Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Red's True Barbecue, Leeds

Up until now I've not been hugely impressed with any of the on-trend meaty, American style, filthy food type of places. Be it burgers or barbecue (it's usually one or the other, or a combination of both) everywhere I've eaten that loosely fits this template has been decent enough, but I've always left with the impression they're paying lip service to the style. Menus that talk the talk but food that doesn't really match the billing, a pale imitation of what you'd hope to find in the States.

On the evidence of last weekend's meal, Red's is a little different. Everything about the smoked brisket sandwich and the sides suggested care had been taken to do things properly. I'm no barbecue expert but the meat made me smile very much. Slabs of dense, fibrous meat with a sticky, blackened crust, redolent of long slow cooking and imbued with a smokiness that permeated through each slice.

What really sealed the deal was the bread, a quality hoagy roll with chew and heft to the crust, sturdy enough to support the meat throughout. I think the bread supplier was listed as secret on the menu, at a guess I'd say it's from Dumouchel.

Sides were also good, the pick of the bunch being an excellent macaroni cheese; - all unctuous cheesy goo and rib sticking carb. Seriously addictive when it's freezing cold outside and you're hungover. The deep fried pickles also rate a mention because deep fried pickles are the future. Only the fries were on the average side.

A word on the sauces before I finish. I'm a barbecue sauce hater. Barbecue sauce usually equals teeth itching sweetness and artificial smoke flavour, so all credit to Red's for making me think again. None of the sauces fit this mould, and all of them had some merit. The pick for me was the vinegary Carolina one, like a sharper, slightly sweeter and milder Caribbean hot pepper sauce and a great foil for the brisket.

Red's is deservedly popular, so you can expect to wait both for a table and for your food after you get seated. Be warned that London-style 'no reservations queue for your supper' style dining has arrived in Leeds. It's not something I'm a fan of, but good luck to any restaurant that can drum up the popularity and buzz to make it work, as Red's is obviously doing right now.

You could off course just do what we did, wander past at noon whilst hunting for breakfast,
head inside on a whim (brisket, macaroni cheese and deep fried pickles are perfectly acceptable breakfast foods are they not?) and grab a prime booth spot straight away.

Prices seem perfectly fair for the very good food (brisket sarnie with two sides is £8.95), service is friendly and the booze offer looks very tempting.  Recommended.


Cloth Hall Street

Reds True Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Sandwich Quest

Bacon Sandwich Quest is proving a hard act to follow. I probably ought to leave well alone, write a few reviews and the odd recipe, keep the blog plain, simple and challenge free. But I just can't help myself.

An uncommonly tedious obsession with lists combined with a healthy appetite and a job that sees me ranging all over the North (and the Midlands nowadays, recently swapped with Scotland) is all pointing in one direction:

Bacon Sandwich Quest.

I eat a lot of sandwiches. I already rate them mentally against an assortment of sandwich criteria. I eat them all over the place. Let's do this.

Before we begin I should acknowledge that this is a wholly unoriginal idea. Others do it better, and have been doing so for ages. Better written, better sandwiches, far better photography. There's the Serious Eats sandwich a day strand, there's Burger specialist Burgerac, there's the Londonist's (possibly defunct) Sandwichist, there's the inspired Scanwiches and probably finest of all, given that its author, Helen, has just written an entire book about sandwiches, is the London Review of Sandwiches.

I'm not sure anyone is really chronicling the finest sandwiches of northern England (and maybe the Midlands if they get lucky) though, so that's what I'd like to do. If I'm wrong about this, and someone already is working on this thankless task for the good of humanity, then do let me know.

I'd like to know where to find the finest sarnies the North has to offer. I'm casting the net far and wide, with the barest minimum of restrictions. The rules are simple: is it a filling between or somehow within any variety of bread? Yes? Then it's a sandwich.

From the humble triangle pack, through the sourdough deli-made special to the wrap to the burger to the inevitable bacon butty, all are fair game for sandwich quest.

Without any further ado let's get the ball rolling. Here are a few sandwiches I've eaten recently: a photo, a quick description, and a score out of fifty comprising a rating for the bread, the core filling, the accompanying fillings, any sauces or condiments, value, service and something I've decided to call the S-Factor.

Sometimes, for reasons difficult to define, a sandwich is far greater than the sum of its parts. The bacon sandwich often displays this phenomenon. Budget sliced white, cheapo bacon and Daddies are not a winning formula taken in isolation, put them together and the magic happens. This is the S-Factor.

The sangers I write about might appear only here on Sandwich Quest, but you might see them popping up in other posts too if they're part of a whole meal that's worth writing about.

It's going to be an open ended quest, with round-ups appearing from time to time. I'm not promising to write them monthly, as I lost the will to live doing that for Bacon Sandwich Quest.

Bring on the butties....

Chicken pesto on granary, Philpott's, Leeds

I'd never been to Philpott's before. I was under the mistaken impression that it might be good. It's not. Bread of the 'pappy crap disguised to look like proper bread' variety. See Asda speciality bread if you don't know what I mean. Manky, shredded chicken in an inexplicable shade of orange. Limp mixed leaves. Bleurgh. £2.95.

Bread 4/10
Core filling 3/10
Secondary filling 2/5
Sauces/condiments 2/5
Value 2/5
Service 2/5
S-Factor 3/10

Total 18/50

Fishfinger butty, The Midnight Bell, Leeds

As with all of the Leeds brewery offerings, reliable but unspectacular. Decent slices of bloomer hide fingers hewn from an ogre, thick and gnarled, putting Captain Birdseye to shame. The batter is crisp, the fish moist, the tartare sauce a little bland. £5.95, including chips.

Bread 6/10
Core filling 7/10
Secondary filling 3/5
Sauces/condiments 3/5
Value 3/5
Service 3/5
S-Factor 6/10

Total 31/50

Smoked beef brisket hoagy, Red's True BBQ, Leeds

An early contender, and a place that deserves a post of its own (which it will be getting, tomorrow with any luck). Thickly sliced meat with an intense smokey flavour permeating right through each wedge, sweet onions and pickles in abundance. All in a roll of unexpected quality, somehow both dense and light, and chewy like a sub roll ought to be. House made BBQ sauces on the side are also a revelation in that they taste of something other than sugar. Excellent. £8.95 including two sides.

Bread 8/10
Core filling 8/10
Secondary filling 4/5
Sauces/condiments 4/5
Value 4/5
Service 4/5
S-Factor 9/10

Total 41/50

Friday, 22 March 2013

The Milestone, Kelham Island, Sheffield

Having really enjoyed a meal at the Wig and Pen last summer I was really looking forward to a birthday tea at sister restaurant the Milestone. The formula here, the original one of the two, is more or less the same. High end pub food with a few gastro flourishes, served in simple surroundings, with set menus offering remarkably good value.

We ate from the early bird menu which gives you three courses and a drink for only £16.50. Hard to beat for what can feel like a special occasion meal for under twenty quid.

A salad of beetroots, truffle, whipped goats' cheese and pickled nuts felt pretty special, even though I couldn't detect the truffle (I'm not sure I've ever detected the truffle in any dish where it's presence was advertised. Maybe because it's used in such miniscule quantities or maybe I just wouldn't recognise a truffle if it slapped me round the face). The nuts added an extra textural dimension and a hit of acidity to the tried and tested earthy beetroot and dairy combo. Lovely stuff.

The mains were toward the more straightforward, pubbier end of the spectrum, and strangely what I didn't love quite so much. The burger was fantastic in almost every way: sturdy bun with a bit of chew to it, house made burger sauce and pickles, rustly chips, a high quality patty with a distinctive beefy flavour. The only let down was that it was a little overcooked, just that bit over so a little succulence and pinkness had been lost.

We shared both mains, A's choice being the Yorkshire mushroom macaroni cheese, truffle (allegedly), madeira and rocket leaves. The madeira was present in little jelly cubes that melted into the pasta creating bursts of fruitiness, a clever touch that reminded me of eating a cheese and chutney (or even cheese and jam) sandwich. The whole was suitably cheesy but it did lack some of that gooey unctuousness you get from a baked version.

Puddings were very much on the more ambitious side of things; quaking pudding, apple and celery, honey and walnut tart sounded and looked a bit complicated. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with celery, appreciating it's value as a base for better things but generally running a mile from it in salads or as a dipping utensil, so it's certainly not something I'd normally choose in a pudding.

Would I choose it again in a pudding? I might, it was perfectly pleasant though I'm not really sure what it added to the dish. The quaking pudding, in essence a baked egg custard minus the pastry, was a delight, all wobbly nutmeg-y loveliness. The tart, eaten on the same spoonful, provided the pastry and a sweet, nutty contrast to the mild custard. Apple in lurid green puree form prevented the whole from cloying.

You couldn't mistake the other pudding, a vermillion-bright assortment of goodies, for anything other than a plateful of rhubarb. Jelly, puree and candied pieces were all alive with flavour, but the mousse was a bit dull. Fun, but to be honest I'd rather have a crumble.

Service was good, and it's worth repeating that the three course early bird menu will cost you just £16.50 including a glass of wine or a pint. Outstanding value for cooking of this standard. I'm not sure I chose the very best dishes this time round, but I am sure that you'll be very well fed at the Milestone.


84 Green Lane
Kelham Island
S3 8SE


Milestone on Urbanspoon

Monday, 18 March 2013

Host, Liverpool

Pan-Asian, a restaurant genre to strike fear into the heart of the purist. I'm not really one of those, but I understand their criticisms. Asia is a big place. The two most populous nations on earth have cuisines more varied than some continents, and that's just within their own respective borders. And it's not as if the vast span of Asia outside China and India eats food that's lacking in distinction either.

So can a Pan-Asian restaurant like Host really do justice to such myriad variety, or is it destined to disappoint? The classic jack of all trades but master of none.

A duck and watermelon salad with cashew nuts and thai basil was pleasing to eat on account of its textural contrasts. Fibrous meat, yielding, juice heavy melon and the snap and crunch of nuts and beansprouts. Taste wise it wasn't so much fun. Sweet fruit, sweet-ish meat and a sweet dressing left it one dimensional, needing something acidic for balance, or at least for the advertised basil to be detectable.

I couldn't resist ordering the seared beef pho to follow, partly because I fancied something soupy, and partly because at twelve quid it was by some margin the most expensive pho I've ever seen.

What does the mark up on your average Vietnamese restaurant prices get you? A very fine looking dish with a well stocked platter of garnishes, which although plentiful sadly didn't include any of the more unusual herbs, just regular coriander, mint and basil. The meat was the high point of the dish, a good slab of well seared, blush pink sirloin that wouldn't have been out of place with a bowl of frites. Springy noodles were also a hit.

So far so good, just the broth to taste, and oh... it just tastes of salt. Not offensively so, there's just not much else to it. None of the meaty depths of a good stock, no aromatic star anise back note. Ultimately what you're paying for is the European-isation of the dish, everything else acting as the supporting cast to the big slab of protein in the centre of the plate. Not unpleasant, just not really the point of pho as far as I'm concerned. It should be all about the broth.

Sadly it didn't really add up for me at Host. I hoped that the food would defy expectations, but it just served to confirm my suspicions that pan-Asian restaurants are never the place to go for genuinely good Asian food.  At £24 for two courses, one beer and service it's also not cheap.

Service, I should point out, was excellent. Everyone I spoke to was attentive, polite, and keen to check that everything was ok. Fine, I said, of course. Which it was. You can't really take up your issues with the entire concept with the waiting staff.


31 Hope Street
L1 9HX


HoSt on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Create, Wakefield

If there's one restaurant in Leeds that I really regret failing to dine it while I had the chance, it's Create. At this point I could launch into a lengthy and fawning report on the Create organisation, explaining the great work that they do and why you should all give them your support, but given that I didn't bother giving them mine up until now, I won't. It would be patronising and I'd probably be preaching to the converted anyway.

On the off chance you didn't already know, Create are a social enterprise, widely lauded for their work with vulnerable people, sort of like Jamie Oliver's Fifteen without the super-celeb backing. Their Leeds restaurant recently closed for a refurbishment and restructure, from which I hope they return as soon as possible. News of the closure did seem a little ominous though, with talk of 'today's harsh economy' and 'tough commercial realities'.

The honest and truthful reason I hope they're back soon, any guilty feelings aside, is that the food sounded bloody wonderful. Praised by bloggers and critics alike, I don't think I read anything negative about the place, and the menus always read beautifully. You know the kind where deciding becomes a chore as it all sounds so damn good?

From the most recent menu, still online at the moment, how about 'Salt cod fritters, sweet pickled onion salad, radish, sourdough' to start, followed by 'Char-grilled skirt steak, wild mushroom gratin, chips, watercress'. And for pudding: 'Sticky toffee pudding, parkin crumble, caramel sauce and milk sorbet'. If that doesn't get you salivating there's something wrong with you.

So the Leeds restaurant may be on hiatus, but Create have also opened a new cafe in Wakefield One, the new building housing a range of council services including the city's museum and central library. First thing to mention: well done to Wakefield Council for giving the concession to Create, and not going for the obvious choice of either a) Costa, or b) one of the anonymous but equally crap giant catering co's.

I stopped in there for coffee and a snack last week, and was pleased to discover it lived up to the high expectations I had for the brand. The coffee, a flat white, wasn't particularly well made, coming from one of those funny auto-espresso machines, but still tasted pretty good as they're using quality beans from local roasters Grumpy Mule.

To eat, an Eccles cake. It might not look much, but what do you expect from currant stuffed pastry? Reassuringly mis-shapen, and a buttery delight to eat, I think it's safe to assume that they're making the food from scratch so I'm keen to return and try the lunchtime offerings.

The guy who served me was also lovely and friendly, and prices are very fair (cheaper than both the big chains and the more upmarket independents).

To sum up, let's hope Create can continue to succeed, and here's to the re-opening of the Leeds restaurant. I for one won't be missing out next time around.


Wakefield One
Burton Street


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Bean and Bud, Harrogate

We stopped off for a late lunch in Harrogate a week last Friday after a trip to Fountains Abbey (lovely, best bit the mill, need to return in less miserable weather). It was way past proper meal time, especially given that we were heading home for a steak dinner, so sandwiches and coffee seemed like the best bet.

Bean and Bud served a pretty good flat white, texture-wise spot on, smooth as you like and balanced between coffee and milk. It was just a little bland for my taste though, not really delivering the complex flavours advertised. There were a choice of two espresso blends with quite differing descriptions, one fruitier and the other darker with more pronounced bitterness. We chose one of each but I couldn't discern the difference. Under-strength coffee or maybe my palate is shot? I'm not really sure.

The sandwiches were all pre-made and cling film wrapped, but didn't seem to have suffered as a result. Cheese and tomato tasted fresh and was made with good quality bread and something sharp and a bit crumbly (either a cheddar or an older, more mature Lancashire or similar) from local suppliers the Cheeseboard. A basic sandwich but a good one, like what you'd make to take to work on a 'can be bothered' sort of a day.

Worth a visit if you need a caffeine fix in Harrogate. I'd certainly like to give the coffee another chance to find out whether I was having a tasting off-day. Prices about average for an indie coffee shop, that being a little bit cheaper than the biggest chains (but a good bit better).


14 Commercial Street


Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Stag's Head, Nether Edge, Sheffield

This is more an ode to spring than a review, but never mind. Is there any finer feeling than that of the onset of spring?

It felt like Spring on Saturday. There was a chill in the air, but just a hint of warmth in the sun. Enough to make you turn your face instinctively to soak up anything on offer. It was the light that really made the difference though. Full light rendering everything bright and fresh, not the fleeting, blinding light you get from a glancing winter sun.

So being outside felt right. And the pub felt right too. The Stag's Head, a recent Thornbridge takeover (was it not just The Stag until recently?) did the job admirably. Picnic tables in the sun, well kept, quality beer and traditional, ungussied pub grub.

I couldn't fault the pie, a proper full crust effort with a dark, almost marmitey steak filling. Great clods of homely mash and peas on the side, and a jug of onion gravy. Completely satisfying, and warming to the core, setting us up for one more pint outdoors.

So we drank another, then down the hill to warmer climes to drink some more. A perfect Saturday afternoon.

£6.50 for pie, mash, peas and gravy. Pint essential. Al fresco dining recommended.


15 Psalter Lane
S11 8YL


Monday, 4 March 2013

Tea Hive, Chorlton, Manchester

On a brief visit to Chorlton last week I ended up having lunch at Tea Hive completely by chance. I was planning on picking up a few bits from Barbakan deli and it just caught my eye as I'd almost walked past, the white on black signage meaning I almost mistook it for the Marble Beer House a couple of doors down.

I'm glad I took the time to investigate further, as lunch there was very good. A flat white was well made if a little too large for my tastes. I've definitely come to the conclusion that the smaller 6oz cup size is the best, anything larger (this was an 8oz I think) and it verges into latte territory where the milkiness starts to drown out the character of the coffee. Bonus points for the novel artwork though!

My sandwich took an age to arrive, but the tardiness was acknowledged and handled well. An apology and a free drink to tide me over were offered before I'd had the chance to chase up the order.

When it did arrive, the Cheshire smokehouse hot smoked salmon with lemon mayo and rocket on granary bread was well worth the wait. Generous quantities of rich, firm fleshed, moderately smoked fish was balanced perfectly by the acidic dressing and peppery rocket.

A really fine sarnie, with one additional plus point: good butter. It's surprising how many otherwise quality sandwich shops and cafes think it's fine to use cheap sunflower spread. Don't do it. Butter or nothing at all please.

The side salad was also a proper salad, with multiple components and a balanced dressing, and as a result the £4.95 price tag for the sandwich seemed fair. The flat white was £2.35 so all in all not a cheap lunch, but a very good one, served in pleasant surroundings by nice people.


53 Manchester Road
M21 9PW


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Zeugma, Sheffield

Zeugma is a proper ocakbaşı, a Turkish grill house. It's a small, basic but welcoming restaurant where people come to feast on meat. There are other bits and pieces; salads, dips, stews and pide, but these are really just an overture to the thrill of the grill, which sits in pride of place in full view at the heart of the restaurant.

Our snacky things were an excellent precursor to the kebabs. A generous basket of fresh bread arrived with a dish of little salty olives and gherkin slices, all complimentary and sufficient enough to comprise a starter if you're not being greedy.

We were being greedy, so plates of halloumi and hummous were added to the mix. I can't quite put my finger on why halloumi is such a good thing, but it is. On paper chewy cheese conjures up thoughts of cheese strings or some other horrible, processed muck. In practice halloumi manages to be chewy yet delicious. This had a really more-ish salty sweet flavour to complement that satisfying but slightly strange texture, and worked a treat with the pickles.

Hummous was the best I've eaten in a while, a bit grainy but otherwise creamy and nutty and essential scooping and mopping goodness for the bread.

Iskender kebab was a dreamily calorific concoction of buttery bread smothered in tomato sauce, charred minced lamb kebab slices, smoky grilled peppers and tomatoes, and yoghurt as good as any I've had in a long time. Yoghurt so smooth, creamy, tart and fresh I'm seriously considering calling the restaurant to find out who their supplier is.

The Iskender was a winning combination, but a very rich one, so sharing something a little less full on made sense. Chicken shish was a more staid proposition but still a very accomplished plate of food. Standard Turkish plating of rice, bread, grilled veg and salad, but done well and with wonderful generosity. 

We finished with tea, Turkish for me and apple for A, which was served with a couple of cubes of Turkish delight, a nice touch to end the meal.

Service was swift but we weren't in the least bit rushed even though the place was full. £45 including service for all of the food and a couple of beers. Highly recommended.


146 London Road
S2 4LT


Zeugma on Urbanspoon
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