Italian Sunday lunch @ Diva, Leeds

For a birthday lunch I was asked to recommend a choice of 3 restaurants to go to, the criteria for these choices: firstly it couldn’t be too far away, secondly great food of course and thirdly it had to be child-friendly. From three restaurants we decided Leeds based Italian favourite, family run Diva would be the choice for a good birthday lunch. Located just off the main street in the heart of Pudsey in a listed stone building Diva has built a very faithful following amongst Leeds folk, and were Oliver Award winners for Best Italian Restaurant 2013.

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What I expect from a good Italian restaurant is somewhere you feel relaxed and at home, run by people who are insanely passionate about home cooked food and love sharing it with people of all ages. It started off well as we were greeted very warmly by two gentlemen and ordered drinks in their cosy bar area. Being a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon we were asked if we’d like to sit and have our drinks outside, we took up the chance of sitting out while it lasted (it was the 1st day of Autumn and all and you never know how long it will last at the moment). When all the other guests arrived menus were brought out and drinks orders were taken quickly. Service from the team at Diva was very friendly and hospitable from the start, just what I was hoping for.

The menu at Diva has a lot of variety, full of quality Italian heartwarming and homely dishes, e.g. ribollita soup, aubergine parmigiana and lasagne alla toscana, the last two I can personally vouch for as they are spot on. On Sundays they offer a lunch menu, the Ala carte menu and a Bambinos menu for the little ones. From the minute you walk into the restaurant you get the sense that good service is very important here and they like to make sure that customers of all ages are catered for. Even though the option of dining outside was given to us, we decided to eat in the dining room instead so we could get the feel of the place. It was quite busy at the time so it created a nice atmosphere with a few other families having the same idea as us, and they obviously felt this was a good place to bring large families with children too. We’d already made our menu choices while drinking in the sun, so when we sat down at our table some lovely bottles of Italian wine were ordered and bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar were brought over, just the start we wanted to get our mouths watering. Really yummy, lots of rosemary in the focaccia and with the rich olive oil I was seriously in danger of over facing myself even before the starters arrived, so I had to force myself to stop eating it!

IMG_4270 IMG_4269 IMG_4353The starters arrived not too long after and the first thing I was pleased about was that I had lots of toasted bread for my chicken liver pâté. I hate it when there isn’t enough and there’s loads of pâté left. It was very tasty, with a smooth texture rich in flavour, the accompanying shallot jam had a good balance of sticky, sweet and sourness to it. The other half had ordered dishes which were included in their gluten free section, the only trouble was that they put some bread with it, and when he checked with the kitchen they said it wasn’t actually gluten free bread. The rest of the starter of smoked duck was lovely but it was a shame it happened.

handmade chicken liver pate’ served with crostini & caramelized shallots
Handmade chicken liver pate served with crostini & caramelized shallots

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Tuscan risotto alla prata, sauteed wth fresh mediterranean seafood
Tuscan risotto alla prata, sauteed wth fresh mediterranean seafood
Smoked duck breast with homemade chutney
Smoked duck breast with homemade chutney
Arancini di riso italian rice fish croquettes
Arancini di riso – italian rice fish croquettes

For our main course I recommended the roast porchetta, it seemed a popular choice with three of us ordering it, roast chicken, the roast of the day pork loin and chicken and spicy sausage skewers. From my point of view I really enjoyed my porchetta, well cooked with moist pork and a lovely crackling on the outside. The Italian roast potatoes are always are winner and the gravy is fantastic and full flavoured. I know I’m a creature of habit when it comes to ordering food, but this is one dish I won’t be veering away from, it really is so yummy!! The same mistake with the other half’s starter happened with his main course, he’d ordered the chicken breast with pancetta, listed as gluten free but unfortunately they added some bread again. Apart from this blip all the main courses were very much enjoyed, even the spaghetti bolognese from the Bambino menu was inhaled.

Slowly roasted Porchetta (rare breed) suckling pig with roast potatoes
Slowly roasted Porchetta (rare breed) suckling pig with roast potatoes
Grilled chicken breast with crispy pancetta spicy tomato sauce & roast potatoes
Grilled chicken breast with crispy pancetta spicy tomato sauce & roast potatoes
Chicken, spicy sausage and Mediterranean vegetable skewers, with roast potatoes
Chicken, spicy sausage and Mediterranean vegetable skewers, with roast potatoes
Roast pork loin, stuffed with smoked cheese and spinach, roast potatoes
Roast pork loin, stuffed with smoked cheese and spinach, roast potatoes

Desserts were up next and they offer a short list of classics like tiramisu, panna cotta and ice cream. Unfortunately the other half couldn’t indulge in his favourite panna cotta as they’d run out, but I really enjoyed my tiramisu. There was the perfect ratio of ladyfingers, coffee, mascarpone and a nice dusting of cocoa powder on top. My thoughts were echoed by one of my fellow diners opposite me who gushed over it as much as I did.

Tiramisu
Tiramisu

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Chocolate ice cream
Chocolate ice cream
Morello cherry ice cream
Morello cherry ice cream

The desserts were a very good way to end what had been a lovely Sunday lunch. We were all satisfyingly full by the end of it and left very happy indeed.

Diva offers a reasonable early bird menu with starters at £5/6 and main courses at £10. The Sunday
lunch menu is even better value with starters between £4/5 and main courses £7-9 with a good choice between pizza, risotto, pasta and dishes like slow roasted porchetta. If you fancy it they have a cocktail lounge where you can relax, open to non-diners as well. If you are in Leeds city centre you can still get a eat some of the dishes at Diva as they have their fantastic Enoteca LIVINItaly at Granary Wharf. This also houses their on-site deli where produce like Italian meats and homemade sauces can be purchased.

Food: Excellent, well cooked, great choices from Italian classics to something a bit more adventurous. Just need to be extra careful with advertising gluten free dishes and then adding extras which aren’t gluten free.

Service: Staff are very hospitable, warm and friendly.

Atmosphere: Lovely setting to have a meal, cosy atmosphere with Italian music
in the background.

Diva
Unit 8-10
Booth’s Yard
Pudsey
Leeds
LS27 7AD
0113 2555 810
http://www.divaitaliana.co.uk

Diva Italiana on Urbanspoon

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Tight, Copenhagen, by guest blogger Lucy Reynolds

After failing to gain a cancellation table at Noma, and also living off fresh air and water due to the extortionate prices in Copenhagen, we decided to treat ourselves to a fancy meal on our last night in Denmark, and Tight had been recommended highly.

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We had to wait a while for a table but the lovely Canadian waiter got us some drinks to keep us occupied and we gazed around the quirky restaurant. From reading Trip Advisor reviews , this little gem of a place seems to be constantly busy, catering for trendy Copenhageners who seemed to be auditioning for a Gap advert – there were more beards than at a Mumford and Sons lookalike contest!
We were quickly whisked through to a small back room which had low lighting and large wooden barrels which acted as tables. The serving staff were incredibly friendly and accommodating and brought our menus and drinks very quickly – a great start in my eyes.

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The menu held many delights, but due to my current obsession with shellfish, I opted for Mussels ‘sauce poulette’ and my friend plumped for Pierre’s Foie Gras.

The mussels arrived, all steaming with potential deliciousness and didn’t disappoint. In my eyes, the deal breaker for mussels is always in the cooking liquor. These mussels were steeped in a gorgeous broth of creamy white wine with a lovely hint of garlic and chilli that didn’t over power but really gave a kick to the taste buds. The bread was brioche-like with lovely pockets of sea salt baked into the crust that made dipping it into the sauce a real treat.

White wine steamed mussels, cream, parsley, garlic, carrots with a hint of chilli, aoli and toasted bread
White wine steamed mussels, cream, parsley, garlic, carrots with a hint of chilli, aoli and toasted bread

My friend’s Foie Gras was presented beautifully and had a really rustic taste too. With a smear of port wine jelly to add a piquancy to the dish, it was delicious served with the freshly baked bread that accompanied it. More like a terrine, it was potted with butter and balsamic glaze which lifted it above the often run of the mill pâtés.

Unique homemade foie gras served with portwine jelly and toasted bread
Unique homemade foie gras served with portwine jelly and toasted bread

For mains, we decided to go for the pork schnitzel Deluxe and the French duck confit. My friend had the pork and it was that good that I didn’t even get a look in – he seemed to inhale it in a matter of minutes! He was served three incredibly tender medallions of pork, rolled in mustard, parsley and honey crumb and served with a potato gratin and rich ratatouille. The flavours were perfectly balanced and brought out the natural sweetness of the pork – a surprisingly light yet immensely satisfying dish.

Three danish pork tenderloin medallions encrusted with parsley parmasen, mustard and honey - served with potatoes gratin and homemade ratatouille
Three danish pork tenderloin medallions encrusted with parsley parmasen, mustard and honey – served with potatoes gratin and homemade ratatouille

The confit duck was gloriously crispy and tender – every bite felt like you could feel your arteries furring up but it didn’t matter – the taste was amazing. It was served with pink pickled onions, creamy mashed potato and a sharp spinach and citrus reduction salad. The onions were a lovely addition to the duck but I did find the citrus salad a little too sharp for my palate. I could see the need for a palate cleanser but the orange sauce was just too bitter to complement the sweet onion and duck. However, aside from the small niggle, the potatoes were wondrously buttery and the whole dish felt incredibly indulgent.

Crispy duck confit served with caramelized red onions, homemade potato mash, seasonal greens and salad
Crispy duck confit served with caramelized red onions, homemade potato mash, seasonal greens and salad

We didn’t sample the desserts – we were already on a budget and very full from our two courses. Copenhagen, whilst extortionate, is full of amazing food and Tight is a perfect example of it. Friendly, tasty and vibrant, Tight is actually great value in a very expensive but beautiful city. Highly recommended!

Hyskenstræde 10
1207 Copenhagen
Denmark
+45 33 11 09 00

Pop Up evening @ Strano, Leeds

School craziness is currently in full swing so it’s been difficult to fit any fun things in this week. But I’d invited a friend to join me at Headingley based pop-up restaurant Strano a number of weeks ago so I had been looking forward to this for ages. I’d read about the mysteriously named Strano on Twitter and after seeing photos of their Italian inspired dishes, I immediately wanted to know more about the latest in a new breed of pop-up restaurants in Leeds. The photos showing their culinary inventiveness certainly lured me in as I bought tickets for the event as soon as I could. After some research I found that Strano means strange in Italian, and this intrigued me even further to what their menu would be. They’d chosen a venue for the pop-up which was once home to Stif Cycles next to Jam Hairdressers on Otley Road.

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We were warmly welcomed into the bar area which stocked wines and beers specifically selected for the experience. Part of their ethos is to the let the ingredients speak for themselves, and for the accompanying drinks not necessarily to match every single intricate flavour combination, but work well with the dishes and experience as a whole. I’ve had multi-course tasting menus with flights of wine to match before, they certainly have their place but this made a really nice change. They had a short, concise list of wines and a list of unfiltered and unpasteurised ales on offer. We chose a fantastic bottle of Vigneto San Lorenzo which was packed full of fruit, rich and warming, while still very easy drinking. A great choice for a Friday night after a long week at work.

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We were joined by an eclectic mix of like minded people and when I saw Gip and John Dammone, owners of legendary Leeds restaurant Salvo’s, I had a feeling that we were in for a memorable evening. The menu consisted of seven provocatively titled dishes and just reading their names made my mouth water.

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The dining room was kept minimal with a mix of mismatched rustic tables and chairs, a plainly decorated room with the odd bit of memorabilia from it’s previous establishment Stif Cycles. You could tell from the off this evening was all about the food, no fuss with poncy table cloths, napkins, sommeliers.DSC_0227

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What we did notice was a mobile phone rest was provided for each person, and a little note encouraging diners to use Twitter and Facebook to post photos and comments throughout the meal. Using social media to its full advantage – a definite sign of the times!!! A lively atmosphere soon developed and you could feel that every diner had a heightened sense of anticipation to what the evening would bring.

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Soon the dishes were brought out table by table, here they are in order:

1st course –

What a start, visually it looked fantastic and our man very kindly explained each part (slowly so I could scribble as fast as I could!) Some of the components were assembled on a clay arm, I didn’t really know what to go for first.

Biting the hand that feeds you
Biting the hand that feeds you
Salami
Salami
Cured watermelon carpaccio
Cured watermelon carpaccio
No bread crostini
No bread crostini
Mushroom veloute with honey and maple cured chicken
Mushroom veloute with honey and maple cured chicken

Each single entity was delicious, my particular favourites were the mushroom velouté, liquid salad and the no bread crostini. The velouté was rich and velvety, full of intense mushroom flavour, the best posh mushroom soup I have ever had EVER!!! The chicken was really yummy with a gorgeous sweetness and cooked till perfectly moist in the middle, and with the added crunch from its breadcrumbed crust I really couldn’t get enough of it. The salami was looser in structure compared to other salami I’ve eaten, and was yummy with a meaty richness, while the no bread crostini had an über thin base (I couldn’t put my finger on what it was made of and was too busy eating and forgot to ask!), Topped with salty crispy bacon, basil and an unusual snow it was savoury, salty and iron-rich.

2nd course –

Deep fried black garlic calzone
Deep fried black garlic calzone

Subtle with flavour from black garlic, a fermented garlic which yields a sweeter taste to standard garlic bulbs. The thinnest pizza dough filled with typically wonderful mozzarella cheese which just oozed out and stretched as you took a bite.

3rd Course –

Sardomusselcracker
Sardomusselcracker

Small discs of Sardinian pasta, with a mussel shell made of edible potato skin, crumbs and topped with a fennel sheet and foam. A stunning plate of food, the mussels perfectly soft and worked perfectly with the aniseed from the fennel. The breadcrumbs had a lovely sweetness and crunch. The potato skin ‘mussel shell’ was a brilliant vehicle to hold all the components together for each fabulous mouthful.

4th course –

Crab spaghetti, spaghetti of crab
Crab spaghetti, spaghetti of crab
Crab spaghetti, spaghetti of crab
Crab spaghetti, spaghetti of crab

The arrabbiata full of tomato and chilli heat had been distilled into a hot broth, the crab was so sweet and intense. The flavours worked in harmony and the dish was very well balanced, all ingredients could be picked out with ease. The crab was also made into spaghetti which was perfectly al dente and had a delicate flavour while arrabbiata broth also had little caper gems floating around which added a salty kick, all in all absolutely delicious and I really really wanted more!!

5th course –

Stone age bass, onion bronze-purple puree-cacao nibs
Stone age bass, onion bronze-purple puree-cocoa nibs

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The potato had been cooked in an edible japanese clay, cocoa nibs provided an interesting hit of bitterness, the turnip and purple cauliflower puree were both excellent and had fantastic flavour which  could immediately be identified. A perfectly cooked bass with its crisp skin which is a MUST was on show!! The thinnest slice of crisp onion ring you could possibly ask for and something called onion bronze, I have no idea how the latter was done but it was excellent!!

6th course –

sowneck-sushi-prawn-passion-fruit-sage-turnips-trumpets of death
Sowneck-sushi-prawn-passion-fruit-sage-turnips-trumpets of death

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The sow neck was incredibly moist, tender and had a gentle sweetness, the juicy prawn had crisp tempura batter and to balance to sweetness there was a lovely bit of acidity from the sage and passionfruit sauce. The crackling was awesome – thick, crunchy, chewy in places, salty and rich. I ate it last so I could munch on it and just get the concentrated crackling taste instead of combining other flavours and textures with it.

7th course –

A take on the italian classic tiramisu which we could finish off making ourselves, the portion size was huge, enough for 4 people, mind you we were certainly not complaining!

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Tira-you-do

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It came with a piping bag full of creamy marsala and mascarpone which diners could pipe on themselves. A great interactive and fun dessert. The bowl contained sheets of coffee, a delicious marsala jelly, dark chocolate sheets, coffee glass and a wonderful sponge. It was a fitting end to what had been an amazing meal.

What a great evening, it ended with a few words from Gip Dammone and an introduction to John Lyons, the chef behind the fabulous menu. Gip then happily chatted to each table and told us they are hoping to come up with many more culinary evenings, which will hopefully continue to push the boundaries with more sensational food.DSC_0258

Our tickets for the event cost £35 per person for seven courses, drinks cost extra. Definitely worth it and I’d recommend it to anyone who simply loves food!

The tickets for their next series of pop-ups in November are already on sale now. We enjoyed the evening so much that I’ve already bought the tickets!!!

Strano

@stranoleeds

Dinner @ Dish

A couple of weeks ago the Oliver Award winning restaurant Dish opened in its new home on Boar Lane, Leeds. If you’ve walked passed and recognised the venue it may know that it was the previous location of Anthony’s Restaurant. We went last Thursday to check out the new dining room and of course the food! On arrival we were greeted by a bar man in their lovely cocktail bar area, then kindly escorted downstairs to their dining room where we were welcomed in by Chris the Manager.

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One of the main reasons for the move from their original home on Great George Street was to have a much larger dining space, but also kitchen space and this has been reflected in the more extensive menu on offer. The main dining room looked very smart with a second bar and the pass from the kitchen in the background, it’s been filled with dark wooden tables, grey upholstered chairs and original wall art for a sleek and sophisticated feel. I completely understand why they have moved with a much larger kitchen and dining room giving them a lot more options. I did miss the vintage, quirkiness of the old place, but this was definitely a step up and somewhere that Dish can grow into.

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The menu was full of interesting and innovative dishes, showcasing modern British cooking. When it came to deciding what to order I was gutted when the other half picked the dishes I had my eyes and grumbling stomach on (scallops and pork belly), so I opted for the crab and turbot.

In a restaurant of this quality the wine list is just as important as the food, they have a decent wine list with a range of choices to suit all tastes and pockets. It had been a long day at work, so we both wanted something easy drinking and chose a very quaffable pinot grigio.

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We’d arrived fairly early in an evening service so there was just one other couple dining when we arrived, this meant we could hear and feel the buzz from the kitchen. We happily kept filling our wine glasses up with a light, crisp pinot while waiting for our starters to arrive.

East coast crab with a salad of sauté tiger prawns, preserved lemon, horseradish snow, pickled white radish, red radish, wild rice and curry leaf granola and scampi oil
East coast crab with a salad of sauté tiger prawns, preserved lemon, horseradish snow, pickled white radish, red radish, wild rice and curry leaf granola and scampi oil
Chargrilled King scallops, saffron blinis, scallop tartar, smoked white chocolate veloute and mist, chilli oil and langoustine powder
Chargrilled King scallops, saffron blinis, scallop tartar, smoked white chocolate veloute and mist, chilli oil and langoustine powder

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My crab dish was exactly was I was expecting at Dish, it was very tasty, light and refreshing with lots of interesting ingredient combinations. The crab and prawns were both delicious, well cooked and had a lovely sweetness to them. A decent sized portion for a starter and was very well received. The granola added an interesting mix of textures, with it’s slight crunchy/chewy texture, radish kept the dish light and with the lemon gave a welcome acidity to the plate.

I was told that the scallops was a good dish, perfectly cooked and characteristically sweet in flavour, chilli oil provided a subtle hint of chilli. But it was the smoked white chocolate velouté that really brought the dish together and made it very enjoyable first course.

The dining room started to fill a little more as our main courses arrived.

Yorkshire belly pork, slow roasted fro 8 hours with fennel and chilli black pudding, smoked mash, pig ear and walnut salad pork crackling and roasting juices
Yorkshire belly pork, slow roasted for 8 hours with fennel and chilli black pudding, smoked mash, pig ear and walnut salad pork crackling and roasting juices
Pan fried turbot, served with a shellfish and vegetable coral bed, with a smoking saffron broth
Pan fried turbot, served with a shellfish and vegetable coral bed, with a smoking saffron broth

There was a lot of love for the belly pork from the other side of the table, making me even more gutted than I was before. From what I could gather the pork was moist and juicy, well cooked with a lovely bit of crackling lining the meat. The generously portioned mash was nice and smoky, but not overpowering and the healthy disc of fennel and chilli black pudding was meaty and well flavoured. The pig ear and crackling were crunchy, but the crackling could have done with more salt though. The roasting juices were rich and full of flavour finishing the meal off nicely.

My fish dish of turbot was brought over with a steaming broth, produced by little lumps of dry ice used to create some theatre to the dish. On the whole the component parts were cooked well, the turbot was moist, but I do prefer a crispy skin on my fish. It was an interesting dish with a lot of ingredients, including keta caviar (I think), clams, prawns, tomato, broad beans, radish and a saffron broth. I did expect more in terms of flavour though, as the fish lacked a little seasoning for me and I would have liked the broth to be more intense in flavour.

From my previous experience of eating at Dish I’ve come to expect impeccable service, it was great to see the team have carried on in exactly the same vein. The staff were friendly and welcoming, efficient and enthusiastic without being over the top. We were offered a dessert menu which I quickly said ‘yes please’ to and saw a short, but concise list of desserts and a cheeseboard, also on offer were digestif cocktails. My choice was the treacle tart, I’m a bit fussy with desserts as I’m not a chocolate, panna cotta or cheese fan so the treacle tart it would have to be or nothing.

I definitely made the right choice! It looked really good on a piece of grey slate, a decent wedge of treacle tart with a scoop of sorbet, a dollop of clotted cream and what I think was an intense raspberry snow. I don’t have treacle tart very often so I really savoured it and made every mouthful count. Served warm so the yummy filling had a lovely give to it, it was as if it had surrendered itself to a very good cause. The clotted cream was just right – creamy and rich enough to balance out the sweetness of the tart. And finally the sorbet I loved and was full of raspberry goodness. Basically the dessert was excellent!!

Treacle tart, clotted cream and raspberry bellini sorbet
Treacle tart, clotted cream and raspberry bellini sorbet

The other half ordered one of the digestif cocktails instead of a dessert. The tonka bean provided a lovely subtle vanilla hit to the espresso martini.

Tonka bean espresso martini
Tonka bean espresso martini

The total bill for our meal for 2 was £65 including service charge, reasonably priced for 3 courses each with wine! In matters other than our experience that evening, Dish is also open for lunch, both weekdays and weekends. I can vouch for the Sunday lunch, as it’s excellent!! Starters range from £5.50 – £12 for a sharing platter, main courses range from £9.50 –  £18.50, there is also a rib of Yorkshire beef to share at £55 and desserts are between £5 and £12 (sharing dessert).

I’d recommend Dish, it’s got a great new home and is serving good, modern British food.

Food: Enjoyed on the whole, interesting and innovative menu.

Service: Excellent, friendly and attentive staff.

Atmosphere: Quiet background music. Place has a nice ambience to it.

Dish Dining Room & Bar
19 Boar Lane
Leeds
LS1 6EA
(formerly at 18 Great George Street)
0113 3182274

dishdining.co.uk

Dish Dining Room and Bar on Urbanspoon

Launch evening @ Dish, Leeds

I had a busy couple of days with foodie evenings this week and last night we went to the new opening of Dish Dining Room and Bar, which has moved from its original home on Great George Street to Boar Lane.

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We had a lovely evening of yummy bellinis and fantastic canapés, great to see lots of gluten free goodies for the other half too. The place was looking great with a new cocktail bar and lower ground dining room, a much larger premises to showcase their style of fine dining to a larger audience.

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The restaurant has grown from strength to strength after opening last year and having been named Best Newcomer in the Oliver Awards 2013 is evidently on the up and up. The ethos for their food is still rooted in Modern British cuisine using the best local and seasonal produce around. The food is inventive and thoughtful, we especially like it as they have a gluten free menu too, with just as many great dishes on the regular menu. I can’t wait to go for lunch or dinner, I have a feeling it will be soon!

Their premises on Great George Street is now home to the sister venture Harry’s Bar & Brasserie.

Dish Dining Room & Bar

19 Boar Lane,
Leeds,
LS1 6EA
(formerly at 18 Great George Street)
0113 3182274
http://dishdining.co.uk