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.

 

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.

Six of the best Leeds bars

I get frequently asked which are the best bars or pubs in Leeds: by colleagues visiting the city, by friends on trips and by random folk on Twitter. It’s quite a tricky question because like everybody, I have my favourites. Depending on my mood, the weather, and a whole host of different reasons I will select an establishment based on a specific range of criteria.

It’s also tricky getting to a top six as Leeds is blessed with lots of very good places to have a drink. So I approached this task with a very specific mindset – which are my ‘go to’ places, where I know a welcome will await and result in an agreeable drink and perhaps some food. But that’s for another list; this top six is all about the booze.

So right now, in the summer of 2013 here are my current top six places I like to go in Leeds for a drink. I should point out that these are in no particular order.

The Cross Keys

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What’s not to like about The Cross Keys? Olde worlde charm in an urban environment, log burners in the winter, sunny courtyard in the summer. A peerless collection of local and international beers combined with a small but decent wine list means the drinks easily match the mood. The playlist is always good and the efficient hipsterish service rarely found wanting. It’s a great place to relax over a beer after work that very quickly turns into a low-key dinner as the food here is very good too. I won’t dwell on the food too much in this post, that’s for another list.

Maven

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No street signage, a bouncer on the door and a dodgy flight of stairs are the inauspicious signs that something interesting is going on.  Maven oozes cool that’s part understated confidence and part speakeasy flair. The only bar on my list that doesn’t serve any food at all, is a bit of a hidden gem in the city. It definitely channels a different kind of NY charm with cool clientele and even cooler bar staff. Cocktails are the main reason to come here and they are as good as you get anywhere. Early doors relaxed drinking morphs into beats and dancing later, attracting a younger crowd.

Friends of Ham

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A relative new boy to the scene, FOH is tucked away in the city centre and its unassuming frontage belies its stature in the city. A great list of beers, a very well curated wine list (supplied by local merchant Latitude) and, of course, the titular charcuterie. The only establishment on the list (or in the city for that matter) to have shuffleboard, FOH is a perfect location for a swiftie, a session, a leisurely snifter or indeed a tapas-style feed. It’s a reassuring sign that the place is always rammed and its position in the top six has been cemented by Observer food columnist Jay Rayner’s recent rave review.

The Adelphi

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This venerable old watering hole holds a special place in the heart of the Leeds drinking fraternity. Just over the river, this beautiful old pub wears its trademark acid etched windows with pride. One of the last pubs in Leeds that still retains its identity as a proper boozer, The Adelphi is now part of a chain, but you actually wouldn’t realise that, but in a good way. It’s really all about the beers and every taste is well catered for, and if you’re peckish, the food offering is reasonable too.

The Midnight Bell

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No list of the best pubs in Leeds would be complete without representation from Leeds Brewery, who leads the new wave of brewers in the city. Their growing portfolio of Leeds drinking houses is fast becoming a mini booze empire and the city is all the better for it. The Midnight Bell is two or three doors down from The Cross Keys, in the perfect location to service the growing number of media businesses in the area. The crowd is eclectic, dudes with beards rub shoulders with old school locals and its courtyard provides probably the best outdoor drinking experience in the city. No pub could survive these days without a decent menu and although the food is very good, but it definitely plays second fiddle to the beers.

The Reliance

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It’s very telling that most of the bars or pubs on this list also serve excellent food. For me it goes hand in hand and I can’t think of any place in the city where the booze isn’t supplemented in some way. The Reliance is a consummately cool bar and dining room in the Northern quarter with a distinctly lower east Side New York vibe. During the day, light streams in through big glass windows and on an evening a relaxed ambience takes over. Great local beers and ales combine with a well-judged wine list to make this a perfect stop off for drinks or an extended dinner.

So that’s my top six.

Let me know if you disagree or there are any glaringly obvious omissions. There’s bound to be some controversy I realise and even as I type this I’m thinking about other places I’ve missed. Notable mentions should also go to:

The Alchemist / Angelica  – favourite of the Leeds fur coat no knickers brigade, the city does love its glam and The Alchemist and Angelica sit astride the newly opened retail cathedral, Trinity. I do like a bit of glamour, mind.

Leeds Bar and Grill – see above re fur coat but this city square stalwart is still a boisterous place to grab a glass of Pino Grigio and possibly a granny too.

Whitelocks – Oldest pub in Leeds etc, this place is always great for a mid shopping pint, it still retains its eighteenth century charm along with a loyal clientele. Nice pub to hole up of a winter’s afternoon.

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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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