Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Out of the Woods, Holbeck, Leeds

I've been to Out of the Woods a good few times now, but rather unfairly I've never got round to blogging about them before (unlike some of the other Holbeck lunch spots). They describe themselves as a juice bar, but they also do reliably good sandwiches and soups. I've never actually tried any of the juices but the list is extensive, interesting and I'm sure well worth checking out.

The other day I went for the soup and any sandwich special (£5.50). Winter vegetable, lentil and ham soup was fantastic. It was a lovely sweet, vegetable broth. The kind that really reminds you of the depth of flavour achievable without recourse to meat. All you need is a simple base of onions and celery then add in whatever else is available, in this case tomatoes, lentils and cabbage. Alright it did have a few chunks of ham in it too, but they really just added a bit of salty texture, the veggies were definitely the star.

In contrast the sandwich was a bit boring. Tuna, lemon mayo and salad on granary bread. It was a little bit bland and underfilled. I have had a couple of underwhelming sandwiches here, but also a couple of great ones. I think the more unusual varieties are probably the way to go.

Another good place for lunch in this part of town.


113 Water Lane
LS11 5WD

Monday, 28 November 2011

Shepherd's Pie

This is a fantastic Shepherd's pie. It takes a bit of time and effort but the results are worth it. Instead of mince it uses roughly shredded meat from a lamb shoulder cooked on the bone. The shoulder is marinated in garlic, rosemary and thyme then cooked in a casserole on top of a sauce of onions, wine and tomatoes. It's a win-win situation, the juices from the meat flavour the sauce and the sauce keeps the meat moist and tender. The meat is then pulled from the bones and added to the sauce and the whole lot is crowned with mash.

Think rich, succulent herby shreds of meat topped with fluffy, buttery potatoes and doused in smooth, savoury gravy. Wonderful.

This recipe should serve four, or three comfortably, or two proper fatties. It takes over three hours to cook but you won't be actually doing anything for much more than forty minutes of that.

What you'll need:

750g lamb shoulder
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 large glass red wine (about 200ml)
1 large glass water (about 200ml)
1 stock cube
1tbsp plain flour
loads of butter
fresh rosemary and thyme
freshly ground salt and pepper
Worcestershire sauce
olive oil
a big handful of mushrooms

What to do:

1. First prepare the marinade for the meat. Roughly chop about 1tbsp of fresh rosemary and about half a tbsp of fresh thyme. Peel and roughly chop 3 cloves of garlic.

2. Place the garlic and herbs in a mortar with about 1 tbsp of butter, a splash of olive oil and a generous grind of salt and pepper. Give it a good pounding with the pestle to mix everything together and release the oils from the herbs and garlic.

3. Stab the meat a few times with a knife to allow the marinade to get inside, then smear it all over the meat. Ideally you'd do this the day before, in practice I did it immediately prior to cooking it.

4. Chop the onion and then put it in a heavy bottomed casserole (the type with a lid that you can put on the hob) on a moderate heat with a generous splash of olive oil. Let the onion sweat without colouring for around 10 minutes. Open the wine and set the oven to 175 degrees C.

5. When the onions are soft throw in a level tbsp of flour, stir and fry for a minute or so.

6. Slowly pour in a large glass of red wine and bring to the boil, stirring constantly as it bubbles and thickens.

7. Pour in a glass-worth of boiling water and keep stirring. Crumble in the stock cube, empty in the tin of tomatoes, stir and simmer for a couple of minutes. It should have the consistency of a thin gravy.

8. Put the meat on top of the onion sauce mixture, put the lid on the pot and place it in the oven. Leave it alone for an hour.

9. After an hour has passed chop a big handful of mushrooms then remove the pot from the oven. Taste the sauce and add a splash of Worcestershire sauce and more salt and pepper if it needs it. Throw in the mushrooms then return to the oven for another hour.

10. Halfway through the second hour peel and chop the potatoes, then put them on to boil in a large pan. When they are done drain them, then mash with a splash of milk and loads of butter.

11. After the second hour has passed remove the pot from the oven, take out the meat and set it to one side to rest for a few minutes. Adjust the seasoning in the sauce, then strain off about half of the remaining liquid from the pot to use as gravy, leaving behind all of the solids and enough liquid to make a thick sauce.

12. Shred the meat from the bones using a knife and fork, then shred it a little bit more using two forks. Place the meat in the bottom of your pie dish.

13. Pour over the remaining sauce mixture, then cover with the mashed potatoes. Scuff up the mash with a fork so that you'll get a nice crispy finish. You could add cheese but I don't think it needs it, the lamb is rich and fatty enough and if you've made the mash properly it's full of butter anyway.

14. Put the pie in the oven and bake at the same temperature (175 degrees C) for around 40-45 minutes.

15. Serve immediately with peas or greens, the rest of the gravy and the rest of the wine.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Opposite Café, Leeds

Lazy blog post alert. It's been a rubbish weekend food and drink-wise so I've really got nothing to shout about. Yesterday afternoon hunger impaired my powers of reason and I accidentally went to KFC. I then spent the evening out in Wakefield in a procession of bars geared towards lager and Jägermeister, and I didn't even have a kebab on the way home. This morning I managed to burn sausages by completely forgetting that they were cooking. A poor effort all round.

The only decent thing I've consumed in the last 36 hours was coffee and cake at Opposite in the Victoria Quarter. The cappuccino was well made and a banana, walnut and raisin cake was moist and packed with nuts.

Worth a pit-stop if you're in the area. Less than four pounds for coffee and cake.


Victoria Quarter
Queen Victoria Street

Also opposite Leeds University

Friday, 25 November 2011

Byron Hamburgers, Charing Cross, London

Sunday night was burger night. Yes that was the night before I ate the meatiest breakfast ever at Hawksmoor. No I don't usually eat that much meat. I'd heard generally positive reports about Byron so was looking forward to giving their burgers a try.

The menu keeps things simple; a couple of appetisers, six burgers or create your own, assorted deep-fried sides, and salads. To drink your best bet is to choose from a good selection of craft beers, most of which are American but local breweries Camden and the Kernel are also represented.

We ordered some tortilla chips with salsa and guacamole to begin with. The chips were good quality but the dips were bland and boring.

A classic cheeseburger for me, cooked medium as requested. It was fine, if a little boring. It was cooked properly, the cheese was right, the bun well textured but something was missing. There just wasn't much flavour or juiciness in the patty.

The sides were far better. Excellent courgette fries, onion rings and chips. All three were greaseless, crisp and very moreish, particularly the courgettes. We also ordered fries to compare and contrast with the chips, but they only turned up on the bill and not at the table. They were removed from the bill without question, and we didn't really need them anyway. Three bowls of deep-fried stuff between three people is probably enough.

The bill came to about £16 each for the food, a good beer apiece and service, which was fine apart from the forgotten fries. I'd go to Byron again, (it's certainly a notch up from some of its competitors) but not in any hurry. There are other places waiting in the burger queue.


24-28 Charing Cross Road

There are loads of other branches in London, but none outside the capital as yet.

Byron Hamburgers on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Leeds Kirkgate Market: progress with plans for the future

Back in July I wrote this post about the plans for the future of Leeds Kirkgate Market. Four months later things have moved on a bit so I thought I'd take a look at how things have progressed.

Here is what I thought was likely to happen back in July:

  • The market will be substantially reduced in size through closure of the 1976 and 1981 halls.
  • Management of the market will be moved to an arms length organisation, profit making or otherwise.
  • Any investment will come from the private sector, and therefore probably work out more expensive in the long run.
  • There will be a general drive upmarket with what remains, but we won't see a 'Corn Exchange' scenario. I don't fully agree with Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market (FLKM) on this. I don't believe that the council are daft enough to think it's going to become the new Borough Market. 

Things have progressed, and generally in line with the above. It's even clearer now that the market will be reduced in size, and almost certain that it will be transferred to private sector management, even if NO DECISIONS HAVE BEEN MADE.

The council have appointed Quarterbridge Project Management Ltd to consult on various matters. Quarterbridge, in case you are wondering, are experts because they also develop, manage and operate markets that were previously in local authority control. Quarterbridge will be providing the following 'deliverables' (here is the quotation specification document):
  1.  an assessment of and written advice on the optimum size for the Kirkgate indoor and daily markets and the necessary steps to achieve that optimum size,
  2. advice,  following soft market testing (to be undertaken by the Consultant), on the likely interest from the private sector in investing in the market or forming a partnership with Leeds City Council;
  3. written advice on the possible ownership and management models for Kirkgate Market to ensure the sustainability of the market and maximise potential investment into, and returns from, the market. The advice will include governance arrangements and will be based on the Consultant’s knowledge and experience, including summaries/studies of existing models and their success;
  4. advice to support the development of a methodology to evaluate submissions from private sector or other organisations who wish to invest in the markets or enter into a partnership with the council to own and or manage the market;
  5. a programme/stage plan which sets out, and sequences, the actions required to reach the best ownership/management model for the Market and the optimum size for the market as identified above.
As FLKM correctly point out that's a lot work to be done for just £12,400 in only three weeks, and the potential conflict of interest is wholly apparent.

For my own amusement I've predicted what the responses provided by Quarterbridge will be for each of these 'deliverables'. Imagine these to be the 'behind the scenes summary' rather than what's likely to go on the public register.
  1. As per the detailed brief the 1976 and 1981 halls are in very poor condition and the Council has no funds to repair or replace them, nor the inclination or resources to investigate this further. As such Quarterbridge concludes that the optimum size of the market will be achieved by closing them down.
  2. Soft market testing indicates that Quarterbridge would be an ideal partner to assist Leeds City Council in realising their vision for the market.
  3. The consultant's knowledge and experience indicates that the market ownership and management models successfully implemented by Quarterbridge in partnership with X, Y and Z councils could be implemented in Leeds resulting in equally successful synergies.
  4. See answers to questions 2 and 3. It may also be beneficial to seek the involvement of Arup.
  5. Project plan: January-March 2012 - run down the operations in the 1976 and 1981 halls, closing them permanently by the end of March. April 2012 - sign management and operation contract with private sector market operator (preferred bidder - Quarterbridge). May-June 2012 - do some cool marketing stuff, tart up the remaining market a bit, increase rents.
That's my not entirely literal interpretation about how things will turn out, but I'm fairly confident that I have the gist of it right.

All of this can be inferred by information that is available, but it can be difficult to work out exactly what's going on as the debate has become increasingly polarised. In one corner are the Council and their various representatives, and in the other corner the campaign group Friends of Kirkgate Market. As far as I'm concerned neither party is covering themselves in glory.

The Council indulge in many of the traits that put people off involvement in local democratic processes and governance these days. They obfuscate and issue dubious re-assurances, and publish documents rife with loaded management speak, deliberately obscuring any specific meaning.

As well as in the market strategy and consultation tender documents there's plenty of this on display in the information provided to the actual market traders. The photo above shows a newsletter I spotted on display at a stall a couple of weeks ago, issued by the Markets Manager. For starters it's not dated (kind of important on a newsletter) and includes the faintly patronising 'or correct' in brackets by way of explanation as to what 'optimum' means. If I was being pedantic I might point out that 'correct' and 'optimum' don't mean exactly the same thing.

It then proceeds to say 'we think we know what the options might be, but we could not progress this work further until the Council gave us the go ahead'. The rest of it explains reasonably enough that they will push for the work to be undertaken as quickly as possible, but the whole is completely ineffective at its desired aim of 'mythbusting'. You think you know what the options might be? That's two qualifications in one sentence, and reveals absolutely nothing.

I understand this to some extent, as the Council have to be seen to consult on things like this, even when it's wholly apparent some (if not all) of the decisions have already been made. The requirement to hold consultations for anything and everything has effectively degraded the process of public participation to a large extent. The most loaded of all the phrases in the market strategy is 'determine the optimum size for the markets. Everyone knows that's a euphemism for 'decide to close down the 1976 and 1981 halls', but the illusion of proper consultation must be maintained.

Unfortunately Friends of Kirkgate Market are no better, unwilling or unable as they are to review any document, publication or press release on its actual merits without resorting to polemic about gentrification of which there is little actual evidence.

I agree with Friends of Kirkgate Market on a lot of points. It is pretty shocking that the firm awarded the consultancy work to 'determine the optimum size of the market' is also a property developer and manager working in the field of markets. I can't see how the potential for conflict of interest can be avoided here. But then they go and spoil a perfectly legitimate, rational argument about this conflict of interest by making out the consultants (Quarterbridge) to be some sort of social cleanser, devoted solely to pillaging markets of their honest, working class, salt of the earth character. They specifically describe Quarterbridge as a business specialising in turning traditional local authority markets into high-end food halls.

I just don't buy this argument, for two very good reasons. Firstly both the Council and whatever private firm ends up with a stake in the market will expect it to turn them a profit. There is no precedent for an entirely gentrified permanent indoor daily market. Even in London nothing really fits this bill. Borough, the grandaddy of all the gentrified markets is only open Thursday, Friday and Saturday and still operates at least partially as a wholesale fruit and veg market on weekday mornings. If the Council was really planning on turning Leeds market into a permanent middle class gastrodome they're running a high risk strategy because there's nothing comparable with that in London where all the money is, never mind anywhere else in the country.

The second reason is that there is also no evidence that Quarterbridge are 'a business specialising in turning traditional local authority markets into high-end food halls'. I thought I'd take a look at their website to see what they've been up to. Obviously that's going to say that everything they're involved with is wonderful, so I used it to get a general idea, took it with a pinch of salt, and headed off into the web for further details. Taking a look at the places I'm familiar with they've been involved with the design and build projects for new market halls in Bury, Bolton and Blackburn, all of which are categorically proper markets and not 'high-end food halls'.

Bury and Bolton are both award winners, and Blackburn, the newest of the three seems to be a success so far. There have been mixed reports, but issues raised by those against the development relate mainly to the increase in rents and the change in trading days from three to six. Legitimate concerns of course, but I'm generally of the view that an increase in trading hours and days is one of the things markets need to do to attract more custom, and if you're open six days rather than three then rents are likely to be higher. Taking a look at the list of stalls at Blackburn, it's also apparent that there's a genuine mix of proper market traders. There's even a tripe stall, not something you'll find at Borough even if nose-to-tail eating is fashionable.

The whole upmarket/downmarket thing is a false dichotomy anyway. What do FLKM actually mean when they say turn it into an 'high-end food hall'. Are they inferring that everything currently sold in the market is downmarket, cheap, poor quality? Are they saying the market must remain downmarket, peddling low grade goods to the deserving poor? This doesn't reflect reality anyway. A lot of stuff on the market is very cheap, but not everything. Most of the butchers provide excellent value, decent quality meat for example, but if you look for the budget brands or head to the discounters you can often get cheaper in supermarkets.

Snobbery works both ways. Just as there are people who wouldn't dream of shopping there because they see it as scruffy or chavvy or downmarket, there are also people who like to scaremonger about an impending influx of hordes of poshos. It's not going to happen.

To summarise, I still think what I said will happen in July is going to happen. I think it's sad that the market will be greatly reduced in size, and it's disappointing (but seemingly inevitable) that private sector management will result in the removal of potential investment in the form of profit. On a more positive note I think what's left of the market will thrive, and isn't going to become some great big hollowed out gastro-mistake.

Most of this will become apparent in the next week or two as Quarterbridge are due to submit their final report to the Council on Monday.

.... and finally a quick plug for two new stalls that have opened recently. Katie over at Leeds Grub has been to the Little Yorkshire Pie Company and last week I discovered a little Turkish food stall down in the doomed section (may as well support them while you still can!). I think there used to be a Polish food stall there before. I had a lahmacun, which is a flatbread topped with spicy lamb mince. Warmed up in the oven and rolled up with tomatoes and onions they make a great snack or light lunch. Only £1.50 too.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Hawksmoor, City, London

The challenge is over. I've found the best breakfast in Britain, and I found it here. Hawksmoor is a steakhouse with a particular devotion to high quality meat and also to high quality drinks. The Guildhall branch, in the City, is the third to open following on from Spitalfields and Seven Dials close to Covent Garden. It's the first branch to offer breakfast service throughout the week, the target market obviously local workers with deep pockets.

I've known about Hawksmoor for a few years now, and always expected I'd like the place. They buy their beef from the Ginger Pig, probably my favourite butcher, whose beef is always excellent and whose sausage rolls are the stuff of legend. (As an aside my only criticism of the Ginger Pig is their lack of retail presence in the North. They have three farms, all in North Yorkshire, and five shops, all in London. This is very unfair.)

The restaurant interior

So I expected to be a fan of Hawksmoor, and so it proved. Firstly I don't often comment on restaurant interiors as I'm often ambivalent and have nothing much to say on the subject, so prefer to focus on the food. Hawksmoor Guildhall is different, I genuinely loved the place. The restaurant only opened recently, but has a wonderful air of permanence. Tiles, tables, wood panelling and floors were all salvaged from various sources (the tiles from a tube station our waitress informed us) and fit into place alongside new leather banquette seating. It smells beautifully of wood and leather, is bright and airy despite being below ground and sort of feels like a superior caff with breakfast sauces on the tables. Enough, back to the food.

In pride of place on the breakfast menu is the Hawksmoor breakfast for two to share. I'll quote the description directly from the menu: 'Smoked Bacon Chop, Sausages (made with Pork, Beef & Mutton), Black Pudding, Short-Rib Bubble & Squeak, Grilled Bone Marrow, Trotter Baked Beans, Fried Eggs, Grilled Mushrooms, Roast Tomatoes, Unlimited Toast, HP gravy.' It had to be done.

Should a breakfast containing a fortnight's meat allowance need a little assistance there is also an intriguing list of 'Anti-Fogmatics', cocktails designed to revive the corpse. On another occasion I'd like to try 'Shaky Pete's Ginger Brew', described as a 'turbo shandy for the discerning drinker' and consisting of 'gin, homemade ginger syrup and lemon juice, topped with London Pride'. Interesting stuff.

The main event: bone, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, tomatoes, eggs

After a short wait the monster arrived. Everything was present and correct, and there were also two bonus rashers of bacon. A little gift from the Chef just in case there wasn't already enough meat involved I suppose. The execution of all the basics was faultless. Rich, oaty black pudding; perfectly fried eggs; tasty mushrooms and tomatoes; and thick, salty, piggy bacon.

Bone marrow and bubble

The more unusual items were a revelation. Bubble and squeak with added beef is clearly a fine idea, shreds of slow cooked meat working brilliantly with the crusty potatoes and in this case spinach rather than cabbage. Prior to eating them I wasn't convinced about having beef and mutton in my breakfast sausage, but they were just fine, well-seasoned with a very subtle gamier taste from the mutton.

Toast, round number one

Other than sucking the bones from a carcass or joint I'd never actually eaten bone marrow in any quantity before. I'll be ordering it again if the opportunity presents itself. Scooped out onto toast, it's fatty, wobbly and tastes a little like meatier butter. Mmmmm meatbutter.

Trotter baked beans

Finally, the lubricants. The trotter baked beans were soft, sweet, very slightly smokey and cut through with tiny shreds of meat. I think perhaps some sort of molasses contributed to the smoky/sweet flavour, and found these went particularly well with the mushrooms.

The HP gravy was fantastic, and melded the whole meal together as would HP sauce on a regular fry-up. Think of how each mouthful of bacon, egg and beans is offset by the fruity, tangy sauce and imagine the same thing with the added savour of a good onion gravy. Amazing.

Coffee is served in these attractive flasks

The toast and butter were of course excellent quality as was the coffee we drank, an Ethiopian filter variety. All told, this was the best breakfast I have ever eaten.

Service throughout was excellent. We were served by several different people of whom all were chatty, friendly and not in the least bit fazed that from about 15 minutes after our arrival we were the only people in there (half ten on a Monday morning obviously isn't prime time for banker breakfasts). There was no attitude and no sense of being rushed whatsoever.

At this stage I should probably get on to the prices. Hawksmoor is not cheap. The breakfast for two costs £35. When good breakfasts can still be had for under a fiver that might seem exorbitant on the face of it, but it's not. Just read what goes into the thing. Every aspect has been carefully thought out, carefully sourced and carefully cooked. A lot of work has gone into those beans, that gravy and the bubble & squeak. When compared with many other plates of food costing £17.50, particularly in London, it's actually rather good value.

But here's the thing. We didn't pay for any of it. The sound of drilling from overhead was a constant throughout our meal, caused by building work in another premises above. It was mildly irritating, nothing more. All of the staff serving us were very apologetic, and we were offered and accepted some doughnuts and pastries by way of apology. Then on requesting the bill we were told that there would be no bill, it was on the house due to the noise. Outstanding service, and way beyond what most places would consider necessary. Needless to say we left a generous tip.

Had we paid the bill would have come to just short of £44 including service, and it would have been worth every penny.

The champion doughnut and a very good pastry

A final word on the goodies we took away. The pastry was good but the doughnut was on a whole other level. Mine was stuffed to bursting with marmalade and custard. Proper marmalade, bittersweet with strands of rind, and proper custard, smooth and rich with vanilla. This was the best doughnut I have ever eaten in my life. They cost two pounds each and should you visit Hawksmoor you have to get one. In the likely event you're on the verge of a meat digestion coma get one to go. Do not miss out.

I couldn't recommend this more highly, the best meal I've eaten this year. Next time there's a suitably special occasion I intend to return for a colossal steak.


Hawksmoor Guildhall
10 Basinghall Street

Hawksmoor (Guildhall) on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Corned beef and potato suet crust pie

It's pie central round here at the moment. Last night I had a couple of friends round and baked one of my favourites for dinner. It's a great big comforting beast of a pie, simple to make and incredibly easy to eat in huge portions.

The controversial bit is this: there's only pastry on top. In most situations this is not the sort of pie I approve of. The standard and rightly criticised bowl of stew with a puff pastry lid found in many pubs is the prime example. Puff pastry is the wrong sort of crust for a meat pie and they're a pain in the arse to eat thanks to the annoying ceramic bowl they're served in.

This pie is different. Pastry made from suet is only pleasant with a nice crisp crust and the filling for this pie is very moist so if bottom and sides were present they'd be soggy, greasy and horrible. Just the lid works fine here.

I actually prefer suet dough rolled out into a thin pastry crust to the thicker puddings and dumplings where it's more commonly found. It makes pastry with a wonderful short, slightly flakey texture and a rich flavour.

The pie ought to serve six people, or four greedy people, or if you're like us three people with seconds then thirds a couple of hours later after loads of booze. Serve with either baked beans or steamed greens.

What you'll need:

1 large (340g) and 1 small (200g) tin of corned beef
1 very large onion
a large knob of butter
vegetable oil
4 large potatoes
2 carrots
half of an oxo cube
some fresh thyme and rosemary (enough for about 1 tbsp chopped)
200g self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting and making a roux
100g beef suet
brown sauce
Worcestershire sauce
white pepper

What to do:

1. Chop the onions then sweat them in a large pan in about 1tbsp of oil. Keep the heat down low so they don't colour. Give them a good twenty minutes so they are nice and soft.

2. While the onions are sweating chop the potatoes and carrots into large chunks and put them onto boil.

3. While the onions are sweating and the veg is boiling cut the corned beef into large chunks. Keep them quite big as you don't want the pieces to disintegrate entirely in the pie. Finely chop the thyme and rosemary, 1 tbsp of chopped herbs is about right.

4. When the potatoes and carrots are nearly done (they should still be a little bit hard as they'll be cooked further in the pie) drain them and set aside. Put the oven on at 180 degrees C.

5. The onions should now be soft and sweet. Boil the kettle, then add a knob of butter to the pan and let it melt, then stir in a heaped teaspoon of flour. Keep stirring for a minute or so to let the flour cook a bit then pour in boiling water a splash at a time stirring constantly so the sauce thickens. Add about half a pint of water in this way.

6. Add the potatoes and carrots to the sauce pan, then all of the seasonings: the chopped herbs, a large pinch of white pepper, half an oxo cube, salt and generous slugs from the brown and Worcestershire sauce bottles.

7. Add enough hot water to just cover the potatoes, bring to the boil then throw in the corned beef. Check the seasoning and add more salt, pepper and sauces as necessary. Turn off the heat and set aside.

8. Now to make the pastry. Weigh out the suet and flour into a mixing bowl. Add enough cold water to make this into a pliable dough. It should take about 5 tbsps worth.

9. Mix into a dough then roll out on a floured surface.

10. Pour the pie filling into a large pie dish, then top with the pastry. Don't worry if the filling looks too runny, it will thicken quite a lot as it bakes.

11. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the pastry is nice and golden.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Wilson's Pie Van, Leeds

There's been a worrying development at work. Every day as noon approaches, a jingle plays, the pie van is nigh. Liberally stocked with all manner of pastry-based treats and assorted condiments, it entices me down the stairs and out the door. As winter arrives it'll be hard to resist. Mmmmm pie. Lovely warm, comforting pie and peas? Oh go on then.

Fortunately for my waistline they also stock a range of salads and sandwiches, and I'm usually only in the office a couple of days a week. Panic over. Not that I've got round to trying the salads yet, but the sandwiches are great. Think large soft granary rolls, packed with good quality ham, sliced eggs and salad.

More photogenic meals are available, but none so green

Today I went for the classic, pie and peas. A generous slick of sloppy peas and a hot Wilson's pork pie for a perfectly reasonable £2.10. Nice, though I actually prefer pork pies cold or slightly warm rather than heated up.

I used to wish the pie van would visit my office, and now it does. Lucky me.

8/10 for the sandwiches
7/10 for the pie and peas

Wilson's Pie Van
Loitering outside your office and making you fat

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The Famous Fish Pan, Scarborough

It can be a challenge finding good fish and chips at the seaside.

The smell emanating from chip shop number one was reassuring, a steamy fug of hot oil and vinegar. We walked towards the door, and then I spotted it. A half eaten fillet on someones tray, the skin clearly visible. What is this, London? I'll have my battered fish skinned please. We moved on.

Chip shop number two looked promising from the outside, at least if the various quotes adorning the walls (best this and finest that) were to be believed. Another steamy fug hit me as I opened the door, but this time I recoiled at the stench of stale fat. We moved on rapidly.

Chip shop number three looked fine, smelled fine and tasted fine. I broke with tradition and ordered curry sauce with my fish and chips rather than peas. The sauce suggested recourse to actual ingredients rather than a powder mix, and wasn't bad at all raisins notwithstanding. The chips were freshly fried, creamy/crispy and moreish, and only the fish let the side down, just. It would have been very good had it been cooked fresh. In practice it was a rather wizened specimen, the batter good and crunchy but the fish a little past its best.

I'm sure there are better chip shops in Scarborough, but this did the job on a Sunday afternoon. Prices were reasonable given the location, we paid £7.95 for fish, chips and curry sauce, chips and two drinks.


28 Foreshore Road

North Yorkshire
YO11 1PB

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Thai Aroy Dee, Leeds

I'm not sure yet, but I think I might have chanced upon the best Thai food in Leeds. Thai Aroy Dee is up the top end of Vicar Lane, in the midst of Leeds' closest thing to a Chinatown.

It was the large poster in the window that grabbed my attention as I walked past a week or so ago. Dense with Thai script and no sign of the Roman alphabet, it was clearly aimed solely at Thais. I didn't go in at the time, but filed it in the memory bank for a future visit.

I was in town doing some shopping yesterday afternoon so thought I'd go there for lunch. They do indeed have a separate Thai menu. This is an annoying but not unusual feature of Asian restaurants, I've seen it in Thai and Chinese places. Presumably the expectation is that British people can't handle the more challenging flavours of the native cuisine. The spice levels, the funky, fishy flavours, the unusual cuts of meat. Whatever the reasoning behind this menu segregation, we're often missing out.

My ability to read Thai script not really being up to scratch, I had to ask the waitress to explain things for me. She was lovely, but not the best English speaker so we got as far as noodle soup with beef and I settled for that.

First impressions were good. A huge steaming bowl, plenty of meat visible and a decent selection of condiments (chillies in vinegar, fish sauce, chilli powder, sugar).

Second impressions were equally favourable, the broth was deeply savoury and satisfying. Stock based, similar to a Vietnamese pho but with lemongrass and celery in place of star anise and cinnamon. The meat was fantastic, fat chunks of braised, tender, slightly gelatinous beef (brisket at a guess) and also chewy, salty beef balls. Both present in more than generous quantities. Spring onions and beansprouts added a bit of textural variety and the springy noodles (flat rice sticks) weren't overcooked.

Great food, very reasonable prices (£5.95 for the noodle dish) and lovely, smiley service. I'll be back.

The secret list of goodies

Thanks to Twitter and the kindness of random strangers I also now have a full translation of the Thai menu (e-mail me if you'd like a copy). I took a photo of it and speculatively tweeted it asking for translation help. By the magic of re-tweets or hashtags I somehow got a response from a blogger based in the San Francisco bay area suggesting another blogger in that vicinity who may be able to assist. She duly translated the lot for me. By way of thanks here are links to their blogs, both of which are well worth a read if you're interested in street food or Thai cookery.


Thai Aroy Dee
112 Vicar Lane

Thai Aroy Dee on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 12 November 2011

English Muffins

I don't bake very often because I can't usually be bothered following recipes, mistakenly thinking it's too much like hard work. I always forget that whilst a recipe may be involved it often needs only 3 or 4 ingredients and little effort. Cooking Staffordshire oatcakes the other week reminded me how simple and rewarding it can be to mix up a batch of dough or batter, and if everything goes to plan how delicious the results.

With these thoughts in mind, and a cupboard full of yeast and flour it was only a matter of time before I got the mixing bowl out again. It had to be muffins. I love English muffins, simply toasted with butter, or butter and cheese, or butter and jam, or in a home-made version of the McMuffin. The McMuffin is a great idea, just executed badly. Sausage meat of dubious quality and an egg cooked solid. No-one in their right mind chooses a solid yolked egg. I like to make my own version with proper sausages and a runny egg, and it always goes down a treat.

I used Delia's recipe for my muffins. I won't recreate it here because I only changed one thing from the original. I forgot that I didn't have any strong white bread flour, so I used strong wholemeal instead. It worked just fine although I think white is probably better for muffins.

The method couldn't be simpler. Mix your dough, knead it, then leave it prove. This is the dough, kneaded but unproven.

Here it is after proving. It's twice the size as in the last picture, honest.

Then you can roll it out and cut it into muffins, then leave it prove again.

After the second prove they are cooked on both sides in a greased pan. Greased with lard, says Delia.

Leave to cool, then split and toast whenever you want one.

I split one straight from the pan, toasted it and buttered it. Lovely. It's all about the texture with muffins, that crisp, slightly chewy crust on the outside and the soft, yeasty inside that's just airy enough to soak up the butter.

The pièce de résistance was the breakfast muffin. I've been craving black pudding for a while so used this in place of the sausage. A toasted, buttered muffin, Bury black pudding, a runny egg and a squirt of ketchup. I fried the egg in the cutter used for the muffins to get that neat and tidy 'McMuffin' effect. Imagine a world where McDonalds served runny eggs and black pudding!

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sichuan stir-fried green beans with minced pork

Stir-fried beans with minced pork is a classic Sichuan dish. I've seen it on the menu of every Sichuan restaurant I've ever been to and I love it (5 or 6 of them, enough to know it's a running theme). A cracking version at Red Chilli the other weekend reminded me that it was about time I tried to cook it again.

On the couple of occasions I've attempted the dish before the results have been reasonable but I've never quite hit the nail on the head. It's never quite scaled the heights of deliciousness found in a good restaurant version. This time was better, I think I've nearly cracked it so I thought I'd share the recipe.

I did three things differently this time. I used pork belly and minced it by hand, I added shaoxing rice wine and I added a sachet of preserved vegetables. The pork belly was all my idea, but I can't claim credit for the wine and veggies as I perused plenty of recipes online that suggest their inclusion. The resultant method and quantities however are all my own work.

Cutting the meat by hand from a piece really sorted the texture out. You want little tiny nuggets of meat rather than actual mince which will either disintegrate into mush or form longer strands rather than nuggets. I used belly but shoulder would also work as I still trimmed quite a lot of the excess fat from the belly.

The rice wine and preserved veggies provided the depth of flavour and umami succulence (MSG may have been present in the preserved veg) that was otherwise lacking.

In it's original incarnation I think this is supposed to be a vegetable dish with pork garnish, but I upped the meat quotient a bit for no reason other than that I wanted more pork. One strip of pork belly should be plenty but you may want to use less if you are having this as a side dish. At Red Chilli this was our vegetable dish alongside other mutton, chicken and pork dishes so extra pork in the veggies wouldn't really have been necessary. Obviously a little bit of pork in the veggies was necessary, but not a lot. One has to consider arterial health on occasion.

The resultant dish should have an intensely savoury flavour balanced by some sweetness. It should also pack a punch from the chillies and make your lips tingle from the Sichuan pepper. All this, coupled with the fact it will contain lots of pork fat should combine to make it very more-ish indeed.

The more unusual ingredients are readily available in Oriental supermarkets.

You will need

These quantities will serve 2 as a main meal with rice, more as a side dish.
100g piece of pork belly
200g green beans
half a tsp sichuan peppercorns
handful of dried chillis
3 tbsps shaoxing rice wine
5 cloves garlic
an inch of ginger
3 spring onions
2 tbsps soy sauce
white pepper
vegetable oil
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 sachet of Sichuan preserved vegetable (made with mustard greens I think)

What to do

1. The first step is to prepare the meat. Cut any large quantities of excess fat from your meat, but don't get carried away as you still want it quite fatty.

2. Chop the meat into very small, almost minced pieces. The easiest way to do this is to attack it with scissors for a good five minutes.

3. Put your finely chopped meat into a small mixing bowl and add a good pinch of white pepper, a tbsp of soy sauce and a tbsp of shaoxing rice wine. Give it a good stir and set aside.

4. Top and tail your green beans, then cut them into roughly equal sized pieces. Get a wok on a medium-hot heat with a generous glug of vegetable oil and a tbsp of sesame oil in it.

5. Add the green beans to the wok and fry them until the surfaces start to blister and the insides are cooked but retain a little bite. This should only take 3 or 4 minutes. When they are done remove from the wok with a slotted spoon and put them onto kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil.

6. Whilst the beans are frying finely chop, crush or grate the garlic and ginger (I grated it) and slice the spring onions. Crush the sichuan peppercorns lightly in a pestle and mortar (if you haven't got one just bash them up a bit with something heavy on your chopping board). Open the sachet of preserved vegetables and have the dried chillies, soy sauce and rice wine to hand. Make sure all of this is done before the next step, as the rest of the cooking process takes only 4-5 minutes so you need to have everything ready to throw in quickly.

7. After the beans have been removed keep the wok on the heat and add the pork. Stir-fry it for a minute or two, don't worry if it sticks or catches as the crusty bits are delicious.

8. Add the handful of dried chillies and stir-fry for another few seconds, then add the garlic, ginger and sichuan pepper, then stir-fry for another minute or so.

9. Add the sachet of preserved vegetables and the beans, then stir-fry for another minute or so.

10. Throw in a good glug of shaoxing rice wine (about 2tbsps) and a glug of soy sauce (about 1 tbsp) and fry for one more minute.

11. Garnish with the spring onions and serve immediately with steamed rice.

...and finally, apropos of nothing other than to cheer me up here are a couple of photos taken in the Dales on Sunday. Just a little reminder that we do have blue skies from time to time in dank, dark November.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The Greedy Pig, Leeds

On Saturday The Greedy Pig served me up a contender for fry-up of the year, so in the manner afforded transpennine rival The Koffee Pot, here's the lowdown:

1. Bacon
Thick cut, piggy, crisped fat. Highly unlikely to have exuded nasty white foam on the application of heat.

2. Sausage
Good quality. Well seasoned. No daft, inappropriate at breakfast time flavourings.

3. Black Pudding
Aaargh no black pudding. Strangely I've been craving black pudding for weeks. It doesn't come as standard on the Greedy Pig breakfast, but I think you can add it for an extra 40p. But I forgot. At the crucial moment the desire for blood-based goodness eluded me. Damn fool.

4. Egg
Fried accurately. No mistakes. No egg snot.

5. Beans
Certain purists will tell you that beans should not be included in a traditional full English breakfast. The proprietors of The Greedy Pig may even be among such people as their breakfast doesn't include beans as standard. Fortunately they can be added for thirty pence. No slip-ups a la black pudding here, beans duly added.

6. Hash Brown
As ever, welcome when fried properly, and this was.

7. Tomato
Prime tomato season has long gone, but they managed to serve a grilled tomato with some sort of taste, so full marks here.

8. Toast
Just the one slice. White sliced. Just the job.

9. Tea
Served in a mug, with the bag left in allowing the punter to choose the strength of their own brew. Good. And from Teapigs too! I've been to places that charge well over half the cost of this entire breakfast for a cup of Teapigs tea. Outstanding value.

10. Condiments
HP sauce readily available in industrial quantities. Speaking of HP sauce, what's all this fuss about them changing the recipe and making it horrid? I haven't noticed. Maybe I haven't had the new stuff yet, or maybe I just don't have the subtle and refined palate I've persuaded myself I'm in possession of.

11. A bonus category! There were mushrooms too. Grilled mushrooms that definitely tasted of mushroom. 

It's not the largest of breakfasts, but it costs just £3.50 including the tea. For such good quality ingredients, assembled with such obvious care and attention, that is an absolute bargain. If you're especially hungry extra meaty things are 40p each, extra veggie things 30p. Adding beans, black pudding, an extra rasher of bacon and an extra slice of toast would still bring this in under a fiver.

The people running the place are friendly, and the sandwiches looked good too. Highly recommended.


58 North Street

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Sukhothai, Headingley, Leeds (takeaway review)

Another day another disappointing takeaway. Thai this time, from Sukothai in Headingley.

Things got off to a bright start with a salad and some Thai sausages. The salad (Som tum) was crisp, zingy and surprisingly chock full of pungent, slightly foetid tasting (in a good way) dried shrimps. A lot of places hold back on these, presumably thinking they're a bit much for the average English palate. They can be a bit of an acquired taste, I like them but preferably in the presence of shedloads of chilli to balance things out a bit. The chilli quotient needed upping by about a factor of five, otherwise it was pretty good.

The sausages (Sai oua) tasted a lot better than they look! Coarse cut, fatty pork cut through with lime leaves and lemongrass. Citrus flavours might sound unusual in a sausage, but it works very well.

Another starter of tiger prawns in crispy batter was ok too. In a 'massive scampi straight from the freezer into the fryer' sort of way, but still.  

My main course was a disaster. It was a noodle stir fry (Pad kee mao) with prawns, basil, bamboo shoots, mushrooms and chilli. The noodles had been horribly overcooked and had formed together in a single claggy, sticky mass, with all of the other bits and pieces scattered around the outside. There was very little chilli in there and if there was any Thai basil in it at all I couldn't detect it, perhaps they'd run out and bunged some coriander (which definitely was present) in instead. Given the lack of basil or chilli the predominant taste was sweet, as in a bit sugary and nothing else.

A red curry was better, in that it wasn't actively bad, just boring. Completely one-note flavour wise (sweet again) and with no particular redeeming features.

Two starters, a salad, a curry with rice and a stir-fry cost about £26. Not the cheapest takeaway but Thai does tend to cost a little more than Indian or Chinese. The sausages and salad did suggest this place might be worth another shot, but on the other hand if they're happy to serve noodles like that then maybe not.


St Annes Road

Sukhothai on Urbanspoon
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