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…

 

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.

 

Living in the moment and food blog anxiety

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We were lucky enough recently to visit Copenhagen to what was the world’s number one restaurant Noma, now number two, but more on that later. We felt that the blog post for this should be a joint affair, with different perspectives – so here goes…

Part 1: Living in the moment

People often say that we do not enjoy the moments enough which leads to life whizzing past particularly in this day and age. For many reasons the four of us needed this moment with other current challenges in our normal lives.

None of us had visited Copenhagen before and incredibly for D we didn’t even do any real research on the city. Why would you when the purpose of the visit is to dine at Noma! We expected Scandinavian minimalist cool but when we saw our hotel building we were just amazed by the ambition. The pics won’t really do the Bella Sky justice as it bends, tilts, stretches in every direction. Our rooms were on the 21st floor and had wall to ceiling windows so anyone afraid of heights would need to  pull down the electric curtains –  the view is priceless but the cost at was very reasonable.

We dropped off our gear and headed to the mass transit system which was a 5 min walk away. You know what we are going to say, why don’t we have this quality of system back home? Straight into the city and as you would expect all the posh shops and local ones too with lots of bars and restaurants in quaint squares. We even got to sit outside, from herrings to nachos to local cured meats the standard of food was excellent. However the cost of alcohol is high compared to the UK and unless you are  very thirsty don’t order a large beer or like G you will get a 750ml monster instead of a pint!

After the sustenance we took a walk around this beautiful city of canals and grand buildings for a 2/3 of hours before we fell upon a little cocktail bar. The bar was very cool with trendy interiors and an even trendier stylish lady running the bar. The menu of drinks was incredible and actually different in a nordic berries and herbs kind of way. We had over 2 and half hours of total chilling. Was this day one moment or several moments tied together?

Local advice is generally best taken when it comes to food and we were advised to just nip across the way to a “pub” like establishment for quick reasonable priced  local fayre. We decided on the set 3 plates menu – all very simple but delicious, as good as our best gastro pubs. Back to the hotel and we could not go to bed before taking in the Copenhagen skyline at night from the hotel’s Sky Bar and one for the ditch!

D&G

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Part 2: Food blog anxiety

I have no idea how to set about writing a food blog about the best restaurant in the world. I find my usual ramblings work very well for the majority of my reviews and when we go somewhere special, I find I have to raise my game somewhat. So when one of my long standing ambitions of getting a reservation at world-famous Danish restaurant Noma happened earlier this year, I was already quaking in my boots about how I’d record it. I’ve chilled a bit since we went there and a few weeks have allowed me some perspective which has helped me get my head around how to review the experience.

After our trip to Noma, I was reflecting on the brilliance of it all (there, I’ve spoiled the ending) and it was not just about the food it was about the entire experience as most restaurants are. But more so with Noma, so I thought I’d try a slightly different approach which collects the overall components which when put together created an unforgettable experience.

First of all, booking a table. We were in town for one reason and one reason only – lunch at the iconic Noma. A lunch or dinner reservation is a rare thing of beauty and even the local talked enviously of not being able to bag a table. Perseverance from J paid off and the table was booked three months ago when the booking window for our planned trip opened. We booked our trip around the reservation – top tip: don’t try to reserve a table around existing travel plans, it will result in you dining elsewhere.

Secondly, the city. As G has already said, Copenhagen is a very cool city. I’d not been before so everything was fresh and interesting in only the way a visit to a brand new city can be. Only a relatively short one and a half hour hop across from the UK, there’s a lot to like about the city. It has the edgy hispter districts that were plagued with drugs and sex workers only a few years ago, it has wide open plazas where the cooling autumn winds whipped around and it has the pedestrianised European city streets that we’ve come to expect. Copenhagen’s rich history as a port clearly delivers diversity and an outward facing vibe that’s hard to pinpoint but is certainly there.

Next, the restaurant. Of course, Noma resides in the cool river waterfront district – where else would one of the world’s most individual restaurants be situated? Majestic restored grain warehouses litter the waterfront with an easy mixture of business, residential and bar & restaurant. Noma sits in a tall stone built warehouse overlooking the main waterway and was a short walk from the local metro stop. As we stopped outside to take the perfunctory mugshot outside the restaurant sign pic, a member of staff dashed out and offered to take the photgraph for us. This deceptively small piece of customer service set the tone for what was to be the best lunch of our lives.

Now onto the service. We were greeted by seemingly dozens of members of staff who greeted us on our arrival – chefs, waiters, sommeliers, kitchen staff. This was another relatively small touch but we were made to feel really welcome and I’ve never encountered that anywhere else at all. The atmosphere in Noma is chilled out and relaxed but below that cool demeanor beats an engine of epic efficiency and power. We’ve dined at Michelin starred restaurants before but the difference here was the lack of pretentious behaviour by the staff, or indeed by the food. Service was immaculate: attentive, unobtrusive, knowledgable, humorous, humble, stylish and above all, really on it. We felt immediately at home and this set the tone for the rest of the meal.

All well and good, what about the food? I won’t bore you with endless descriptions or photographs of the food and drink (although there are some pics at the end of the post to give you an overview). Trust me when I say it was the best meal of our lives – and the most expensive. But absolutely worth every single penny. Of course there were ants used as seasoning, foraged Nordic ingredients, exquisite execution, immaculate presentation, informal discussions with the chefs, no meat served whatsoever during lunch, outrageous combinations, ridiculous simplicity, ingenious wine pairings, ambition and humility. Rarely has restaurant packed so many genuine moments of joy into one sitting. This was food that took us on a journey of taste, exploration and enjoyment, never once serving a plate that wasn’t on brand or in line with the overall vision. I’ve never heard Rene Redzepi deliver his vision but I left the restaurant feeling like I know exactly what it is, a fully signed up member of the Noma club.

The extras. An extended tour of the kitchens and ‘backstage’ areas was even more revealing: 38 chefs from around the world diligently prepping dinner service, an experimental lab devoted to innovation and food ingenuity, a solitary chef manning the barbecue cooking only leeks, cheery hellos from everyone (and I mean everyone) we met, a hydroponic indoor garden devoted to growing herbs, a chance encounter with the man himself and a palpable sense of excitement and opportunity.

So is Noma worth the cost and the effort? Absolutely. Would we do it again, given the depleted nature of the bank balance post visit? Without question. One of the great pleasures in life is to come into contact with experts, those who have put the prequisite 10,000 into what they do (according to Malcolm Gladwell anyway) and have become leaders in their field. I knew the moment we walked into Noma that we were in the presence of such people and what an absolute joy it was to experience it.

We’ve discussed at length if there were any shortcomings and I have to say, hand on heart there were none. We’re a fussy bunch, us Globetroffers and if we say that, it’s praise indeed. Never mind the Michelin inspectors, what do they know??

P&J

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Does Leeds need another cool, high quality, independent restaurant?

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This week we were invited to the opening of another new restaurant in Leeds, Shears Yard. And it was one of those soft opening events for friends, family, food bloggers and anyone else who knows me type affairs. A very nice young lady from the PR team invited us along and in the interest of keeping our readers up to speed with the latest happenings on the Leeds food scene, we duly attended (it would be rude not to).

The location of Shears Yard will be very familiar to Leeds diners: it’s the old Livebait building down on The Calls. For years, Livebait plowed a lonely, fishy furrow in the city for many years and was for a long time one of our favourite places to eat in the city. But the world changed and eventually it closed and whilst it’s a shame to lose a restaurant it’s tremendous to see new blood too.

Whilst Shears Yard is a new kid on the block, it also has some serious Leeds foodie provenance with the owners of the venerable Art’s Cafe striking out in a bold and entrepreneurial fashion. It’s also worth noting Art’s has been a long-standing success with loyal customers in the ultra competitive world of eating out in Leeds, so these guys know what they are doing.

The first thing to say about Shears Yard is they have loving and stylishly re-designed the restaurant making the nineteenth century rope and canvas warehouse look effortlessly cool and very 2013 Scandinavian chic. If first impressions are everything, then we’re off to a good start. The branding is clean and pared back minimalism, conveying confidence and individuality – this is no chain.

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The menu is refreshingly simple too, using in season ingredients and fashionably bizarre combinations to intrigue and delight. Although this was an invite only event, we could order from the main menu, so the kitchen were up and running. The mood was relaxed and efficient – although the restaurant was busy, service was brisk and cheerful with hardly any opening night glitches.

To start J selected the intriguing chilled pea custard with goats curd and I dived in for the scallops ‘old fashioned’ with Bowmore whiskey and orange glaze. Mains were fillet of beef with oxtail and marrow croquettes with Mrs D choosing the roast turbot with chicken fricassee. These were all excellent, with presentation of the food of a particularly high standard. Puddings had to be done and both the passion fruit creme brulee and the poppy-seed and raspberry muffin brought smiles to our faces.

I expect the restaurant will settle in very quickly, find its place in the dining out pecking order and if the standard on the opening night is anything to go by, then Leeds has another bright prospect.

Does Leeds need another cool, high quality, independent food establishment? Well, we don’t have anywhere near enough, so I’d say hell yes, welcome to Shears yard and I will return as soon as I can.

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.

The Courtyard Dairy

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If you love cheese then you’re going to love this next post.

I received an email out of the blue from a chap called Andy Swinscoe who, after years of experience in the cheese industry in the UK and France, has opened his own specialised cheese shop called The Courtyard Dairy just outside the dales town of Settle. Andy invited us up to come and taste some of his wares and as we were in the market for some New Year’s cheese action we had a little ‘run out’. We didn’t expect the dales to be awash with flood water either, but it made for an interesting drive I can tell you.

Andy and his partner Kathy have a wonderful little shop in an up market development called The Courtyard. It’s a super little collection of food and lifestyle outlets – a nice brasserie, a cheeky wine shop, an art gallery etc. He has selected his location wisely although for personal reasons I wish he was closer to Leeds!

We bought far too much (that happened to get eaten btw) and here’s what we bought, for the unpasteurised record:

Stichelton – essentially a traditional Stilton, not made by the Stilton mafia

Dale End Cheddar – wonderful, powerful, crunchy, mature

Gorgonzola Dolce – our favourite: unctuous and velvety

Old Winchester – aged gouda

Selles sur cher – aged French goats cheese, a delight

Aged Gruyere – definitely not like the stuff in plastic in the supermarket

 

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There is only one phrase to describe Andy and that is cheese geek. I’m not sure that is ever been used to describe anyone but he really does know his fromage. Inside out and back to front. He purposefully keeps the selection small – around thirty cheeses, mostly unpasteurised – to keep them fresh and turning over. We tasted so many interesting cheeses that after a while we had cheese blindness – you really need to go and have a dibble yourself.

It’s wonderful to meet people who are so passionate about what they are doing that it shines out. The Courtyard Dairy deserves to be a huge success.

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