It seemed appropriate that shortly before eating at Ox Club, I’d been to the cinema to see the the Jungle Book remake. What was intended as an hour and a half of listening to Idris Elba impersonate a tiger (and reassessing my position on the Human Sexuality Spectrum accordingly) turned out to be a parable about the responsibility that comes with harnessing fire.
Handled with a deftness of touch, fire and its many applications is what separates us from the rest of the animals. Combined with a bit of ingenuity it’s helped provide us with hot water, the internal combustion engine, and toasted marshmallows. In the clumsy mitts of those who doesn’t understand or respect it properly, the results can be disastrous; resulting in forest fires, singed eyebrows, and sausages half-cooked on a disposable barbecue.
Luckily, the chefs at Ox Club know what they’re doing when it comes to fire.
You can understand why the group of City Lads getting politely turned away might have been confused – on the night we go to Iberica it’s halfway through something like its third week of soft-launch events. A couple of soft-launches is to be expected, but several weeks’ worth is very unusual. Restaurants have opened and gone out of business in less time than that. It’s also a long time for a restaurant to be operating while not making any money (though, credit where it’s due, it looks like The Joint has been doing just that for a while now) but looking around the venue, you get the impression that Iberica aren’t short of a few quid. This is no less evident than in the bathroom.
You’ve probably seen the bathroom by now – it’s gorgeous. Probably the finest bathroom in all the City. It could have been imported directly from a Dornish palace – if Dorne existed outside the mind of George RR Martin – all patterned tiles, mirrored ceilings and rose gold. There’s a 6ft wide stone sink in the middle that’s begging to be repurposed as a dolsot bowl for serving a world record-setting Bibimbap. There’s mirrors on the ceiling, mirrors on the doors, mirrors on the walls, mirrors in front of other mirrors. It’s a shrine to vanity itself. It’s destined to be the place to get a bathroom-selfie for the foreseeable future. People will flock here for that reason alone. Whether the food is any good or not is irrelevant. This has worked out favourably for Iberica, as the food we ate was, almost without exception, not good.
Iberica claims that it offers “the true taste of Spain” – if that was the case, I’d be campaigning for stricter border controls.
Having defied all conventional wisdom by opening just a week before Christmas last year, Turtle Bay’s new Leeds opening seems to have hit the ground running.
Despite a poorly judged and even worse-received marketing campaign and app that stopped one short of blackface when encouraged customers the “Rastafy themselves”, trade didn’t seem to take a hit. The traditional “January slump” is apparently the only thing that Turtle Bay wasn’t dreading. Even when I was getting a tour of the restaurant before it had even opened, I counted 15 people in the space of two hours wandering in to try and get a table.
That said, owner Ajith Jayawickrema is no stranger to casual dining start-ups; he’s the man who started Las Iguanas from nothing and turned it into a £27million, 35-site empire. With Leeds playing host to the 15th Turtle Bay restaurant to open since it started out in 2010 he seems to be repeating his former success, so obviously his methods aren’t to be questioned.
He’s had a busy year, Michael O’Hare. Following a successful stint on teatime telly, a Michelin star, and all of the publicity that goes with it he’s well and truly in front of The Curtain – luckily, despite all of the self-effacing humility, his food – and the restaurant as a whole – still manages to flourish under the many spotlights honed in on it.
Carte Blanch is the order of the day here, their interpretation of the term is the first thing that greets you – “1. To allow full creative freedom. 2. To showcase what we feel is right for now.” – but that goes without saying – looking around the restaurant you hardly get the impression that anything about the place is a result of creative compromise. Decor is eccentric and erratic; as the lift opens (the restaurant occupies the loft in a posh clothes shop, come on, keep up) a swarm of sculpted hands throwing up the devil horns protrude from the walls, all hailing the restaurant’s name.
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 & Breakfast – Pan-Asian – Mexican & South American – Italian – Burgers & BBQ – North African & Mediterranean – Vegetarian & Vegan – British & Seasonal – Supper Clubs & Something Posh – Other
I’ll begrudgingly admit that I might not be completely without fault when it comes to writing about restaurants – Hang about, before you destroy my self-esteem by shouting out guesses I’ll just come out and say it: most of the places I get chance to review are pretty casual affairs. As much as I’d love to write about a different fine dining epiphany each week, my budget dictates that restaurants be separated into two categories.
Mostly I’ll visit “Buckaroo restaurants” where even the slightest mention is enough to persuade me to drop everything and visit spontaneously. If you so much as say a word which rhymes with “MyThai” around me when I’m a bit peckish, I’ll have an Uber en route before you finish the last syllable. And then there are the Main Eventers – destination restaurants that I’ll book a week in advance, study the menu for as if it contains a hidden cypher, and daydream about while eating my lugubrious packed lunch. The kind you can justify going to in the event of a special occasion. Shears Yard was placed firmly at the top of my Main Eventers list for a while, and when they announced a new Fixed Price menu I felt it was a suitably special occasion for me to find a clean shirt for. Read more