Peruvian food has definitely become ‘a thing’ in recent years, especially in London. Establishments such as Ceviche, Lima and Andina opening their doors to the public and winning the hearts of many with their fusion food and Pisco sours. Some of which have garnered high praise and acclaim, in particular Lima being awarded a Michelin star.
A table booked at Pachamama for 6pm sounded reasonable, right? In hindsight we probably shouldn’t have booked a table for 6pm, but had completely misjudged ourselves with how much we’d eat beforehand! You’ll see from my two posts on Opera Tavern and On the Bab!
Off the main drag, you’ll see a big ‘A’ in neon, I was a little confused at first, perhaps it relates to Andean cuisine? The front door immediately leads to a staircase taking customers below street level, resulting in a dark atmosphere to the room lit up with neon and the odd lamp/candle. The menu’s broken down into snack, sea, land, soil and desserts and lend themselves to sharing, you guessed it – small plates! We obliged by ordering something from each, apart from desserts – not wanting to risk bursting as we’d probably be full to the brim after all the eating we’d already done.
The dishes were beautifully executed, amalgamating good presentation with interesting ingredients and tastes. There wasn’t much to fault, apart from ourselves for possibly spooling our appetites before we’d even got to the restaurant, but that’s completely our (ahem my) greedy mistake. Highlights were many – the lamb belly, Iberico pork, fried chicken and chicharonnes! All on the money, some of the best fried chicken I’ve eaten and kicks the one from On The Bab into submission (hey, I know it’s not the same but whatever!). The lamb, you may know I’m not the greatest lover of lamb, but I could’ve been converted after that dish – well cooked, so tender and moist, with flavours which just sung. If I enjoyed the lamb, I loved the Iberico pork which was super succulent, the maize puffs reminded me of corn maize puff snacks which I love, and a huacatay sauce that provided its own unique herbiness to the plate.
Both food and cocktails being equally awesome, the staff are welcoming and its popularity didn’t seem to affect the speed of service. This aside, it’s certainly not cheap and despite how much we enjoyed it, Pachamama is definitely a place for a special treat, rather than somewhere you fancy going just because you can’t be bothered to cook tea!
The Leeds food scene continues to grow from strength to strength, and one which has stood out from the crowd of this new breed is Ox Club. Anyone who loves food, who’s been in Leeds over the last year will probably have eaten something from Belgrave Music Hall conjured up by Ben Davy, the mastermind behind Dough Boys, Patty Smiths and British Street Food Award winners Fu-Schnikens. Ox Club’s hangar steak had already become a hit after a few flirtations at Belgrave, however it was their highly anticipated opening in Headrow House, even though delayed which became a bonus early Christmas present for Leeds folk. Its launch had the desired effect with a steady stream of yummy photos filling my Instagram feed, doing the inevitable and making me very eager to get my chops around some Ox Club fare!
With dismay I thought it may be months until I’d be back in the north, but the food gods looked favourably upon me with a mates’ birthday dinner. Reading the news literally made me whoop with utter joy, so I decided to try brunch too – nothing wrong with a double whammy, eh?!
Having seen the space in its early building site days and as Big Lil’s, its previous guise, the place is completely transformed with an understated dining space – bare wood, concrete floors and white painted brick walls. An open kitchen is adorned with the beast of a Grillworks Grill, providing the fire power to bring out the best in local produce showcased in the menu. Their thoughtful menus salute inspiration from a range of food cultures, in particular from a trip in North American with influences subtly reflected.
Let’s start with brunch first – as per usual drinks to whet the appetite were of major importance with a Bloody Mary, Ox Club have a pimped up version with a simply genius move of using their very own steak infused vodka…yes you read right – S.T.E.A.K I.N.F.U.S.E.D V.O.D.K.A! So not only is there a balancing act from a smack of Tabasco heat, tomato sourness etc….there’s also steak meatiness! At the time this was the only brunch cocktail on the books, much to my disappointment, so I stuck to a trusty North Star coffee.
Service is relaxed and easy going, all in a good way as people don’t take themselves too seriously here, but still give a helping hand with the menu if required. Expect food that’s something a little different from the norm – where boundaries are pushed as far as mainstream breakfast or brunch goes. There were three of us, but four dishes ordered – why? Well, I’m basically a greedy little bugger and didn’t want to settle on one, ordering a conservative two.
For all establishments serving breakfast/brunch it’s hard to get away from having a version of the full English on the roster. However, similarly to their evolution of Bloody Mary they have their own take which includes pork belly, German sausage and home fries. With extra bacon added on the side the other half was suitably well fed to tackle the rest of the day. In fact, the pork belly was so good they should put that on the sides menu, because I’d be all over it!
Kimchi chicken was my first port of call – the amalgamation of a multitude of tastes and textures playing around in my mouth was a joy! Crispy chicken, sourness and heat of fermented kimchi, balanced by the nutty wild rice and the addition of a fried egg with runny yolk makes it a winning dish!
Cassoulet was my second choice – a comforting dish with some tasty elements; in particular the sausages and Guinea fowl. However it lacked a little something, mainly because the flageolet beans were a touch under seasoned.
Their evening menu follows the small plates trend with dishes like hangar steak, ox cheek and razor clams, as well as plenty to tempt vegetable lovers. Notably a roasted cauliflower plate that’s quickly gained cult status and been at the forefront of diners memories!
Highlights off the menu were many, my favourite picks – chicken schmaltz, not on the menu as such but it was an opening gambit I’d be happy to start a meal with any day! Some restaurants may offer olive oil and Balsamic vinegar, not here – this nectar from the food gods was basically like chicken dripping, or in my mind roast chicken in liquid form.
The burrata was another favourite, something so simple giving maximum pleasure – beautifully creamy and smokey, treated simply with fennel, lemon and black pepper was a treat!
Melt in the mouth Ox cheek that’d been cooked until its meaty gelatinous texture lovingly gave up in my mouth, bringing along with it deep flavours – sublime! Hangar steak beautifully cooked, a little more salsa verde with its umami herbiness would’ve made it even more awesome. It came with cracking chips too, with smoked sea salt and Bloody Mary ketchup – they’ve really thought of everything!
Roasted cauliflower – this supposed ‘side dish’ has been winning the hearts of everyone and I’m not surprised. I’ve tried this veg roasted a few times, not always successfully. When done well it’s incredible and full of flavour, the innate taste of the vegetable changes and it’s brilliant at taking on more intense flavours. With a piquant romesco sauce and flaked almonds it’s a must order dish, even if your not a fan of the veg, this dish could win you over.
Dessert-wise the lemon tart was always my first choice, I’m not the greatest dessert lover usually, but I can be tempted by something citrusy and this is one of my favourites, so much so it was our wedding dessert. As this only needs a few ingredients a lot can go wrong, so a pastry that’s short and crumbly is compulsory, filled with a silky creamy lemon filling, possessing a sharp enough hit of lemon just enough so you don’t wince. Ox Club’s was right up there and top notch.
It was only a matter of time before food maestro Ben Davy and his pals would open up a fully fledged establishment, with grown up plates of food which don’t cost the earth – Leeds is a very lucky place to have them!
Birthday celebration meals can be a little tricky to organise for large groups I reckon, trying to satisfy different tastes can be a fiddly problem to get your head around and having something that pleases the whole crowd can take some thought!
For a mates birthday, we had a few of these issues to work around and after a bit of research I went for tapas at Salt Yard, on Goodge Street in central London. With specific dietary requirements at the forefront of my mind I was keen to make this was a matter of importance when booking. The staff at Salt Yard couldn’t be faulted in this respect, producing an individual menu for a friend with a severe egg allergy and providing extra fish and veg dishes for a couple who were Halal.
Being the Christmas season the restaurant offered two set menus, at £40 and £45 per person, with plenty of choice on each we collectively decided on the less expensive of the two. On the night, three of the party were running very late and with a need to vacate our table by 9pm, I was a little worried we’d struggle for time and knowing how stressful it can be for staff I was a bit concerned. Forty-five minutes later we were all accounted for and dinner could begin – a steady stream of dishes came thick and fast, it was obvious the kitchen and waiting staff were trying their best to get food to our table, which pleased me no end because I was starving!!
Of all the dishes, my favourites were the salt cod brandade with egg which was beautiful, a perfectly poached egg with a yolk that runs effortlessly and paired with the slightly salty brandade it was a favourite amongst the table, oh also the pork belly (typical I know!). The deep fried courgette flowers were the source of amusement on the plate, but that’s just us being childish and facetious, they tasted great though even though the batter could’ve been lighter. The meat dishes were popular, in particular the pork belly which was one of the stand out dishes of the evening. The bavette of venison may’ve looked like a mess on the plate, but the meat was beautiful, I’ve had better roasted cauliflower though (Ox Club in Leeds!!!).
Not everything was a success with the whole table – the cured mackerel was a little hit and miss, it pretty much depended on which bit you took. Some pieces were chunkier than others making them harder to eat, I was canny to choose the thinner pieces so didn’t have the same problem. The ricotta doughnuts didn’t work for me – the grainy texture was off putting and after trying a couple I sadly left the rest.
On the whole, I reckon the group had an enjoyable evening and the birthday girl was certainly happy with the restaurant choice. We were all pretty stuffed, even though some dishes were loved more than others, I think it’s hard to please everyone with such a diverse menu.
Any serious foodie will already know about Rare in Leeds, having sampled their fantastic array of mouth-watering meat based delights, including their bespoke steak boards which allow the diner to not only choose the cut of meat but also the breed. My first foray into the ‘uncommon excellence’ of Rare was on a ‘beef and bourbon’ night which shone the spotlight on my favourite meat coupled with my favourite tipple (in fact, look back far enough on this blog and you’ll find it, reviewed by Diane). A roaring success, apart from my misgivings about a piece of sweetened beef on top of a cake, I was excited about going back to sample the new Rareties menu.
An evening meal in Rare usually takes one on a tour into the subterranean dining room which, while beautiful and tastefully furnished, focuses around a large stuffed cow in the middle of the room – nothing like eating a steak, being guilt tripped by the shiny eyes of a stuffed bovine (I do love dark humour and this addition is an amusing reminder of where your delicious mouthful is coming from). The Rareties menu, however, is offering the customer a less formal affair, available to be enjoyed in the bar area with a small plate ethos which allows more choice along with a value for money price tag. But don’t be fooled – this bar menu does not mean anaemic potato wedges and deep fried nonsense – the Rare M.O of bringing the customer something unique and top quality is at the heart of this new venture and it really is something spectacular.
Using local rare breed producers, the Rareties menu is offering an experience that is unparalleled in Leeds at the moment. Our first plate was Longhorn beef on toast, which is priced at £4.50. The portion was big enough for my friend and I to both have two slices and every mouthful was better than the last. Not only was the beef succulently tender, but the accompaniments to the beef worked perfectly. The sourdough bread was a wonderful base for the rare cooked meat, which was topped with piquant capers, girolles and pickled shallots. Topped with a crispy, salty sliver of guinea fowl skin, this plate was a showstopper on its own, offering an insight in to what was to come on the Rareties menu (so much so that I’ll definitely be back in for this dish, on my own – forget sharing!).
Our next plates were the Mangalitza Hotdog on homemade brioche bun (£6) and the Hambleton Ale fed Dexter slider (£4.50). Both of these dishes showcase Rare’s dedication to using unique producers for the best flavour, and you are excused if you just read Mangalitza and thought ‘What the hell is that?’ because I was exactly the same. Luckily, the friendly owner of Rare told us all about the fall and rise of the plucky Mangalitza pig so get ready for this tasty history lesson people!
In the 1830’s, Arch Duke Joseph Anton Johann of the Austro-Hungarian Empire created the breed of the Mangalitza pig for the Habsberg Royal Family, resulting in its delicious meat and fat being highly prized all over Europe by the end of the century. This curly-haired pig takes a long time to mature and is smaller than other breeds, meaning that after World War Two and the change in consumerism and animal husbandry, the majestic Mangalitza pig became too expensive to rear and by the 1980’s, this curly-coated porker was nearly extinct. But don’t fear farmyard fans – you don’t get rid of the Mangalitza that easily! With the efforts of a geneticist called Peter Roth, this succulent squealer has now been saved, and Rare get their meat from Otterburn-Mangalitza, a specialist breeding programme in Helmsley, North Yorkshire. Anyway, enough of the history lesson – let’s get to the taste! Oh my…the taste! It is a mix between beef and pork – rich, incredibly tasty and so moreish. The hot dog bun was slightly crumbly and didn’t hold together very well but the quality of the meat counteracted any failings of the bread and was probably one of the best sausages I’ve ever eaten ( and I come from Lincolnshire, so that’s quite an achievement!).
The slider was also a wonderful little burger, piled high with a medium rare Dexter beef patty which is fed with Hambleton Ale, resulting in a wonderfully rich flavour which is complemented well with a soft brioche bun and a spiky Dijon mayonnaise. It was a great little snack which would be perfectly complemented by a bottle of Hambleton Ale, also stocked by Rare.
We were also presented with a side plate of ‘Carol’s Pink Fir potatoes with a smoked roe dip’. I don’t know who Carole is but she can cook some damn fine potatoes. Perfectly boiled and seasoned, their waxy texture made them a perfect snack, and whilst I’m never a fan of fish based dips, my friend loved the smoked roe mayonnaise so we’ll call that a success.
Not only does Rare excel in the fine food department, but they sure know how to mix a damn fine cocktail. I asked the friendly waiter for a suggestion of a drink to enjoy, as the choice was just too much for me. He suggested a Portfolio, which consisted of Colonel Fox gin, Fonsecca crusted port, thyme liqueur, tonic and a sprig of thyme for good measure. Its herbal tones worked perfectly with the gin and really worked well with everything I ate. My friend went for a Hedgerow, a gorgeous concoction of Aylesbury Duck vodka, elderflower liqueur, greengage liqueur and topped with fresh raspberries and blackberries. My friend was very happy with this choice and I have to admit, I got cocktail envy. It looked beautiful and tasted even better – a wonderful mixture which I would happily suffer a hangover from.
We were also given a taste of some of the desserts on offer, with a lemon meringue tart presented to us with three types of meringue. After quizzing the waiter, we found out that the soft, flame charred meringues on top of the tart were Swiss-style, whereas the long cylinder was a French style lemon meringue, along with a crisp sliver of the same meringue, studded with lemon and thyme. We both loved the meringue which had a zesty zing to it but were a little disappointed by the actual tart which lacked any real lemon taste. The pastry was perfect but without a strong citrus filling, it lacked the impact that its presentation gave.
With our coffees, we were also given a toasty paper bag which was opened to a plume of spicy steam, revealing two freshly made donuts. They were soft and crisp on the outside and were liberally covered in star anise flavoured sugar – a perfect side to dip in our coffee.
I can see exactly why Rare have launched their Rareties menu, especially due to the amount of eateries that have opened in Leeds. The small plate culture has blossomed in Leeds and Rare really has got something unique to offer. With relaxed surroundings, friendly staff and some of the best produce you will ever eat, the Rareties menu is well worth a try.
Hi, I'm Diane and welcome to my blog. I'm currently hopping between Leeds and the South finding the best and the worst in food and drink whilst on my travels. You'll find reviews and recommendations, sometimes the odd thing about running, travel and my life in general.