Leeds Restaurant Cheat Sheet

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Trying to decide where to go out to eat is one of the great dilemmas of our time – up there with “What should I watch from my Netflix queue?” and “Which pet would I save in the event of a house fire?” (Broad City and whichever one usually gets the most likes on Instagram, respectively) – so here’s the Leeds Restaurant Cheat Sheet, a handy tool to help take the stress out of choosing.

I’ll try and provide a few suggestions for each type of cuisine, suited to different price ranges and occasions – Just decide what you’re in the mood for use the brief summaries to help guide your decision.  The list will be updated regularly to try and keep up with the frantic pace of Leeds food.

Coffee & BreakfastPan-AsianMexican & South AmericanItalianBurgers & BBQNorth African & MediterraneanVegetarian & VeganBritish & SeasonalSupper Clubs & Something PoshOther

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Pop-up restaurant menu made of (mostly) iconic pop-culture dishes.

TV-Diner

Time to perpetuate another press release!

Ever wanted to kick a hole in your TV screen, reach into whatever you’re watching and snatch the food right off their table?  That’s kind of what Virgin Media are doing today with a one-day pop up in Soho.

Chef Neil Rankin from The Smokehouse has curated a menu which caters to different services throughout the day.  Dinner is easily the highlight, with Breaking Bad’s Los Pollos Hermanos fried chicken and Pulp Fiction’s Big Kahuna burger (With a $5 shake, even though they’re only available from Jack Rabbit Slim’s, and Sprite is the traditional accompaniment for a BKB – I really hope somebody got fired for that blunder).


Get there earlier in the day though for the chance to try Moss’s Smarties Cereal from The IT Crowd, Red’s Apology Stew from Orange is the New Black (No, me neither), or a Bluth’s Frozen Banana (the frozen banana that might make you sick and kill you).
The concept is fun and it’s doing its job as a PR stunt (see: this post), but some of the options are a bit of a cop-out (The coffee and danish was hardly the star of Breakfast at Tiffany’s).  Considering “What would you like to eat off the telly” is my second-most pondered question after “Who would you cast in a live-action Simpsons”, I had some suggestions of my own.
Where’s the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle’s pizza?  Some of Michelangelo’s topping combinations would be tough even for an Almost Famous menu developer’s palate, but no real-life mozzarella has lived up to the expectations set by the show.
What about Reptar Bars with their unidentified radioactive green filling?  The Stay-Puft goo which covers New York at the end of Ghostbusters?  A turnt-up all-syrup super-squishee?  Never mind Freddy’s Ribs from House of Cards, I want to experience Requiem for a Dream style pupil-dilation from working my way up Ron Swanson’s Food Pyramid.
If you want to try it for yourself, go along to Milk Bar on Bateman Street between 8:30am and 8pm today – or book by emailing tvdiner@itsprettygreen.com.  In the meantime, let me know what you’d put on your menu of TV Dinners.

Feigning Blood – New vegan-friendly burger simulates minced flesh

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OBLIGATORY DAILY BURGER STORY!! OBLIGATORY DAILY BURGER STORY!! OBLIGATORY DAILY BURGER STORY!! 

Vegetarian burgers are crap.  They taste like the congealed bits you find in off-brand Pot Noodles and have the same texture as Nerf bullets – that’s why any restaurant that wants you to spend upwards of £6 on something in a bun always offers a big mushroom in lieu of an imitation burger.  Their savour could be here though, in the form of a completely vegan-friendly burger which simulates the taste and physical properties of real dead-stuff.
Impossible Foods – started by former Stanford Biology professor Patrick Brown – is working on plant-based products which will replace meats and cheeses by not only imitating their taste, but the full “eating experience” – smell, texture, tensile properties, reaction to heat, and (probably) sound.  They do this through finding molecules in plants which also lend certain properties to meat, and then doing some other science things which will go right over all of our heads – I imagine you’ve already stopped reading this sentence already and got distracted by the photo underneath.
Burgers are of course being pushed forward as the attention-grabbing flagship product, and they appear to have replicated to ubiquitous big, soggy, pink patty pretty perfectly.  You’ll have to judge with your eyes for now though, as it isn’t available the general public just yet.  According to the Wall Street Journal it’s “more akin to a turkey patty” and “arguably several rungs below a gourmet burger”, but then again so are a lot of burgers in “gourmet burger” restaurants: Zing.
Last year something similar was developed, with a $325,000 lab-grown burger (take that, Honky Tonk) made from delicious stem cells being devoured in a press conference.  Both that and Impossible Foods’ plant-burger are a long way from mainstream public availability at the minute, but they serve as clear evidence that companies are putting money into developing sustainable sources for products which carry a massive environmental toll.

Honky Tonk Announces “World’s Most Expensive Burger”

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Burgers are currently the promotional medium for carrying a brand’s yada yada – you’ve only got to look as far as the murdered-out Burger King that everybody talked about briefly last month for proof of that – and deliberately creating the “World’s Most Expensive” anything is perpetual PR release gold, so whoever came up with an idea to combine the two has earned themselves a few pats on the back when they go to the Slug & Lettuce for post-office drinks.

Chelsea restaurant Honky Tonk has obliterated the previous title-holders Serendipity in New York (you can watch 2 Chainz eat their positively austere $300 sandwich here) by coming up with a £1,100 effort which contains all of the expensive buzzword-foods you’d expect.  The gold leaf-coated bun houses a Wagyu patty containing a pocket of black truffle brie, and it’s topped with saffron-poached Lobster beluga caviar, a smoked egg, and champagne jus – it sounds like there’s a party in my mouth and Patrick Bateman has vomited 9 courses from Dorsia onto the rug.
Unlike Serendipity’s sandwich which has to be ordered 48 hours in advance and sees all the proceeds donated to homeless charities, the “Glamburger” was created to publicise tat-marketplace Groupon and isn’t actually available to buy.  Terrible news for absolutely nobody, except the Chelsea-residing oligarchs’ children who have missed out on a top Instagram opportunity.

Review: Almost Famous, Leeds

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I like to think I’ve got my finger on the pulse when it comes to Leeds, so imagine my surprise earlier this week when Almost Famous opened up in the plot which previously housed Escobar – not only was I unaware that Almost Famous was coming over from Manchester; I also had no idea Escobar had closed.
 

If you’re unfamiliar with the place, Escobar wasn’t awful – you could get a pint of Heineken and a Tuaca for exactly five pounds – but thanks to its 7am license its default role was a last-chance saloon for staff from other bars and post-club stragglers, as well as being Disneyland for opportunistic middle-aged guys trying their luck for a one early-morning stand.  In hindsight, it was quite a sad place.

With all of its gorilla statues and pick & mix sweets on tables and walls covered in affable, jovial slogans straight off of Innocent Smoothie: the teenage years labels, Almost Famous yearns to be seen as anything but sad;  it’s totally cool!  Not like those boffin restaurants with their booking policies and table service and menus that contain punctuation!  The name above the door might have changed, but the sense of desperation still lingers.  From the American Psycho monologue repeated on the walls of the Men’s bathroom to the sub-Banksy “political satire” on the walls which would have been frowned upon by Nathan Barley (Cigarette packet warnings with cleverly subverted slogans like “Government Kills”, “Poverty can seriously damage your wealth”) – just looking around the place made me cringe so hard I almost shit out a diamond. Read more

Review: Ruby Jean’s Diner at Nation of Shopkeepers

Is there a type of restaurant so tied to a particular time and place in history as The Diner?  Hearing the word conjures images from a bygone era – an era of flick-knives, rock & roll, slick pompadours and McCarthyism.  I am of course, talking about Leeds circa 2012 – when Fieri’s Law was passed.

Named after amateur wrestler lookalike/ska-punk uncle Guy Fieri – presenter of TV’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives – the statute imposed that at least 50% of existing restaurants in Leeds – as well as any new openings – must carry the same branding and decor as a branch of TGI Friday from 1994 or a high school production of Grease – with a menu to match.
Following a complete refurbishment of the place some time early last year, Ruby Jean’s popped up in the kitchen of Nation of Shopkeepers.  It had always been there, mind you – and it had always been serving some of the best bar food and Sunday Roasts in Leeds – it just didn’t have a name or a logo.  Freelance graphic designers, fine art students and future unpaid interns would spend 5 nights a week at unfeasibly cool gigs, projected-illustration-post-dubstep events, and ahead-of-the-curve hip hop nights which somehow managed to dish out free fried chicken and kool-aid while avoiding accusations of cultural appropriation.
People grow up though, and venues change to suit their audience, and M&B – the brewery that owns Nation of Shopkeepers and her wacky-named sisters around the country – were proactive in shifting the focus onto food rather than events.  While the service is better than before – the new, airy ambience seems to have either cheered up the old stroppy staff, or driven them further underground – the menu is largely the same; fried chicken is still here, but it costs £8 now; and you eat it while sat at a table, rather than dancing around on one to Project Pat – so we gave it a miss. We ate a Matador – a small pan of £8 Mac & Cheese with Chorizo which was too soft, not baked enough, and it might have heard stories about something called “seasoning” a long time ago, that’s all they were; stories.  The cauliflower cheese – £5 cheaper at £2.95 – is a small moment of joy; baked properly, with cheese on top; seasoned well, and the vegetable has more bite and flavour that the pasta.  It’s only available on Sunday though.
The burger section of the menu is pretty absurd – a Pickled Onion Monster Munch, Emmental and Thousand Island Dressing variant stands out as particularly misjudged; rather than a bit of lo-fi nostalgic gastronomy it reminded me of The Simpsons (as most things do) when Homer – left to prepare breakfast in Marge’s absence – puts together a dish from cupboard leftovers; a bottle of cloves, Tom Collins mix, and frozen pie crust.  You can also get Monster Munch as an extra topping on any burger, at an ever-so reasonable £1 for three crisps.  
The painful Hippy Burger – a dry concoction of spiced lentils resembling amusement park-sawdust – was left mostly uneaten, as were 3 of the 4 Sliders; the patties in which were overcooked, hard-shelled aardvarks of minced beef topped with a pulled pork which resembled luncheon meat.  I don’t know how in 2014 – when Burgers are so ubiquitous that they’re no longer a food, but a talisman; a punchline, almost; of a movement – anybody is still managing to get them quite so wrong.  There’s a BOGOF deal on them every Tuesday though, which is worth bearing in mind if you’re ever in the mood for two terrible burgers.
The Chicken Wings, “smoked, with BBQ sauce” showed no sign of smoking, and even less of being saucy – the boffins.  They had the sort of bitter, carcinogenic taste that you’d expect from a festival disposable BBQ, I managed two of them before offering them up to the rest of the table, where they sat unclaimed until our table was cleared some time later.  And that was that, the bill (including drinks) came to £68.50 which – considering the majority was unpleasant or inedible – didn’t seem like particularly good value for money at all.
Somehow – inexplicably – rebranding Nation of Shopkeepers from “fun bar with fun kitchen” to a dedicated “Diner” has been detrimental to the quality of the food.  The other possibility is that the food has always been this bad; but we were all just having too much fun to care.
The Bill
Nachos £5.75
Matador £8.00
Meat Sharer £12.50
Cauliflower Cheese £2.95
Pickled Onion Monster Munch etc etc Burger £9.45
Hippy Deluxe £8.95
7 x Pepsi £21