The writing’s on the wall (!!) for Leeds’ Bro-Food Misogyny


I mentioned last week in my Almost Famous review that their embarrassing attempt at “subversive” branding was enough put me off going there again, and as such they fell off my radar entirely – we had nothing to offer each other.  That was, until I saw this article by Helen Graves last night, which brought some more details to my attention.

Photo: Helen Graves (
In particular, there was a justifiably negative response to the women’s bathrooms, specifically the fact that the walls are plastered in first-person displays of low self-image and low self-esteem.  “Why can’t I be thinner?” is one of the questions being forced into female customers’ subconscious while they look in the mirror.  “Maybe laxatives are the answer?”  Other snippets designed to nudge women towards Almost Famous’s feminine ideal include suggesting “My hair is too frizzy” “My nose is too fat” and “I wish I had boobs like Katy Perry”.
Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad if the Gent’s bathroom was a haven of insecurity and critique as well, with 1200pt Helvetica saying things like “Your willy is a bit crooked today” and “You brought a date to a restaurant which serves something called ‘Bitch Juice’, what the fuck is wrong with you?” but they don’t.  Instead, when male customers (hopefully) wash their hands and admire themselves in the mirrors they’re given the opportunity to read an exert from American Psycho
“I believe in taking care of myself and a balanced diet and rigorous exercise routine. In the morning if my face is a little puffy I’ll put on an ice pack while doing stomach crunches. I can do 1000 now. After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub. Then I apply an herb-mint facial mask which I leave on for 10 minutes while I prepare the rest of my routine. I always use an after shave lotion with little or no alcohol, because alcohol dries your face out and makes you look older. Then moisturizer, then an anti-aging eye balm followed by a final moisturizing protective lotion.  

There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me: only an entity, something illusory. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable… I simply am not there.”

Women are encouraged to wonder “Who is that girl in all of my boyfriend’s Facebook pictures?”, whereas Men get to briefly assume the role of one of literatures most notable delusional narcissists.

When I visited I noticed that the front of house and floor staff were women around 18-22 (While the males were behind the bar making drinks, or just behind the bar talking about man stuff like doing press ups) – is this considered an appropriate working environment for young women?  If I went to work every day and got told “My bum is really flat”, I might just start to believe it.  And my bum is fucking gorgeous.

This isn’t Leeds Bro Food scene’s first foray into misogyny though.  Primo’s came under criticism a couple of years ago for their marketing, which encouraged customers to “Get Freshers while they’re still thin”, and responded to the criticism by suggesting that Primo’s loves big girls, because they keep them in business.  Red’s True BBQ launched a campaign earlier this year which parodied domestic abuse charity adverts, with the hilarious twist that it was to help “convert” vegetarians.  And let’s not ignore Get Baked/Mr. Nice Guys, who every so often encourage their Facebook followers to launch a tirade of abuse against Cher Lloyd for no apparent reason, with predictably vulgar results.

Unfortunately, when negative attention is drawn to these campaigns it only makes the idiots responsible for them think they’re doing a great job at “viral marketing”, and the equally stupid apologists jump to their defence, mistaking critics sense of decency for “Being easily offended”, all the time normalising the outdated messages that the restaurants perpetuate.  Are the people who approve these campaigns really that out of touch the the pop culture that they think sexism is still fair game?  A national dialogue is open on equality now lads; feminism is a backing dancer for Beyonce.

Leeds is desperate at the moment to be considered “Food Capital of the North”, and 90% of restaurants and vendors are doing great work towards that.  Unfortunately while this minority tries to make up for the shortcomings of their food with shock tactics, all the things which make the city great will be ignored as our city’s image boils down to little more than attention-craving LAD Bible burger joints.

Update: After maintaining silence for most of the day, Almost Famous issued the following statement on their website, complete with photograph:

The designs in our female toilets have caused upset and we are sorry. Almost Famous is a young company, we take risks, but we got this one wrong. We want to stress our intentions weren’t to offend. The designs were created by a female employee to voice her own and other women’s insecurities. We accept we didn’t communicate this properly. The designs are currently being removed from all of our restaurants.

The Almost Famous Team”

All credit to them for being proactive.  The “we’re young mavericks who are naive, and as a result took a swing and a miss” and “it was a female employee’s idea” attempts at absolving blame doesn’t quite cut it, but it’s better than the usual “Some people just can’t take a joke” or “We’re sorry you were offended” responses to criticism – so that’s some progress.
Of course, this doesn’t address their promotional video featuring a close-up of a woman’s face while she masturbates over the thought of a ketchup-lubricated lapdance (Don’t waste your time watching it, it just looks like a 2008 episode of Skins set in a service station), but it’s a start…

Review: Almost Famous, Leeds

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

Review: Zucco


I’ve never been to Italy – I’ve never laid in a gondola, looking at the stars while a man serenades me with a song about Cornettos; never posed for a photograph that looks like I’m holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, with dozens around me attempting the same thing and looking like uncoordinated backing dancers in Soulja Boy’s Crank Dat video; I’ve never even done a third hypothetical Italian thing, because I haven’t been to Italy, like I said.

My knowledge of Italian food comes from three sources; a Penne recipe that my Mum got from a Sainsbury’s advert in 1992 – containing a tin of tomatoes and a Pepperami – Goodfellas frozen pizza, and Goodfellas by Martin Scorcese (if this film doesn’t subconsciously spring to mind every time you slice a clove of garlic, then you weren’t paying enough attention).  That’s why even with my firmest intentions, and the most enthused recommendations from friends who are really very good at eating well, it’s taken me absolutely ages to get round to visiting Zucco.

I know that there are good restaurants that serve authentic Italian food, but for every Tagliatelle like I ate here – light tasting, but flavoured boldly with mushrooms and white truffle oil – I’ve suffered through several impotent cannelloni and Carbonaras swathed in béchamel sauce, it’s enough to make a skeptic out of anybody, I’m sure you can empathise.  The appearance and ambience of Zucco does its best to assure you that it isn’t one of those places- no smoked-glass mirrors, wicker-clad Chianti bottles repurposed as candle-holders, or oil-drizzlers placed on checkered tablecloths; just elegant white enamel tiles and a lot of dark wood – it looked like the kind of place a stronzo like myself would wind up getting offed if I was in Boardwalk Empire.

The clean, minimal theme continued into the menus; single sheet placemats containing a list of todays dishes without much in the way of a description, so if you’re a pleb rather than a worldly, sophisticated food-blogger then you might have to ask what a Saltimbocca is, or how to tell your Arancina from your elbow-macaroni.  I was accompanied by my Fiance and Mum and it was my birthday, so I let them assume pleb-duties for the evening; asking what words meant while the charming and knowledgable owner explained, and I sat ears-pricked, swirling a Negroni and nodding knowingly.  There are few idioms I loathe more than “The awkward moment when…” but when the owner explains that the Polpette is his Nonna’s recipe meatball, and you’re really just not in the mood for a meatball, I felt totes #awks!!

Zucco Smoked Haddock and Clams

Not that I have a problem with Nonna’s cooking – especially if she inspired the Smoked Haddock and Scallops, with a cream sauce that I’d gladly have sucked out of an old bandage – it’s just that I didn’t see it as a dish which suited a meal of sharing-plates.  Neither though, was the Osso buco – a clenched giants-fist of Pork shin topped with a Mint Gremolata to complimented its texture, like that of slow-roasted Lamb.  So I shared it as little as possible.  Unlike many Sharing-plates restaurants, the dishes are brought out in an order which best suits the people eating them – novel – so the Pizzette with gorgonzola and spinach arrived first, along with a pretty hefty pile of Truffle Salami (a revelation!) Coppa (is this more truffle sala…Oh, no) and Cacciocavalo cheese (…perhaps there’s some more of that Truffle Salami under this cheese).  The Soft Shell crabs were served whole, and the amount of meat wasn’t really worth the effort of extracting it and looking like a grown man trying to assemble a kinder egg toy while wearing goalie gloves, but I’d like to keep a hipflask full of their accompanying tomatoey, umami broth in my pocket at all times from now on.

Zucco Pork Osso Buco

Even sharing between three – and despite the fact my capacity for storing food increases with each review I write – we only got to try ten plates from a menu from which I could have ordered twenty. While we chatted before ordering, the owner mentioned that “People often order too much because they expect tapas portions rather than starters and the chefs get upset.  I’d rather people wait and order it next time”.  Presumptuous, sure, but I think I’ll do just that.

Parmesan Flatbread £3.50
Spinach, Gorgonzola & Walnut Pizzette £5.95
Coppa, Truffle Salami & Caccio Cavalo Cheese £7.75
Smoked Haddock & Scallops £7.25
Soft Shell Crab & Clams £8.95
Parmesan Breaded Chicken Cotoletta £6.25
Pork Osso Buco £6.85
Tagliatelle al burro with Wild Mushrooms & White Truffle £5.85
Flash Fried Seasonal Vegetables £2.95
Stuffed Red Pepper with Anchovy, Capers & Breadcrumbs £5.95
Raspberry Bellini £4
Prosecco Cocktail £5
Aperol Spritz £5.50
Negroni £5.50
Total (inc Service) £90

Review: Twisted Burger Company, Aire Bar, Leeds


Having taken up residence at Aire Bar at the start of this month Twisted Burger Company are the new kids on the Leeds Burger Block, but they’ve slanging burgers from the kitchen of Sheffield’s The Harley since January 2011 – which is like a decade in Burger-years.  For context, that predates the opening of Leeds’ first dedicated burger joint Johnny Fontaine’s by over a WHOLE YEAR.

Despite their OG status, I’ve only had two encounters with them.  The first came last week when I was invited to a press launch, but due to my poor timekeeping I only got there in time to try a quarter of an anonymous burger.  Not enough basis to form an opinion on; just enough to whet my appetite for more.  In fact, that was the reason I ended up going to and reviewing The Pit – but I can’t hold that against them.

Arriving for the second time, we got shown to a table outside with a full view of the river.  I’m gonna go ahead and award it the accolade of “Most scenic location to eat a burger in Leeds”; Getting a Patty Smiths and sitting on the roof of Belgrave comes close, but the appeal of visible ducks means that Aire Bar just pips it.  This place is going to make a killing in the Summer.

There’s no shortage of hometown pride on display, if you didn’t know they were from Sheffield before, then it wouldn’t take you long to realise.  Each table is equipped with a bottle of Henderson’s Relish (being – as I am – from Worcester, I can tell you that Henderson’s is without a doubt the second best sauce with an orange label OF ALL TIME.) and the menu – by Sheffield designer Tom J Newell with all the gnarly, dripping charm of a 90s hardcore zine – contains dishes referencing Pulp classics, and a vegetarian burger put together by loveable scamp/entrepreneur/demon-possessed throat Oli Sykes.

There’s also an impressive dedication to puns on the menu, which is always good to see.  Fortunately, unlike some of my ill-fated feature ideas which start with the pun and work backwards (Such as Graze Anatomy, where I would review the contents I received in a my Graze box each week) the content each pun relates to is well considered, rather than shoehorned in.

Based on what I’ve seen on my Instagram feed, Pig Daddy Kane (£7.95) seems to be Twisted’s de facto signature, so it was a no brainer.  I usually avoid Pulled Pork at all costs since it became the new buzzword in trendy food and it started getting churned out by everybody from Boots to Wetherspoons to your old Mum, and most of them (Not my Mum though, of course) were getting it terribly wrong, producing something that resembled wet, stringy tuna saturated with cheap BBQ sauce.

Not this though.  Twisted’s pulled pork is tender without having to rely on a BBQ bath for moisture, and when they do sauce it up, they use a homemade blend infused with Kraken rum.  As well as making a great burger, they were a welcome addition on the Pig Pimpin’ Fries (£5.5) which had a pretty generous portion of both on top, as well as a smoked cheese sauce.

I also went for Return of the Mac (£6.95) from the more esoteric end of the menu, with two bacon patties, Mac & Cheese and pesto crammed into the brioche.

I didn’t actually realise before it arrived that it came with bacon patties as standard rather than beef, but it worked really well – especially with the thoughtful addition of pesto so combat all of the richness going on.  This burger alone is a testament to Twisted’s MO, doing things assuringly familiar, but with just enough of a difference to give you a pleasant surprise.  The Mac & Cheese is also available on its own as a side, and I thoroughly recommend trying it.

There was a This Is Hardcore (£7.95) on the table – with its deep-fried pieces of N’duja sausage lending itself to the greatest pun on the whole menu – which I didn’t get a chance to try, but I did help myself to plenty of the Jalapeno Business Fries (£4.75) which were covered in Salsa, Guac and Sour Cream, and but impressively seasoned all the way through, so you have something to look forward to after finishing the top layer.

There’s an offer on until April 20th which gives you half price burgers if you ask your waiter nicely, so the bill – including four burgers, two gluttonous fries and a few drinks each – came to only £35.  Without the offer, that’d probably mound up to just shy of £50 for the 3 of us, which is still decent value.

Technically, this isn’t the best burger available in Leeds at the minute – Twisted obviously isn’t targeting purists – but what is does do, it does better than anybody else.  It’s easy to see why they’ve stood the test of time in their hometown, and I hope they repeat that success here as well.  Just bring your own Worcester Sauce if you want something decent to soak your chips in.

Review: The Hungry Bear, Meanwood


Meanwood has enjoyed something of a renaissance recently, the allure of being able to call Waitrose their local supermarket has seen young professionals flocking to the catchment area, and established bars have responded by opening Meanwood spin-offs such as Alfred and East of Arcadia.  Joining them is new indepedent restaurant The Hungry Bear – which coincidentally would also be my username on Grindr.

On arrival my initial reaction was that it didn’t feel like a restaurant – the layout; resourceful with its limited space, and the well-considered mismatch of decor gave the feeling of a supper club, and for some reason the prominence of slate made me think of a family run bistro in the Lake District.  I should point out that this is pretty unfounded though, I’ve only been to the Lake District once, and I was 6, so I was hardly taking notes on the use of the masonry in bistros at that age.

Having been disarmed by the appearance and atmosphere, the greeting was suitably relaxed and friendly; we’d only made our booking 30 minutes before turning up, so the waitress was anticipating our arrival and showed us to our table, and told us about the beers that they brew on site.If it hadn’t fallen victim to its own popularity and ended up stricken from the menu, I’d have loved to try their IPA, but due to the circumstances we shared a couple of bottles of their Fruit Ale (£7.50) between the table.

Rather than a Lambic – which can taste like a moderately alcoholic equivalent of getting Tango’d – there was just a hint of Blueberry and Morello Cherry, making it a much more suitable accompaniment to a meal.

Settling with a my drink, my attention was drawn to the music they were playing.  Off the top of my head we got to enjoy some unobtrusive-but recognisable-if-you-know-it songs by SBTRKT, Radiohead and Santigold.  Not a dealbreaker, but a pleasant bonus.  Along with the microbrewery and bear imagery, they’re well on their way to a full house in hipster bingo.

For all of the contemporary touches offered by The Bear’s other aspects, the menu relies on old classics, verging on the gastro-pub territory.  If you had to summarise the menu quickly – as I had to when I suggested going there to my girlfriend – you’d probably say it was British grub, done proper.  You’d also sound like a bit of a berk for straying so far into somebody else’s vernacular, as I did.

For my starter I had the Peruvian Fishcakes (£6.5) which was served with Cajun Lotus Root and an Avocado Salsa.  These were small and light and fried in what I imagine was polenta.  They were not overcooked, and each ingredient was distinguishable, I couldn’t tell what type of fish it was as I’m a fish novice, but it was flavourful enough to be distinguishable, but not in the sense that it was suspiciously fishy and a few days past best.  The cajun lotus root gave a nice contrast of texture, in the form of deep red shards scattered across the dish, like big bits of those posh Kettle chips made of beetroot.

My fellow diners didn’t really get the hang of the “order as much different stuff as possible and let me try it” policy I encourage when eating out with guests, and both ended up going for the Fig and Sun-dried Tomato Filo Tart (£6).  It arrived resembling more of a quiche than a tart – the fig and sun-dried tomatoes lay on a thick layer of airy-but-rich savoury custard flavoured with blue brie, and the eponymous filo pastry underneath – it wasn’t what any of us were expecting, but something as ambiguously named as a tart is open to interpretation, so we learned our lesson to ask questions about the menu in future.

The tart was perfectly pleasant, however one portion is two substantial slices, and would have been more than enough for two people.  Having been given a deliciously creamy pea & mint amuse bouche before the starter, it was clear that The Hungry Bear’s aim is to make sure they leave no man or woman so much as peckish after their meal.

I realised there was no danger of that as soon as my Confit and Fired Pork Belly (£11.9) arrived in front of me, served with kale, citrus and carrot puree and a red win jus – stacked onto the plate so that it towered over the table like one of the twig-sculptures from True Detective (topical!).

As you can imagine from a fatty cut of meat which has been boiled in more fat, it was very, very tender; falling apart under the most delicate of my knife’s incisions.  The meat to fat ratio was impressive, and it tasted as rich as you’d expect.  Then I tackled the crackling.

Until this point I’d only eaten the meat, leaving the spring vegetable fricasse to perform its job of springing the meat back up towards me, and so I chose kale as accompaniment to the first mouthful of crackling, to provide a fresh counterpoint to the crispy, chewy fat.  I was so naive.

After a couple of chews and the flavours started to harmonise, my girlfriend looked over and asked how it was.  All I could muster was a nod, and she told me that it looked like I was moving in slow motion.  I can only imagine I was trying to savour that perfect moment for as long as possible.  Apparently Darren Aronofsky is going to make a film about me chasing that unattainable high again, he’ll be able to use recycle the pupil-dilation close-up from Requiem for a Dream probably.

The crackling is very good.  Imagine a warm but brittle Wham bar made of pork fat, all sweet and caramel, able to withstand a little torsion before giving way and breaking, and then sticking to your teeth like slowly-dissolving barnacles.  The kale was steamed and buttered and enormously indulgent, a world away from what sensible people put in their juice detoxes.  Subsequent mouthfuls were good, but not up to the standard of that first one.

My girlfriend went for the 7oz Burger (£8.9) which was a really nice antidote to the slew of dirty burgers I’ve been eating for the past few months.  Served on a warm ciabatta and draped in maple glazed bacon, it tasted somewhat more savoury than anything I’ve eaten recently – there was an unfamiliar mix of herbs in the patty, along with diced white onion for texture.  Not what I’d personally go for when designing my ideal burger, but perfectly in fitting with its surroundings.

The stack of chips it came with resembled short and stocky Jenga set.  They were very evenly cooked considering their girth but I’d have liked them crispier – they did a great job of absorbing my leftover jus though.

After the mains we were too full to consider desert of the cheese board, so I never did get to try a caramel-roasted bourbon fig.  Luckily though I’ll be visiting The Hungry Bear again – not only on the merits of the food, but also the atmosphere and service; we were the last people in the restaurant and not once did we feel rushed.  The waitresses didn’t even do the trick of walking past every 30 seconds to make sure we knew they were there if we needed the bill.

Speaking of which, the bill came to £75 for three people, including starters, mains, a side, drinks and service.  Amazing value for money for this much food of this high quality.