Review: Ox Club at Headrow House, Leeds

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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.

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Review: Iberica, Leeds

Iberica Leeds

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.

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Review: SushiWaka

Sushiwaka ramen

Questionable decisions and karaoke bars go hand in hand.  Domestic lager lowers your inhibitions; the e-numbers in bright green shots produce something similar to an adrenaline rush; close proximity to bawdy hen parties gives you a temporary self-esteem boost, and before you know it…  

“I have the vocal range to take on both duet parts of Nelly & Kelly’s Dilemma, easy” you think; “I should break the ice with my partner’s work friends by rapping Superbass”; “I WILL pay homage to Rock DJ by taking all of my clothes off throughout the course of my performance”

See what I mean?  Each decision more questionable than the last (they weren’t all in the same evening, though, I promise).  Eating dinner at one, though?  I would do anything in a karaoke bar (but I won’t do that).

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Review: Turtle Bay, Leeds

Cous Cous Bang Bang Turtle Bay Leeds

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.

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Review: BAO Soho

Bao Review Restaurant Front

Bao’s origin story is well-trodden by now, so I’ll keep my recap brief: it’s the success story of a street-food upstart who gained well notoriety, awards, and a dedicated following – all very deserved – by doing what only the best street-food upstarts were able to do – introducing something genuinely new to their audience: Bao.  To the uninitiated that’s slow cooked meats with assorted pickles and toppings, all folded inside the type of steamed bun that sends food writers clambering to find a new synonym for “pillowy”.

Flash-forward a few years and they’ve gone all bricks-and-mortar on us.  Praise for the 30-seater restaurant in Soho has been rolling in exponentially and the queue outside reflects that – at busy times dozens of would-be diners snake down Lexington Street, waiting patiently adjecent the restaurant’s glass front.  It’s become a bit of an in-joke in itself, so I was more than happy to pay my dues and get the full experience, besides I’ve stood in bigger queues for less promising pay-offs in the past – this would be a breeze compared to 12 hours to get into Reading Festival 2005. Read more

Review: Shears Yard

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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