When is a pea, a pea?

peaAs part of an occasional series we’ll just call ‘pretentious?moi?’, I offer you pea texture. Mushy, juice, sprouts or crushed are obviously so passé, the humble pea needs a new image and so here’s just the texture of pea rather then the whole vegetable to clutter up your plate with their devious little catch-me-if-you-can spheres.

Or maybe there’s a part of the sentence missing, perhaps it should read – ‘textures of pea, fragrance of hummingbird and speed of cheetah’ or some such?

Restauranteurs, I salute your ingenuity and offer a space to celebrate it here. Any other examples gratefully received and shared here – just drop me a comment, an email or a tweet.

The dish was actually extremely good, and inthe end it turned out they were just peas with some pea juice.
The rest of the meal at Leyburn’s Sandpiper Inn, was excellent, the service very professional and the whole effect very non-pretentious – a gastropub well worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity.

Zomato’s Manchester ambitions continue apace

zomatoI recently caught up with the team behind the food discovery website and app Zomato to see how their Manchester launch was going.

Regular readers of this blog might remember we revealed how the Indian operation had started work in the city back in July.

Since then, there’s been a lot happening behind the scenes which I’ve reported on for the Prolific North website here.

Couple check out every restaurant in Leeds for new guide

profile-shotChris Worfolk, and his partner Elina, have spent the past few years eating their way round every restaurant in Leeds city centre. The conclusion of their research has now been published and in this guest post, he tells us what they learned from the experience.

Appearances can be deceiving

the-bookA year ago, I and my partner set ourselves a challenge. We were going to eat at every restaurant in Leeds city centre. I didn’t realise what a challenge that would be at the time.

I started by listing the thirty or so restaurants I hadn’t been to yet. Six months later, we had eaten at twice that many restaurants and my list had become even longer! Clearly my original estimates had been a little short.

Luckily, eating at nice restaurants is hardly an arduous task. We ate, and we ate and we ate, until finally we had been round every restaurant. As a result, we published the Leeds Restaurant Guide.
The biggest lesson we learned from writing it? Appearances usually aren’t deceiving. Normally, if a restaurant doesn’t look too good, it probably isn’t. However, there are a few that, while looking shabby on the outside, offer a wondrous evening within.

At the top of my list would be Curry Leaf. A humble doorway on Eastgate, the sorry looking staircase opens up to an enchanting interior of Sri Lankan décor. The large window into the kitchen allows you to see the flames roar up in the pan and for under £10 you can get a thali with more food on than two people could eat.

My next favourite is Café Italia. Restaurants located so close to the train station sometimes rely on unwarily travellers to fuel their business, rather than great food. Not Café Italia. It is the closest thing to authentic-tasting Italian food I have had in Leeds. Do not miss their homemade tiramisu.

Finally, I would also recommend Hansas. Located on North Briggate, they offer Gujarati vegetarian cuisine. Even if you’re a meat-lover this one is worth a visit and again, the thali comes in at amazing value.

* You can order your copy of the Leeds Restaurant Guide from Amazon here.

The Beast & The Swine: A pop up restaurant with presence

At a place to be revealed with a menu from a never seen before restaurant…….that was the unlikely offer which scores of adventurous diners signed up for with this weekend’s pop up restaurant in Leeds. Destination unknown.

But when The Beast & The Swine opened its doors to the public, they were unlikely to be disappointed.


What a dramatic place setting. Inside Holy Trinity Church, just yards away from the hubbabaloo of Boar Lane (one of Leeds’ busiest streets for a Saturday night) to find yourself sitting in the tranquility of the parish church was faintly surreal.

Under a cat’s cradle of a sculpture spanning the cavernous roof space and surrounded by leaves from books hung on strings all around – the theatre of the event had an immediate wow factor.

Seven courses and a menu of local produce which included Bolito Misto of Yorkshire Wolds chicken and picked carrots.

Keepsake menu

The were moments of brilliance – in particular, the fish course of Bridlington crab, shoots and a grapefruit dressing was a triumph.

Regular offerings of excellent rosemary focaccia arrived. Starters arrived on sharing platters with a selection of ham, a dense and satisfying rabbit rillettes and heritage vegetables.

The meat course, with it’s pink veal tongue rudely sticking out, was a challenge but the crowd pleasing Wensleydale cheese course introduced a stunning onion and golden sultana chutney with whole spices . If that’s for sale anywhere, can someone drop me a line with details.
The final show of a giant croque-en-bouche completed the spectacle of the evening and for those who had any room to spare. I didn’t.

It all got a bit Alice in Wonderland here. Being presented with a baby’s bottle full of Gin Iced Tea on arrival and seeing people wandering around suckling on them set the tone for an unorthodox approach. There’s no wine list, no choice of bar drinks or over priced water selection. The choice for the evening – red or white.
The wine came served in teapots. We drank it from assorted cups and mugs. Who knows what it was?  At a guess, probably a fairly ‘plonky’ cabernet.

If you’re into your wine, this wouldn’t be the best approach to the liquid part of a dining experience  so the novelty factor had to distract diners from their usual choices and I think they got away with it.

20130413_221817Overall experience
I went along on this second night and it was clear the team of four -two chefs, two front of house who call themselves We Are the Animals – had got into its stride. The welcome was warm and, although the low staffing numbers meant service could be a little slow, I don’t think anyone cared because the atmosphere was one of an magical adventure.

Having everyone  seated alongside the other guests led to a  great sense of conviviality than a standard restaurant setting and that openness, together with the stunning venue, made it a night to remember.
They’re looking for new venues, so if the Swine and The Beast – or whatever the We Are the Animals team magics up next – does pops up somewhere near you don’t hesitate –  take a pew, pour from the teapot and tuck in.

* A big thank you to the New Ellington Hotel for making us so welcome at the refurbished hotel. With its stylish interior and be-seen-in gin bar, it was the perfect place to escape the madding crowd and settle down for the night.

For announcements about any other pop-ups from the We The Animals tea, follow them on Twitter @_we_the_animals or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/WeTheAnimalsLeeds.

Marmite and soliders wins food award in London

If there’s two things I think I know about readers of this blog it’s 1. a love of discussing the merits of Marmite (five years and counting ) and 2. we all enjoy the opportunity to have a chuckle at southern silliness in the food department.

This then should be the perfect story.

The Yorkshire Dales food blog brings news from the capital – that a plate of toasted soldiers and Marmite has won an award. As the lovely pictures on the blog show – it even, yes wait for it, it even comes served in a Marmite jar!

The plate of ‘Marmite Royale’ (£8 but it does include foie gras) won the Best  Dish for London’s Club Gascon at the Taste of London Restaurant Festival.

C Wildman quotes a ‘delighted’ chef Pascal Aussignac:

“I’m honoured to win this award, especially in front of such wonderful London chefs. It’s an amazing feeling and I am so proud of my team……
“The dish is a combination of culinary influences and techniques from my French homeland and my adopted home London.”

York’s newest restaurant – Fusion

Described as a mix Spanish and Mexican tapas, One and Other brings news of a new restaurant in the busy entertainment venue The Basement.

“The bar will be open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-5pm, and then by night The Basement will still hold its usual live music and comedy nights. The new bar will serve chilled Mexican beers and a selection of wines and cocktails to accompany the dishes.”


The Basement City Screen is at 13-17 Coney Street, York, YO1 9QL.

The Mere Golf Resort & Spa official re-opening

As part of its £15 million investment, The Mere Golf Resort & Spa tells me it has expanded its food and beverage team and is officially re-opening this week.

The Mere’s food and beverage team now consists of 19 chefs working under Executive Chef, Paul Jobling, alongside seven kitchen porters, and 50 front of house staff. With two new kitchens and an additional £50,000 investment in kitchen equipment.

New recruits include Franck Armouet as Head Sommelier and Ben Lowe as Food Services Manager overseeing the new ‘Browns at The Mere’ brasserie.

Franck Armouet’s last position was Head Sommelier at the prestigious Whatley Manor, a 5-star Relais and Chateaux venue. Prior to that, he was Senior Sommelier at 5-star Ashdown Park, Assistant Head Sommelier at Gary Rhodes Tower 42 in London, and trained as a sommelier at The Goring in London.

Ben Lowe comes from the Grill on the Edge, in Alderley, Cheshire, where he was Restaurant Manager. Previous positions include Chef De Rang at The Hale Grill in Hale, Cheshire, General Manager at The Orangery, also in Hale, as well as Duty Manager at Tiger Tiger in Manchester.

“Bringing in new skills and experience to our food and beverage team is part of our commitment to delivering the first class dining experience that customers expect from one of the North West’s premier resorts. We’re delighted to have such a high calibre team in place prior to our re-launch,” comments Graeme Nesbitt, The Mere’s Resort General Manager.

“Our mission is to put our flagship restaurant, Browns at The Mere, on the map when visitors to the North West are choosing where to dine out. We’re also committed to providing the freshest seasonal ingredients on our menu wherever possible, sourced through our network of local suppliers. It’s important to us to support local food suppliers, so they get to benefit from our success,” comments Paul Jobling, Executive Chef at The Mere.

Grazing at J Baker’s Bistro Moderne, York

The word ‘grazing’ might lead you to think of little morsels, nibbles and impossibly twee amuse-bouche. Maybe.

Well forget that idea, the ‘grazing by night’ menu of this rather fantastic bistro in York’s foodiest street is anything but the light option. The seven courses on offer are rather more substantial than a morsel but no less fun for it.

Everything has the sort of attention to detail that you’d expected from a Michelin-starred chef and the little twists which make really good food soar.

We attempted to pace ourselves, taking care not to dive too deeply into the generous helpings of bread but, in the end, resistance was futile, this menu is designed for the long haul.

Each of the courses has left a memorable impact – and one proved just too challenging but left me with a timely reminder about trying new things which I’m pleased to have been pushed on.

The vodka infused and thickly cut smoked salmon was sweet with a silver spoon of oyster and caviar bringing the aroma of the sea straight into the darkened city eatery.

The Redcar smokies served with a corn chowder were exquisitely light, with a level of flavour which kept all the elements of the dish separate yet combined – they’d be worth going back for as a meal on their own.

The platter of duck’s liver, quails egg and blood sausage bonbon was a step too offally for my tastes but gusto a plenty over the table before the piece de resistance of Shorthorn beef with spinach and a delicately encased duck egg.

Sweet lovers don’t miss out either with a chocolaty take on one of my all time favourites, piping hot rice pudding which came with ‘chocolate air’! The ‘air’was a lighter-than-light mousse and a sudden surprise  with the chill of some ice-cream.

Some cheese? Well if you can, and we did, there was a quality selection of regional cheese including local offerings from the Thirsk-based Shepherd’s Purse.cheese

And it doesn’t end there with a selection of truffles which were handily provided as a takeout when that really did prove to be one treat too far.

All-in-all a remarkable feast with a lovely laid back service, completely unhurried and wonderfully intimate.

It seems I’m not alone in my admiration, checking the list of those who’ve also eaten there is like a who’s who of foodies.

Of those, I think Jay Rayner summed things up pretty neatly:

“If there were more places like this in Britain’s towns and cities, there would be a skip in my step and a song on my lips and a killer scar on my chest from where they’d gone in to perform the heart bypass on account of my overindulgent eating habits.”

I’m already looking forward to finding an excuse for a repeat visit.

* The grazing menu costs £39.50 per person. J Baker’s is at 7 Fossgate, York. 01904 622688.

10 tips to survive that Valentine’s meal out

You know how you said you wouldn’t? But now you’ve gone and booked a restaurant on Valentine’s night….what were you thinking of? How much death by chocolate will prove to be romantic?

A bit like New Year’s Eve, as big night’s go, this one’s a difficult act to pull off. The Guardian food blog’s got some tips based around some top London destinations and a search for ‘snugness, the cousin of snogging’.  

But if you’re less of a snuggles bum and want some practical advice here’s a few alternatives for a successful Valentine’s night out for you:
– don’t set off to a restaurant without a reservation unless you literally  hooked up with him at a speed dating session.
– Japanese cuisine is probably the sexiest food known except if you’re clambering out of that space for your legs under the table in a short skirt. That just makes it comically obscene.
– if you’re wearing something revealing, avoid food which is magnetically attracted to your cleavage eg. any long pasta ribbony things, stew.
– do you, don’t you do shellfish? It’s both or neither as there’s nothing less attractive than a pair of pliers  and a bib if only one cracks the crab and lobster. (unless you’re both surgeons I suppose) – rule above also applies to garlic and steak.
– avoid dishes with spinach…..teeth.
– beware red wine lips  – this really shouldn’t be an issue unless someone’s cheapskating on the bubbles then who cares if you look like dracula’s wife.
– balloons, cheap flowers from the bloke who’s wandered in off the street. Just don’t.
– also don’t stare at the couple having the major domestic at the next table. It’s rude you know.
– do sort out in advance who’s treating who. Staring at the bill in uncomfortable silence has to be the ultimate passion killer.
– all else fails, there’s nothing more romantic than some fish, peas and chips in the garden/yard by candlelight and fireside. It’s all a question of attitude. Aka, being content to be a cheap date.