Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Art's Cafe, Call Lane- Leeds

After dining at this restaurant numerous times whilst living in Leeds, the Art's Cafe has become my 'go-to' answer to anyone asking where to go for lunch or dinner. For me, the Art's Cafe has become a guaranteed good meal and at a very reasonable price, so I thought it was about time I reviewed the place.

Opening in 1994, the Arts Cafe has built up a reputation for high quality cuisine in a relaxed, informal environment. This inviting atmosphere is complimented by an array of art work on the walls and as I take my seat, I opt in for the early bird menu - at 3 courses for £15, this is really a phenomenal offer.

To start, I went for the:
Ham hock and smoked chicken terrine, homemade salad cream, onion ash, and radish and baby turnip salad.
My dining partner went for the:
Chilled pea soup, crispy fried egg yolk, asparagus and scallion salad, and lemon rapeseed oil.

Both dishes were superb in their own right. The ham hock was very tasty and actually quite succulent compared to its expected texture. The added chicken did provide an extra flavour but was not entirely needed. The creams, ash and small pieces of radishes and turnips not only complimented the ham hock, but provided a burst of flavour that really go the taste buds tingling.
The chilled pea soup was a very interesting dish! Essentially a gazpacho, the soup was very flavoursome and the salad aspect provided some nice textures. The crispy fried egg yolk was fantastic- a crispy breadcrumbed casing with a hard egg white and soft yolk which spilt into the soup as you cut through it.

Next up, we went for:
Pea, mint and feta spring rolls, lemon creme fraiche, abby pear and pea shoot salad.
Beer battered haddock, hand cut chips, crushed minted peas and tartar sauce.
The spring rolls was another interesting dish. The feta somewhat overpowered the pea and mint, and as a cheese that isn't exactly very strong, the taste became rather repetitive. The salad was very refreshing however and complimented the spring rolls nicely. The dish was still very good, but I think a different cheese may have worked better.
As someone who would never normally choose fish and chips from a restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised by this dish. The haddock was very very tasty, with the beer batter nice and crispy and full of flavour itself. The homemade chips were great and the minted peas made a nice change to your normal mushy peas. The tartar sauce was refreshing and complimented the dish well. 

To finish:
Rose water and saffron creme brulee, apple compote and pistachio shortbread.

As one of my favourite desserts, I have had many creme brulee's in my time and this one did not disappoint. The rose water and saffron were very subtle, with the cubes of apple and raisons adding a nice change in texture and fruity flavour at the bottom of the brulee. The top was nicely caramelised and the shortbreads were very good- with a crunchy texture and added flavour of the pistachios (although I would say the shortbread probably wasn't needed with the size of the brulee).

Overall, the Art's Cafe had me walking out as a full and satisfied customer once again. The food is of a fantastic standard and the price for the early bird menu simply outstanding. For 2 diners to have 3 courses, coffee and a bottle of wine for only £45 (and for the standard of food, atmosphere and service) the Art's Cafe will continue to be my first recommendation for any diner looking for a guaranteed good meal in Leeds.

Food- ****
Atmosphere- ****
Staff- ****

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Salvo's, Otley Road- Leeds

After 38 years in the business, Salvo's is a much talked about restaurant with not only University Students, but the Leeds population as a whole. Opening in 1976, Salvo's is the epitome of traditional and innovative Italian cuisine. Now into the second generation of the Dammone family, Salvo's continues to behold the reputation as one of the best Italian restaurants in the Yorkshire region.
Situated only two doors down, Salvo's also boasts the 'Salumeria'- meaning 'The Little Restaurant'. Cafe by day, the Salumeia hosts 'regional dinners' by night- serving specialist food and wine in a 10 course 'Assagi' tasting menu, which rotates between different regions of Italy every month. Some of the regions featured have been Campania, Sicliy, Tuscany and Piamonte.
So, with my expectations high, I set forth into the world of Italian cuisine from the region of 'Puglia'. (This dishes pictured are shared between 3 diners, minus the dessert and cafe)
Upon entrance, a musical soiree and dimly candled lit room immediately sets the scene. I feel like i've walked into a small family restaurant, tucked away in the hills of the Puglian mountains.
The first couple of plates act as a teaser for what is to come:
Tagliere pugliese- A cured meat and cheese plate. This dish both sounds and looks simple, but the taste is something special. The added extras of cubed jelly, olives and circular bread sticks makes for a welcomed start.
Aquasala- Salvo's very own sourdough, toasted with pomodorini tomatoes. This dish was much more than the 'complimentary bread' that you may expect. The crisp of the bread offered another layer of texture to the juicy and sweet tasting tomatoes. This dish woke up the pallet and prepared it for the oncoming feast!

Next up, the simplicity continued, but the tastes and flavoured exemplified:
Fave e pane rito- Broad bean puree with fried bread. This dish sounds strange, looks strange and tastes... delightful. Some interesting and complex flavoured came through and I loved the idea that I would never had ordered this normally, but got to try it in this tasting dinner.
Melanzane ripiene- Aubergines stuffed and baked with pecorino and soft black olives. This dish was surprisingly tasty (coming from an aubergine hater!) with the saltiness of the pecorino combining well with the aubergine.

Now, for me, this is were the party really began:
Polipetti lessi- Boiled and dressed Octopus and mussels with fennel salad. This dish turned out to be my second favourite of the night! The Octopus was fresh and salty with a hint of sourness of lemon, combing with an oily and refreshing salad and large, flavoursome muscles. I'm not usually a big lover of fish, but this dish was sensational. 
Insalata di arance- Orange and red onion salad with Mediterranean anchovy. Unfortunately, anchovy's are not exactly my favourite (!), but I was ensured that the dish was a pleasant mixture of the saltiness of the anchovy, the sweetness of the blood orange and the spicy/acidy taste of the onions.

After the delights of what had already been served, the next dish had me intrigued:
Orrecchiette con cima di rapa- Little ear pasta with turnip tops, served with 'Holy Oil' and 'poor man's cheese'.
This dish was my favourite or the night. The structure of the 'little ear' pasta itself provided a great texture to the dish, which was somewhat simple but bursting with flavours. I soon discovered where the 'Holy Oil' received its name from (infused with chilli so that when you taste it, you shout "Holy Sh....") and the 'poor man's cheese' originating from the Italian slums, where if you were to poor to afford real cheese, you used this creation of a mix between breadcrumbs and other ingredients instead. The reason I loved this dish was a combination of its simplicity, bursting flavours, and the snipet of Italian history behind each element.
Agnello con piselli- locally reared roast lamb with peas. The succulent, perfectly cooked lamb was a fantastic ending to the 'main' section of this 10 course tasting menu.

To finish this tasting extravaganza:
Torta alla ricotta- Ricotta parfait with artichoke liqueur crema. This was another dish that sounded very strange, but intriguing. The textures and tastes were something I had never experienced before. I may not ever order this again, but it was a delight to try this once(!).
Cafe- long roasted Italian coffee and amaretti biscuit.

Overall, this has to be one of the best restaurant experiences I have ever had. Every single one of the 10 courses offered new flavours and textures, and the historic and traditional Italian elements and explanations to each dish was enlightening and intriguing. With just a small taste of each dish, you are able to try food that you would never even think of trying, never mind ordering off a menu. For the price of £34 per person, this 10 course regional tasting dinner cannot be missed! 

Food- *****
Atmosphere- *****
Staff- ****

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Hansa's, North Street- Leeds

Introducing the concept of Indian Vegetarian Cuisine throughout Leeds since 1986, owner and Head Chef Hansa Dabhi now employs an all female workforce at the city centre restaurant 'Hansa's'. After I was at first sceptical myself, I instinctively feel the need to stress how the all vegetarian concept should not put you off making a visit to this award winning restaurant. After finding out that Hansa herself has a published cook-book, I was enthusiastic to see what all the fuss was about.

Visiting Hansa's with the University of Leeds Food Society, we were in a big enough group to experience the 'Hansa's Banquet'- Two starters, two specialities and two main course curries, served with rotli, puris and pilau rice. Plus, two desserts.

Upon entering the the restaurant we were shown upstairs to a dimly lit room with sheets hanging across the ceiling and a vibrant red theme throughout. There was an authentic Indian feel about the place and as the smell of spices began to fill the restaurant, the stage was set.

The bar was immediately set high with the Chilli Paneer starter. Complete with 'Paneer cubes marinated with a hot spicy chilli sauce and served on a bed of lettuce', the sauce had something of a 'sweet and sour' taste and left a surprisingly dangerous kick of spice on the pallet. The dish was a personal favourite from the entire meal and my fellow diners were not shy in sharing similar thoughts!

The two speciality dishes were also of similar standard-
Pani Puri- Miniature bite-size puris, stuffed with slightly spiced chickpeas and chopped onion mixture, to be eaten it in one bite with a lashing of tamarind sauce.
Pau Bhaji- Toasted mini baps topped with a spicy veg mixture, garnished with chopped onions,
tomatoes and coriander.

The Pani Puri looked like it was full of flavour and with some tamarind sauce on top, the taste did not dissappoint. The mixture of spiced chickpeas and onions had more flavour than I presumed it would and the crunch of the puri added a nice touch.
Full of flavour and with a generous amount of spice(!), the Pau Bhaji also received a great response from all diners and the slightly toasted bap added a nice texture to the two dishes. Both were dishes that I had not tried before and both were more than satisfying.

For the curry mains-
Bhaji Paneer Curry- A mixture of Paneer cheese and Spinach.
Bhagat Muthiya- Chickpea koftas and potatoes made into a lightly spiced curry.

Both dishes were very different in both flavour and appearance and the Bhagat Muthiya was definitely the better of the two for me. The Chickpea Koftas resembled that of small meatballs and were surprisingly good in taste with a somewhat crumbly texture. The sauce was just nice in spice and reminded me of a Biryani style curry.

The Bhaji Paneer dish was completely different, with a much thicker texture and a lot spicier! (although the level of spice did appear to differ depending on which bowl you took a portion from). I was not this dishes biggest fan and as the third course of Paneer cheese, I did not go back for seconds. Although I was not alone in my opinions, it's worth mentioning that some other diners did prefer this curry over the Bhagat Muthiya. A mixed reaction for the mains from around the table!

However, there definitely wasn't much debate when it came to the rotli, puris and pilau rice that accompanied the curries. Everyone loved the puris in particular- light, fresh and full of flavour, the puris was a big hit!

After such an array of starters, specialities, mains and sides, everyone was intrigued by what this somewhat unique restaurant would produce for dessert and I was keen to find out!

Gajjar Halwa - finely grated carrots, almond and raisins Halwa, garnished with aromatic cardamon, served hot with refreshing Vanilla ice cream.
Fruit Shrikhand - Hansa’s own creation of a Gujarati yoghurt dessert with tangy tropical fruit and garnishing of aromatic cardamon.

Although the Fruit Shrikhand was good, it was nothing compared to the Gajjar Halwa.
This dish stood in a league of its own, tasting similar to a carrot cake but with extra flavour and texture. The cardamon shone through, followed by the almond and raisins and then that final sweet carrot taste. The ice cream added a nice touch and both me and my fellow diners were left feeling satisfied after an interesting meal.

So, the Hansa's experience was just that...an experience. My eyes were opened up to a whole new side of Indian cuisine that went far beyond the curries and naan breads of your standard Indian restaurants. Whilst some dishes were highly praised by all and others found mixed reviews, what is certain is that if you want to try something new, different and aren't afraid to take a pass on meat for the night, then Hansa's is the place to go!

Food- ***
Atmosphere- ****
Staff- ****

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Living Room, Greek Street- Leeds.

Located right in the centre of Leeds, The Living Room is a popular destination for both food and drink lovers that want that extra touch of quality. It's stylish and elegant decor creates a relaxed and yet vibrant atmosphere and after I visited the restaurant almost two years ago, I wanted to see how things have changed and whether these exceptional standards were still met.

Things looked good from the off! Arriving for an early evening dinner at  6, the restaurant was already busy and the bar full of business men and women. As a party of four, we were seated in the upstairs restaurant; set with low lighting and attentive staff. The Living Room places itself towards the higher end of the mid-range bracket in terms of prices and the food is definitely worth the little extra.

However, because we were dining at 6pm, the 'Perfect Set Menu' was on offer and boasted some fantastic choices on the offer of 2 courses for £12 and 3 courses for £15 (Although you do have to ask for his menu- a little cheeky I know!). This price is unbelievable for the standard of food and you would certainly pay £15 for one main course from the normal menu.

A few cocktails got things going, with a couple worth mentioning:
MONKEY JAM - Monkey Shoulder whisky, apricot conserve, lemon juice and orange bitters, built and served in a jam jar!
SHERBET SAPPHIRE - Bombay Sapphire gin mixed with peach liqueur, passion fruit syrup, fresh lime and egg white.

So, to start-
2   Buttermilk Fried Chicken with ginger and chilli dressing and BBQ sauce
1   Thai Fish Cakes with marinated cucumber and light chilli syrup
1   Soup of the Day (Winter Warming Vegetable)

All three of these starters was exceptional, with the buttermilk chicken presented in a novelty cardboard box and the soup of the day taking first place in the taste rankings! The chicken was crisp and tasty and the BBQ dip had a hint of hoisin to add a little something special.

The Thai Fish cakes were firm and full of flavour, whilst the soup was thick and definitely 'winter warming'; all three dishes certainly warmed up the pallet!

Round 2-
1   Gressingham Chicken Breast with roast garlic mash, chicken crackling and lovage sauce
1   Roast Pork Fillet with Ratte potatoes, apple chutney and cider sauce
2   Moules Frites

Once again, the three different dishes did not disappoint. The Chicken was succulent with a slight crisp on the outside, with chicken crackling adding a little bit of crunch! The Moules Frites boasted a large bowl of muscles, all packed with flavour and lavished in a creamy white wine sauce. Although chips are just chips at the end of the day, there was something special about these ones and both factors complemented each other well.

Now, this is where things got a little bit special. When the wooden block was placed in front of my eyes, with small glass bottles filled with chutney and the cider sauce and a neat array of pork laid across potato, I immediately knew I had the best dish. The kind of dish everyone looks across at and utters those painful words "that looks nice, wish I had chosen that"(!).

As far as pork goes, this fillet was exceptionally succulent and I cannot stress how good the Ratte potatoes were! As for the chutney for that matter, the bar was risen even higher and the cider sauce topped it all off! This was one of the best pork dishes I had ever tasted and from presentation to taste, this dish alone won me over.

The food so far was at a standard far above many of the restaurants also situated in the Leeds City Centre and the dessert was last in line to finish the deal. The choices had been pretty varied up to this point, but it seemed that there was only one dish for my dining partners-

3   Sticky Toffee Pudding with clotted cream ice cream.

Although I bowed out of a dessert, I was assured that the Sticky Toffee was the icing on the cake! Tempted to see what the fuss was about, I took a taste with 'that extra spoon' and I immediately understood. Rich in flavour, the sauce was homing a warm and light textured pudding that switched to the coldness of the ice cream in your mouth.

A perfect end to a perfect meal.

From the second you enter The Living Room, Leeds, the vibrant atmosphere and friendly staff set the standard for the overall experience. The food was of a very high  quality from presentation to taste and the cocktails added a little sparkle to the occasion. The 'Perfect Set Menu' is fantastic value for money and with 3x   3 courses,   1x   2 courses,   1 bottle of wine   and   4 cocktails,   the bill just reached £90.  You could easily double this price from the normal menu so the set menu is definitely the one to go for (This is not to say the food isn't worth more than this, because it definitely is!).

As the piano gets fired with a live artist, we all leave feeling impressed and full!

Food- *****
Atmosphere- *****
Staff- ****

Friday, 4 October 2013

Shears Yard, The Calls- Leeds.

Amongst the abundance of restaurants Leeds has to offer, being the ‘newbie’ is not always easy! So when the team behind the Arts Café announced the opening of a brand new ‘independent kitchen and bar’, the standards were set high.

Tucked away in a corner down The Calls, the building could easily be missed and as I approach, the blank exterior is already giving me reason for concern.

However, all is soon forgotten as you enter through the large glass doors into an intimate bar area complete with candle-lit tables and low ceilings with exposed beams. The dining area builds on this already enticing atmosphere with light bulbs hanging freely from the ceiling. Simple and yet somewhat alluring.

The smell from the kitchen soon wandered into the dining area and after such a warming start, the stage was set. Dining with the Leeds University Union Food Society, the team at Shears Yard were kind enough to create a set menu for us at a discounted rate and I started off with the-

Ham hock terrine, aerated piccalilli sauce, pickled cauliflower & ciabatta croutes.

Upon arrival, the starter’s somewhat artistic description was not let down by its creative presentation, with the aerated picalilli sauce leading the show. Paired with the suprisingly light ham hock terrine, the two bold flavours worked well together and the ciabatta croutes added a nice touch.

Eager to continue, there wasn’t much debate when it came to the main course-

Duo of pork- slow cooked pork belly & braised cheeks with heritage carrots & pork jus.

As one of my favourite meats, I’ve come to realise that pork belly can easily be done poorly and I’m glad to say that the chefs at Shears Yard did not disappoint!

The presentation was again superb and the taste exceptional. The pork belly was possibly the best I have ever tasted and the braised cheek was surprisingly succulent and full of flavour. The carrots and delicate flavouring of the jus was a nice addition to what was an excellent course.

I’m also reliably informed by fellow diners that the Fillet of hake, almond crust, warm nicoise salad, deep fried egg yolk & smoked potato puree, was also a favourite on the night, with both presentation and taste getting top marks.

To finish off two superb courses, I was now expecting a dessert of a similar standard. However, although creative in appearance, I was somewhat disappointed by the flavour-

Passion fruit curd & pistachio corral with crème pate, white chocolate sorbet & soil.

Combined with the sorbet, the passion fruit curd was phenomenal in flavour and yet the plate was dominated with a flavourless white powder (dubbed white chocolate ‘soil’). The pistachio corral also lacked flavour and unfortunately the refreshing passion fruit curd was undermined by its counterparts.

However, I must admit that following the exceptional quality of the first two courses, I may have set the ‘dessert bar’ a bit high!

As the evening came to an end, I was thoroughly impressed with what Shears Yard had to offer. The quality of the food, in both presentation and taste, combined with the friendly staff, enticing atmosphere and unique interior design, sits Shears Yard comfortably amongst some of the best restaurants Leeds has to offer. 

Once you overcome the somewhat uninviting exterior, this ‘newbie’ is a must visit restaurant and to be of this quality when newly opened, I have no doubt that Shears Yard is one to look out for!

Food- ****
Atmosphere- ****
Staff- ****

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

The Pack Horse, Northborough- Cambridgeshire.

The Pack Horse has seen its fair share of owners over the years and was recently found closed for numerous months. So when the Smee family (Keith and his two sons Sam and Jack) took over the pub in October 2012, a rather large challenge lay ahead of them. So, 10 months down the line I decided to give The Pack Horse a visit as reviews around the small village of Northborough and its surrounding areas were certainly positive.

Located within a small village on the outskirts of the Cambridgeshire countryside, the pub offers a combination of old bricks and high wooden ceiling beams, with a brand new refurbishment of both the bar and restaurant area. Although boasting frequent 'Pie Nights' and live music events, I decided to visit the Pack Horse on a Friday evening in order to view the full menu.

From 'Slow Cooked Barbary Duck Leg' to 'Saddle of Local Lamb', the menu is enticing to all food lovers and for a reasonable price ranging from £8 to £12 (excluding steak). The starters presented dishes of similar quality and following the warm loaf of bread we were presented with upon taking our seats (with a knife and butter for your own slicing!) there was no question as to what I was going to order-

A Board for Two   £10.50
A selection of salamis, smoked duck, chicken and goose, with olives, feta stuffed peppers,
fig relish, mini loaves and vegetable crisps.

Generally, images of food don't tend to serve it much justice, but in this case, the above image speaks volumes. The selection was visually enticing, in vast quantity and most importantly, delicious! I couldn't even tell you a favourite if i'm honest, from the vegetable crisps to smoked duck, every bite burst with flavour and varied in texture. AND to make things even better, the price is surprising low considering you share this with another person (making it £5.25 each!).

The starter had set the bar high and I was both excited and anxious to see if the main course would live up to the same standard. Therefore, I decided to order something that does not seem all too exciting and that could be found in many pub/restaurants in order to gain an idea of how The Pack Horse could 'stand out amongst the rest'.

Locally Sourced Lincolnshire Sausages   £9.95
With a creamy mustard sauce, savoy cabbage and potato hash.

In this case, the comment I made about generally taking photographs of food still stands, however, I can assure you that the taste did not disappoint. When meat is 'locally sourced' it tends to suggest something of quality in my eyes and this dish certainly lived up to this view. The sausages were both firm and yet crumbled slightly as high quality sausages tend to do. The potato hash was a nice touch in comparison to mashed potatoes or chips and the sauce added a nice level of richness to the dish.

Compared to your normal 'sausage and mash', this dish clearly illustrated how The Pack Horse offers much more than your standard 'pub grub' and stands them in a good position to be labelled more of a restaurant than a pub.

Too full (the starter is bigger than it looks!), I opted out for a dessert of Dulce De Leche Cheesecake with a crunchy Oreo cream or the Cheese board featuring Wodenhill Blue, Vintage Poacher and Soft Tunworth with Pack Horse chutney, crackers, grapes and celery. However, I have been reliably informed that for cheese lovers, The Pack Horse cheese board if something of a speciality; served to you individually with your own board with large blocks of cheeses and plenty of extra surprises.

Walking away from a small village pub only around £27 lighter (for the aforementioned three courses, excluding drinks) with the quality of the atmosphere, service and food that I received, returning to The Pack Horse is a 'no-brainer'!

By far the best pub for food in the area (although calling it a pub does not give it the justice it deserves)- 9/10.

Friday, 31 May 2013

The Blue Bell- Glinton, Cambridgeshire

Since the 18th century, The Blue Bell has been situated at the heart of Glinton, a small village in Cambridgeshire. As an idyllic village pub, The Blue Bell offers open fires, exposed beams and the best of local cuisine. Of course, we can't compare a small pub to those swanky London restaurants, but I would suggest that after my visit, most would walk away from The Blue Bell happy wherever the location!
Having lived in Glinton as a youngster and still moving back there during the summer and christmas periods, its safe to say I have seen a fair share of owners at The Blue Bell and the food has not always been the best (to say the least). So when Nick and Brigette Frankgate took over ealier this year, the need to maintain The Blue Bell's traditional place in the village whilst also meeting the demand for good quality food was not a easy task. So how have they got on?

I opted for an interesting starter that seemed to jump off of the menu- Grasmere Black Pudding, Bacon, Poached Egg and Hollandaise sauce. It may not sound too exciting, but the chef managed to take something of a plain dish and really make it special. The black pudding (supplied by a local farm) was like no other I had ever tasted before and the perfect poached egg saw yolk ooze over the plate.

For the main, something a bit special! Slow Cooked Pork Belly, Creamed Leeks, Buttered Carrots, Parmentier Potatoes and a Madeira Jus. If the explanation or presentation didn't do it, then I can assure you that the succulent meat and flavoursome leeks sure did.

For dessert, I indulged myself into a Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream and Toffee Sauce. It may not be a dessert that can really impress, but it can certainly be done badly, so all credit to a solid finish to the three courses.

As the restaurant section was full to the brim and people were even opting to eat in the pub section, I believe this says a lot for a Monday night in a little village pub! Double it up for two and add on a couple of drinks and coffees, and you leave with a pocket only £50 lighter. No complaints there!

This is certainly the best food The Blue Bell has produced in the last ten years and is definitely setting the bar for high quality food in the surrounding areas. It's certainly on par with the best local pub The Pack Horse and best local restaurant The Cherry House (Reviews to follow).

Considering that its a small village pub, The Blue Bell is 'punching above its weight' when it comes to food- an 8/10 in the local area.