Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Café Marhaba, Manchester

It's curry café time again! This time Marhaba, a classic of the genre and possibly my favourite one in the city centre. It's friendly and family run, scruffy, cheap and has a tandoor for fresh bread.

Rice and three curries (£4.80) looked unappealing (except for the nice flowery tea-and-cake at Grandma's plate). Dun coloured slop was my first impression, but it tasted a whole lot better. The rice was surprisingly good, a perfectly cooked pilau fragrant with cardamom, cloves and pepper. The lamb was the best of the curries, lovely slow cooked meat in a fairly hot, reduced sauce. The lentils were also good but the chicken was a bit rubbish. Boring sauce, overcooked dry meat.

A naan was crisp and fresh, a touch doughy in the centre but not half bad, especially at 90p.

Stick to lamb, lentils, rice and bread and you won't go far wrong.


36 Back Piccadilly
M1 1HP

Sunday, 26 February 2012

North Tea Power, Manchester

There are so many cafés popping up all over the Northern Quarter I'm not sure where to start. I'm not in Manchester very often these days so I've not had the chance to check out many of them. There's been plenty of praise for North Tea Power so it seemed like a good place to start when I wanted coffee last week.

They specialise in tea, but the coffee is definitely not an afterthought. The flat white I drank was excellent, strong and smooth but not bitter and with quite a pronounced fruity flavour. I'd rather have my coffee in a cup than a glass though, but maybe that's just me.

To eat there are sandwiches, soups and cakes. A Viennese whirl had a nice homely feel to it, collapsing into a pile of lovely, buttery crumbs.

Prices are quite high, my coffee and cake cost over a fiver (£2.40 for the flat white), but no more expensive than the chains and for a far superior product. Very good.


North Tea Power
36 Tib Street
M4 1LA


North Tea Power on Urbanspoon

Friday, 24 February 2012

El Mexicana, Meadowhall

I've been meaning to visit Sheffield for ages. I always think it's the most enigmatic of the great Northern cities. Always going about its business slightly under the radar without feeling the need to shout about how wonderful it is to the world. Yes Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds I am looking at you.

There could be two reasons for this. Either Sheffield is a bit rubbish or it just doesn't care what others think. I have a sneaking suspicion it's the latter, and intend to go find out.

Unfortunately I'm not going to find Sheffield enlightenment at Meadowhall, so that will have to wait for another day. As a general hater of large shopping centres, you might imagine I don't much like Meadowhall. You'd be right, it's awful. Particularly awful when I was there last week. It was half-term and the place was rammed to the rafters, the entire population of South Yorkshire seemingly having decamped there to noisily eat shit food in a soulless echoing void.

Still, I needed something to eat and El Mexicana didn't have a queue and wasn't a fast food mega-chain so I thought I'd give it a try. As luck would have it it was pretty good.

 Burritos - not very photogenic

A pork pibil burrito was generously stuffed with tangy, tender slow cooked pork. The ratio of meat to rice and beans was just right and it didn't feel overly heavy like burritos sometimes do. The chipotle salsa could have done with a bit more kick though.

£4.49 for the burrito, so not cheap but about the norm for these sort of places. Guacamole was 50p extra, what a surprise! Certainly one of the better meals you're likely to eat in the Meadowhall fast food court. Hopefully I'll be back to do Sheffield properly soon.


El Mexicana


Tuesday, 21 February 2012

My top ten pancake fillings

In no particular order here are my favourite pancake fillings. What are yours?

  1. Spinach and gruyere 
Cheesy spinach. Yum. Doesn't have to be gruyere but a good melty cheese is best.

 2. Golden syrup 
My childhood favourite. I haven't got any golden syrup at home (I have some at work where I use it for ruining the health benefits of porridge) so I couldn't have one of these.

 3. Banana, pecans, honey, greek yoghurt
This one would be great for breakfast too.

4. Raspberry jam.
My favourite fruit, in jam form, in a pancake. Marvellous. Forgot to buy the jam. Boo hoo.

5. Lemon juice and sugar
The classic. And possibly the best of the lot. This one is a particularly fine specimen. Look at it, beautifully mottled and bronzed. Like a sun dappled Friesian, like a fair freckled maiden. Or something.

6. The Middle East special
Featuring chargrilled peppers, hummous, spiced lamb, yoghurt, lemon, herbs. You want a nice thin crispy cake for this one. Who needs pitta?

 7.Garlic mushrooms
Best with lots of butter. Lots and lots of butter.

8. Nutella
This is actually Lidl own brand nutella with actual hazelnut chunks. It's even better than the real thing.

9. Caramelised apples, vanilla ice cream
Another one from pancake sessions past. Can't remember when I last had these but they were bloody lovely.

10. Parmesan, black pepper and olive oil
First one out the pan. Wonky but delicious. You'd have these toppings on pasta, so why not a pancake. It's more or less the same thing anyway.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Kev's of Eastmoor, Wakefield

My constant moaning about the poor standard of takeaway food in these parts doesn't extend to fish and chips. Credit where it's due we know what we're doing in West Yorkshire when it comes to chip shops.

They're not all excellent by any stretch of the imagination, but I can confidently predict that I'm more likely to walk out of any old Wakefield chippy with a satisfying meal than from the curry house or Chinese takeaway next door.

I'm not really sure why Yorkshire excels at fish and chips above all other regions, it just does. The best chip shops are here, and even some of the mediocre ones put the best efforts of certain other areas to shame.

Kev's is an archetypal example. Basic but effective. Unshowy and friendly. Smells delicious.

Fish and chips were good, though not great. A long, chunky haddock fillet (very long. Look at it! It doesn't even fit in the picture) was fresh, moist and flakey. Crunchy batter, maybe a smidgen too thick but still a pleasure to eat.

Fluffy-centred chips with crispy edges here and there. Great tasting but an extra minute or so in the fat would have given them a more generous loading of crispy bits.

I didn't have peas, being in the mood for curry sauce, which was a little gloopy though fine flavour-wise.

Service was with a smile. Fish, chips, curry sauce and a can of Ben Shaw's pop was £4.70. I was a happy man.


120 Stanley Road

Friday, 17 February 2012

Good things to eat and drink [Volume 8]: a beer special

I'm finally taking the plunge and writing about beer. In over a year of blogging I've yet to write a post dedicated entirely to my favourite drink. Nothing else I consume so enthusiastically has been overlooked in this way (see posts passim about sandwiches, curry, pies, fish and chips, fry-ups and Sichuan food).

The truth is, I've been scared off by the beer bloggers. Until this time last year I was unaware of their existence, but slowly this merry band of enthusiasts began to seep into my consciousness. There are a lot of beer bloggers, many of whom are extremely knowledgeable, write very well, describe taste and aroma beautifully, and are utterly obsessed (some might say too obsessed) with beer.

Many of them are also based here on my home turf, in West Yorkshire. You'll find some of my favourites popping up on the sidebar on this blog, under the heading 'Some food and drink blogs'. Please do have a read, there's loads of entertaining and informative material out there.

This breadth of beery knowledge and dedication to the cause is something I'm never likely to match, so I thought I'd leave writing about beer to the experts. Or at least I did, until now. I've changed my mind, simply because I like beer too much not to write something about it. If my knowledge is lacking then so what, there are many others whose food expertise is far greater than mine too, and that's never stopped me.

I thought I'd compile a list of my favourite British breweries and my favourite beers from each one. Some of these I'm only recently acquainted with and some have been serving me well for years. The list is written more or less in chronological order from old favourite to recent discovery, so it's essentially a brief history of my beer drinking habits.

Hopefully there might be some you've never tried before.

One word: Landlord. Timothy Taylor Landlord is a true classic as far as I'm concerned. Well kept pints of Landlord have kept me refreshed for over a dozen years now, and I still love it. It's a very smooth, quite sweet, moderately hoppy pale-ish ale. Best served in a Dales pub at the conclusion of a hike, or on a pub crawl round Keighley. Or maybe Skipton if you're feeling slightly less adventurous.

I've always found the rest of the Timothy Taylor range to be reliably good too. Nothing spectacular, just solid tasty ales for regular drinking. I'm particularly partial to a pint of Golden Best.

Where to find them: Widely available, they have dozens of their own pubs mostly in West and North Yorkshire. The Town Hall Tavern is a good choice in Leeds. Landlord in particular is found in many other pubs too.

Badger Ales

I've got Morrison's to thank for this one. It's probably ten or twelve years since they began stocking decent quality beer, constantly on offer at what was then any four bottles for a fiver. Many's the camping trip I've had that's been lubricated by Golden Champion and Golden Glory, my favourites from the Badger offering. Both are pale, fruity (one peachy, one quite strongly flavoured with elderflower), quite sweet beers. I can't drink either without immediately thinking of the British summer.

Where to find them: Morrison's. Loads of pubs, all of which are down South. There's one below Charing Cross station in London.

Meantime Brewing Company

I lived in South-east London for three years, and Meantime were a godsend. My drinking locale was Greenwich, an area with many splendid historic pubs, not many of which served particularly splendid beer. The Greenwich Union was a notable exception, the Meantime brewery tap serving their full range, of which my particular favourites are the Helles beer and the London stout.

The Helles beer is a lovely crisp, dry German style lager; another perfect Summer afternoon drink. The stout is the polar opposite; dark, malty and complex. A beer to drink on a Winter's night. Happily I don't need to go to London for a fix, because the stout and their also very good IPA are available in Sainsbury's.

Where to find them: Sainsbury's. The Greenwich Union in Greenwich. Beer Ritz in Headingley might have some.


As with Timothy Taylor, Fullers are on my list because of one specific beer. That beer is London Pride. In London pubs, where no other good draft beer is available, you can almost guarantee there'll be a pint of Pride on offer. It's ubiquity is justified, because it's a lovely beer. Very balanced, noticeably malty and roasted tasting, but with hoppy bitterness too. It rarely lets you down, and if you drink in London, often comes to the rescue.

Fullers make a lot of other beers that are apparently very good, but I'm not familiar enough with any of them to comment. If you see them, try them.

Where to find them: Loads of pubs, mostly down South. Widely available in supermarkets.

Marble Brewery

The best beery discovery of my year in Manchester. The Marble Arch pub, about which I've already written, is a thing of wonder. The beer doesn't let the side down. They're all good in bottles, but the best place to drink them, without a shadow of a doubt, is in the Marble Arch itself.

My favourites are Dobber, an IPA, and Marble Ginger. The Ginger is absolutely delicious served on cask, the aeration brought about by the dispense seeming to give the beer a fullness of flavour that's somehow missing in the bottle. So rich, warming and err, gingery.

Where to find them: Three pubs in Manchester, the original, the Marble Arch, is the best. Guest appearances in other pubs. I'm sure I've seen some in Latitude Wine in Leeds.

The Kernel Brewery

Finally, the more recent discoveries, breweries about which I'd maybe never have known were it not for the beer bloggers. Thanks beer bloggers! The Kernel Brewery make bottle conditioned beers in very small batches, with a focus on individual hop varieties.

I'm not going to name specific favourites, mainly because I can't remember which ones I've tried. What I can remember is that every one I've tried has been lovely. They seem to be very skilled at this bottle conditioning business, producing beers that are beautifully gassy. I don't mean gassy like cooking lager (Carling or whatever), I mean gassy in that they don't go flat, that like a good sparkling wine they release a steady stream of fine, delect bubbles. That makes for a lovely mouth feel, which in combination with lots of fresh, hoppy flavours, makes for a fantastic drinking experience.

Where to find them: Plenty of places in London, especially around Borough Market. Beer Ritz in Leeds.

Ilkley Brewery

One of the best in the expanding firmament of West Yorkshire breweries. Every Ilkley brewery beer that I've tried I've enjoyed very much. I'd like to give a special mention to Ilkley Best, a classic Yorkshire bitter of some distinction.

I often overlook what you might term mid-range beers. Brown booze, bitter, 4% session beer, whatever you want to call it. In the rush to sample the latest exciting new India pale ale, stout or porter, the pleasure in a moderately alcoholic pint of bitter can sometimes be forgotten. I shouldn't do this, as I've already mentioned I'm a big fan of Landlord. Well I bought a bottle of Ilkley Best the other day, and absolutely loved it. I'm not going to elaborate further, just go buy some.

Where to find them: Now available in Morrison's. Beer Ritz in Leeds. Lots of pubs in the lower Wharfedale area.

Magic Rock Brewery

Huddersfield's Magic Rock, the newest Brewery on this list, only started production in 2011. They've not messed around, producing a whole sequence of stunning beers in short order. As a general rule they brew American influenced, very hoppy, often quite strong beers.

The ones I've enjoyed the most are High Wire, a US style pale ale, nicely bitter and packed with tropical fruit flavours, and Magic 8 Ball, some kind of bonkers black IPA type thing that I'm not even going to try and describe suffice to say it was a delight to drink.

Where to find them: Various pubs around West Yorkshire, Port Street Beer House in Manchester. Beer Ritz in Leeds. Mr Foley's in Leeds.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Oak Farm Hotel, Cannock, Staffordshire

In the unlikely event that you're ever looking for a cheap-ish hotel on the outskirts of Cannock or Wolverhampton you could do much worse than the Oak Farm. The rooms are pleasant and have recently been refreshed. They make good chips. Just don't order a salad.

This crab salad, from the Specials board, had four ingredients. They were: tinned crab meat, red onion, leaves from a bag of mixed leaves, tomato. It wasn't special. It was bloody awful. No seasoning. No dressing. Not even a squeeze of lemon. Just some tasteless crab mush, some tasteless leaves, some tasteless mealy tomatoes, and lots of tasty red onion. The overall impression was of slightly briny red onion served with a variety of unpleasant textures. Oh dear.

I wasn't really looking forward to my gammon after that. But what do you know it was a bit bloody good. Of immense proportions, around 3/4 of a pig at my best estimate, salty but not overly so, nicely cooked with just the right amount of bite and chew. Chips were home made, maybe a little bit chunky but properly crisp and fluffy within. The egg was dippable. The leaves on the side were as per the starter, no dressing, no seasoning etc.

No problems with the service, and the bill came to around £17 with a glass of (shit) Chilean merlot. Stick to meat and chips and you'll do fine. The chef must be a salad dodger. You don't win friends with salad anyway.

4/10 (1/10 for the salad, 7/10 for the gammon)

Watling Street
WS11 1SB


Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Café 164, Leeds

Café 164 is the new-ish city centre outpost of Bakery 164 who've been trading on Woodhouse Lane opposite the Parkinson Steps since 1994. I don't remember them from my Uni days when I spent a lot of time in the vicinity, perhaps they were too upmarket for my budget back then, or maybe I was still seduced by deep-fried filth at Flames just down the road.

Either way Bakery 164 have apparently built a reputation on good quality breads and sandwiches, so I was looking forward to giving the city centre outlet a try. You'll find it in Munro House, just across from the bus station and down from the little cultural quarter around the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

My flat white (£2) was very good, not exactly pretty but it tasted fine. A good strong, rich blend, slightly bitter but balanced.

Sadly the sandwich, falafel and hummous (£3) wasn't so great. The falafel were fresh tasting and moist, not dry and mealy like they can be, and the bread was high quality, but there wasn't much salad and no more than a thin scraping of hummous. The whole thing was just a bit bland and heavy going, needing something to give it a lift. A more generous hand with the hummous and salad and a good squeeze of lemon juice would have done the job.

Although I wasn't impressed by the sandwich the coffee was good and there were some fine looking cakes. Prices are also reasonable as the sandwiches are very big. The café itself is a pleasant room and it's adjacent to a commercial art gallery that I'm sure is worth a look. It's also in an area that doesn't seem to get the footfall it deserves, feeling a little cut-off from the city centre by the main road that necessitates a two-leg crossing. I'll return to give the cakes a try and to check out the gallery.


Unit 2 Munro House


Sunday, 12 February 2012

Sri Lankan style beef curry, rice and sambol

Sometimes I want a curry that smacks me round the face, something intensely spiced and fiery. Anything Thai usually fits the bill, but on this occasion it was the earthier flavours of the Indian sub-continent I was after.

I don't know a great deal about Sri Lankan food, I've tried a few classic Sri Lankan dishes and I have a fair idea of the style of curries that originate there. They like a good hot curry the Sri Lankans, of that I'm sure. Chilli is used generously as are many other spices, which they like to roast before grinding into powders. Fish and seafood are popular as you'd expect on an island, including the use of fishy tastes as seasoning a la South-east Asia. They also seem to eat more meat than the Indians, and aren't short of coconuts which pop up in everything.

So here's my attempt at a curry, Sri Lankan style. It's probably inauthentic, but I hope it's recognisably in the style of that country, and either way it tastes good.

Serve with plain rice and coconut sambol, a sort of coconut chutney. The sambol is sweet and fresh, and contrasts really well with the earthy, aromatic depth of the curry.

You'll need to make the curry powder first. This can be done in advance and the powder stored in an airtight container (preferably a metal one, or at least store it out of sunlight) for anything up to a few weeks. Once you've made the curry powder the curry itself takes about an hour and a half to cook. The sambol can be knocked up in a few minutes when the curry is simmering.

The Curry Powder

What you'll need:

For the curry powder
5 tsp coriander seeds
4 dried red chillies
3 cardamom pods
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
2 tsp mustard seeds
2 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 small cinnamon stick
about 20 curry leaves

What to do:

1. Set the oven to the lowest possible heat. Mine starts at 80 deg C, so at a rough guess I had it on at about 70. Spread out all of the ingredients on a baking sheet.

2. Roast in the oven for 60-80 minutes, until dry and a bit darker in colour (only a bit, not burned or anything), then take out and leave to cool.

3. Grind to a powder in a coffee/spice grinder or a pestle and mortar.

The Curry

1lb stewing beef
1 tin coconut milk
1 batch of curry powder, made as per above
1 onion
5 cloves garlic
1 large thumb of ginger
1 tbsp worth of chopped fresh coriander (stalks and leaves)
2-3 small fresh hot chillies
1 tbsp palm sugar (jaggery)
15-20 curry leaves
vegetable oil
Thai fish sauce

What to do:

1. Heat some oil in a large pan, finely chop the onion and throw in the pan. Fry for a couple of minutes.

2. Season the beef with salt, then add it to the pan. Leave it to brown, stirring occasionally.

3. While the beef is browning roughly chop the garlic, ginger and chillies, then blend them to a paste with the coriander and a little water.

4. When the beef is brown add the curry powder to the pan and continue to fry, stirring to ensure it doesn't stick. Open the coconut milk and add a little bit to the pan if it does start to stick.

5. Fry for 2-3 minutes then add the garlic, ginger, chilli and coriander paste and fry for another 2-3 minutes.

6. Pour in the coconut milk, then fill the empty tin with water and pour that in too. Throw in the palm sugar, curry leaves and a good splash of fish sauce.

7. Bring to a boil then leave to simmer for about 80 minutes, until the sauce has started to thicken and the beef is tender. Give it a good stir from time to time.

8. Adjust the seasoning when it's almost ready. I find that the roasted spices can occasionally have a slightly bitter edge that can be sorted out by adding a little more salt.

The Sambol

What you'll need:

half a fresh coconut, flesh and juice
2 limes
about 1 tbsp of finely chopped red onion
1 hot red chilli (fresh), finely chopped.
about 1 tbsp of finely chopped coriander

What to do:

1. Shred or grate the coconut flesh and put it in a bowl with the finely chopped onion, coriander and chilli.

2. Squeeze in the juice of both limes and give everything a good stir.

3. Set aside to let the flavours marry.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Rahman's Balti House, Stanley, Wakefield (takeaway review)

It's time to delve once more into the underwhelming world of takeaway curry. Would tonight be the night I finally came up trumps? Would Rahman's Balti House turn out to be the elusive hidden gem? Would the 35 of 36 people who reviewed it enthusiastically on Just Eat be proven correct?

No, no and no. I didn't really come up trumps, it wasn't a hidden gem, and sorry to sound like a snob and a know-it-all but all 35 of you are wrong. It was ok, but I could have guessed everything that would be wrong with it before I started.

A mixed starter of seekh kebab, chicken tikka and onion bhaji. The fault list:

Greasy bhaji - check
Red food colouring on the chicken - check (although not an obscene quantity of it to be fair)
Plastic bag containing sweaty iceberg lettuce and a mealy wedge of tomato - check
overcooked lamb - check
watery mint yoghurt sauce - check

On the plus side every component did actually taste ok, it was all quite nicely spiced and the chicken was moist and not at all overcooked.

A fish masala, a tandoori roti and a chapatti. Again, the predictable faults:

Far too much ghee in the curry - check
doughy bread, either not rolled thin enough or not cooked at a high enough temperature - check

It wasn't all bad, the sauce did have a pleasing warmth and a good garlicky tang. The flavour of the fish wasn't overwhelmed but it wasn't particularly good quality, soft and a bit mushy rather than firm and flakey. The roti was pretty crap, the chapatti better.

Just short of £12 all in. Delivered quickly. Ho hum.


Rahman's Balti House
213 Canal Lane


Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Leeds Kirkgate Market: an update

It's time for more of my increasingly frequent commentary on what's going on with the plans for Leeds Kirkgate Market.

Back in November the Council had just appointed Consultants (Quarterbridge Project Management Ltd) to produce a report advising on various matters including the optimum size for the market, possible governance and management structures and a plan for achieving these changes.

That report was completed in December and made publicly available in January. The Council department responsible for the market have put forward their response to the report and the whole thing is due to be discussed by the Council Executive Board this Friday.

For anyone who might be interested in a bit of the detail here's my take on what's been going on.

The Consultant's Report

This was finally released for public consumption on the 12th January, you can find a link to it at the bottom of this article. I had a quick read through the document at the time, and made a few notes. My initial thought was that it's better than I expected, and I probably shouldn't have been quite so cynical about what the report would say (almost as cynical, just not quite so).

I think that they've responded to the brief fairly well overall, although some of the alternative options (for the size and refurbishment plans as well as the governance and management arrangements) considered should perhaps have been fleshed out in a little more detail to explain why they were dismissed.

On the positive side:

- A reduction in size of the market by 25% is recommended, but that's not by as much as I'd feared.

- The recommended way of achieving the size reduction is to knock down both the 1976 and 1981 halls, but replace one of them with a new build. A new indoor section would surely be a good thing.

- The report doesn't recommend a management and ownership model that would fully cede control to the private sector.

On the negative side:

- The outcome is, as predicted, that the future optimum size of the market is considerably smaller than it is now. I still don't agree with the rationale behind the reduction. Given that vacancy rates in the rest of the city centre are comparable to those in the market, is anyone suggesting knocking a few streets down to better match up the supply to current demand? Still, I've pretty much accepted that this is going to happen come what may.

- The language used to describe how stalls in the upgraded market will be allocated is a little worrying, with talk of  'a tenant reselection process' where tenants may 'be allocated to new positions' and that 'tenants would be offered an Agreement for Lease in return for surrendering their existing agreements'. To me that reads as 'here's your new stall, here's your new contract, sign up or bugger off'.

 - The report is even more dismissive of temporary tenants, stating 'As these [temporary lettings] represent licences which can be easily terminated we have assumed there is no need to offer them equivalent reinstatement.' Presumably true but I thought the primary purpose of temporary lettings was to help start-up businesses find their feet, then hopefully they can become permanent tenants at some later date. Turfing them all out is hardly going to encourage market based entrepreneurialism.

 - the soft market testing of private sector interest was a bit of waste of time, the obvious answer being something along the lines of: Yes, we're interested. We'd like the option that allows us full control so we can do as we please and maximise our return.

- They've only really looked at one management and ownership model in any detail (a limited liability partnership on a fixed term lease from the Council), with all other options being dismissed without proper assessment.

- A limited liability partnership, as recommended by the report might be the best legal vehicle, but I've got some serious concerns over the proposed 99 year lease and how the contract with the council will work. It could end up being a century long PFI style disaster (see numerous NHS hospitals, the London Underground upgrades et al).

- Among the governance and management models dismissed is the idea of a mutual or social enterprise. The main reason given for their dismissal is that the writers 'doubt if any already exist in a form suited to this type of opportunity'. So they don't know they don't, they just reckon probably not. This, for me, is a model that deserves more detailed investigation. It would keep money in the market rather than drain more out, and it's hardly a completely novel concept in the retail and food environment (anyone ever heard of the Co-op?). I appreciate that then raises questions about where the initial investment would come from, but I don't think it's necessarily impossible.

- There's a proposal for a balcony level food court. This worries me. It's not necessarily a bad idea, but out of the way, up some stairs market food offerings have a tendency to become underused backwaters. They don't (and certainly shouldn't) have the popular draw of big name chains to entice people in like shopping centre food courts do. If this idea is going to work then it needs to be thought through very carefully.

- The size reduction proposals would result in the freeing up of the existing open market area for redevelopment as an 'anchor attraction'. What this would be is obviously beyond the scope of the report but can't really be taken in isolation. Whatever plans are developed for this part of the site should be included in the scope of the whole market area project, as a smaller market with a big fenced off hole in the ground between it and the bus station is in no-ones interest.

The view from the Council

The market management published their initial response to the report on their website on the 12th January. After I criticised some of their previous pronouncements I must say I was pleasantly surprised this time. I thought it was balanced, informative and sensible, providing a decent precis to the full report.

On the 3rd February the council department with ultimate responsibility for the market (which I think is called City Centre and Markets, I'll stick to 'the department' from hereon) published their report to the Executive board, confirming what they believe should happen in light of the Consultant's report. You can find a summary of their views here, there's a link to the full report at the bottom of the post. In short, an overview of their recommendations is:

- accept in principle the plans to reduce the market in size by 25%.

- don't make any decision on how to achieve this until a full feasibility study has been done.

- don't make any decision on management and governance arrangements without exploring the advantages and disadvantages of commercial partnership against sole ownership and management by the council.

- set aside some of the market surplus to pay for the feasibility study.

I can't argue with any of that at this stage, it seems like a sensible approach and their concerns mirror mine as a general rule.

The Council scrutiny board for regeneration have also reviewed the Consultant's report and have made a similar set of recommendations. The minutes of this meeting can be found here.

What others are saying

The main, and certainly most vocal of the interested parties seems to be the campaign group 'Friends of Leeds Kirkgate Market'. I admire their tenacity, but am starting to get irritated by their scaremongering approach. You will generally find that their articles start factual but quite often veer off into speculation or exaggeration.

In their article of 17th January they claim that Councillors at the Scrutiny Board for Regeneration meeting accused the Consultants of going beyond their remit, which is not what the minutes for that meeting say. They do suggest that concerns were raised as to whether the brief was fully met, but that's not the same as going beyond it.

In their article of 14th January they state that if the limited liability partnership model was implemented the Council 'would therefore lose any power to influence the way that its [sic] run', whereas one of the fundamental points of this proposal is that the Council, as one of the partners, would retain a modicum of influence over how the market is run. I don't actually think the LLP is a good idea either, but making stuff up about the nature of it isn't going to help.

If you want to read reliably good, concise and honest information about what's going on in the arena of local governance in Leeds, I recommend turning to the Leeds Citizen, where you'll find a less rambling post than mine on some of the key market related issues. Or just keep reading me, because I'm the Oracle. (That bit was a joke by the way.)

What happens next?

The findings of the Consultant's report and the Council department response to that will be discussed at the Council Executive board meeting on Friday. The Executive Board will have to decide whether or not to accept the recommendations made by the Council department, also taking into account the recommendations made by the Scrutiny Board for regeneration.

Who knows what they'll decide, I for one am going to stop making (incorrect) predictions on the matter.

Any comments made by the public and submitted by 9th February (which is why I'm writing this now) will be fed back to the Executive board meeting, so here's my two penn'orth:

- In reviewing the advantages and disadvantages of commercial partnership against sole Council management of the market, the Council should investigate other alternatives, specifically the feasibility of a Mutual or Social Enterprise. Any option that would not have to result in additional surplus being siphoned away from the market would be preferable.

- The Council should reject the proposal for a 99 year lease, irrespective of the management structure chosen.

- If the recommendations for size reduction and rebuilding in the Consultant's report are adopted, the rights of existing permanent tenants need to be safeguarded, and existing temporary tenants should not automatically be removed. The market should support new businesses through a temporary tenancy system.

- If the recommendations for size reduction and rebuilding in the Consultant's report are adopted, the proposals for an upstairs food court need to be considered very carefully to ensure the necessary footfall could be achieved.

- If the food court idea goes ahead, please can it include the following: a good coffee stall, a proper greasy spoon in the market tradition, a taco truck, a good quality burger stall, a Vietnamese banh mi stand, a Vietnamese pho stand, a currywurst cart, a Bury market style black pudding shop, a dosa stall, a laksa stall, a good quality pie and mash offering and a Gregg's. Thanks. If this is possible I personally guarantee to keep the whole food court in business.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Cheese, onion and potato pie

Sunday was a pie baking sort of day. Cold, with lying snow on the ground. Head a little delicate from the previous night's excess.

A big plate of carbs was the order of the day, something filling but frugal. This pie really hit the spot. Cheap to make, satisfying, cheesy, savoury, and lighter than you'd imagine thanks to the delicate, flaky pastry.

Good pastry is essential for this. Stodgy pastry with a cheesy potato filling would all be a bit heavy going, but Delia's flaky pastry recipe is just perfect. Butter-rich but thin and with a lightness that belies the fat content. It's ridiculously easy to make too.

This will serve 3-6 people depending on greed and accompaniments. It will take around 90 minutes to cook, not including the time taken to make and rest the pastry.

What you'll need:

1 batch of flaky pastry made using the recipe here
2.5 lbs of good mashing potatoes
milk and butter for the mash
2 large onions
6-8 ozs of strong tasting cheese (mature cheddar with a bit of parmesan added is good)
vegetable oil
white pepper
one egg (not essential)

What to do:

1. Put the oven on at 180 deg C then finely slice the onions. Warm about 1 tbsp of oil and a knob of butter in a large heavy bottomed pan then add the onions. Keep the heat low as you want them to sweat without browning until they're very sweet and tender. This will take up to 45 minutes.

2. Get out a large, deep oval or round pie dish. Roll out about two thirds of the pastry so that it will cover the bottom and sides of the pie dish. Push the pastry case into the dish then put it in the oven to blind bake for 20 minutes. If you haven't got baking beans any dried bean or pulse should do the trick. Put the remainder of the pastry back in the fridge.

3. Remember to keep stirring the onions to make sure they don't stick and start to colour. Peel and chop the potatoes then put them on to boil in salted water until tender (about 15 minutes).

4. After 20 minutes remove the blind-baked pie case from the oven. Drain the boiled potatoes and mash them with a little warm milk, plenty of butter and loads of white pepper. Add more salt if it needs it. You want the mash to be very moist, but not wet. Just so it can't quite hold its own shape.

5. Grate the cheese. Check the onions for doneness. They should be very soft and sweet, give them longer if they need it.

6. When the onions are done everything can be layered up in the pie dish. First spoon in the mash, then the onions and finally the cheese.

7. Roll out the rest of the pastry to make the pie lid, then add it to the top of the pie. Seal the lid and brush it with egg wash if you've got an egg to hand. Otherwise just squash the lid into place. Prong a couple of holes in the top with a fork then bake the pie in the oven until golden brown, about 35 minutes.

8. Serve hot with peas, or even better, with baked beans. This is also good served cold, sliced into wedges, maybe with some salad.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Art's Café, Leeds

I'd describe Art's Café as one of the workhorses of the Leeds dining scene, and that's meant very much as a compliment. It's not new, there are no big name, high profile chefs involved, they don't even have a Twitter feed as far as I can tell [edit: they are on Twitter: @artscafeleeds, as Clare helpfully pointed out]. It's been quietly going about the business of serving good food since 1994, and those 18 years experience shone through in my first meal there last night.

It's a convivial place to be. On a Saturday night the music was turned up above background level, not intrusively loud, but combined with a full house enough to give the room a pleasing, lively atmosphere.

The menu is short and probably best described as modern British, with some simple and some more ambitious sounding dishes. My main of seared venison haunch steak, buttered green cabbage, honey roast parsnips and parsnip puree, chocolate sauce and roast hazelnuts was a lovely wintry plateful, perfect for a snowy night.

The venison was excellent, a substantial steak already sliced to reveal a dark, ruby rare interior. It was very strongly flavoured too, rich and intense, the gamiest venison I can recall eating. The strong tasting meat matched the sweet, earthiness of the parsnips very well. Both ways were cooked beautifully too, particularly the wonderfully smooth puree.

I'd have been happy to eat an abridged version of this dish, as I'm not sure the last two items were really needed. The hazelnuts were nice but didn't really lend anything extra to the whole. As for the chocolate sauce, I'm actually quite surprised to see it there, I'd forgotten about it until I just checked the menu online. I don't recall noticing any flavour of chocolate in what to me just tasted like a very good meat reduction.

Across the table the quite complicated sounding seared monkfish with duck leg & smoked bacon bolognaise, courgette & pepper spaghetti, basil emulsion was also declared a success.

I finished with sticky toffee pudding with Horlicks caramel and vanilla ice cream, which was the real deal. A huge brick of proper pudding of the dark, date filled variety, a lake of toffee sauce and a nice, malty ice cream. I'd have liked it served a little hotter, but other than that it was great. I tried my companion's panna cotta, and that was good too.

With a decent bottle of Puglian red the bill came to just over £57 including an already added 10% tip. Automatic inclusion of tips is never something I'll be a fan of, but that's a minor gripe when it's 10% rather than the almost standard nowadays 12.5%, and also when the service was excellent throughout.

I don't often have much to say about service, but it was particularly good at Art's. Well-versed and efficient, casual and friendly, but not the least bit intrusive. It just felt right.

Good food and wine, great atmosphere and service, fair prices. Long-lived, reliable, quality restaurants are an asset in any city, and Leeds has one of those in Art's Café.


42 Call Lane


Arts Cafe on Urbanspoon

p.s. Thanks to those who reminded me about this place on Twitter.
p.p.s Sorry about the lack of photos, sometimes it's good to focus on the moment, and not worry about the future blogging opportunity.

Bacon Sandwich Quest: January

I'm starting to wonder whether Bacon Sandwich Quest was such a good idea. January wasn't a particularly auspicious start. I ate four bacon sarnies only one of which was much good, and I didn't remember to take a photo of any of them.

Scrap that, I've just found a photo hiding on my work phone. Here it is you lucky people:

That's the passable effort served by the Cosy Caf in Bollington, Cheshire. Exciting eh?

Without further ado here's the championship list so far:

Where's that?
Cosy Caf
A19 Billingham

A very solid effort from Rumbletums of Otley is the clear leader so far. A standard soft bread roll harbouring a generous three sizeable rashers of thick cut piggy goodness. Brown sauce added in sensible quantities. The right price. Good but better will almost certainly await me.

Next in line are two average attempts that I can't be bothered writing about, and bringing up the rear is a lamentable effort from Maccy D's. Why would you have a bacon sandwich at McDonald's you may well ask. Why would you do such a thing when you could have had a strangely delicious but clearly evil breakfast pork burger with overdone egg? I can't answer the question I'm afraid. I don't know why I did it, but I won't be doing it again.

February is the month of bacon (possibly), so let's hope things take a turn for the better.
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