iT Bar and Food Joint

Leeds seems to have seen an increase in American inspired restaurants over the last year, some being more successful than others. For example Johnny Fontane’s on Great George Street, which is now closed and of course Red’s True BBQ which has taken Leeds by storm since opening. The iT bar and food joint opened 6/7 weeks ago, making me wonder if Leeds had room for another one and if the place could hold it’s own. It’s located on the corner of Merrion Street and New Briggate, opposite the Grand Arcade on one side and the Wren’s Hotel on the other.

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Their menu isn’t too fussy and complicated, they have self-entitled quick fix snacks like homemade dumplings, a range of burgers, hot dawwgs, wraps, also gumbo and ribs.

image After a quick nosey at the menu I thought I’d ask at the bar for some advice and recommendations. I was afraid the burgers were going to be enormous so asked which was the smallest, after some welcome insider knowledge I chose the iT burger. The bar man also recommended chicken wings, so I picked the salt and pepper wings to start with, hoping I wasn’t being too greedy!

The chicken wings arrived after 5 minutes and they were delicious!

Basket o' Wings with salt and pepper
Basket o’ Wings with salt and pepper

They were crispy, golden in colour and extremely juicy, exactly what I was hoping for!! They didn’t really need any additional sauces, but I added some Cholula hot sauce with chilli and garlic which worked well.  They were so tasty that even though I wanted to just devour them in an instant, I also wanted to take my time so they would last longer!! The phrase ‘finger lickin’ good’ really should be used when it comes to these wings!!! A definite must the next time I pop in!!!

Service was swift and there was a good atmosphere, very relaxed with a mix of music playing in the background, at the right volume so you could still have a conversation without having to talk loudly.

My iT burger arrived not long after my wings had been cleared, thankfully it wasn’t ridiculously big as I had imagined. The barman had done me a favour and it looked manageable.

iT burger - beef patty, monterey jack, streaky bacon, pickles, beef tomato, iceberg lettuce and iT secret sauce
iT burger – beef patty, Monterey Jack, streaky bacon, pickles, beef tomato, iceberg lettuce and iT secret sauce

It came with fries which were seasoned with a light dusting of paprika adding a nice smoky flavour. The burger was really tasty, if you’ve followed my blog from the start you’ll know that I wouldn’t normally order a burger; but this was yummy. The beef patty was thick and generous in size, still moist and flavourful. The bacon thickly sliced with a lovely saltiness which helped to cut through the Monterey jack cheese and their very own secret sauce. Two large pickles also adding seasoning, while the tomato and iceberg lettuce (still nice and crisp) kept it lovely and fresh. The glazed bun which held it all together was lovely and soft.

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My total bill was £20.15 (food and a large glass of wine), without tip. The place is relaxed and unpretentious, the service is quick and food is a good quality. After wondering if this place could hold it’s own against other American-themed restaurants, I went home thinking it actually made a nice change to them. I’ll be back to have more of those chicken wings and to try out some of the other yummy sounding delights on the menu. I think the shrimp po’ boy has my name written all over it.

iT bar and food joint
57-59 New Briggate
Leeds
LS2 8JD
0113 246 9080
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Ambiente Tapas Restaurant

A lovely Sunday deserved a good dinner to round it all off with, I’d read a tweet the day before about a tapas restaurant called Ambiente on the Calls, next to Brasserie 44 and The Calls Landing. It had been a pop-up restaurant in the past and I hadn’t realised it had reopened until I’d seen the tweet so I duly booked a table. It occupies the space of a couple of old Leeds favourites – The Calls Grill (which was a personal favourite of mine and River Plate, the Argentinean steakhouse).

IMG_2929The menu is divided into nibbles and sharing platters, paella, meat, fish, vegetarian tapas and a meat or vegetarian tapas set meal for £25/£24 for 2 people respectively.

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The waitress said to order 3 dishes each so we decided on a mixture of meat, fish and vegetarian dishes.

After our drinks arrived (white wine and water, I was the designated driver so water was my tipple for the night), we did wait quite a long time for any food to arrive, between 25-30 minutes. It wasn’t particularly busy yet as it was only the early evening. Maybe that’s the reason we’d been asked if we wanted any bread beforehand, I didn’t really want to be too full so I declined. I did see other people’s food go passed us and it did look and smell good, so I was certainly looking forward to eating it, but to be honest when it arrived I wasn’t completely blown away by it all.

My favourite dishes were the lamb patties with chimchurri which had lots of flavour, the yoghurt really worked well with the soft patties. The meatballs were also very good, with its creamy, thai inspired sauce. The lemongrass and chilli were both distinct flavours in the sauce without masking the flavour of the meatballs. A shame there was only 3 little morsels to feast on. The patatas bravas, a tapas staple were decent enough, the potatoes were well cooked but the tomato sauce was a little nondescript.

Patatas bravas - crispy potatoes with a tomato sauce
Patatas bravas – crispy potatoes with a tomato sauce
Meatballs in a chilli and lemongrass sauce
Meatballs in a chilli and lemongrass sauce
Lamb patties with chimchurri
Lamb patties with chimchurri

Of all the dishes I was most looking forward to I would say the slow cooked belly pork, being brought up in a Chinese family on belly pork I’m always salivating at the thought of a slice of yummy pork, but unfortunately was a little disappointed. A good belly pork must have a slightly salty crispy skin, otherwise it just doesn’t cut the mustard for me. The skin wasn’t crispy at all and the meat could have also done with more oomph in terms of flavour, more cumin and salt as was stated on the menu. The prawns were cooked well and tasted fine, but could have done with more a lot more chilli and garlic. While the pork skewers were a little dry, their saving grace was the piquillo mayonnaise accompaniment which was very tasty!!!

Moorish pork skewers served with piquillo mayonnaise
Pork skewers served with piquillo mayonnaise
Slow cooked belly pork with cumin and salt
Slow cooked belly pork with cumin and salt
Shelled prawns cooked with garlic and chilli
Shelled prawns cooked with garlic and chilli

On the whole the bill for 6 dishes with 2 glasses of wine was £37.85 for two people, not including a tip. I’m glad I tried it out as the waiting staff are friendly, helpful and the place has a nice atmosphere. Hopefully if I come again the service (from the kitchen) will be a bit quicker and the food packs more of a punch in flavour and consistency.

Ambiente
36-38 The Calls
Leeds
0113 246 1848

Ristorante Strega @ Piazza del Viminale, Rome – guest blog by Phillip Cowan

Ciao!
After a hard afternoon of sipping various cocktails, nibbling on a multitude of Antipasti, the call comes through from my good friend Diane.. “Maybe you could guest my next food blog?”
Well, that was a challenge not to be ignored, and as I was in the food capital of the world, how could I resist??
As soon as I saw the invite the mind started racing, where, when and what shall we eat?? My immediate thoughts were Pizza or pasta, or antipasti, or cheese, or meat, or oh, who knows what! Rome really is the home of all food good!!
As we headed out to find somewhere, we were taken by the flashiness of a restaurant only two minutes from the hotel; it’s neon shining and fires glowing (a tad touristy but hey we were tourists). We couldn’t resist. The menu looked like staple Italian fare, antipasti, primo, secondi etc.. But it was a lovely spot and full of people looking well fed so we went with it.
Anyway, we were quickly seated. The dining room was tables in the road and covered by the normal restaurant style parasols but they had took it a step further, with very pretty lights draped down the sides, as well as vines covering the exposed walls, all in all a pleasant place to be!
The service was very prompt, which was impressive as the courtyard setting was full of eager diners. Aperitifs were in order, so two gin and tonics were ordered. It has to be said these arrived quite watery and flat, but hey that’s the price you pay for the Italian sun!
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A quick look over the menu (and next doors recently delivered appetisers) led us to order what can only be described as a huge portion of fresh melon and salty ham. After a long day in the sun the sweetness of the melon was very refreshing and the saltiness of the ham combined perfectly.

Melon and ham
Melon and ham

Pleased with our selection we looked forward to the main course. First the wine arrived (my wife had ordered it but I was the one to check and approve of it!) and it was really an inspired choice. It was the most expensive bottle on the menu, but at 48 EUR it was a bargain!

The main course duly arrived, pasta carbonara for me and sea bass for her. The sea bass was served in a potato rosti, the plate came resembling a giant finely sliced waffle. The carbonara arrived sitting snugly in its own cheese basket. Both dishes looked good and we set about them with gusto! By this point the conversation from our well traveled American neighbours at the next table became so intriguing we forgot the food and listened in. Apparently Shakespeare got the story bang on about Caesar and Greece had clearly showed the best approach to economic security but had been let down by the EU. We both learned a lesson from that!

Seabass in potato rosti
Seabass in potato rosti
Pasta carbonara
Pasta carbonara

Tables cleared, the glutton that is me decided that there was enough room for dessert! And what a dessert! Tiramisu is always a favourite, but this was light, fluffy and sitting atop a lovely pool of espresso! The cream, chocolate and coffee were perfectly balanced, finished off by a real Italian espresso.

Tiramisu
Tiramisu

A perfect end to a very good “tourist” meal.

Ristorante Strega
Piazza del Viminale, 27/31
00184 Rome
Italy
 

Cafe Moor @ Leeds Kirkgate Market

Cafe Moor sells street food from North Africa and the Middle East in Leeds Kirkgate market. Since opening in January 2013 and had become extremely popular, often having queues of people patiently waiting to get their fix. After having eaten for the first time a couple of months before I started blogging, I thought I’d give in to the temptation of their fantastic food once again.

imageTheir menu consists of starters, e.g. falafel and baba ganouche, chef’s specials e.g. bastilla – a sweet and savoury Morrocan meat pie, Shawarma sandwiches, including the ever popular chicken shawarma, boureks – filled filo pastry parcels, soup, tagines and sweets and pastries.image

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I decided on a chicken shawarma meal and a chicken bourek, because I was absolutely ravenous after a day at school. 

I was lucky to get a chicken shawarma as I didn’t arrive at the market till late in the day. I’ve been there at the same time wanting one before, but to walk away disappointed to see that they had run out of chicken. I’d eaten their chicken bourek before and quite fancied one of those as well, so I greedily ordered both!

Chicken shawarma meal
Chicken shawarma meal

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Chicken bourek
Chicken bourek

A chicken shawarma can be ordered as a sandwich, where you have an Arabic bread wrap, filled with roasted slices of marinated chicken, garlic sauce, pickles and salad. I was really hungry so ordered the chicken shawarma meal, which includes chips and houmous in a takeaway box. While the bourek is a filo pastry parcel fried lightly and filled with spicy chicken and potato makhouda (Algerian potato cake) served with salad and houmous. Everything is so tasty, the chicken is very moist and full of flavour, the houmous lovely with tahini, the ratio of tahini to chickpeas were just right, not too much that it’s too sweet with sesame. The garlic sauce wasn’t too strong and helps with the houmous to really add flavour to the wrap. The salad keeps everything fresh and the chips hot and crispy on the outside and soft in the middle! Yummy!!!  

The chicken bourek was great too, the filo pastry gently fried so the pastry is crisp and slightly golden. The filling excellent with a slight spicy kick. The food is excellent and it’s not a surprise that it’s been so popular since it opened. I was definitely very full after eating what would be enough for 2 people, but I was a little peckish and probably got carried away but I couldn’t help myself!

They also have lots of their delicious treats on the stall out for customers to order. image image

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The man who runs the stall obvious has a passion for the food and can be heard chatting away to customers about it. It’s great seeing these food stalls opening up in the market, hopefully this is the start of good things to come. There is also the caribbean cafe which is cooking up fantastic food too!!

The food is an absolute bargain, really I had a meal for 2 people for £9.50, (£5 for the chicken shawarma meal and £4.50 for the chicken bourek)!!! If you are ever near Kirkgate market you’re really missing out if you don’t give them a try, you won’t be disappointed!

Cafe Moor
Leeds Kirkgate Market
(Main Vicar Lane Entrance)
0113 247 0569

Crepe Affaire @ Trinity Leeds

I needed a quick snack before an evening at the theatre tonight and really fancied a crepe. I’d walked passed the Crepe Affaire cafe in Trinity Leeds the other day and thought I’d try it out.

imageWalking into the place it had a really nice atmosphere and the service was quick but friendly. On the menu they have savoury crepes, e.g. thai chicken or new york deli, sweet crepes, e.g. caramel apple, waffles and even breakfast crepes.

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After the quick nosey at their menu and being the boring eater that I am, I went for a classic ham and cheese crepe with a latte.

My coffee was brought over in 5 minutes and a few minutes after that my crepe arrived, both served with a smile!! I was pleasantly surprised, my coffee was lovely and was crepe was really yummy, just what I needed to last me into the evening.

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I can make decent pancakes on Shrove Tuesday by the dozen, but these crepes were lovely and thin, with just the right amount of ham and cheese to not make it too filling. The cheese was mild and the ham slightly salty as good ham should be, the perfect savoury crepe!!

The fab customer service continued when I was asked if everything was ok with my order, and also if I wanted to try any of their sweet crepes.

A quick tasty snack for just £7.10, you can’t really go wrong!!! I’ll be back for a sweet crepe next time!!!

Crepe Affaire
Trinity Leeds
339 Albion Street
Leeds
LS 5AT
0113 247 1588