Tuesday, 31 January 2012

London and South-East round-up: the good

Home at last. I'm just back from a rather silly week long jaunt around the country for both work and play. I've stayed at a Premier Inn, a Holiday Inn, two Travelodges and one friend's house, with no more than a couple of nights in one place. I'm not half glad to be home.

It's been an interesting week food-wise though, I've experienced much of what's good about eating on the cheap in Britain; the enthusiastic adoption of foreign cuisines and the rapidly developing street food scene being the primary examples.

On the other hand I've also experienced much of what's bad; the distinctly average offering in most pubs and the proliferation of crappy chains interested only in the bottom line being cases in point.

Other than Silk Road, which got a post all to itself, here are the things that were good, and if I can be bothered I might write about those that were bad too:

Franco Manca, Westfield Stratford City

There's much to dislike about the new Westfield mega-mall adjacent to the Olympic site at Stratford, if, like me, you're really not that enthused by shopping. Or by corporate-style marketing nonsense, which seemed to be in overdrive in an area of the centre named the 'Great Eastern Market', and described as a 'modern take on a traditional market'. If that's the case then a 'modern take' on a 'traditional market' means not actually like a market at all, more like an area of a shopping centre where the units are small and everything is hideously overpriced. Great.

Now I've got that rant out of my system I'll have to give credit where it's due. There is much to like about Westfield Stratford City from an eating perspective. All of the usual suspects are there, but a significant proportion of the extensive food offer is given over to small London based businesses. Businesses like Franco Manca who have opened their third outlet here.

Franco Manca are widely acknowledged to make some of the finest pizza in London. I've eaten at both of the other branches, in Brixton and Chiswick, and agree that they're excellent, although I didn't think Chiswick was quite up to the standard of the original in Brixton market.

When I spotted them in Westfield I was worried that they might have sold out, expanding the empire at the expense of the quality. I needn't have worried, the wood burning ovens were present and correct and the prices no higher than in Brixton.

Just tomato, mozzarella and basil, simple but absolutely delicious. They use a sourdough for the base which is then blasted in those fiercely hot ovens producing a crust that's beautifully bubbled and charred on the outside but remains soft, light and slightly chewy within. Good quality cheese and tomato in just the right proportions offset the dough nicely.

The ease with which a whole one of these can be gobbled up is amazing. Just compare and contrast with the heavy going stodgefests that so many pizzas become. An absolute bargain at £5.90, especially when you consider that the vastly inferior equivalent at Pizza Express costs £7.50.


Unit 2003
The Balcony
Westfield Stratford City
E20 1ES


Franco Manca on Urbanspoon

Buen Provecho, eat.st at King's Cross, London

I'm all for the street food revolution. Mobile catering has been improving at festivals and the like for a good few years now, and it finally seems that bringing the same idea (that you can serve good food from a van) to the city streets has caught on in a big way. London's new eat.st is at the forefront, with a rotating list of traders pitched up along a new pedestrian precinct round the back of King's Cross station.

Mexican stall Buen Provecho tickled my fancy last Friday, mainly because I'd heard great things about their tacos. Which as luck would have it were unavailable because the tortillas were late arriving. No matter as the lunch box meal is any two of the same taco fillings served on rice, with salsa, guacamole and tortilla chips.

A point of note to virtually every one of those burrito places that have popped up in recent years. It wouldn't kill you to include guacamole in the price. 50p extra or more for a smear of mashed avocado is a rip-off. Buen Provecho showed how it should be done by making good guacamole and including it in the price. Self service salsas and tortilla chips, and the fact the guy serving was friendly and looked like a pirate also made me smile.

Star of the show was Cochinita pibil, slow roasted pork marinated in orange juice and spices (I'm not quite sure what). The meat was reduced to lovely moist shreds that oozed juices with an intense tangy flavour. If I ever get round to going here again I'll just have this stuff. The salsas were also pretty good, one of raw finely diced veg and coriander, the other a hotter, smokier affair probably involving some sort of roasted chillies. A dollop of refried beans were also successful, lending creaminess to the rice.

The only duff note was the other meat dish, chicken and chorizo in a sauce that was a bit nondescript. It tasted ok but was dull in comparison with the outstanding pork.

A substantial meal box costs £6, service is friendly, you can help yourself to salsa and there's plenty of kerb to sit on.


King's Boulevard


Buen Provecho (Food Cart) on Urbanspoon

Banh Mi Bay, Holborn, London

Imagine a sandwich that's rich and meaty but fresh and tangy. A sandwich that marries three types of pork with mayo and pickles. A sandwich that's spicy and fragrant. A sandwich that's crusty and crunchy but smooth and moist. This is the Banh Mi, Vietnam's notable contribution to the pantheon of great sandwiches.

I fell in love with the Banh Mi when I lived in Woolwich. Someone opened up a Vietnamese coffee shop just off the high street, so they were pretty much the only exciting foodstuff I could eat without hopping on a train (Woolwich is not London's finest foodie suburb, there are some potentially good Ghanaian places, but they always had strange blacked out windows and I never plucked up the courage to venture inside). I would muck around in the gym for half an hour or so, then reward myself with bread, and chilli, and three types of pork.

I digress, the special Banh Mi at Banh Mi Bay was pretty damn good. All the key elements were there: a light rice flour baguette, roast pork, pork roll, pork liver paté, slightly pickled carrot and mooli, mayo, cucumber, coriander, chilli. I'd have liked the paté to have been more liver-y, there are plenty of other strong flavours present to stand up to it, but apart from that I couldn't fault it.

£3.85 for the special Banh Mi, perfectly reasonable as it's an impressively proportioned sandwich. It contains three varieties of pork too, did I mention that already?


4-6 Theobalds Road


Banh Mi Bay on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Silk Road, Camberwell, London

Silk Road is one of my favourite restaurants anywhere, ever. I first ate there around three years ago after a whole host of recommendations on the Chowhound boards.

At that time I'd barely scratched the surface of the myriad wonders of Chinese food, my only experience being takeaway standard Cantonese and a couple of tentative forays into Sichuan.

Silk Road pretty much blew my mind. It's one of the only (if not the only) restaurant in the UK specialising in food from Xinjiang province, the vast territory in the far west of China. The geography and many of the people here are more central Asian than Chinese. The native Uighurs are predominantly Muslim and their cuisine is influenced by the nations to the West -Pakistan, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan to name the largest.

That means plenty of lamb and mutton, a diet based on wheat and potatoes rather than rice, and use of spices not always associated with Chinese food, cumin being the most obvious example. Mix that all up with the majority Han Chinese influence from the East - loads of chillies and peppercorns, rice, soy sauce, stir-frying, and you've got some fantastic food.

Anyway, lesson over. Camberwell isn't that handy for someone who now lives in Wakefield, so I hadn't been to Silk Road for well over a year. That was rectified last night as four of us headed South to fill our boots.

It's not a posh restaurant this. Expect bench style seating and sometimes rather erratic service but it's more than worth it for the food. Order a round of Tsingtao beers and as much of the menu as you can manage, then just wait to see what arrives first.

In our case, the lamb skewers (£1 per skewer). Don't wait around, eat these quickly while they're fresh off the grill. The juicy pieces of meat and fat come liberally doused in a cumin/salt/chilli rub and are delicious when hot. After they've cooled down they lose succulence and the fat goes a bit wobbly and unpleasant. When they're fresh I can't think of a better way to eat sheep fat.

Next all three vegetable plates arrived in quick succession. Home style cabbage, home style aubergine (about £6 each) and cucumber with garlic sauce (£3).

The home style dishes are similar in execution, but taste quite different. Both have the main ingredient stir-fried in a garlicky sauce with plenty of chilli heat, fresh green peppers and a little soy, but the aubergine is silken and comforting whereas the cabbage is more assertive, crunchy with dried chillies and a lovely smokey back note from the wok. I love both dishes but the cabbage is my favourite. To make something so delicious from a humble cabbage really takes some skill.

The cucumber dish, served cold, brought large chunks of the veg, bashed around a bit to absorb the flavour of a very garlicky marinade. Strangely refreshing and really enjoyable.

On to the dumplings, there are several different varieties, we just had one plate of the pork and celery. They're small with satisfyingly chewy skins and a meaty filling, and are also a steal at £2.50 for ten.

Then the beast arrived. The photo really doesn't do this dish justice, and nor does the name for that matter. It's medium plate chicken (£9, small and big plate are also available), a huge vat of beautiful, deeply savoury broth, spiked with star anise and Sichuan pepper, in which are hidden bone-in chicken pieces, potatoes and sliced mild green peppers.

Included in the price is a serving of belt noodles; thick, chewy, wheat noodles that are a carb-lovers dream. The dish doesn't arrive with them in, one of the waiting staff will come over whenever a fresh batch are ready and chuck them in the bowl. Much mess-making then ensues as everyone at the table dives in at once, attempting to fish the two foot long monsters out with chopsticks.

The final dish of the night was pork with black fungus (about £6), another dish of interesting textural combinations. Soft pork, a few crisp greens and slightly rubbery fungus, all held together in another knock-out flavour packed, umami rich sauce.

We ate everything with a few extra bowls of steamed rice and washed it all down with Chinese tea and beer. The total bill came to just £56.30 between four of us before a tip was added. As ever the service was a little random, one happy guy, one miserable and the rice didn't turn up until after most of the other food.

But what food, and what fantastic value. It's all so deceptively simple. Hearty food with theoretically straightforward seasoning, but all imbued with such utter deliciousness I'm not quite sure how they do it. The prices also haven't risen in three years despite the place attracting the attention of the critics and being constantly busy

I don't know when but I know I'll be back. I love Silk Road.


49 Camberwell Church Street

Silk Road on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Malaysian Delight, Chinatown, Birmingham

I've been in Birmingham today. I needed a quick, casual, cheap meal before leaving and was reliably informed that the city has a decent Chinatown. Where better to head?

A bit of a British Chinatown classic this place. It reminded me of similar restaurants I've encountered in London, Manchester and even Newcastle. Small, a bit grubby, brisk, efficient service and a menu covering all the usual Chinese bases (i.e. if it's on your local takeaway menu it's on this one) to keep the punters happy.

That, and a separate menu section for whatever the restaurant actually intended to specialise in. In this case not Chinese at all, but Malaysian.

There weren't really any Malaysian sides or starters which was a little disappointing. I wanted roti canai damnit.I bloody love roti canai. Against my better judgment I ordered curry samosas, kind of hoping they'd turn out to be a delectable curry puff.

They were ok, in a straight out the freezer and fried properly in hot, fresh oil sort of way, but nothing more. The salad underneath and an almost tasteless dipping sauce were completely pointless.

I fancied noodle soup but not anything coconutty so I went a little off piste and ordered assam laksa rather than the more common curry laksa. I'd never had an assam laksa before but had a vague notion it was fishy and sour.

Memory served me correctly as what arrived was an exceedingly fishy, moderately sour (tamarind I think) and spicy broth topped with various bits and bobs. The broth itself was very good, intensely flavoured with shredded mackerel and (probably) shrimp paste.

Everything else was a bit of a let down though; overcooked noodles with no bite, very little mackerel in actual pieces and not much of the other stuff which mainly comprised cucumber and pineapple (though I'd happily have foregone all of that for some good springy noodles in the broth).

Passable and cheap at £12.50 including a beer but I wouldn't rush back. It's also worth bearing in mind that as well as only taking cash, they also only accept real cash. There's a useful sign pointing this out at the counter. 'Forged money is forbidden' it says. I was ok today as I've not been on the counterfeiting plant and I won't be laundering until next week, but on another occasion it could have been embarrassing. You have been warned.


8 Ladywell Walk
B5 4ST

Malaysian Delight on Urbanspoon

Monday, 23 January 2012

Robin Hood Fisheries, Robin Hood, nr Rothwell

The first chip shop visit of 2012. In some ways highly impressive, in others a touch disappointing.

I'm slowly working my way through the multitude of chippies strung out along the A61 between Leeds and Wakefield. If you're not familiar with the area, it's mostly one long stretch of nondescript suburbia lacking anything particularly interesting (although maybe pit wheels and whale jawbones deserve a mention). What it doesn't lack is Chinese takeaways and fish and chip shops.

Of the latter I've already been here and here, and last Thursday night after football it was the turn of Robin Hood's finest.

I didn't have enough cash on me for peas, having to copper up just to reach the magical £4.50 necessary for fish and chips. So there it is, plain and simple.

Good points first: the fish was freshly fried and absolutely gargantuan. And I mean huge. Extensive in length but I think it was also the thickest fried fillet of haddock I've ever eaten. I'm actually a bit worried because at £4.50 it's doubtful it came from sustainable stocks and if not I think I might have eaten the Queen Haddock. The Mother Haddock, the progenitor of the species. Haddocks are doomed on account of my moment of greed.

Fingers crossed that's not the case, but either way it tasted great. Flaking away into lovely pearlescent slivers, fresh and sweet.

Onto the bad points: the batter was a smidgen too thick. Lovely crunch and bite at the edges, just a little soggy towards the surface of the fish. The chips were past their best, being rather chewy and aged. I was so full of fish I didn't really care about this much though.

I'll have to rate this one highly, purely on account of that fish. I haven't a clue whether they're regularly serving up such colossal portions but I somehow doubt it. I've a sneaking suspicion they bunged me in a special by mistake.


Robin Hood Fisheries
Leeds Road
Robin Hood

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Trying to cook the perfect steak (volume 4)

I know barely a month has passed since last time, but I'm going to write about cooking large slabs of cow again. Vegetarians and those bored of beefsteaks look away now.

I had to write about this steak, because it was the best yet. I've almost cracked it. Without the use of charcoal I don't think I can do much better.

This was an unplanned steak night. I was at the excellent Welbeck Farm Shop buying some cheese and inadvertently wandered over to the butcher's counter, drawn in by some mysterious form of meat magnetism. And there it was, some very fine looking rib on the bone, priced most temptingly at £9.99 per kilo.

I ended up with this. A one rib steak, a good two and a half inches thick, weighing in at around 1.25 kgs. Here it is just after salting. I should note at this point that I shared this one with a friend and her daughter. I do have limits.

The cooking method was the same as last time, for details see here. The gist is this: salt generously at least an hour before cooking, very hot pan, plain oil, turn it regularly, add butter for the last minute or so, give it a good rest.

Prior to cooking I also tried Heston's extra ageing method, essentially leaving the steak uncovered in the fridge for a couple of days. The theory is that this dries the steak a little, tenderising it and concentrating the flavour. I've no idea whether this made any difference, but we'll assume Blumenthal has done his homework.

The steak being such a whopper I salted 90 minutes before cooking this time. Here it is after the salt has been absorbed, just before it went in the pan. The only other improvement I could think of was keeping better control of the temperature, so I bought myself a new toy:

Meat thermometer at the ready. Hot pan at the ready. Impending fat splattered smoke choked kitchen at the ready. In it goes!

Two minutes in, the first signs of a crust start to appear.

Seven minutes in, the char is coming along nicely, and the fat is starting to render and crisp.

Fourteen minutes in, almost there. The butter has just gone in and the crust looks lovely. I was keeping a close watch on the internal temperature at this point. 130 degrees fahrenheit was the target point, which is just on the cusp of medium rare. This was the only mistake I made. The temperature rose slowly and steadily throughout the cooking time, but then suddenly started to shoot up rapidly towards the end. I missed the cut-off point by a couple of degrees, removing it from the pan at 132.

Here we are, post-rest, resplendent and ready for slicing.

It was wonderful. See how the thin, dark crust gives way to tender pink juicy flesh. It was a beautiful piece of meat too, with a powerful savoury beefy flavour and delicious fat.

I always think you can spot quality, well aged beef by the fat. It should be yellow-ish in colour and smell a bit buttery. It should be rich in flavour and entice you to eat it, even the thick wobbly bits. This was all those things.

Served with sautéed potatoes, green salad, and mushrooms fried in smoked garlic this was one of the best Sunday dinners I've had in a long time. It even went down well with my friend's two year old daughter (who will eat anything as long as you tell her it's sausages).

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dock Street Market, Leeds

This place has changed a bit since last time I was there. A year ago it was very much a work in progress, now things are finished I really like it. There's a proper bar with a very good beer selection, plenty of seating some of which is perfectly suited to a proper loafing session, and there are also plenty of books and board games with which to while away the hours.

There's a hot food menu in addition to the sandwiches (I'm keen to try the feijoada), with bread still provided by the Riverside Sourdough Bakery and coffee by La Bottega Milanese.

I opted for the hot salt beef sandwich, a steal at only £3.50 as it was a monster. A good monster. It was generously packed with salty, juicy chunks of well-flavoured meat, gherkins, salad and rather a lot of hot mustard.

A little too much mustard for my tastes, I like the stuff but I'm just not in love with mustard heat in the same way as chilli heat. It makes my nose go weird and doesn't make me happy like chillies do. Maybe that's just me though.

All in all though a very good sandwich and excellent value. I'd like to see them do a classic American version, with about twice as much meat and on rye bread. It would cost twice the price and be exceedingly gluttonous, but it would be worth it.

I'll be returning here for beer, feijoada and more cracking sandwiches!


28 Dock Street
LS10 1JF


Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Baltic Café Bar, Gateshead

I'm stuck in a bit of a restaurant routine at the moment. If it's not Thai Aroy Dee it's Red Chilli. I went to the former last Saturday, the latter the Saturday before, and I'll be back to the latter this weekend. That's not necessarily a bad thing but it doesn't give me much to write about on here, not without a tedious amount of repetition anyway.

Lunches and recipes it is then. I try and go somewhere interesting for lunch once or twice a week to liven things up a bit between the dull home-made sandwiches, tetra pak soups and such-like.

This morning I was in Newcastle so I thought I'd pay a visit to the Baltic. A twenty minute glance round the galleries followed by twenty minutes for lunch would do nicely, then back on the road to Leeds.

As it turned out I was short of time so lunch took precedence. The galleries will have to wait.

Soup of the day (£3.50) was broccoli, chestnut and mascarpone. It was pleasant if a little unexciting. A more generous hand with the barely detectable chestnuts would have been an improvement. The hunk of baguette on the side was good quality though.

I also spotted these (£2 each), and couldn't resist ordering one. I'm not normally into pretzels, big lumps of boring dough that they are. Cover them in melted cheese though and everyone's a winner. Why has no-one thought of this before? Maybe they have and I wasn't paying attention. Anyway it was warm and soft and chewy and cheesy and a bit greasy and delicious.

The café has big picture windows framing the Tyne, with it's wonderful bridges and backdrop of Newcastle city centre, so it's a nice place to sit for a while. The service was great too, friendly and efficient.

I'll return when I have time to visit the gallery, and will probably eat here again. The food was good, nothing special but better than you'd get at many other cultural venues, and it's also worth it for the view.


Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Gateshead Quays
South Shore Road


Sunday, 15 January 2012

Lime House Café (and Welbeck Farm Shop), Welbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire

I've been planning a visit to the Welbeck Estate ever since I discovered it was the home of Stichelton. I struggle to find some of my favourite cheeses outside London, so when I found out that the cheese I love perhaps more than any other is made less than an hour away from home it was only a matter of time before I made the trip.

Friday was the day. I was in Nottingham for work and it's not too much of a detour off the M1 on the way home. Welbeck is one of those great big whopping country estates that's been turned over to tourism, a slightly less famous Chatsworth if you like (perhaps because it's half way between Mansfield and Worksop rather than in the middle of the Peak District). There's an art gallery, a school of artisan food, a working farm, a garden centre, a café and a very good farm shop, of which more later.

After a visit to the farm shop to pick up a few goodies I stopped off at the café for a quick afternoon tea.

A fat scone (£2.25) was fresh and light, and came served with very good raspberry jam. A pot of good tea was a reasonable £1.35. I didn't have anything else, but the sandwiches arriving on other tables looked excellent.

The room is also lovely, a spacious, airy modern conversion of a building that formerly housed part of a Victorian gasworks. The staff were nice too.

First impressions of what I've bought from the farm shop are also very good. I have a lovely looking piece of beef, a bulb of smoked garlic and some cheese. The cheese selection is exemplary, as you'd expect when it's all sourced from the Kings of British cheese at Neal's Yard.

I don't think it'll be long before I start thinking of reasons to visit Worksop more often.


Welbeck Estate
S80 3LL



Friday, 13 January 2012

Larb / Laab / Lahb / Larp / Laap

Don't worry I haven't gone mad. The title of this post does make sense. Larb is a Laotian or Isarn (Northeastern Thai) meat salad that you'll probably have seen on Thai restaurant menus spelled in any of the various ways listed above. It's all down to the difficulties of transliterating Thai or Lao script into the Roman alphabet.

Linguistic challenges aside, laab is a wonderful dish that I've been meaning to try and make for some time. It's got all the best qualities of Thai food, the strong yet balanced tastes, the spice, the freshness, the herbal fragrance. And it's a salad made from meat. Just about any meat can be used by the way, though chicken is most common.

Rather bizarrely it was turkey that spurred me into action. Yes, turkey as in Christmas turkey. Morrison's was selling packs of diced turkey thigh at a ridiculously low price, so I bought some thinking there must be something good I could cook with it. More out of hope than expectation to be honest.

Then I thought about lahb. The turkey meat would work well chopped into very small pieces and cooked very briefly, no chance for it go tough or stringy. The flavour would also suit, meaty enough to standard up to the strong seasoning and still lend something to the dish.

I'm not going to recreate the recipe in full here, because the one I used can be found here on the She Simmers blog which I've found to be an excellent resource for Thai food info and recipes since I discovered it a while back. It was this blog's author who kindly translated the Thai Aroy Dee menu for me.

I deviated a little from the original recipe, using spring onions in place of shallots, the turkey in place of chicken and missing out the galangal powder. Apart from that and halving each ingredient for a smaller batch it was faithful.

I also had a go at making the toasted rice powder, but had to cheat and use basmati rice in place of Thai sticky rice. It was still worth it though, perfectly simple to do and the final dish had a subtle but distinctive nutty flavour in the background.

The resulting salad was a great success. The first taste gives the forward freshness and fragrance of the herbs which then gives way to salty, sour and spicy, all assertive but balanced. The savour of the meat and toasty rice flavour round things out nicely.

I served mine with rice as a main dish, but its probably more commonly served alone as a starter or a side dish, scooped up with lettuce leaves.

I'll make this again and will probably change just one thing. I should have chopped the meat a little bit finer, you don't want mince but some of my chunks were a little too hefty and went a bit chewy as the meat cooled.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Philo's, West Bridgford, Nottingham

I wasn't supposed to be having lunch here. I was supposed to be going to Nando's with my sister. Nando's you say? Yes. I like Nando's. Crispy, charred skinned chicken with hot sauce. What's not to like? The sides are crap though.

Anyway now I've got that confession off my chest I didn't make it to Nando's. The M1 intervened and spoiled my plans. A two and a half hour drive to Nottingham and a cancelled lunch later I still needed to eat, and West Bridgford is handier for work than Nottingham city centre.

Philo's looked like the pick of the casual coffee shops in town, and lunch there turned out pretty well despite the lack of spicy chicken.

A big wedge of frittata was moist, light and well seasoned and the salad was properly dressed. Not sure what the little grape buttons were doing though, but they didn't harm anyone.

£3.75 for the frittata and salad meal, prompt service and good coffee too. Philo's is a nice little place.


22 Tudor Square
West Bridgford

Monday, 9 January 2012

Town Hall Tavern, Leeds

Saturday was one of those great days when everything goes to plan. Even better than that, it was one of those days when the plan lives up to expectations.

The big event was a night on the town to celebrate a couple of birthdays and the visit of a friend who emigrated to New Zealand a few years back, the centrepiece of which was an absolute belter of a meal at Red Chilli. You can order a rather large quantity of delicious Sichuan food when there's fourteen of you round the table. Three blog posts about Red Chilli in just a few months is probably overdoing it though, so I'll just say this: it's bloody brilliant.

Lunch earlier in the day was just as successful. After a refurbishment last year the Town Hall Tavern was re-opened as a gastropub (their description) by Timothy Taylor's. The gastropub description is fair in this case, as it's very much a proper pub with good food as opposed to a restaurant in disguise. Drinkers are definitely welcome.

The menu is a standard gastropub sort of affair, pub classics set alongside some more ambitious sounding dishes. There's also a list of pick-n-mix sharing plates all priced at a very reasonable £1.95. It was from this list that I ordered a pig's cheek scotch egg which got things off to a wonderful start.

Oooh this was good. I could eat one (read several) right now. A lovely greaseless crunchy crumb encasing dense shreds of moist, soft flesh and a perfectly cooked, runny yolked quails egg. We ordered nothing more from the snacks menu, but if the rest of it's as good as this an evening of superior Yorkshire tapas and ale is going to be in order very soon.

Ale roasted gammon, sorrel croquettes and wilted greens (£8.95) was equally accomplished. The chef here is obviously a dab hand with the deep fat fryer as the croquettes were as well cooked as the scotch egg. The same crust this time filled with a velvety, slightly oniony (or possibly leeky) potato filling. I couldn't taste the advertised sorrel though, which I suspect is like basil in that it rapidly loses its fragrance when exposed to heat.

The gammon was a thick chunk of porky goodness, not overly salty and a good match with the crunchy/smooth texture contrast and mild flavour of the croquettes. The jug contained a generous quantity of decent gravy presumably made from ham bone stock.

I wasn't quite convinced by the burger across the table, as the patty was a little overcooked. An option on the cooking level would be good as it tasted like good quality meat and would have been far better served pink. Apart from sticking to theme of using Yorkshire produce I also can't see any point in using Wensleydale here. It really isn't a very good burger cheese.

Most of what we ate at the Town Hall Tavern was excellent, and the prices are great for the standard of cooking and presentation. You'd pay a similar price for gammon slung on a plate with frozen chips and frozen peas at many other pubs. I wish they would serve everything on plates here though, the penchant for serving food on anything flat that isn't a plate just irritates me. Maybe that's just me though? But really, why would you want your burger to arrive on a massive chopping board? Why?

Minor gripes aside, I loved it here. The service was good, the food was good and it would be a great little pub to drink in too. I'll be back.


17 Westgate


The Town Hall Tavern on Urbanspoon

Friday, 6 January 2012

Mr Foley's Cask Ale House, Leeds (revisited)


I wasn't going to blog about this, but then I thought that seemed a little unfair. I wrote about the handful of other free meals (declared as free of course) I was offered last year, so why not this one?

Tyler, the Chef at Mr Foley's, kindly invited me down to sample his fish and chips. He's been trying out different batter recipes and wanted an enthusiast to offer an opinion. So here it is.

Very good indeed. Crisp light batter, well browned on the exterior but encasing a nicely cooked piece of fish. Not the finest piece of haddock ever but the pub is restricted to certain suppliers by group management, so they can't just go down the market and choose what they like.

The chips, which are triple cooked, are fantastic. A good crunch giving way to lovely fluffy, creamy innards. They're extremely more-ish which is good as portions are generous. A lot of effort goes into triple cooked chips (slice, parboil, drain, cool, fry, drain, cool, fry again, all over the space of some hours) and I'd be surprised if you'll find them anywhere else in Leeds at this price point (this meal costs £7.50).

Also on the plate were garden peas and home-made tartare sauce. The sauce was spot on, delivering a good hit of acidity which is what you need to cut through the fattiness of the batter and chips. I often find home-made tartare sauces to be too creamy with not enough of the vinegary stuff, not so with this.

All in all this is really good pub food, priced reasonably, with all the key components made with care on the premises. You don't get that very often.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Bacon Sandwich Quest

What with it being January, and the television schedules being filled with inspirational personal stories of gallant battles against the bulge (or slightly exploitative nonsense bordering on obese voyeurism depending on your point of view), and this being an Olympic year, and the Olympic year in which the games return to Britain no less, thoughts inevitably turn to sport, and diet, and exercise and suchlike. And bacon. Or at least mine do. I do a bit of exercise and sport and that, but bacon is a far more interesting topic so is what I'm going to focus on.

Bacon sandwiches specifically. I was contemplating the bacon sandwich as I ate my first of 2012. How it's one of the simplest yet one of the finest British dishes. In purest form only two ingredients are necessary, just bacon and bread. Butter, HP sauce, sometimes tomatoes or mushrooms can be welcome but none are pre-requisites.

How I eat rather a lot of them, but not one has featured on the blog. They're almost always eaten at home, or on the hoof. Grabbed from a van on an industrial estate and munched in the car, or picked up from a greasy spoon and eaten at the computer, greasy fingers tainting the keys. This rarely produces enough material for a fully fledged blog post, but the bacon sandwich really is worth celebrating.

A good bacon sandwich beats almost any other food for instant, delicious, satisfying gratification. The perfect blend of tasty, salty meat and soft, doughy carb. Commonly acknowledged as the game-changer for many a lapsed vegetarian, it's the humble bacon butty that lures them back in.

So this year I'm going to be celebrating the bacon sandwich by way of the matrix of bacon. Each and every sandwich I consume (unless I get bored and give up, I make no promises) will be awarded a score out of thirty based on the following criteria.

Bacon (marks out of 10)

Believe it or not, bacon is quite important in bacon sandwiches. Quantity, quality and flavour. How many rashers? How thickly cut? How does it taste? Smoked or unsmoked? Bland or piggy? Too salty? Has it been cooked properly? Is the fat crisp but the meat moist? Is any of it burned or wobbly or foamy? Is it back bacon, or some other cut?

Bread (marks out of 5)

The second most important factor. Is it white? Is it soft? If not then what the hell is it, and is it a viable alternative? Is it a roll or sliced? What is the texture like? Slightly doughy and chewy or more open and airy? Any crusts or crustiness? How large is the bap, barm or roll or how thick is the slice? Is there much in the way of flavour?

Accompaniments (marks out of 5)

There may be none. More likely there will be HP sauce and perhaps butter. If so is the HP HP, or some other sort of brown? If not HP is it an adequate substitute? If the bread is buttered is it actually so, or has it been storked? I will consider tomatoes and mushrooms accompaniments, for the simple reason that I sometimes like them in my bacon sandwich. Anything more and it's no longer a bacon sandwich. The dividing line is whether you'd have the accompaniment on its own in a standalone sandwich. For egg or sausage the answer is yes, for tomatoes or mushrooms no (and if you thought yes then you're shit at breakfast).

Value (marks out of 5)

Value rather than price. There is a crucial difference. Value takes into account the price relative to the quality and size of the sandwich, rather than price alone. If the sarnie only costs a quid but is totally rubbish it won't score highly.

Service (marks out of 5)

It might seem a little strange to award marks for service. It's not something I cover in great detail in restaurant reviews, so why does it matter when scoring a bacon sandwich? It's about the time and the place. Bacon sandwich time is often dark and miserable, often at stupid o'clock in the morning in a corner of some godforsaken industrial estate, often in the midst of a long and tedious drive. Purveyors of porcine goodness can provide a little cheer. A friendly smile, a few warm words, idle chat about the foul weather, it's all worthwhile. I'll also lump the method of packaging into this category. Paper bag? Bag with paper plate? Serviette provided?

So there we have it, marks out of 30. I'll probably post a bacon quest update on a monthly basis, and come December, continued interest on my part permitting, we'll see where I had the best bacon sandwich of 2012. And I might get them a medal or something. In honour of the Olympics.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Safran, Leeds

Safran is one of a handful of Persian restaurants in West Yorkshire. It seems to be well thought of so a few friends and I went to give it a try when we met up between Christmas and New Year.

The menu is almost identical to that in every other Persian restaurant I've been to (which number about four). Think salads and dips with flat bread to start, then either kebabs or stews with buttery rice to follow.

As we were six we ordered everything to share. Two mixed platters of dips and bread followed by a mixed kebab for five plus a bonus kebab to make up the numbers. The dips were a mixed bag, yoghurt with shallots (mast-o-musir) was excellent as was a tomatoey one whose name escapes me.

The hummus wasn't great though, being a little bland with a slightly strange gluey texture. I'm probably a harsh critic when it comes to hummus these days though, having feasted on so much of the good stuff in the Middle East back in October. Everyone else seemed to think it was fine.

The bread, as expected, was outstanding. It always is in Persian restaurants. It's called taftoon, and is sort of like a very thin, light naan with a wonderful bubbled up crust. We ordered more.

The grilled meat was all decent stuff. I didn't get a photo of the super-kebab before the gannets descended, so you'll have to make do with the bonus kebab (we didn't get chips with the rest, we have some decorum). The kebab koobideh, minced lamb and beef, was best as there was plenty of fat in the mix so it was lovely and juicy.

All of the other cuts tasted fine, they were delicately seasoned but ever so slightly overcooked. We ordered extra tomato dip to lubricate things a little, which worked a treat with the meat and the sweet grilled onions that were also included on the platter.

Service was fine throughout, we just had the one waitress who was efficient and not the least bit fazed by our constant demands for bread, and sauces, and dips, and bottle openers, and glasses, and so on. Safran is unlicensed but you can bring your own and they don't charge for corkage. We paid £13 each including a decent tip. I'd like to return to give the stewed dishes a try.


Safran Persian Restaurant
81 Kirkgate

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