Pre-theatre tapas @ Sandinista

I’m a massive Strictly Come Dancing fan and had tickets for Midnight Tango, with Flavia and Vincent from the show @ The Grand Theatre booked for months. The criteria for food was somewhere I’d not been to before, but was also close to the theatre. Sandinista the popular Cantina bar was the place of choice on this occasion. imageFor those of you who don’t know of Sandinista, it’s a Latino based bar that has been open since 2002, just around the corner from nearby cocktail haven Mojo. From being such a successful bar in Leeds it has also opened a sister venue Smokestack on Lower Briggate and another Sandinista in Manchester.
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Even though I’d been many times for late night drinks on a Saturday, I’d never eaten there before. They had a couple of deals on offer – 3 tapas for £10 or 20% discount on food and drinks with a valid theatre ticket. We couldn’t miss an opportunity for having a cocktail as we were in one of the best cocktail bars in Leeds. We decided to partake in some cocktails of the mojito kind, so we could also reminisce about a well-loved holiday in Cuba.
Mojitos
Mojitos (of course!!)

They have a tapas menu with a lot of choice, both for meat eaters and vegetarians. Over the last few months I’ve been looking at places which also cater for gluten free and at least half of their menu is. Our man took a minute to go through the menu, including the specials and platters. We opted for a selection of 6 different dishes. The food took a little while to arrive (probably because we did order quite a lot of food), but they did arrive all at the same time and completely filled our table.

Gratinado de berenjas - Aubergine and tomato gratin
Gratinado de berenjas – Aubergine and tomato gratin
Croquetas de Bacalao - salt cod croquettes with aioli
Croquetas de Bacalao – salt cod croquettes with aioli
Rice and beans
Rice and beans
Tortilla - Spanish omelette with aioli
Tortilla – Spanish omelette with aioli
Alubias estofadas con panceta - roasted pork belly with a white bean and truffle cassoulet
Alubias estofadas con panceta – roasted pork belly with a white bean and truffle cassoulet
Chorizo asado - roasted chorizo with potato, onion, almond and manchego cheese
Chorizo asado – roasted chorizo with potato, onion, almond and manchego cheese

I didn’t know there to start we had so much choice, everything was yummy!! I think my favourites were the Aubergine dish – the aubergine had the right balance between being soft, but still had texture so it wasn’t like baby food. The melted mozzarella provided the seasoning and was unctuous and characteristically stringy. I loved the pork belly, with its crispy crackling and soft tender meat, it came with a tasty creamy white bean stew. Having a bowl of rice and beans will always remind my best mate and I of sitting in one of the many paladares in Havana and Trinidad. It was tasty, but not a patch on the ones we remember from those memorable Cuban evenings. The croquettes were good, possibly a little too ‘golden’ but the breadcrumb crust was light and thin and the filling was good, not too salty!! The tortilla was probably my least favourite, it was nice but a little under seasoned for my taste and more firm than I would have preferred. I will always compare tortilla to the heavenly ones I had on holiday in Northern Spain a few years ago. Where the egg bordered on being fully cooked or just runny, allowing the tortilla to have a little bit of give. All in all we enjoyed our pre-theatre meal and I was certainly very full at the end of it!!

We washed our food down with great mojitos, plenty of rum, mint and lime giving the drink its characteristic zing.

Overall the service was friendly, cocktails were great and the food was tasty. A couple of things I know i’m probably being a little picky about, but that aside I enjoyed the meal a lot.

With the 20% discount our total bill came to £35 (including tip) for 2 people. Pretty good I think, we both walked off to the theatre well fed and watered!! I’d always recommend Sandinista for drinks on a Saturday night, but I’ll also be recommending them for food now too!!

Sandinista Cantina bar

5/5a Cross Belgrave Street
Leeds
LS28JP
0113 243 0395
http://www.sandinista.co.uk/leeds/

Sandinista! on Urbanspoon

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Primo’s Gourmet Hotdogs @ Corn Exchange

I wanted to find out what the fuss was about when it came to Primo’s Gourmet Hot dogs, they’d been set up in the Corn Exchange for a few years and for no real reason had I thought to eat there. But after reading positive things on twitter and from getting the gig as it were at the newly opened First Direct Arena, I thought to myself it might be worth giving them a chance.

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I was meeting a friend there for lunch, he’d eaten there when it first opened, but had been very disappointed first time round, avoiding it since then. We met after the lunchtime rush, it seemed that way as there were a few empty baskets and used napkins on tables. This was a little off putting I must admit. So, we decided to sit inside instead where it was also a little cooler. Primo’s prides itself in serving gourmet hot dogs, so even though they also serve bagels and sandwiches we were definitely opting for their speciality.

After asking for menus we quickly ordered Utah and Mexicana hotdogs with French fries and a couple of drinks. I’d seen from the table next to us that the dogs looked quite appealing and I was looking forward to taking my first bite.

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Our freshly made hotdogs arrived and they looked good, sitting very cosily in their baskets.

Utah
Utah – Bratwurst with caramelised onions, Monterey Jack cheese and crispy bacon
Mexicano
Mexicana – beef Frankfurter with sour cream, guacamole, salsa and jalapeño
French fries
French fries

The hot dogs looked great, but when it comes to eating them I’m always a little worried about how to tackle it. What if it’s too big and I can’t hold it properly will the toppings fall off and land all over me and on the floor? Luckily the size was manageable and I didn’t make too much of a fool out of myself. Ok, from the first bite into my dog I found the bread was lovely and very soft, freshly baked. The Bratwurst sausage had a good meaty texture and decent flavour. It was topped with plenty of Monterey Jack cheese which had become lovely and stretchy, while the bacon worked well giving up its saltiness to the hotdog. Last but no means least were the caramelised onions which were soft and flavoursome, they also had a fantastic sticky cooking juice that kept the whole thing really moist, whether this was intentional or not it certainly worked for me! My friends Mexicana hotdog was also found to be tasty, much to his surprise especially after his one and only encounter with Primo’s wasn’t a memorable one. The Frankfurter was tasty with a generous combination of toppings, the jalapeños worked well providing a little heat and the sour cream balanced this out, while the salsa and guacamole gave the hotdog all the characteristics of Mexican food on a hotdog. Oh, I shouldn’t forget about the French fries, cut more like chips and cooked really well!! Very tasty and moreish!!

So we were both happy with our food, what it could do to improve things would maybe to provide hand wipes and have more visible menus up on the walls, this would save the need for asking for menus.

In total for 2 hotdogs with fries and 2 soft drinks it came to just under £15. I’d recommend Primo’s for a decent, cheap and tasty lunch!!

Primo’s Gourmet Hot dogs

The Corn Exchange

42 Call Lane

Leeds

LS17DA

0113 345 8901

http://www.primosgourmethotdogs.co.uk/

Rustique, York

I met up with a couple of old friends in York this week and for lunch we tried out popular restaurant Rustique, located on Castlegate near the Jorvik Centre. York is a popular city with locals and tourists alike and has a number of fine dining establishments, such as Melton’s restaurant and The Blue Bicycle, but it also has its fair share of chain restaurants too. This means independents need to work increasingly harder to stay open, e.g. just a number of weeks ago, J. Baker’s Bistro Moderne, arguably one of York’s finest restaurants closed down unexpectedly. image As their name suggests they serve rustic French food, in a bistro setting. The restaurant has a pleasant dining room, with walls covered with French prints from artists such as Toulouse Lautrec. IMG_3499 They offer an extensive ala carte menu, but also a very reasonably priced set menu of 2 courses for £12.95 or 3 courses for £14.95. It was good to see there was plenty of choice available for each course on the set menu too, including French classics steak frites and moules marinière. IMG_3501 We ordered a bottle of the house white and some sparkling water, which was brought over promptly. Our starters were brought out and we were all pretty pleased with what we saw: they all looked good and we tucked in immediately. I chose the Basque egg and it was a very tasty starter, even though the component parts were all put together in the same dish, they all still had their own individual flavours and were cooked very well. I really liked the mix of the different sausages with the potatoes, and the paprika with the oil from the chorizo gave it a lovely flavour. It looked like a small tapas-sized dish, but it was a sizeable portion to start off with.  I was reliably informed that the crab cake was crispy on the outside, soft and nicely ‘crabby’ on the inside. Very tasty. The pâté starter seemed to go down well too, to the point that my friend, who had quickly wolfed down her crab cake was then sampling some of the pate and onion marmalade!

Pate de foies de volaille - chicken liver pate with french bread and red onion marmalade.
Pate de foies de volaille – chicken liver pate with french bread and red onion marmalade.
Cromesquis de crabe -homemade crab cake served with a sweet chilli sauce
Cromesquis de crabe -homemade crab cake served with a sweet chilli sauce
Basque egg - pan fried Toulouse sausage, chorizo, new potatoes and peas cooked with smoked paprika and finished with a baked egg
Basque egg – pan fried Toulouse sausage, chorizo, new potatoes and peas cooked with smoked paprika and finished with a baked egg

After a good start, it didn’t take long for our main course to be brought out.

Steak frites - pan-fried rump steak with garlic butter and fries
Steak frites – pan-fried rump steak with garlic butter and fries
Tartelette au fromage de chevre et tomates séchées
Tartelette au fromage de chevre et tomates séchées – goats cheese and sun blushed tomato tartlet, served with new potatoes and a mixed leaf salad
Confit de canard - slow roasted leg of duck served with dauphinoise potatoes, red wine and red currant jus
Confit de canard – slow roasted leg of duck served with dauphinoise potatoes, red wine and red currant jus

For me it was a toss up between the classics moules mariniere and the steak frites, but I was hankering for a decent steak, so steak frites was the winner this time. It had been really well cooked, medium rare as I’d requested and had a nice garlic butter sauce. The frites were thin and crisp and the portion size was not scrimped on either. The only thing I had a slight issue with, and it is a very picky thing, is I would have preferred pouring the garlic butter sauce myself, rather than having it already done. A nice little jug of the stuff would have done the trick, allowing me to control how much I wanted. Nevertheless, it was a pretty tasty dish and I was wholly satisfied and full at the end of the course. My dining companions also thought highly of their main courses, the goat’s cheese tart new potatoes and a well dressed salad was found to be yummy, its portion size was generous. The duck confit had a crispy skin, succulent meat with good dauphinois potatoes, and a lovely redcurrant sauce finishing it off nicely. When our waiter asked if we wanted any desserts, we all looked at each other and were resigned to the fact that we were all too full!

The staff were welcoming and efficient, our food was cooked well overall. The location of the restaurant is good as it’s in the city centre, but not on the more populated streets and a little out of the way. The total cost of the meal with wine was £58.20 for 3 people, so very reasonable and good value for money. Rustique has become so busy that they are opening another restaurant in Lendal next month, so if your in York it would be worth giving them a go.

Rustique
28 Castlegate
York
YO1 9RP
01904 612744
http://www.rustiqueyork.co.uk

Van Zeller, Harrogate

After a hard school year myself and a best mate had our school holiday detox at the Harrogate Turkish baths, to remove any school demons out of our system and settle into the holidays. I’d been eyeing up Van Zeller and booked a table a month ago. Van Zeller has built up a fantastic reputation since it opened amongst its diners and critics, winning many awards. Most recently it was named Readers Restaurant of the Year by the Good Food Guide. The restaurant is run by Tom van Zeller and has backing from David Moore, the owner of 2 Michelin stars from Pied à Terre and L’Autre Pied restaurants in London.IMG_3429

We were welcomed into the restaurant by the Front of House Peter Gillespie and I was really pleased to be seated at the very front of the restaurant by the window. It was lovely and light and had a great view of Montpellier Street. The restaurant has two levels, the main dining area is on the second level, but if you can try to get the table by the window!!

We were very tempted to order from the Ala carte menu, but we were good girls and stuck to the 5 courses for £25 lunch menu.

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We were brought an amuse bouche and it was delicious, if you were blindfolded you could describe the flavours immediately because each main component was distinct and showed a lot of clarity. My favourite parts were the pea sorbet which was extremely refreshing and had fantastic flavour, the salmon which was perfectly smoked and the topping of crispy potato crumbs giving it a lovely crunch.

Pea sorbet with chilled potato mousse and hot smoked salmon
Pea sorbet with chilled potato mousse and hot smoked salmon

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Now that was a fantastic start to our lunch, and we were hopeful for the rest of our dining experience. Our starters were brought over and we were not disappointed. The croquettes had a tasty filling of salt cod wrapped in a thin breadcrumb crust. The sea spinach had a slight saltiness which helped along with the capers to cut through the rich butter sauce. It was a small enough portion so it didn’t get too rich and overpowering as a larger portion could have become too much.

Salt cod croquettes with sea spinach, brown shrimp, caper butter and cauliflower puree
Salt cod croquettes with sea spinach, brown shrimp, caper butter and cauliflower puree

For the main course I chose the Longhorn beef, while my dining companion ordered the hake. Presented beautifully, without being pretentious. My beef had incredible flavour and was so tender, the carrots gave a gentle sweetness, the onions, greens, soft risotto and it’s sauce completed the dish. The dish was perfectly cooked with all the ingredients complementing each other. I was told the sea bass was perfectly seasoned and cooked, with crispy skin and well flavoured sauce with tarragon and fennel. They gave it 10 out of 10 for hmmm factor and said they could have also dunked their heads in it, it was that good!! I did try some of the fish and it was beautiful and soft, a delicious plate of food.

Braised shin of Longhorn beed with barley risotto, carrots and spring onions
Braised shin of Longhorn beef with barley risotto, carrots and spring onions
East coast hake, Kombu buttered greens, salt baked celeriac, cockles and pickled mustard
East coast hake, Kombu buttered greens, salt baked celeriac, cockles and pickled mustard

Our pre-dessert came in a little shot glass. It was very refreshing and did its job of cleansing the palate before our dessert. The only questionable thing we said about it was we weren’t sure about the pine leaf and pistachio custard, it had a nice creamy texture but its flavour just didn’t do it for us. Apart from that the cassis granita and the blackcurrant compote were both fantastic.

Pine leaf and pistachio custard, blackcurrant compote and cassis granita
Pine leaf and pistachio custard, blackcurrant compote and cassis granita

Our dessert of Vanilla parfait was soon brought out and looked very pretty and perfect for a summers day!! The vanilla parfait was smooth and packed full of vanilla, topped with what I think was dehydrated strawberries. It sat on a shortbread biscuit which was perfect, lovely and short, with its characteristic crumbly texture. The tonka bean and elderflower kept it light and the strawberry gel and fresh Makin strawberries were summery and sweet. A great end to a fantastic meal.

Vanilla parfait with Makin's strawberries, Tonka bean and elderflower
Vanilla parfait with Makin’s strawberries, Tonka bean and elderflower

We both loved our dining experience at Van Zeller, the service was superb with both our waiter and front of house doing a great job. They provided the right balance of making you feel welcome while being attentive and informative, we didn’t feel rushed in the slightest and felt we could ask questions about the dishes if needed. We’ve been to Michelin starred restaurants where the service here matched to those.

The 5 courses for £25 lunch deal is very much worth it, overall the dishes are interesting, pack a punch in terms of flavour and the food is cooked well technically. There is a lovely atmosphere in the restaurant and we felt very relaxed throughout our meal. Our total cost for the lunch including wine and service charge was £100. I’ll definitely be making a bee-line for Van Zeller the next time I’m in Harrogate.

Van Zeller 
No.8
Montpellier Street 
Harrogate
HG1 2TQ
01423 508762
http://www.vanzellerrestaurants.co.uk

Little Tokyo

The end of the school year is upon us school folk and as unofficial chief organiser, I’d planned a night out for regular Leeds goer-outers, it was unconsciously an unplanned Japanese affair…singing our hearts out at OK Karaoke, then the most popular choice for food was Little Tokyo. I LOVE Japanese food, it’s one of my all-time favourite cuisines, even more so after having visited Japan a few years ago. Little Tokyo is a Japanese restaurant that seems to have been in Leeds for years, a lot of my friends always rave on about the place, and even though I’d been a number of times, the last time was at least 2/3 years ago. To be honest I’d always preferred Fuji Hiro, (even though their menus are a different to each other). For those of you who don’t know of Little Tokyo, it’s in Leeds city centre, behind House of Fraser.

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We had arrived a little early so waited in the seating area at the front of the restaurant. What I did notice was that the staff were a little lacklustre in service. A few occasions there wasn’t anyone on hand to order a drink from, even though the place was pretty much empty apart from a couple who were eating. On the menu they had usual dishes of gyoza, ebi katsu and Yaki soba (so could compare them to Fuji Hiro’s).

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Our table ordered a selection of things, gyoza was a popular choice, ebi katsu, vegetarian spring rolls and tempura vegetables.

Ebi katsu
Ebi katsu
Pork gyoza
Pork gyoza
Vegetarian spring rolls
Vegetarian spring rolls
Tempura vegetables
Tempura vegetables

I literally hadn’t eaten all day to save myself for Little Tokyo, so to say I was looking forward to it was an understatement!! On arrival the starters all looked very tasty, but through my haste I forgot to take a proper of the gyoza!! I can only really talk for my dishes, the ebi katsu although tasty, with a nice panko breadcrumb crust, were not as juicy as I was hoping. I immediately wanted a plate of ebi katsu from the above mentioned restaurant near the Merrion centre. My gyoza were tasty and generously filled with pork, I did find that the gyoza wrappers were a little greasy though and I do prefer them to have a crispier bottom.

Our main courses were yaki soba, yaki bucksoba, nigiri set and king prawn fry bento box.

Yaki bucksoda
Yaki bucksoda
Yaki soba
Yaki soba
Prawn bento box
Prawn bento box
Nigiri and rice half set
Nigiri and rice half set

Our main courses looked great too, my yaki soba had lots of chicken, pak choi, lotus root and chinese mushrooms. It was a very tasty bowl of food, everything was cooked well and had a delicate soy based sauce which bound it altogether. The initial slow service did improve throughout the meal and when we were sat at our table they were more attentive.The total bill was £119 for 5 people. For all the hype of hearing about it for the last few of years, saying I should go back to Little Tokyo, I did enjoy it but it still won’t be first choice for Japanese food in Leeds.

Little Tokyo
24 Central Road
Leeds
LS1 6DE
0113 243 9090
http://www.littletokyo-leeds.co.uk