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.

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Jalapeño-infused Tequila & Jalapeño Cocktails

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I’ve been pretty hot for the idea of booze-infusions since hitting Rubi Bar in Barcelona last year, trying some of their 100 flavoured gins, and nagging the owner to tell me how it’s done.

It appeals to me on so many levels; I actually get chance to use some of the kilner jars I’ve accumulated; I feel like a 1920s bootlegger without the risk of a Still exploding in my basement (or syphillis exploding in my boy-basement); I get to quote the Beer Baron episode of The Simpsons in my head – specifically “You forgot one thing chief…I filled the balls with a funnel” – and then I get to turn up.

The mechanics of infusing is pretty straight-forward – you put something, anything in with some spirits and the high alcoholic content preserves it for long enough for the flavour to come out and taint the liquor.  Think of it as reverse-pickling – you know when you finish a jar of pickled onions and the vinegar you’ve got left is the good shit?  Imagine if the vinegar was liquor, and it had been pickling fruit or spices or charcuterie instead of old onions.

If you’re really going to get into it then Niki Segnet’s Flavour Thesaurus is a really useful resource for infusing – as it is for many other things – in that it lets you pick out individual notes and flavours from a drink (Juniper in Gin, for example) and then find ingredients which complement or contrast with it, letting you make educated experiments rather than expensive misfires.

First-timers could do a lot worse than Jalapeño Tequila, a face-palmingly simple combination of Mexican flavours which is good for sipping on its own, or versatile enough to be used in a few cocktails.  (In true meat-head bootlegger spirit, make sure you spell Jalapeño completely wrong on the label…)

Spoiler alert: The secret ingredient is jalapeños…


Jalapeño Tequila


You will need:

A 70cl Bottle of decent Tequila – You won’t need Patron, but you can do better than Sierra.  Go for a 100% Agave type like El Jimador (Just under £20 in Waitrose) 

4 Jalapeño Chillies 

A Kilner Jar and Sealable Bottle.

Slice the Jalapeños fairly thickly – about 6 slices per chilli – and take out the white centre and as many of the seeds as possible; over time the white pith would make it taste bitter and the seeds would blow your brains out.

Decant the tequila into the kilner jar and add the sliced jalapeños.  Seal, shake, and sit somewhere cool and dark.  Leave it there for 7-14 days, shaking every now and again.

Using a sieve and a funnel, decant the tequila back into a bottle and seal it.


BONUS: Chop up the jalapeños with some fresh de-seeded tomatoes, white onion, coriander leaves and lime juice for an amazing tequila salsa.

Jalapeño Margarita

Shake equal parts Jalapeño Tequila with Fresh Lime Juice and a shot of Agave Syrup with ice.  
Strain into the most flamboyant glass you own, with a cinnamon-salt rim.
Jalapeño Cucumber Cooler

Dice a 2″ piece of Cucumber and muddle in the bottom of a tall glass.  
Shake an equal amount of Jalapeño Tequila and Lemon Juice with a dash of Agave Syrup, strain into the glass and top up with soda water.
Jalapeño Bloody Maria
Shake 2 shots of Jalapeño Tequila with Tomato Juice (Clamato if you’re lucky enough to have access to it) Worcestershire Sauce, Smoked Sweet Paprika and the juice of half a Lime.
Strain into a tall glass filled with ice, and garnish with white pepper and an unnecessarily large, leafy stick of celery.

Recipe: Sweet Potato & Chorizo Chilli

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Along with giving me an excuse to wear fur, making huge stews is one of the best things about Winter – nothing makes you feel like you’ve got your shit together quite like getting home from work and finding that the big vat of stock and flesh you left in the kitchen that morning has transformed into your tea.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world to use mince in chilli.

Forget the bastardised version of chilli you’ve had to get used to, the one that looks and tastes like bolognese with chilli powder; Chilli is a stew, it’s supposed to be lumpy with different flavours and textures, and viscous enough to stick to an upside-down spoon for a couple of seconds before it slides off.  And as a stew it requires a little bit of patience, but pretty much no effort.

Forget the beef mince – when you decide to cook something for up to 10 hours, you’re affording yourself the luxury of using cheaper, tastier meat which does more to the final dish than bob around like chewy breakfast cereal.  Mince sucks.  I used Beef Shin, and you can use that, or Cheek, Oxtail, Stewing Steak, whatever.  When the meat is cooked for this long it likes to cook down so much that the flavour is detectable in the meal, but texturally it’s non-existent.  There is an idea of whatever cut you decided to use, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real meat – only an entity, something illusory.  So I threw a whole Chorizo sausage in there as well.

If you don’t want to be chopping up celery and digging around the kitchen looking for cumin in the 10 minutes between being woken up by that song you thought would be a cute alarm tone but have since grown to DESPISE, and having to leave for work then the good news is you can make most of this the night before, leave it to rest, and then slow-cook the meat in it the next day and it will be even better.

Just as a pointer, you don’t want to cook the potato or beans for too long – once they reach peak cooked-ness they start to disintegrate, and you want to keep them distinguishable in the dish.  Finally, chilli is cowboy food, and the only thing cowboys love more than spitting into buckets and interrupting pianists in a saloon is getting drunk, so to stay true to the dishes cowboy roots I like to add some booze – either a good slug of tequila towards the end, or substituting the beef stock with a dark beer or porter.  Completely optional, but feel free to get creative.

Ingredients

2 Large Onions, diced.
2 Sticks of Celery, diced.
2 Carrots, diced.
6 Cloves of Garlic, minced or crushed.
Chilli – a couple of dried chipotle, half a dried ancho, or a couple of teaspoons of powder to taste.
1 tsp Cumin.
1 tsp White Pepper.
1 tsp Cinnamon.
2 tsp Smoked Paprika.
2 tsp Oregano.
Pinch of Salt.
1 litre of Beef stock, replace all some or none of it with dark beer or porter if you like.
3 tins of Plum Tomatoes, drained but with the juice saved for later.
2 tsp Cocoa powder or a couple of squares of good dark chocolate.
800g Beef – Shin, Cheek, Tail, Stewing Steak, Bone Marrow it’s your call.
200g Chorizo – a whole sausage, cut into chunky semi-circles.
3 Bell Peppers – Autumnal colours.
2 Sweet Potatoes, roughly 2cm dice.
2 or 3 tins of Beans – choose a combination of Red Kidney, Pinto, Haricot or Black.

Method

Fry the onion, celery and carrots in oil over a low heat until they turn slightly soft and translucent, then add the garlic afterwards making sure not to burn it, otherwise that shit will be BITTER.

Add the chilli, cumin, white pepper, paprika, oregano, cinnamon and salt.  Stir it in for a minute or so to toast the spices and (theoretically) release more flavour.  Add the beef stock/beer the drained Plum Tomatoes.

Bring to a simmer and break the tomatoes down with your spoon, add about half of the tomato juice.  Stir in the grated chocolate or the chocolate powder, then add the beef and chorizo.  Keep it going on the hob or transfer it to a slow-cooker on the lowest setting for as long as possible – at least 4 hours.

By the time you come back to the chilli, a decent layer of fat will have gathered on its surface from the beef and chorizo.  Skim as much of this off as you like – I chose to get rid of it all.  If it’s looking too thick, add some more of that tomato juice; there’s still a few hours cooking time left.

Char the bell peppers over a gas or electric hob until they are blacker than black.  Seriously, BLACK.  Run them under a cold tap and peel the skins off, then chop the flesh off the stalks and stir it into the chilli with the sweet potato.  Slow cook for another 2 hours, or if you’re pushed for time (why have you only just realised this?) simmer for about half an hour.

Add a squeeze of lime and an (optional) slug of Tequila, stir the beans through right towards the end of cooking, they’ll only need about 5 minutes for the residual heat to cook them through and let them keep their bite.  Dish it all out with sour cream, fresh onion, diced tomato and jalapenos on top, and serve with lime rice and tortillas.  This makes enough to easily serve 6-8 hungry people, or if you’re cooking for fewer people you’ll be thrilled to know that the leftovers just get better over time.

Eating Barcelona: Beef Tongue and Burgers and Blue Cheese Gin

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As a departure from the thematic resonance seen in Parts 1 & 2 of my Barcelona round-up – an account of Tapas so thorough that it needed to be split into two like a work of Young Adult Literature – Part 3 serves to tie up all of the loose ends; the street food and fast food and the bars with nothing else in common other than the fact they’re not Tapas.

La Sagrada Familia is surrounded by exactly the sort of restaurant you’d expect at a major tourist attraction.  As soon as you emerge from the Metro you’re met with 2 of the Big 3 fast food chains.   Cross the road on any of the Cathedral’s four sides to get a better view of it, and you’ll be faced with restaurants plastered in photographs of pale hotdogs and limp bravas, looped infinitely like a cartoon backdrop.

Remarkably, La Taqueria – a tiny, busy, authentic Mexican street food cantina – sits just two minutes walk away from all of that, down a quiet leafy side-street (Passatge de Font) at the back of the Sagrada Familia that you wouldn’t think to wander down without a good reason – memories of eating there last year was enough reason for me.

Walking past it – even stopping to peer through the window into the dimly-lit dining room – it all looks fairly unassuming.  Open the door though, and you’re met by a combination of sounds and smells as incongruous to its surroundings as a prohibition speakeasy – it feels like you’ve just opened a pipe of crisps in a Pringles advert.  It’s an exciting feeling – but one you should try and savour, it soon begins to wane.

Anticipating how busy it was likely to be, and the fact it’s such a small restaurant (I counted 32 covers squeezed into the 20 x 12ft operable floor space) we booked our table for six in advance – no problems there.  When we arrived our table for 6 was actually a table for 4, with an extra two stools pulled up so that two people could sit on the end of the table, right in the centre aisle of the dining room.  Our order for Margaritas was taken pretty quickly, but it took 20 minutes for them to arrive, and another 10 for the Michelada I ordered at the same time.

Credit where it’s due, the Margaritas were huge and faultless, and the Michelada – with an umami grunt coming from the clam juice – erased all others (admittedly, only one or two) from my memory, but there’s not a drink in the world that I’d happily wait half an hour for.

Shortly after this, our waiter sauntered to the table and took our orders – six people, each ordering various starters, mains and sides, and he didn’t even write anything down on a notepad.  “How impressive!” we thought; “What a professional!  Let’s applaud his aptitude and admire his nonchalance”.

When the food started to arrive we continued to be impressed; the first mouthful of refried beans was a lot to take in – pinto beans slow-cooked to a paste with bacon fat and heaped with powdered pork scratchings; the world’s most deliciously irresponsible corner yoghurt.  More pork fat came in the form of Chicharrón – a bowl of gelatinous rinds from a pigs cooked with onions and cactus, which despite my best efforts, I couldn’t fully get on board with.

The Queso Fundidos was very disappointing.  I expected something billed as “Melted cheese with Longaniza” to be a kind of sausage fondue, rather than a pork pie with the pastry replaced by cheese.  Eating it was like chewing an old sponge used to dab pools of excess oil from cheese on toast, and once the flavour had gone, all that remained was an elastic mass of cheese-texture in the mouth; an exam desk’s-worth of old, tasteless chewing gum.

The Nachos were nachos – the thing about them that most caught my attention was that they were topped with the finest diced, sweet onion I’ve ever encountered.  If you’re not as enamoured by dicing-aptitude as I am though, there’s little that would stick in your memory.

The Beef Tongue Taco, was the small, soft kind that lay open on your plate, showing off just how much is inside them.  The tongue was surprisingly tender, with a little give in it, but not enough so that it gets dragged out of the taco and leaves filling all over your lap.  The Arrachera Special reminded me of a Mexican take on the Thai dish Khao Kluk Kapi, or the British delicacy Dairlylea Lunchable; your plate contains a little bit of several things to combine at your leisure.  In this case our plates had flank steak, rice, guacamole, frijole charros – “Cowbow beans” with a rich, smokey taste of bacon – a cheese-stuffed jalapeno and grilled cactus.  As the doting Father of several cacti and other succulents, I felt more guilt about eating one of them than I did about eating the piece of cow; and right there and then, a simple Mexican Dairlyea Lunchable transformed into a catalyst for analysing the inconsistencies in my moral compass.  Time for the bill.

Predictably, the bill contained many mistakes.  Being charged for unwanted guacamole, missing Poblano peppers, more drinks that never got round to arriving at the table – and then being accused of lying about it obviously isn’t enough to ruin a holiday, but it’s an inconvenience that could have been avoided if our eaiter had just written down our order, instead of acting like Matthew McConaughey in an apron.  Ignore the shitty service though and La Taqueria is a great place to eat, and not bad value at about €30 per head, including booze and a well-earned 0% service charge.

As a bonus across the street is an amazing little bodega owned by the same people as the cantina, where you can try & buy hot sauce, imported tequilas, soft drinks, graphic-novellas featuring thick-thighed, gun-toting cholitas and all sorts.  If like me, you’re the kind of person who goes to New York and spends longer in the supermarket condiment aisle than looking at the Empire State Building, you’ll really dig this place.

The burger I ate at Kiosko last year immediately stood out for being like no burger I’d ever eaten before – a medium-rare patty, thoughtful toppings, and served in something called a brioche; it was madness.  So good that I ate another one straight away, and then returned the next day for another.  I’d heard about these trendy burgers – tales from London had made their way north, but how was I to know if they were true or fable?

Shortly afterwards, burger joints started popping up in Leeds – just one or two at first, then a new one each month, then several every month, soon they were setting up shop in every publicly accessible nook and cranny.  The rise in the presence of burgers over the past 12 months has been enormous (as illustrated by the highly scientific graph below); In terms of ubiquity the only thing that came close to a parallel is Pharrell Williams.  I know, I should have said “Pharrellel“.

So how would Kiosko fare this time round?  I’m a hardened, jaded burger veteran now, it takes a lot to impress me – I eat burgers in brioche for breakfast (literally, in a few cases).
The Cayena was only ok (the fact as I write this, only two weeks after eating it, I had to check the menu on the website to remind myself of what I ate isn’t a great omen); the goats cheese was excellent by burger standards but underrepresented, and the tomato and chilli chutney wasn’t different enough from the homemade Picante Ketchup to make an impression.
La Bacoa – with Bacon, cheddar, manchego and spicy mustard – suffered the same problem, but for the opposite reason; everything was too present, and it was impossible to pick out any of the individual elements.  Also it was absolutely huge, there was no way to eat this with your hands – even with the provided innovative burger holders (which I definitely didn’t mistake for a hat and briefly put on top of my head).
Luckily, we also ordered the more modest Japonesa, which was their standard burger, cooked in a Teriyaki sauce.  Not as good as Patty & Bun’s Mr Miyagi, but easily my favourite of the day.  They brag about selling the biggest burgers in Barcelona, and I can believe it, so a less-is-more philosophy when it comes to picking toppings definitely pays off.
Three burgers, two fries and two beers came in at €24, bargain.

La Taguara is an Areperia was recommended by the guys from Good Gobble Blog – considering they peddle street food under the alias Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! (previously reviewed here), I trusted they knew what they were talking about.
There’s a satisfying crispy skin on the outside of the arepas where the maize dough has been in contact with the surface of the hot griddle, and the inside is light and fluffy for the first one or two bites – When you get past that point, the juices from the fillings – along with the unnecessary slick of butter – absorb into the dough, and give it the consistency of clay.  One would have been enough, but due to indecisiveness (read: greed) I opted for two; finishing one, and just picking the chicken, beans and plantain out of the other one.
La Taguara is a bit of a paradox: It has tall tables and bars without chairs indicating that they’re looking for a quick turnaround of customers, but the service is dithersome and the food – which necessitated a trip to the bathroom afterwards for face and beard-adjustment – isn’t conducive to mobility.
At €24 for 4 Arepas and two fresh juices though, you can’t complain too much.  Arepa!Arepa!Arepa! does it better though – Perhaps it was a tactical recommendation to make themselves look better in comparison…
After a few beers in the charming Cat Bar – 10 rotating Craft-Draughts (Craughts) and a fridge full of unknown pleasures you can peruse at your own leisure – we took the advice of a British regular who looked like he knew his stuff, and found Lime Bar.
The sign above the door says Lime Bar, but when we tried to find it again a few days later there was no sign of it on road or on Google – like a cursed antiques shop from The Twilight Zone.  It’s only when we got home that we found out it just goes by the name Rubi Bar online.

Basic bitches on Yelp and Tripadvisor can’t seem to get over the fact that Lime Bar sells a big Mojito for less than €5 – but I was far more interested in the 50-odd flavoured gins that they brew in house.  All of the flavours are the mind-grapes of the owner, who stands behind the bar imparting impeccable knowledge – like the owner of a cursed antiques shop from The Twilight Zone.  
Rather than straying into Corky’s Flavoured Shots territory, all of the flavours are well-considered combinations that work with the botanicals of their base-gin – simple “Why hasn’t anybody thought of that before” infusions like celery (served with soda and crushed walnut), Darjeeling and Honeydew melon; more adventurous but still plausible Szechaun pepper, Beetroot and Gherkin; right through to “Seriously, you’re gonna drink that?” – Sundried Tomato & Basil and Roquefort.
Incredibly all of the ones I tried (all of the ones above) worked, and worked well.  Choose your flavour, trust the staff to choose what mixer and garnishes to accompany it with, and you’re gonna have a good time.  I spoke to the owner for a good amount of time while I was ticking off flavours, and he revealed plans to add Roast Garlic, Roast Potato and Lamb gins to his collection – that alone is enough to make me book a flight back.
Bouzu had a stall at the festival, so I tried some Gyoza and Takoyaki (Octopus Dumplings) on the first night before resorting to €4 foot-longs for sustenance, and it was obviously the classiest food I’ve ever tried at a festival.
Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to try Cal Pep, so that’s a top priority for next time, along with La Paradeta, Canete, and another, extended visit to Bier Cab – a different craft ale bar with 20 rotating Craughts all at €5 a pint.  Even with all of these good intentions though, I suspect I’ll do what I did for the majority of this trip and eat crisps for most meals.  Oh you should see the crisps; Ketchup and Mayonaise flavour, Olive Oil, Rosemary, Jamon, Cheeseburger!  
Check back in a few days for the Fourth and final instalment of this feature, when I’ll be counting down the twenty best crisp flavours in Barcelona!
(Not really.   Maybe)

Catch up on Part 1 here and Part 2 here