Tuesday, 30 August 2011

White House Café, Otley Chevin

I wasn't going to bother blogging this. It was a hiking pit stop where I ate a cheese and beans toastie and drank a pot of tea. Oh, and a can of Irn Bru. To give me strength.

I changed my mind because it turns out the café is run as a social enterprise, providing gainful employment for people with learning disabilities. I could be way off the mark, but that sounds like exactly like the sort of enterprise that needs a subsidy, is going to lose its subsidy in the foreseeable future, and needs more custom to justify its existence to the bean counters.

Whatever their funding status it's worth a visit regardless, especially if you're having a tramp round the forest park. There are picnic tables on a terrace looking out over Otley town astride the Wharfe in the valley below, and the toastie wasn't half bad for £1.50. Yes, £1.50. Including green salad, potato salad and coleslaw.

Cheaper than chips, grand scenery, friendly service and noble intentions. What more do you want?


The White House
Otley Chevin Forest Park

Monday, 29 August 2011

Fish&, Leeds

There's a bit of a fledgling street food revolution going on in Leeds at the moment. This is one London food fashion that I'm more than happy to see heading up the M1.

Right at the heart of the city centre, in the pedestrianised area around the junction of Commercial Street and Lands Lane there are now three mobile food units. Delizza pizza (not bad for the price) has been there for ages, but has now been joined by a burger/hotdog stall (has anyone tried it?) and by Fish&.

If I'm honest I got off on the wrong foot with Fish&. I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to fish and chips, so their marketing spiel of 'not like fish and chips as you know it' and 'fish and chips with a twist' didn't really chime with me. Provided it's done properly I like my fish and chips exactly as I know them, and don't think they need a twist. They were getting rave reviews on Twitter though, so I thought I ought to look past my prejudices and give them a try.

On my first visit I only wanted a light lunch, so ordered the mackerel bap (£3.50). They were very busy and the ordering system seemed to be getting a bit chaotic, which resulted in my order somehow being forgotten or misplaced. After a gentle reminder I eventually got my bap, but after a wait of over 15 minutes. At this point I wasn't feeling much love for the place.

But god it was good. So simple but so effective. A very fresh mackerel fillet, griddled until just cooked through and the skin crisped, lemony mayo and good quality bread. I absolutely adore mackerel, but only when it is really fresh like this. It turns really quickly, going rather pungent and fishy in no time at all. Given the success of my mack-bap I thought it only fair that I pay another visit to sample the fish and chips.

This time I turned up during a quieter moment and there were no service problems at all. You can still expect to wait, but that's a positive point because everything is cooked to order. Haddock (sustainable Icelandic) and chips this time (£5).

Once again the fish was the star of the show. Each order deposited into the fryer is timed using one of a series of stopwatches. This attention to detail really pays off, as it was the best piece of haddock I've eaten this year. Cooked until just flaking, the flesh was beautifully sweet and moist. The batter was much thinner than the chip shop norm, providing no more than a delicate casing for the fish. I chose the traditional batter by the way, the twist being provided by a lemon, lime and chilli alternative. I remain unconvinced, but perhaps I'll give it a try.

Chips were nice, but I always find those fried in vegetable oil (which Fish& uses) to be a little lacking in flavour in comparison with dripping fried chips. I can't comment on the peas because they don't do peas. Can we have peas please?! On the drinks front they've got Ben Shaw's pop, the only sensible choice for the discerning Yorkshire chippy proprietor.

So ultimately they won me round for one very good reason: the fish is excellent. Recommended.


in the middle of Commercial Street

Tues-Sat 1100-1800


Saturday, 27 August 2011

A Leeds Pub Crawl

Leeds isn't as obviously blessed with great pubs as Manchester, but there are plenty of them out there if you know where to look. With a little bit of time and effort you can fashion a very good pub crawl.

Here's the route a friend and I took last night, taking in Holbeck and the lower end of the city centre:

The Adelphi
The Grove
The Cross Keys
The Midnight Bell
(The Hop)
The Scarbrough Hotel
Leeds Brewery Tap

We started out with some superior bar snacks (pictured) and a decent IPA in the Adelphi. Chorizo, sweet potato chips, and humous. All very good, and priced fairly at £10 for the three plates. Onwards to The Grove, there's a bit of a walk involved here but walking's good for you so stop complaining. I'd recommend a shortcut through the Asda car park.

The Grove is a slightly down at heel pub, with a traditional multi-roomed interior and a wide selection of beer on cask. Recommended beer snacks: Seabrooks crisps and pepperamis. Mine's a fire stick please. The Grove also has this armchair, which I love:

Next up, a Holbeck double whammy: The Cross Keys and the Midnight Bell. Both fairly upmarket, both in interesting old but modernised buildings, and both with large terraces, perfect for a sunny August evening. If you happen to chance upon such a thing that is, if it's cold and rainy like last night I'd suggest staying indoors where it's cosy and warm. We enjoyed table service at the Cross Keys, very continental and perfect for the lazier gent. They also had some Stinking Bishop and various other cheeses on offer, a return visit for a cheese and beer evening may be on the cards.

In theory The Hop would have been next, but we didn't actually bother as the music was very loud and we're old men who want to sit in a quiet corner supping mild, complaining and playing dominoes and that. I like The Hop in Wakefield more anyway.

Through the dark arches and thence to the Scarbrough. Does anyone know why it's spelled incorrectly? One of three Nicholson's pubs in Leeds (the other two being the Victoria and the Palace), it's a bit dark and dingy, but satisfying in a proper pubby sort of way. There's usually a reasonably varied selection of beer on too.

Finally it's up the steps to the Brewery Tap, our second Leeds Brewery pub of the day. Handily positioned for the last train home. Or some noodles from Wokon. Or a dirty kebab from Hot Stuff. We did none of these things, getting a lift home and no takeaway. Strangely the thought of doner meat is making me hungry right now, even though it's one in the afternoon and I'm not drunk. I'm off to get some lunch...

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Seoul Kimchi, Manchester

My kitchen is out of action for most of this week as I'm having the whole room re-tiled, walls and floor. That seemed as good an excuse as any to eat out last night. As if I needed an excuse. I was transpennine for work, so thought I'd hang out in Manchester for a few hours.

Seoul Kimchi is one of (I think) three Korean restaurants in Manchester, the other two being Baekdu and Koreana. I've been to Baekdu a couple of times and enjoyed it, but haven't made it to Koreana yet. Seoul Kimchi is very much in the casual cafe style with a little counter seating area as well as tables, perfect for the lone diner.

The menu covers most of the Korean classics, as well as a few Japanese dishes. I opted for the beef bibimbap. It wasn't advertised as a dolsot bibimbap, but happily it turned out that it was. If I've lost you at this point, bibimbap is a dish of rice topped with assorted vegetables, meat and an egg. You throw in a large dollop of chilli sauce of some sort (often Gochujang) then mix everything up together before eating it. A dolsot bibimbap is one served in a searing hot clay pot, which results in a layer of crunchy, chewy rice bits forming at the bottom. This really lifts the whole thing, in the same way that the pan stickings from the bottom make a paella so wonderful.

This was a decent bibimbap, perhaps a little stingy with the meat but with a good selection of vegetables, perfectly cooked rice and a nice runny egg yolk. Certainly a superior fried rice. Not the most refined version, as the more upmarket ones tend to come with raw meat and a raw egg yolk that just gently cook in the heat of the bowl, but damn good for the price especially as that included the Banchan.

Banchan are the little side dishes, usually of vegetables, that accompany most Korean meals. I know that aficionados of Korean food will tell you that banchan should be provided free of charge with any main meal. This is apparently the norm in Korea, but often not the case in the UK.

As an aside, providing any little freebies seems to be anathema to a lot of British restaurateurs. To my mind, they're missing a trick here. Charging a few quid here and there for bread, olives and kimchi may add a bit to the bottom line at a pretty good margin, but people often find it irritating when there's an expectation it should have been provided at no extra charge. The goodwill generated by restaurants with the generosity of spirit to include a few little extras goes a long way, and surely feeds through to the bottom line eventually.

I can think of a Spanish restaurant whose generous hand with the shots left us staggering about after a long, boozy dinner, or the Turkish restaurant where a basket piled high with the most wonderful bread is replenished at regular intervals, or the tapas bars in Madrid where a big saucer of fat, meaty olives is shoved across the bar with every drink. These are the places that stick in my memory, the places I'm likely to return to, and those where I'll spend more of my money in the long run.

This is what I really liked about Seoul Kimchi, the inclusion of these little extras. At the more than reasonable prices charged I wouldn't really mind if they did cost extra, but they don't.

Three little platters, one of refreshing, lightly pickled cucumber. One of kimchi, quite mild but still addictive, and one of vegetables in mayo, a bit like Russian salad. Bit strange this last one, no idea whether this is a common Korean side. There was also a bowl of umami-rich miso soup.

An additional side dish (paid for this time) of prawn gyoza were good. Crisp, thin skins and a juicy filling. A very juicy filling in fact, so much so that it squirted all over my trousers. I'm not quite sure what was in there other than prawns, I think it was egg and vegetables in a very light stock. Tasty whatever it was.

Service was pleasant and efficient, and the bill came to £12.30 including a mug of green tea. Excellent value, and worth a visit despite the out of the way location. Unless you work at the University or Manchester Royal Infirmary, in which case it's across the road so why not pop in for lunch tomorrow.


275 Upper Brook Street
M13 0HR

Seoul Kimchi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

La Bottega Milanese, Leeds

Back in February I reviewed the original branch of La Bottega Milanese which is located down the bottom end of town on The Calls. I enjoyed the food but didn't try the coffee.

Two things have changed since then, firstly I've developed a taste for coffee. My aversion to caffeine has disappeared and I seem to be craving a cup of the good stuff with increasing frequency (maybe aversion has morphed into addiction). Secondly, and more importantly, a new branch of La Bottega Milanese has opened up in The Light. It's a good time to be developing a coffee habit in Leeds, with a number of high quality openings in recent months, not least Laynes Espresso and now the new Bottega.

At the moment they are offering a special deal where a fiver will get you a slice of savoury tart, a cheesecake and a coffee. Not exactly the healthiest of lunches but I'm easily persuaded.

The vegetable tart (I think it was advertised as tart, rather than a quiche anyway) was pleasant but nothing special.

Coffee and pudding were excellent though. A capuccino was well made, the coffee having a good roasted flavour. I love that they provide a little glass of iced water with every hot drink too, presumably just as you'd get in Milan. It's a great idea as I always feel a little dehydrated after drinking coffee, and a few sips of iced water make all the difference.

There were several different cheesecakes to choose from, most of them fruit flavoured. I chose the exception, pecan nut. It was quite dense but not at all heavy going with a lovely caramelised, nutty flavour.

There's a good selection of ciabatta sandwiches too, and prices are reasonable, particularly for the coffee which is cheaper than in any of the major chains.

On the subject of the major coffee chains, people really do need coaxing away from them and into smaller, independent places like this. It was very quiet in La Bottega even though it was prime lunch time (I arrived at about 12.40pm). Afterwards I nipped down the escalator to see how business was in Starbucks. It was far, far busier.

People of Leeds, please get the hell out of Starbucks and give your custom to one of your local coffee shops. You'll almost certainly get a better product for less money. If you're in the vicinity of The Light go to La Bottega Milanese.

Oh, and the rooms done up all nice too. Bright and airy. And they won't inflict really tedious music on you like Starbucks do.


La Bottega Milanese
The Light
The Headrow


Sunday, 21 August 2011

Leo's Fish Bar, Manchester

Fish and chip quest continues. I've walked past Leo's hundreds of times and wondered if it might be a contender, so after imbibing some splendid but rather alcoholic brews at Port Street Beer House a couple of Friday's ago I thought I'd pop in. As well as takeaway there's a fairly large restaurant with table service.

The fish was fresh and tasted good, but was a little overcooked. I wasn't convinced by the batter though, it was very hard and crunchy, sort of reminiscent of the stuff Chinese restaurants used to serve up for dessert. I half expected it to be doused in syrup and encasing a banana.

Good chips though, crisp outer and nice creamy innards. Equally good peas, sloppy and properly made.

Service was rapid and friendly, and prices reasonable. Cod, chips, peas and a soft drink was around seven pounds. Cheaper to takeaway. I wouldn't rush back but it's worth a shot if you're in the area.


12 Oldham Street
M1 1JQ


Friday, 19 August 2011

A few good things to eat (volume 6)

Here's another round-up of things I've enjoyed eating in recent weeks.

Quiche, Blacker Hall Farm Shop, Wakefield

For reasons I won't go into here I'm not the biggest fan of Blacker Hall Farm Shop, but I do like their baked goods. I'm particularly partial to a fat slice of their quiche lorraine. Quiche lorraine is a bit of a misnomer really. As far as I know the classic version of this dish is made from white shortcrust pastry, with a wobbly, eggy filling and not even any cheese. The Blacker Hall version is made from wholemeal shortcrust pastry, with a filling that seems to be about 80% cheese to 20% egg, studded with fat, salty chunks of bacon. More of a cheese and bacon tart, it's savoury heaven. Whatever you want to call it, it makes a cracking good lunch washed down with a bottle of Fentiman's ginger beer.


Liquorice ice-cream, Yummy Yorkshire

After your quiche, how about an ice-cream for afters? I'd heard about this stuff, and wasn't convinced that liquorice was a good idea for an ice-cream flavour. I was wrong, it was very nice. It wasn't the best textured ice-cream I've eaten, being a little grainy, but the flavour worked really well. The prominent taste was of sweet, dark caramel with just a subtle hint of the herbal, aniseedy notes of liquorice.

I bought mine at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.


Yorkshire chorizo, Paganum

Another product I've been meaning to try for a while. Chorizo made in the Yorkshire Dales, from Yorkshire pork.

I have a love-hate relationship with chorizo. Most of the time I love the stuff, but the quality of the pork is really important. At the top end of the scale, chorizo made from acorn fed iberico pigs is absolutely delicious. The deeply flavoured flesh and silken, creamy fat makes it very, very moreish. In a sausage with such a high fat content, I think it's actually the quality of this fat that's key.

At the bottom end of the scale, I actually find some cheap chorizo's quite offputting. Rather than silken and creamy, the fat is sickly and metallic tasting. It really does make all the difference. A prime example of the crap stuff is Tesco's cooking chorizo. I had it for breakfast and over half was left on the plate untouched.

I was really hoping that the Yorkshire chorizo would be in the moreish camp, and it was. Not quite up there with the finest Spain has to offer, but pretty damn good. I had it for breakfast with eggs, tomatoes and sourdough toast (pictured above). The plateful was wolfed down in no time.

I bought mine from the Paninoteca deli stall in Leeds Market. 


Everything made by Tunnock's

Everything made by Tunnock's is delicious. This is a statement of fact. My favourite is the classic caramel wafer.

If you think they are low grade obesity fodder for pasty-faced Scotsmen who probably deep fry them, then think again. Firstly that's insulting to Scotsmen, and secondly the chocolate encasing the wafer contains 25% cocoa solids. That's 5% more than you'll find in Dairy Milk. And the website has a French version. They're obviously sending us macarons at two quid each, and we're sending them Tunnock's teacakes at six for two quid. They win.



Give me a raspberry over a strawberry every time. The perfect summer berry as far as I'm concerned. Nothing compares to the dense, sweet perfumed fragrance of raspberries. If you think I'm talking nonsense, buy a punnet then leave it somewhere warm for an hour, then inhale. Wonderful. I like to eat them unsweetened with thick cream or vanilla ice cream, or scattered on top of thick yoghurt and muesli for breakfast.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Northern Food on tour: Festival food at Standon Calling

The food offering at festivals has improved immeasurably over the last decade or so, of that I'm sure. I remember at my first full festival there was the curry bus (which may have been sponsored by Sharwoods?), and not much else other than grotty burgers, chips and the like. That was the Leeds festival in the Temple Newsam, toilet burning era.

Fast forward ten years or so, and there's much more variety and often better quality food available too. You'll find many of the same stalls at loads of different festivals over the summer, so here's my guide to the good, the bad and the ugly from last weekend at Standon Calling.

From best to worst, here is what I ate. Or at least what I ate and remembered to take photo's of.

I also drank lots of cider. Lots and lots of cider.

Chicken paella, from Jamon Jamon (£5.50)

Positives: The most reasonably priced substantial meal I ate all weekend. Generously proportioned (there are 2 fat chicken legs hidden in there) and well seasoned. Granted most of it's just rice but bloody good rice, rich and garlicky with loads of nice crispy bits scraped from the bottom of the pan, just like a paella should have. Yum.

Negatives. They don't sell Jamon. Probably a good thing really. With festival mark-ups they'd probably charge £20 for a small plate of hand-carved iberico, then I'd get drunk and spend all my money on it.

Chicken curry, rice, salad and chilli chutney,  from the Thali Cafe (£7.50)

Positives: All parts made properly and with care. Distinctive spicing, of a general South Indian persuasion, with loads of mustard seeds.  A very good curry. They also do very good cakes, £2 at the stall but £1 from some nice women roaming the site with some in a basket. Here is the carrot cake:

Negatives: Slightly dry chicken, pieces on the bone would be better. Pushing it a tad pricewise, and charging £1.50 extra for one chappatti straight from a packet is really taking the proverbial. They don't sell Thalis. Probably be a bit daft to try that at a festival though eh?

Arancini chilli wrap, from Arancini Brothers (£4.50)

Positives: Rather cocked up the photo with this one. Oh well extreme salad close up it is. The arancini were really good. Crisp exterior and really creamy, grease free centre. Livened up with some chilli chutney and loads of salad I enjoyed eating this. A good lunch, filling but healthy too.

Negatives: Maybe a bit small for the cash. The chutney was tasty but not very spicy. Not their fault whatsoever but the stall was infested with wasps. Mind you so was the whole festival.

Steak and stilton pie, mash and gravy, from Pieminister (£6.50)

Positives: Generously proportioned, decent mash and gravy.

Negatives: Not much steak in the pie, which had been sitting around for about 2 hours too long. Guess that's understandable though at a festival. I don't really get the Pieminister thing. They seem to have grabbed a large swathe of the gourmet, expensive pie market without having a product that's all that good.

Fish, chips and peas, from the Sea Cow (£7.50)

Positives: Generously proportioned, nice peas. Fish cooked ok.

Negatives: Terrible chips. They were a bit chewy and mealy on the inside. Although the fish itself was cooked well, the batter was limp and greasy. Predictably the skin was on the fish. Someone else had the plaice goujons the following day, and they were better, being encased in a crunchier batter. The chips were fresher but still shit though. They have a restaurant in East Dulwich, which surely must be better than their mobile effort.

Veggie burger, from the Veggie stall (exact name escapes me) (£5)

Positives: It had houmous in it. The bread was fairly fresh.

Negatives: It was Sunday lunchtime, so perhaps I was losing my mind by this point. I've nothing against the type of veggie burger that doesn't pretend to be meat (some kind of patty or fritter made from say mushrooms or sweetcorn or something) but this was one of the pretending-to-be-meat soya burger things. It had a strange mushy texture and a vaguely meaty artificial flavour. Imagine a sort of low-grade meat paste in a bun with houmous and salad. Doesn't sound very nice does it?

Sausage and egg sandwich, Tasty Tamworth's and somethingorother Hereford's (£3.50)

Positives: It wasn't really called somethingorother Hereford's, I just can't recall that bit of the name. Something alliterative (horrible? hefty?). Whatever the name they were supposed to be selling top quality sausages. This was supposed to cost £3.50 for the sausage sarnie, plus 50p for an egg, plus £1 for a cup of tea. The chap serving wasn't really awake or paying attention and charged me £3.50 for the lot.

Negatives: The unexpected discount was the high point. The sausage was practically shredded having seemingly been hacked to bits with a blunt spoon to make it fit in the bread. It was both dry and mushy, any succulence having long departed the scene as the woman cooking them was obsessively prodding every sausage with a temperature probe about every three seconds, releasing all the juicy goodness. It tasted weird too. The egg was cooked solid throughout except for a thin layer of uncooked egg snot clinging to the top surface. I still ate it though, 'cos I was hungry and hungover.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Grilled aubergine and peppers with spiced yoghurt

Lacking in inspiration one night last week I made a plea on Twitter for aubergine recipe ideas. Several people came up with suggestions (thanks!), a couple of which were Middle Eastern in style which whet my appetite and got me thinking. I wasn't really in the mood for following a proper recipe, so made it up as I went along.

Sometimes I do this and get it wrong, ending up with something that's usually edible but either very dull or interesting but ill-advised. Sometimes I do this and get it right, ending up with something surprisingly tasty and well worth repeating. This was very much in the latter camp, so I thought I'd share.

Smoky charred aubergine and cumin contrasts well with creamy, tart yoghurt and the sweetness of the peppers. The nuts add a bit of textural variety. Very nice scooped up with some sort of flatbread.

You will need, enough for two:

1 aubergine
2 red peppers (preferably Romano, the long thin sweet ones)
extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt
Coriander, about 1/2 a tbsp, chopped
about 150ml thick greek yoghurt
half a lemon
1 tsp cumin seeds
a few cashew nuts
pinch chilli flakes
bread to serve

What to do:

1. Slice the aubergine into thick slices and the pepper into long strips. Put them into a grill pan, drizzle over a generous amount of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

2. Grill the aubergine and peppers under a medium-hot grill, turning half way through until they are soft with slightly blackened edges.

3. While the veg is grilling, coarsely chop the nuts and toast them in a dry frying pan with the cumin seeds, the chilli flakes and a generous pinch of coarse salt. Toast until fragrant and just starting to brown without burning.

4. Chop the coriander, and stir the lemon juice into the yoghurt.

5. Plate up the aubergine and peppers, sprinkle over the coriander then top with the yoghurt then the toasted nut and spice mixture.

6. Drizzle over some olive oil, then serve immediately with some bread, ideally warm pitta.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Red Chilli, Leeds

Back on topic. Yesterday's post was a bit too serious. An attempt at serious comment about a serious issue maybe, but this is supposed to be a food blog not a social commentary. I probably won't do it again. Sorry.

So, the food. I paid a visit to Red Chilli on Sunday. The Leeds branch of the Chinese mini-chain, not the Wakefield branch of the Indian mini-chain. In case you didn't already know Red Chilli is the only good Chinese restaurant in Leeds*. The focus here is on Sichuan food, although there are Cantonese dishes on the menu I've never tried them. Stick to the Sichuan dishes and you usually can't go wrong.

First up, stir fried kai lan with Chinese sundried sausage and bacon. The Sichuan food mantra is 'if in doubt, add pork'. A very sensible proposition if you ask me. I've never tried Chinese sausage or bacon before, and was quite impressed. Little chewy explosions of piggy saltiness, very nice with the crunchy, refreshing greens. Kai lan isn't my favourite green though, it's a bit tasteless.

Sliced chicken and seafood hot chilli casserole arrived next. An intensely savoury broth with loads of wobbly stuff floating around in it (definitely tofu, scallops, chicken and squid. God knows what else). Disappointingly it wasn't spicy though.

The final huge dish to arrive, a Sichuan classic. Dan Dan noodles with minced pork and chilli in soup. A sort of Chinese Spag Bol if you will. Except usually better. Think perfectly cooked noodles and morsels of fatty pork swimming in a rich, meaty broth agressively spiced with copious quantities of Sichuan pepper and chilli. The best versions of this will make your tongue tingle and your brow sweat, but you won't be able to stop shovelling it in. This was a decent version, BUT NOT SPICY ENOUGH. Way underpowered.

For good measure, a plate of dumplings. Beijing style minced pork and mince king prawn dumplings to be precise. Good wrappers, steamed to perfection with a nice fresh filling. Delicious dunked in the black vinegar provided.

Yes we did order all this for two people. No we didn't finish it all, but did take the rest away. They'll happily package up your leftovers. With rice, tea and a proper tip for the sweet service the bill came to £38. Outstanding value considering that this was really a meal for three, not two.

My one criticism of Red Chilli is their inconsistency with the spicing. I've been to the Leeds branch three times now, and the original Manchester branch twice, and it's never quite the same. If it's supposed to be a facemelter of a dish, then make it so. Don't tone things down unless we ask you to. Otherwise I love it.

7/10 on this visit

6 Great George Street


*This bold statement may not be true. A big thumbs-up to anyone who can prove it to be false.

Red Chilli on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

The London riots and Leeds Market: some thoughts

This week I had planned to write an update to my previous post about the debate over the future of Leeds Market. In light of recent events in London I thought about not bothering. Is it not all a bit trivial in comparison with the scenes of mass disorder and chaos coming from our capital? In one sense, yes. No-one's lives are put in imminent danger by the success or otherwise of Leeds market. In another sense, no, because in some ways these things are all interconnected.

Back in March I commented on a piece on the Culture Vultures blog entitled 'What's the matter with Kirkgate Market?'. The article drew a great deal of comment, much of it discussing the pro's and con's of gentrification, much of it using London-based examples to argue a particular point. On the subject of Brixton I had the following to say:

I agree that Brixton is great, and I think it has managed to achieve a pretty good balance between gentrification and retaining a traditional market shopping environment. I would love Leeds to manage something similar, but I just can’t see it happening. I don’t know of anywhere in this country like Brixton markets outside of London, and I think that’s a reflection of the differences between London and the rest of the country.

London is much less segregated geographically between the wealthier middle classes and the urban poor. Brixton is a prime example of this, it has significant areas of poverty and deprivation but plenty of young well-to-do professionals as well. It makes people more accustomed to interacting with, or at least sharing space with others from different social backgrounds. Franco Manca, a feted pizza place and about as middle class as it could be, is in one of the arcades pretty much surrounded by discount hardware stalls and butchers selling cow foot. No-one bats an eyelid.

In an ideal world people could think beyond the constraints of places not being for them (e.g. the markets full of undesirables/wino’s, but just as much oh the Corn Exchange has gone all snobby).

In the context of recent events that sounds like a hopelessly naive vision of social cohesion. Everyone scraping along merrily together, irrespective of differences in their cultural and social backgrounds or financial status. The thing is, I more or less believed this to be true. I lived in Woolwich for three years and never once felt threatened or ill at ease. There were occasional news stories of youth violence in the area, occasional blaring sirens as a couple of police vans headed off somewhere-or-other, but you become blasé about these things assuming it to be just a part of big city life.

Last night, the violence reached Woolwich. So far it has hardly featured in the national press, but it looks just as bad there as any other part of London. The Wetherspoons pub on the main square was burned to the ground, and the path I used to walk home along from the station was blocked by burning cars. Terrible scenes in a deprived area, but one that was on the up, at least on the surface. Millions are being pumped into regeneration schemes and developments are ongoing despite the recession and government cuts.

It all seems different in tone to notorious riots in previous decades. I'm too young to remember the riots of the early 1980's, but from what I've read it appears there was usually a focal point. Perhaps the police or a police station in a particular locality attracting the anger of protestors for a particular reason, justified or otherwise. This just seems wild and spontaneous, disconnected completely from the initial trigger point in Tottenham. As a consequence it's very easy to dismiss the whole thing as being perpetrated by mindless criminal thugs, with no context or backstory by way of explanation, which is what much of the political establishment appears to be doing.

This isn't going to turn into a defence of looters and arsonists. I believe that the perpetrators of this are mindless criminal thugs. They absolutely do deserve to face the consequences of their actions. But surely to ignore the context would be foolish. Restore order, catch and try as many culprits as possible, but then please don't carry on as if nothing ever happened, mindless criminal thugs dealt with. Mindless criminal thugs are not some separate entity, distinct from the rest of us human beings. They are just people, and something has obviously gone very wrong with people who feel the need to destroy their own towns. People, many of them children don't just become mindless criminal thugs for no reason at all.

What would lead someone to turn so readily to violence and looting I'm not entirely sure. It's beyond the limits of my own experience. I wasn't brought up in urban deprivation, I'm certainly no longer a youth and I'm gainfully employed. I know nothing about social work or community organisation.

If I could hazard a guess at what maybe the biggest factors are I'd say inequality and a sense of disenfranchisement are near the top of the list. Taking inequality first, London is a city where a single flat sold for £136 million and the average house costs over £400,000, but where you'll find 4 of the 20 most deprived boroughs in the country. I don't think envy of the rich is the issue here, but the startling size of the gap between those at the top of the tree and those at the bottom. One person can buy one flat for the price of 340 average London properties, but for hundreds of thousands of Londoners that average London property is an unattainable dream, even for those in work. That can't be a sign of a healthy society.

Looking at disenfranchisement, I can understand why people might feel the political system will never work for them. It may just be a fluke of history but Britain seems to have regressed in terms of opportunity for all. No political party has done anything substantial to address inequality, and the politicians themselves no longer set much of an example. Say what you like about the policies of Major and Thatcher, but neither of them came from a particularly privileged background, both of them were schooled by the state, and both of them had a hinterland beyond politics. At least they had the mandate of life experience. Nowadays it seems that only a combination of privilege (Cameron), independent schooling (Blair and Cameron) and virtually a whole career spent solely in politics (Blair, Brown and Cameron) will get you to the very top. I don't feel that these people have much of value to say to me, their experience feels remote and irrelevant to my life, and I'm nowhere near the bottom of the metaphorical pile.

What to do about all this? How do we prevent people from descending so readily into criminality? I'm way out of my depth here, so I'll just stick to three brief suggestions. I don't doubt that there are many more, probably better ideas.

The first would be relatively easy to implement: make voting compulsory. Some years ago I was involved in a local election campaign in Australia, where voting is compulsory. What struck me was the sense of occasion, that this mattered to people, the young included. Contrast with the almost universal disinterest in local elections in this country. A legitimate complaint against young people in this country is that they don't tend to bother voting, the defence being that they're not interested because there's no-one to vote for who will represent their interests. It's a lose-lose circular argument. Those seeking election don't bother courting young votes, because young people don't bother voting, so the young people don't vote, because they feel no-one represents them. Make voting compulsory and the entire electorate becomes the target market.

Secondly, and a much bigger challenge. Take genuine and substantive steps to tackle inequality. Don't ask me how, but it can be tackled as we currently live in one of Europe's most unequal societies.

Finally, the little things matter. Which is where Leeds Market comes into all this. Inequality and lack of opportunity will only become more entrenched if amenities used by the less well off are allowed to decline or disappear through neglect or lack of funding. Local community campaigns to protect and support important assets like the market can only be a good thing, provided they're backed up with action. And by that I mean shopping at the market, not burning it down.

What I said about Brixton is still true to an extent, it and other London communities really are a melting pot of social backgrounds. What I didn't realise is the level of resentment felt by many of those at the lower end of the scale. All the more reason for supporting community facilities I'd say, the situation would only be made worse by increasing ghetto-isation of rich and poor. Brixton wouldn't be better off if all the wealthier folk disappeared from its streets, and Clapham wouldn't be improved by demolishing its estates and leaving it to the middle classes. The same applies to Leeds, whose city centre must be a resource for all its residents, and the market is a fundamental part of this.

I still think the strategy for the market will result in the same outcome as I did a fortnight ago, some of which will be bad news. But whatever happens, whether the market is reduced in size or not, please keep shopping there. Oh, and please don't avoid London either, I'm sure they'll be wanting visitors as the recovery from this takes place.

Footnote 1: Anyone who says the quality of produce on the market is uniformly low isn't looking hard enough. Today I bought 10 donut peaches (the little flat ones that supermarkets charge a fortune for because they look special) for £1 and a bundle of fat, live razor clams for £3.50. The peaches are sweet, ripe, fragrant and utterly delicious. I've not eaten the clams yet but they look damn good.

Footnote 2: This is all a bit serious so tomorrow I'll be writing a post about how I stuffed my fat face on Sichuan food over the weekend.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

New Bismillah Roti House, Halifax

I love these sorts of places. The back streets of a Northern mill town, a converted front room in a terraced house, a couple of mismatched tables and a battered sofa, a tandoor and a stove. What more do you need to churn out bread and curry for the neighbourhood?

Bismillah Roti House is exactly such a place, located in a predominantly Asian area of Halifax just up the hill from the town centre. Two of us headed over there for a post-football feast on Thursday night, and predictably ordered far too much food.

Stylish chap models bhajis

Onion bhajis, about a kilo of them for two quid, were greaseless and well seasoned. Addictive dunked in the accompanying yoghurt sauce. Two chicken seekh kebabs were good too, £1.50 for those.

Grilled meat, unadorned

Meat and veg

On the curry front, a meat masala and a veg masala. The meat curry was very oily but packed with flavour. Not 100% sure what the meat was, but it may well have been genuine goat. The veg curry was mild, sweet and not so fatty, lightening the load a little. All the curries are three pounds each. Other than meat and veg you can have chicken, dal or trotters. Might have to be brave and order the trotters next time.

A silly amount of bread. Two pounds worth.

To scoop all this up: bread and plenty of it. Rotis are four for a pound, naans two for a pound. Ridiculously cheap. Not the best breads ever, they were all a little heavy and could have done with rolling out thinner before baking, but pleasant enough and effective given the absence of cutlery.

Don't expect much in the way of service (the guy behind the counter kept breaking off from us mid-order to serve locals popping in for takeaway) or glamorous surroundings. £6-7 per head for a huge meal. Strictly no frills but just what the doctor ordered after football on a Thursday night.


95 Gibbet Street

Saturday, 6 August 2011

New Mason's Arms, Oulton, Leeds

Last Sunday brought an impromptu pub crawl round Oulton and Rothwell. One of my closest friends has lived in Rothwell for 8 years and this was the first time we've ever explored it's pubs. Long overdue but other than for a quick pub lunch I can't say we'll be rushing back to any of them.

The New Mason's does traditional pub grub, very much along the same lines as the Three Horseshoes round the corner. Grilled meats and chips aplenty are the order of the day. I opted for the steak pie, primarily because the menu description confirmed it as being made with shortcrust pastry. I have an aversion to the all too common ceramic-bowl-of-stew-with-a-puff-pastry-lid type of pie served by many pubs. It's not a proper pie and puff pastry is the wrong type of pastry for a steak pie. Stop it.

Shit pie, good chips

Unfortunately what turned up was a ceramic-bowl-of-stew-with-a-shortcrust-pastry-lid. Not very good shortcrust pastry either. Limp, insipid and undercooked, I'm not sure a few extra minutes in the oven would have really improved it much though as it was very dense. On the plus side the stewy filling was good, packed with shreds of flavoursome slow-cooked meat. The chips were great too, home-made and fried well.

Chips and beer, commonly found in Yorkshire pubs

Everyone else around the table declared their meals (a Barnsley chop and a nice piece of gammon amongst other things) a success, so I think I was a bit unlucky. No excuse for such poor pastry though. A pint of black sheep was well kept and prices are reasonable, the pie was around £8.

Thanks to Rach for suggesting this place to me, I'd certainly go back for a pub lunch. Sandwich, chips and a pint springs to mind. Just don't order the pie.

5/10 (poor pie, other things may rate higher)

26 Aberford Road
LS26 8JR

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Thieving Harry's, Hull

Seven months into the blog, I've finally made it to the Eastern extremity of the M62. On Saturday I went for a day out in Hull. Now before anyone thinks 'Why the hell would you want to do that?', don't be dissing Hull round here. I'm a staunch defender of Hull, primarily because I was born there. I only lived in Hull for the first 18 months of my life, but for some reason I've always felt a strange sense of allegiance to the place.

I think it's partly underdog syndrome. If ever there was a perpetual underdog, it's Hull. It's one of those much maligned places that only ever appears in the national media for negative reasons, flooding and a failing education system being two particular examples that spring to mind from over the years.

But there's plenty to like about Hull. It has a spacious and in parts attractive city centre, a pleasant marina, interesting history, good museums, an excellent theatre, and the people are nice too, friendly and unpretentious. I was pondering this as I wandered the streets, and thinking that the down to earth attitude was also part of the city's problem. Laid back and unassuming, but also a bit behind the times and lacking in innovation.

And then I stumbled upon a pop-up ca, as if straight from the streets of Shoreditch, and realised my theorising was probably a load of old cobblers. The whole set-up was the epitome of urban cool in 2011. Decrepit former commercial/industrial building: check. Vintage/charity shop mismatched furniture and crockery: check. Funky name: check. Tea and home-made cakes: check. Obviously the people of Hull have their fingers very much on the pulse, and I'm an idiot.

Taking tea

Anyhow, the cakes looked good, and there were tables free outside in the sun, so I decided to stop off for afternoon tea. A colossal pot of tea and a fat slice of coffee and walnut cake really hit the spot. The cake was fresh and moist, and had what I think were caramelised walnuts in it, which was a nice touch.

Thieving Harry's

Of course this being Hull the blokes serving were characteristically friendly and down to earth, and the prices were cheap. £2 for the tea (which would have served at least 3) and £1.80 for the cake. The area around the café was interesting too, right by the marina and the Humber riverfront on a street full of half-abandoned looking warehouses. I spotted at least a couple of little art galleries in addition to the café, it brought to mind a sort of fledgling, maritime version of the Northern Quarter in Manchester.

Did I eat anything else worth shouting about when I was in Hull? Not really, I certainly wouldn't describe it as a foodie destination but it's well worth a visit for a day out.

And finally if you've got half an hour to spare before the the train home the bar at the Hull Truck Theatre is just up the road from the station and has some decent bottled beers and good olives.

Hull. Go on try it, it's great.

8/10 for Thieving Harry's, and the same for Hull in general!

73 Humber Street
East Yorkshire

Twitter: @ThievingHarrys

Monday, 1 August 2011

Laynes Espresso, Leeds

Ever since opening its doors on New Station Street a few months ago Laynes Espresso has been getting rave reviews. On Saturday I had half an hour to spare between trains so thought I'd go and see what all the fuss was about.

Having done so I can wholeheartedly add to the chorus of praise. Everything about the place was very, very good. A flat white coffee and a slice of Bostok came attractively served on a sort of wooden platter. Attractive, but functional too, taking up much less space than individual plates and saucers. A great idea in a very small room.

The coffee was wonderful, also beautifully presented and tasting divine. I'm no coffee expert, but this was definitely the best I've had in Leeds. Rich, smooth and complex.

I'd never heard of Bostok before, and a quick internet search suggests it might be Canadian? Wherever it's from it's delicious. A thick slice of brioche, spread with a sort of almond paste/cake mix and a few raspberries, baked, then dusted with icing sugar. The almond stuff forms a sort of crunchy, sweet crust that gives way to rich, buttery brioche, the raspberries adding occasional bursts of tart fruitiness. Really, really lovely.

Service was friendly and the prices are more than reasonable. The coffee was £2.00 and the Bostok £1.80. Don't waste your money in Starbucks or any of the other chains. Go here. It's far, far better and costs less too.


16 New Station Street


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