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.

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!

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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.