My 2014 Favourites!

The time of year has come where we make lists of our favourite things, for me as a so-called food blogger, it’s time for me to look back at some of the memorable eating experiences I’ve had. So with that in mind I’ve scoured the last year and picked out my favourites.

These aren’t in any particular order by the way:

1. The Man Behind The Curtain – whether Leeds’ food and drink scene is heading towards a Michelin star is debatable, the execution of the food and the service here are second to none and deserves to have praise heaped on it. The food is innovative, aesthetically beautiful and exquisite to boot.

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Part of the degustation menu

2. NOM Deli: one of the things I enjoy about food blogging is meeting people. I’m not the most out-going person, but this has brought me out of my shell more, and talking to like-minded individuals who base their work around the love of food is very inspiring. So when meeting the team from NOM Deli that’s what happened, they love the food from their native homeland and are serving their take on Banh Mi, bun and pho in Leeds city centre. I remember vividly trying the Banh Mi at Kirkstall Deli Market and being completely blown away by it! I’m definitely hoping to visit them again, to try out their Friday evening menu in the new year! Fancy reading about my experience at NOM, click here.

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Banh Mi with BBQ pork

3. Stuzzi – this is another one of those wonderful combinations of brilliant food produced by the most passionate of people! I know I’ve recently written about this team, but what the hell because I adore their Italian food and their infectious love for their cuisine! Both of my Stuzzi experiences at the Belgrave Music Hall residency and at their new home in Harrogate have been memorable. To read about my Stuzzi encounters click here.

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Stuzzichini sharing box

4. Tartine Bakery, San Francisco – this summer I spent seven days exploring the city to the fullest. If I was to choose one from the many amazing eats we had on that trip, for me it would have to be the afternoon we spent in the Mission District, firstly joining the back of an already long queue that hugged the building, then admiring and drooling over their beautiful bakes from afar. Having eyes on stalks to grab a table as soon as one came free then slowly devouring the prettiest tarts ever!!! The fresh fruit tart and lemon cream tart were both an absolute delight – so light and dreamy. A absolute must visit!! To read my experience of patisserie heaven in San Francisco, click here.

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Lemon cream tart

5. The Reliance – this isn’t necessarily based on one of my most recent reviews, our annual Christmas lunch, but also from eating here many times over the years. It’s a firm favourite in my eyes delivering on many levels and all important ones for me; great food served at reasonable prices, lovely staff all found in a relaxed space. Our Christmas lunch a few weeks ago just reaffirmed this for me! To read about my last couple of visits click here.

Meatball sandwich
Meatball sandwich
Confit duck
Confit duck

6. Le Langhe – this Italian restaurant in York won me over with it’s perfect pasta, so much so that we ordered seconds! Simplicity in its ingredients, yielding tasty results, I could eat a bowl of that silky pasta all over again as I type, it was so good!! Click here to have a read of my visit.

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Game ragu

7. Belgrave Feast – Oh I’ve eaten, and I’ve eaten well over the last year, enjoying amazing street food at Belgrave’s monthly feast!! I’ve gone on ALOT about the Belgrave in 2014 making it a difficult one to whittle down, so I thought which would I always go to time after time, without question I would have to pick out Arepa!Arepa!Arepaand Fu-Schnikens!! Both are extremely comforting, more-ish and damn tasty! 

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SobreBarriga Arepa
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Gua Bao with sticky ox cheek

Where have you had some memorable meals and why?

http://www.themanbehindthecurtain.co.uk

http://www.nomdeli.com

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Stuzzi/356068864465742

http://www.tartinebakery.com

http://www.the-reliance.co.uk

http://www.lelanghe.co.uk

http://www.belgravemusichall.com

http://arepaarepaarepa.blogspot.co.uk

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Humpit, Leeds

A few months ago I’d read that a new hummus bar aptly named Humpit had opened in the Corn Exchange. With a recommendation from Andrew Critchett of Fish& fame, it would’ve been foolish of me to not want to seek this place out. But the usual stuff like work and life got in the way, a couple of months passed before I visited to find they’d shut up shop because they’d sold out!! Surely a good sign though? I’d also read some glowing reviews singing its praises which added to my need to get a fix of the good stuff as soon as possible!! 

Fast forward to mid-December, Belgrave Music Hall’s Xmas Feast was on and Humpit were on the roster to trade that weekend. But having over-faced myself on food from other vendors, yeah, I know there’s no surprise there, I’d planned to go for lunch the following week instead.

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Humpit is found on the ground floor of the stunning Corn Exchange, as the building is so beautiful I had a customary wander around both levels to take in the general splendour. It’s a must for me whenever I wander in for a nosey. What was fantastic was seeing all the spaces occupied by independent businesses, maybe the first time I can remember this happening in years!!

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Opened for just three months, the place has quickly become a hot spot and has many regulars. Their menu has three core elements – hummus, pita and falafel, a simple concept which they seemed to have got down to a tee! Served in different combinations with different toppings. I went for the Humpit Classic – a bowl of hummus, with whole chickpeas, parsley, olive, paprika and a pita on the side and a glass of freshly made lemonade.

There’s the choice of eating inside or outside the shop, as they have a few outside tables, but I chose to stay in so I could take in the atmosphere of the interior a little more.

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Being 100% vegetarian and vegan, this was another meal where I found myself not missing meat in the slightest!! Also I think for the price it’s a bargain, the portions are generous, extremely satisfying and filling.

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You won’t get one of those solid, dry pita breads you get at the supermarket!! Without the facilities and space to make their own (maybe in the future?!), they took time to find a bakery to make them to their specific requirements resulting in a light and fluffy pita. Served warm it was perfect for carrying the hummus and the additional toppings.

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The Humpit Classic

In my limited experience of hummus eating, I think it’s some of the best hummus I’ve ever eaten, so smooth and creamy. Served warm, with a drizzle of olive oil it was delicious. I opted for a combination of three toppings – falafel, pine nuts and tahina, spicy salsa and finally mushrooms and onions. They all worked so well together! The salsa had a gentle kick, whole chickpeas were warm and comforting, then onions and mushrooms provided a woodiness and sweetness. Hold on, I mustn’t forget the falafel, with it’s golden brown crust, they were fantastic. I’m not normally the biggest falafel fan, probably because I’ve only ever eaten those awful rock hard bullets, usually I find them dry as a bone and fairly tasteless. These were the antithesis to those aforementioned falafel, I could see now that it’s no surprise their falafel in pita is such a popular seller! Made with lots of coriander and parsley, inside the falafel had a lovely greenness to them and great on flavour too.

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The additional coriander and chilli paste gave another facet, livening it up with delicate heat and distinctive flavour. It was so yummy I couldn’t help dipping my fingers back in the bowl to get more after I’d finished my hummus bowl! All of this was washed down with lemonade that had tonnes of freshness and acidity, complementing the hummus by cutting through the richness and acting as a bit of a palate cleanser.

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Being 100% vegetarian and vegan, this was another meal where I didn’t miss meat in the slightest!! Also I think for the price it’s a bargain, the portions are generous, extremely satisfying and filling.

While I was there, a steady stream of customers came and either filled up their tables, going in a similar direction to me with the Humpit classic, or happily ordered take-out with falafel in pita, which at £3.50 sounds like a bargain. 

I’d definitely recommend Humpit, one to try any time, but even more so now that our pockets a little emptier after the festive season!!! 

Food: short, simple menu with three core elements which work sold at very reasonable prices! My lunch was filling and tasty!

Service: lovely, friendly, helpful and informative. Waiting time is a matter of minutes. 

Atmosphere: With a steady stream of customers visiting the place, there’s a good, busy feel to the Humpit. The staff are chatty and really friendly too. As the shop surrounds the main space of the Corn Exchange it benefits from the atmosphere that the rest of the building provides.

Disclaimer: my meal would have cost £7.50, but at the end of my lunch when I tried to pay it was refused and given complimentary, even when I said ‘no’. That being said as always my opinions are 100% honest, and I wouldn’t bother saying I loved it unless I really did!!

Humpit

Corn Exchange

Call Lane

Leeds

LS1 7BR

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Humpit-The-Hummus-Pita-Bar/1539664526254531

Humpit Hummus & Pita Bar on Urbanspoon

Five Guys

Hey there! A belated ‘Happy Christmas’ to everyone, I hope you’ve all had a lovely time with family and friends, enjoying the festive period to the fullest!! It’s been a few weeks since my last post (The Reliance), so I have a few reviews to post to stop a mini-backlog building up. Here’s the first!!

Another burger place has popped up in Leeds, this time in the form of Five Guys. I didn’t really know anything about them, they hadn’t crossed my radar before, should they have?? Others had told me it was a better version of the well known burger place with the golden arches, only when in London recently did I even notice them with a long queue wrapped around the building. I’m still on the fence to how many burger joints we actually need in the city, so when they opened recently, I popped in to give it a fair chance and see how they compared to others.

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It’s found on the Cardigan Fields site with other family friendly eateries on the busy thoroughfare that is Kirkstall road. I parked up to be greeted by a couple of the staff trying to entice customers in, I was always going to come in, so let them ‘persuade’ me and duly followed. On the walls were displayed some of the plaudits Five Guys has received, seems like they’ve been a big deal for quite a while by the looks of it!

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Being unfamiliar with the menu, a quick explanation made it pretty straightforward – it has a build-your-own-burger quality to it; little burgers have one patty, standard burgers have two, the price includes all the toppings, of which there are many to choose from. Fries and drinks are extra. For those not wanting a burger, there were some hot dogs and sandwiches (e.g. grilled cheese and BLT) also on the menu.
One thing that struck me was the simplicity of it, I still like the simple stuff, dislike fussy burgers and how pretentious they are in some places. Five Guys seems to stick to this philosophy too!  Ordering a little bacon cheeseburger with tomato ketchup and small fries, the next thing to tackle was the drinks machine which could conjure up 120 different combinations!! WTF?! If you’re a soft drink fan, surely this is soft drink heaven. With a push of a button, a plethora of flavours, even ones I never knew existed popped up on the screen. After spending a minute pressing as many buttons as I could before annoying anyone, I went for raspberry flavour cloudy lemonade. Refillable too, so more flavours could be tried out!

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Sitting down I could watch the busyness going on behind the counter, with approximately 14/15 staff, orders were shouted out and dealt with in a regimented and orderly fashion. A few minutes later my number was called out from the counter and I collected my brown paper bag.

The skin-on fries were crisp, golden and the portion size was more than decent. My only complaint was the amount of salt on them, there was visibly too much for me and I couldn’t eat many, needing to drink in-between to dilute the saltiness. 

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As far as the burger goes I liked it; the patties are cooked through which I can understand as they are thin, topped with thin crispy bacon and well melted cheese to made for a tasty burger. None of that horrid solid cheese hanging off the edge. You won’t get any brioche buns either here, the seeded bun tasted good and matched the diameter of the patty, which is a silly picky thing, but a majorly important thing for me.

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I liked it that staff were asking if everything was alright, of course they’ve just opened and wanted to create a good impression. Nevertheless it’s good that they’re bothered, you won’t see that in some of the other well known fast food burger joints out there. Being asked did give me an opportunity to mention the fries, the man said they can be ordered without salt so I could add my own. He kindly ordered a complimentary portion so I could see for myself, then a few minutes later a massive portion was brought over. I tasted them as they were, again lovely and crisp, with a little salt added to my liking made them just right!

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News had certainly got round about their opening day, as the place steadily filled during my visit, including some of the Reds True BBQ team, checking out the competition eh?!

Leeds already has more than its fair share of burger joints, which makes me wonder if there’s enough room for them all to be honest. However, I think if I was going to the cinema in the Cardigan Fields area, I’d rather go to Five Guys than any other chain burger joint in close proximity. My lunch did come to £12 though, maybe a touch pricey for a burger, fries and drink from a fast food joint. What do you reckon?

On another note, I do sympathise for those with nut allergies, as Five Guys use peanut oil for cooking with and love providing diners with free peanuts.

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As I said earlier, there are lots of quality of burgers joints in Leeds  now, my favourite being Patty Smiths ‘Dirty burger’ in the Belgrave Music Hall and Canteen.

Food: Simple concept, done well. 

Service: Quick, friendly service.

Five Guys

Cardigan Fields Leisure Park

Kirkstall Rd

Leeds

LS4 2DG

https://www.fiveguys.co.uk

Five Guys on Urbanspoon

Sushi Waka

Leeds has a few Japanese restaurants, some I prefer more than others; Fuji Hiro which I adore, Little Tokyo which I know other people rave about, but I find inconsistent. Wasabi Teppanyaki (Granary Wharf) closed recently and Belgrave Teppanyaki (next to Sandinista) is still open (I think), but apart from that there isn’t much choice, maybe Chino Latino which again I’ve found inconsistent. After that were looking at chains Yo Sushi and Wasabi for a sushi fix.

Sushi Waka opened recently and with the prospect of meeting a Japanese food loving friend imminent, we jumped at the chance of visiting. Also tempted by their opening offer of 20% discount for booked tables, who doesn’t love a discount, a table was booked for 7pm on a Tuesday evening!! Walking up you can’t miss it, with bright signage making it a bit of a beacon. If you wander up to North Bar and the like you cannot miss it!

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Being a little eager, I’d had a nosey at the menu and it was like a Japanese food lovers delight: starters like gyoza and takoyaki, sashimi, sushi rolls in different forms, donburi bowls, noodle dishes, bento boxes the list went on!! With that being said quality over quantity is always better, so having such as extensive menu made me think how good it would be.

In its previous guise as an Oriental fusion restaurant (can’t remember its name) I’d never visited, it didn’t look that appetising a place to eat from the outside. Probably a bit harsh, because it’s never stopped me going into places which look worse for wear in the search of a tasty feed!!

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It was a Tuesday evening, so a few tables were occupied, but it wasn’t overly busy. A very welcome drinks list was presented to us and we both fancied wine, deciding on a bottle of Merlot, but on ordering were disappointed to be told they only had house wine?! We were a little bemused by the situation, as this could’ve been mentioned earlier. Not wanting anything else other than wine, the house it would have to be, a few minutes later the waitress nervously brought over a bottle of Hardy’s, we’d also asked for some tap water, but this was forgotten about. It did the job, but it did irk me a little that it cost £17.50 though.

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It took us a while to order, firstly because we were so engrossed in catching up to peruse the menu, secondly as the menu had lots of choice. Waiting staff did ask if we wanted help and were very patient with us though, until we finally selected a variety of starters and a main dish each.

Now my understanding with Japanese food, is food comes out when they are ready, but as they are listed as starters etc, am I right to assume the dishes would be brought out in this order, unless mentioned otherwise?? Maybe I’m wrong?
Well after waiting quite a long time, at least 40 minutes, dishes were brought out in a haphazard order, donburi first, then starters, edamame which is really an appetiser. Lastly the Tonkatsu which there was some confusion over, whether it would come with rice or not?!  This was spread out over a few minutes. 

On appearance the food looked good, we were brought Unagi Don, a Donburi dish. I always love the presentation of eel laying on a bed of rice with picked ginger on the side. The meaty texture of the eel was as good as I’d remembered from the past, and with the rice makes for a filling dish.

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Our gyoza were tasty, not overly plump with tonnes of filling, but were flavourful. Their wrappers were delicate and had a lightly fried crust. Mixed tempura had been nicely done, everything was coated in a perfectly light, golden batter; the prawns in particular being lovely and juicy. The Kabocha Korokke (pumpkin croquettes) which were very good, were covered in a lovely crust including black sesame seeds. Lastly the edamame were fine, I much prefer them when they just come out of the steamer, lovely and hot.

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My friends tonkatsu looked a little odd as it had a white eggy covering on top, I wasn’t really sure what it was. It was supposed to have a katsu sauce which I found altogether lacking. On the plus side the pork tasted good and was still juicy and moist.

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Overall it was a bit of a mixed experience, I enjoyed the food, but find disappointing service frustrating. Saying that they have only been open a few weeks, so I’m sure are still finding their feet and will improve in time. Next time, i’ll be trying out the sushi.

The total cost of our meal was £45.20 after a 20% discount, not including service. 

Food: extensive menu, generally done well, but some things could be improved .

Service: needs a little work, slow from the kitchen and better communication needed. 

Atmosphere: hard to say when there was only a few tables occupied, but it nice to be able to catch up in an environment where the music wasn’t too loud. 

Sushi Waka

26 New Briggate
Leeds

https://www.facebook.com/SushiWakaLeeds

Sushi Waka on Urbanspoon

The Reliance Christmas lunch

A couple of weeks ago I posted about our annual tradition amongst our Leeds friends, to celebrate the festive period with a Christmas meal somewhere in the city. The Reliance was our venue of choice, coming out top in a great list of independents.

With a reputation of producing well-cooked food, served in simple and unfussy surroundings, it’s all about the quality of the food and also the service here! It’s no secret that I love the place, it’s been a venue we’ve frequented on and off for over a decade, so I couldn’t think of a better place to enjoy this annual event with our friends!

With a 1pm table booked and three courses coming our way, the other half and I arrived a little early to see a few of our old friends already there. The staff had reserved the private dining room for us, which I was so happy about! It looked lovely with sprigs of holly decorating the table, and customary Christmas crackers just waiting to be pulled. It was probably a stroke of genius unbeknownst to them that we ate in a separate room, as being a decent sized group with lots of boisterous individuals, there tends to be lots of loud laughter, chatter, stories and merriment during these get-togethers.

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Being the organiser of our annual gathering, I’ve always found it a tad stressful as the big things usually come down to me, even down to remembering what people have ordered! Our Christmas lunch started off with one of us being mightily late, still at the bus stop when I spoke to them, with my stress levels increasing thankfully the staff were lovely and accommodating as ever. The rest of us sat down to start eating as the last member of our group hadn’t ordered a starter, and the kitchen could hold back the main courses until they arrived. 

I was brought beetroot & gin cured salmon with horseradish cream, others the sweet potato and parmesan soup or a ham hock terrine. I can only speak for my salmon and it looked pretty as a picture on the plate. Perfectly cured, silky and delicious, with a horseradish cream being the ideal companion for the fish. Extra bread was brought out, the wine flowed and positive comments flew around the room, which I can only take as an indication of the success of the meal so far. 

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Starters – Beetroot & gin cured salmon, sweet potato and parmesan soup

The staff were completely wonderful again, this time letting us have a little breather before the second course, allowing our friend to arrive in time for the mains. Of the five choices from the menu; confit duck and beef featherblade bourguignon were the most popular, whereas I loved the sound of the wellington. It’s not something you really see that often, I haven’t eaten one since our wedding six years ago, a beef wellington that day; this time it was filled with wild mushrooms and spinach. 

When brought to the table it looked like a pasty, no problem as I love them! Being a massive savoury fan pastry is something I have a huge affinity for, this was golden, crisp and buttery – right up my street. Generously filled and deliciously satisfying with woody mushrooms and spinach. For me the sign of a great vegetarian dish is when I don’t miss the meat, here I didn’t miss it at all!! Plenty of potatoes and kale were available for sharing and they brought extra chips, which we hadn’t even ordered. All plates were thoroughly polished off and there were no complaints from anyone! 

Wild mshroom and spinach wellington
Wild mushroom and spinach wellington
Confit duck
Confit duck
Beef featherblade bourguinon
Beef featherblade bourguignon
Sides - garlic & rosemary roast nre potatoes, greens
Sides – garlic & rosemary roast new potatoes, greens

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So with the meal in full swing – cards opened, crackers had been pulled, hats were worn and bad jokes were told, our final course came soon after. All four dessert choices had been picked, I’d gone for poached pears wanting something light. Poached till soft, they needed just the smallest amount of effort to cut through them, and had taken on the flavour from the mulling spices. A light cream cheese, crunch from an oaty crumble base, and some of the poaching liquor adding extra moisture completed the dish. 

Mulled poached pear
Mulled poached pear
Goats cheese & water biscuits
Goats cheese & biscuits
Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding
Chocolate & orange mousse
Chocolate & orange mousse
Lemon posset
Lemon posset (from their main menu)

Not only was the food highly enjoyable, the service was impeccable and I was so grateful for the staff’s helpfulness and flexibility!! The Reliance was definitely the best choice for our Christmas lunch this year, it was so good I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll be doing the same again in twelve months time! My best mate and I even agreed, saying ‘this was THE best Christmas meal the Leeds lot have ever had together!!’

Are you visiting one of the city’s fantastic restaurants for a Christmas meal this year, which one?

The Reliance

76-78 North Street

Leeds

LS2 7PN

http://www.the-reliance.co.uk

The Reliance on Urbanspoon