for a slap up feast that made us smile. Chicken, chips, onion rings, proper chicken gravy – before long we were knee deep in a perfect combination of a homemade / upmarket / dirtbag food experience. Some would say that is the perfect foodie storm and who can disagree?
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Tramshed white vino was excellent at a sub £20 price in London—shame on pricey Leeds gaffs pricing wine as a way to boost revenues. We don’t mind paying of course, but it’s in London that you see the value of a highly competitive market.
As per usual our eyes were bigger than our bellies and the chicken beat us and in turn edged out the desserts, but we left happy and full, satisfied that London cool needn’t cost the earth and provide a warm and engaging experience.
Northern restaurants can learn a lot from this—and I note with encouragement that newbie Rare in Leeds has taken a few cues from Tramshed, with great success, more on that later…
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Masia del Mar

Just up the coast from where we stayed in Tenerife is a small fishing village called La Caleta, there’s hardly anything there: a few houses clinging to a small bay, villas here and there and a handful of bars and restaurants. And ocean views to die for.
Masia del Mar is an inauspicious doorway in a side street that opens out into an old fashioned, relaxed family restaurant, fish bubbling away in tanks to the front, an open plan kitchen to the side, all industry and warmth. The best seats, if the weather allows, are on the terrace which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and on this occasion, we were ushered to a nice table with good views.
The restaurant was busy which is a always a good sign on a Sunday night in December. We ordered some house cava to get the ball rolling and then a bottle of Canarian Viduenos white, which was exceptionally good for the modest price. We’ve found Canarians will always try to sell you a local wine (and we would always request local produce) and although they are oddly more expensive than mainland wines, it’s worth giving them a try.
It’s pretty easy ordering food here, the seafood is spankingly fresh so you can’t go wrong, unless you don’t like fish of course, in which case you are in the wrong place!
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To begin with, we ordered the obligatory padron peppers and a plate of baby squid, fried in a light as air batter, well seasoned and piled high. It’s worth noting that starters are good value and over ordering is a danger as portions can be large. These were served with the local Mojo dipping sauces, one fiery, one cool and soothing.
For mains, we decided to share the house speciality, seafood paella. All Spanish restaurants would lay claim to their paella being the best in the area, but we’ve eaten here before and we know that their paella is certainly the best we’ve ever tasted. Packed with seafood, the secret is the stock: deeply fishy, speaking of the ocean, the product of a long, slow process. The rice is sticky, moist and a vivid amber colour, not just a sideshow for the seafood, but demanding attention.
Service is businesslike and friendly, not much English spoken but very easy to get by with a bit of Spanglish on the go. Masia del Mar is a place of simple pleasures, food to calm the soul and nourish the spirit, elegant and timeless, you get the feeling they’ve been doing the same thing well for years and will continue to do so in years to come.

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.

 

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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Cafe Spice Namaste

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Midweek dinner with colleagues in London this week had to do these 4 essential things:

1. Warm us up – it was flipping freezing.

2. Be easy – we’d had a full on week and we needed to keep it simple.

3. Taste amazing – we are an exacting bunch

4. Be local – we were staying near the city and didn’t fancy travelling

Bearing the above in mind, we headed straight for Cafe Spice Namaste – our new go-to Indian restaurant near the Tower of London. I’ve written about Mr Todiwali’s superb gaff before, but I thought he deserved another mention it’s that good.

A table of four men trying miserably to keep to some kind of January dietary regime in a top-notch Indian restaurant is a recipe for disaster, but we did manage to keep the beer to a minimum (school night) and skipped starters going straight for mains. Vast quantities of excellent pickles and poppadoms made up for the lack of a starter and our mains arrived promptly. Three of us went for the superb mixed tandoori grill which contained all manner of meat and fishy loveliness with some rice in case we were feeling too smug with our low carb intake. Our fourth diner opted for springbok (yes, the South African deer-like animal) which he deemed first rate.

We will continue, I’m sure, to use Cafe Spice Namaste as our midweek curry bolt hole as it the food and service is tip top – and if that’s what you’re in the mood for, it’s definitely up there with the best. In the meantime if you are in the vicinity it’s well worth a look.

 

Ikea Restaurant

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In the interests in light and shade I feel it only right and proper to review Ikea‘s Restaurant.

What, I can almost hear you say, in God’s name were you doing in there? Well, it was midweek in January and we were picking up a few bits and pieces (picture frames, candles and a mirror in case you were wondering) it was quiet, so we thought we’d give it a go. I realise it’s not the most glamorous destination for a date night but we had picked up some new pillows for the bed earlier and we thought dining a la Ikea would top the evening off nicely. The excitement of it all.

I know this is left field for a blog devoted to the best food and drink locally and internationally – Ikea is Scandinavian so that ticks the international box. Rest assured, on a normal day I wouldn’t set foot in the place – people ten deep at the counter, thousands of crying children and bickering couples arguing about what size Billy bookcase is going to fit in the dining room.

The place was virtually empty so we had it pretty much to ourselves which suited us. The restaurant is a fairly standard server canteen type set up where it’s a case of grab a tray and fill it with cut price food and drink. First thing to mention is the price – this stuff is cheap, just as you’d expect from Ikea I suppose. Cost effective utilitarian food with some style – perfectly reflecting their furniture offering.

I opted for the meatballs ( I do like a nice meatball and these weren’t bad) which came with mash, gravy and cranberry sauce. The large portion was around £5 and it would easily fed two people. The actual meal cam,e on two plates there was that much. Note to self, forgo the greed and get a small next time, if there is a next time. J had a very serviceable blue cheese walnut salad affair and as we were both not drinking, we sadly quaffed still water.

It’s only fair to point out at this juncture that you can buy what looked like decent French white/rose/red wine. Who knew you could get wine in Ikea? If I’d have known that on previous visits I would have made a beeline for the restaurant before braving the store – anything to take the edge off a tortuously busy Ikea store and its environs.

There is plenty of choice on offer with curries, standard British food as well as Swedish style grub. I have to say it all looked perfectly edible which is more than can be said for a lot of the food of this ilk in motorway services which is often three times the price.

Ok, it’s not Kendell’s but it’s perfectly tasty, cheap, non poisonous food. No doubt there are millions of people who already know this but it was a revelation to me. I might even be tempted back, midweek, when its quiet, when I’m drinking and when I’m skint.