Introducing Mill Kitchen, Farsley

 cafe-review

This post originally featured on The Culture Vulture

Like most people in Leeds, I’ve got a lot of love for our indie food businesses. So. Much. Love. Breaking up the homogeny of the chains that often make UK cities indistinguishable from one another, our indies give Leeds an identity as a city that loves to eat, that cares about what it eats, and that wants to share this love and care with as many likeminded people as possible.

But whilst the lure of Leeds’ independent food scene is undeniable, how many of us regularly venture outside of the city centre to get our foodie fix? I admit it – I’m as guilty as anyone, unable to resist the lure of old faithfuls like La Bottega Milanese (for the best coffee and pasticcini in Leeds), Belgrave Music Hall‘s Dough Boys (for that pizza) and the glorious Lazy Lounge (for ALL the gin, obviously), to name but a few.

But take a look beyond the city centre, and you’ll find a plethora of community-driven, local heroes that challenge some of the city’s finest establishments in terms of quality and value for money. They’re often those ‘on your doorstep’ gaffs that you’ve overlooked for whatever reason, but give them a try and the rewards can be sweet. This was true of my beloved local restaurant Ephesus, which I’ve shared with the good readers of The Culture Vulture before, and now there’s another corker opened just a few minutes up the road. Mill Kitchen.

My first introduction to Mill Kitchen was a strange one, one of those ‘what a small world’ stories that come in handy when there’s a conversation lull. I was in London for an evening of food writing inspiration from The Guardian’s Felicity Cloake, when I got chatting to a lady called Ailsa over a glass of the free wine. After a few minutes of chatting, we discovered that not only had we both travelled down from Leeds, but that we lived just minutes apart – Ailsa in Farsley, me in Rodley. Then Ailsa told me why she was in Farsley – she’d just moved there from Oxford to open a new café in Sunny Bank Mills.

What Ailsa revealed about the café that evening got me excited. Whilst I love living in Rodley, it’s definitely rocking a ‘bijoux’ vibe when it comes to quality food establishments. Mill Kitchen sounded just what the area needed – a café deli serving fresh, healthy and locally-sourced food, cooked with passion and imagination.

That first conversation was seven months ago. Mill Kitchen opened just over a month later, and it had me at hello. Seriously. The food is everything Ailsa described it would be, and more: exciting, inventive food that demonstrates the benefits of using, and understanding, quality ingredients and seasonal fruit and vegetables. The tarts are amazing, the cakes are sublime, the coffee is perfect, and the salads are out of this world. And then there’s the leek rarebit. Seriously, the leek rarebit.  Think soft sautéed leeks, bobbing in a bubbling béchamel sauce and perched atop a piece of Leeds Bread Coop’s sourdough. Yeah, I know. Throw in the character and charm of Sunny Bank Mills, a relaxed, friendly atmosphere and a deli full of quality local food and drink products, and you’ve got a serious contender for Leeds’ best café on your hands. Trust me, it’s that good.

Mill Kitchen, Farsley

Mill Kitchen, Farsley

Mill Kitchen is the sort of place that’s far too good to keep a secret, so to share the love, I’ll hand you over to the lady herself – Ailsa Youngson. Over a pot of fresh mint tea and a slice (or two) of some of her incredible cakes, I caught up with Ailsa to find out more about the inspiration for Mill Kitchen, her future plans (which include a Supper Club on 19 December – oh YES), and how she caught the cooking bug. Over to Ailsa…

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Introducing Leeds Indie Food Festival


Us Leeds folk must have a thing for food-based crowdfunding campaigns. Earlier this year, we rallied together to turn the terrible vandalisation of Manjit’s Kitchen’s van into a positive; funding the transformation of a disused horsebox into the finest-looking Chaat Station in all the land. Reaching the £4000 target in just five days, Manjit’s Kitchen’s campaign was a heart-warming display of Leeds’ fierce loyalty to its independent food heroes – and our addiction to the life-changing creation that is Manjit’s Chapasty, obviously

Never underestimate the power of the a Manjit's Kitchen Chapasty

Never underestimate the power of a Manjit’s Kitchen Chapasty

Five months on, and we’ve done it again, this time raising £6750 in just ten days to make the first Leeds Indie Food Festival a reality. Dreamed up by Leeds Indie Food, a team of six stalwart Leeds food lovers, the festival promises to help nurture the independent community by putting on a collaborative, city-wide celebration of Leeds’ independent food and drink culture over two weeks in May 2015. YES, Leeds.

It’s things like this that make me so proud to live here. I know I’m always banging on and on (and on) about Leeds’ incredible independent spirit, but it’s because it’s so flipping fantastic. There’s a real breadth of talent and innovation across the city, harnessed by the willingness of independents to work with, not against, each other. Collaborations are springing up everywhere, from craft beer bars joining forces with Indian vegetarian restaurants, to breweries teaming up with pop-up food starlets. We’ve even got our own Leeds Food and Drink Association, an organisation founded to celebrate Leeds’ independent food and drink scene and make Leeds a city famous for its food and drink. This collaboration between independents is now so common that it’s as if it’s been woven into the very fabric of the city, creating a unique food and drink culture that makes Leeds a very special place to live.

But what I love most is not just the existence of  this culture, but the value that Leeds folk place on it. Times are hard and cash is tight for many of us, yet we’re still willing to shell out our hard-earned cash to support the talented folks behind Leeds’ indie businesses that make our city such a pleasure to live in.

Leeds Indie Food Festival is a very exciting prospect for Leeds, so I caught up with Lil Dix, food blogger at Whip Until Fluffy and one sixth of the Leeds Indie Food team, to find out more.

Leeds Indie Food logo

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Cornucopia Underground

festival-review Back in August, I wrote about my impending ten year anniversary of living in Leeds. Ten years. Where has that time gone? Moving to Leeds was the best decision I ever made and so, a decade on, it was only right that that decision should be celebrated in style. As ever, my beloved Leeds came up trumps with the ultimate anniversary present – Leeds Food and Drink Association’s Cornucopia Underground. When I previewed Cornucopia Underground for the Culture Vulture in August, I knew we were in for something special. A food festival with a difference, Cornucopia Underground promised to celebrate Leeds’ well-documented independent spirit with a showcase of some of the best food and drink experiences the city has to offer. With Leeds Food and Drink Association’s Jo and Nick at the helm, I knew we’d be in safe hands, but the reality of Cornucopia Underground surpassed even my wildest expectations. Descending into the subterranean lair of the Corn Exchange at just before midday, there were no immediate signs of anything out of the ordinary. Filling the basement’s centre were stalls laden with all the usual hallmarks we’ve come to expect of a ‘food festival’: mouth-watering cakes, beautifully-presented preserves and enticing cheeses.

Cornucopia Underground, Leeds

Photo Credit: Jo Murricane http://www.jo-blogs.co.uk/

Harrogate Preserves at Cornucopia Underground, Leeds

Photo Credit: Jo Murricane http://www.jo-blogs.co.uk/

These stalls surrounded tables swathed in patterned cloths that were occupied by folk sipping on tea, munching on cake and generally having a good time. Everything was in order. But Cornucopia Underground was about looking beyond the obvious; beyond what you’d expect, and it was the spaces around the edges that revealed that all was not as it seemed. Continue reading

Preview: Cornucopia Underground

This post originally featured on The Culture Vulture

Ten years ago, I arrived in Leeds. I was a young 18 year-old, hungry for my first taste of freedom in a city that had lured me with its promises of amazing student life. It didn’t let me down. Everything was new, exciting and unexplored, and I spent three years falling in love. I loved everything about Leeds: its cool cafés, laid-back BYO restaurants, big green spaces, and especially its cheap and cheesy clubs that seemed tailor-made for my 18-21 year-old self. I’ll leave exactly what clubs they were to your imagination, but let’s just say that when I left university, things soon changed. I changed.

I’d stayed in Leeds because I’d fallen in love, but the Leeds I thought I loved didn’t do it for me anymore. We were growing apart. Determined to make the relationship work, I spent the next few years getting to know Leeds all over again. I got to know its musical side, spending every spare penny I had on gig tickets for bands I’d barely heard of at venues with very questionable hygiene standards. I had a fling with its young professional side when I made the big mistake of working in recruitment; a snooty side filled with snooty bars frequented by snooty people in snooty suits. A job in the arts got me acquainted with its cultural side; a conveyor belt of gallery openings and preview nights attended by some of the most incredible people I’ve had the good fortune to meet – underpaid and overworked, but united by a genuine passion for the arts that the government seemed intent on destroying. I even had a brief encounter with Leeds’ eco side, after being so tormented by the sight of ducks bobbing in the syringe-filled river outside my city-centre flat that I donned a pair of marigolds, grabbed a rake and coerced my housemate and boyfriend into giving up their Saturday to clean up the ducks’ home with the Leeds Waterfront Association.

It’s fair to say that I’ve loved and experienced many different sides of Leeds over the last ten years. But the Leeds that has my heart now; the Leeds that I’m completely besotted with, is a side to the city that I’ve really got to know in the past few years. Leeds’ independent food and drink scene. It’s simple, really: proud, enterprising and unique independent businesses that work with, not against, each other, to make Leeds a bloody exciting place to live. It’s like the pairing of wine and food: when you get the pairing right, you improve the flavour of each individual element to create a taste sensation that’s better than you could have ever imagined. And this is what makes Leeds so special.This is why I’m more in love with Leeds than ever before. There are hundreds of examples of this independent collaboration right across the city’s food and drink industry, from the street food traders that collaborate to put on a massive feast each month at Belgrave Music Hall, to the perfect matrimony of The Sparrow’s craft beer and Prashad’s Indian vegetarian Street Food at the newly-opened Bundobust.

Such matrimonies deserve to be celebrated, right? Well, keep reading. On 20 September (which, coincidentally, is a decade to the day since my arrival in Leeds – thanks for remembering, guys), Leeds’ very own Food and Drink Association is throwing a massive party to celebrate the city’s food and drink credentials – and you’re all invited. I caught up with Leeds Food and Drink Association co-founder, Jo Murricane, to find out more.

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Bundobust

Warning: this is another gushing post about my love of Leeds’ collaborative spirit. I know, I know. It’s a topic that features regularly in my Leeds-based posts, but that’s because it’s so bloody fantastic. Leeds is a city characterised by the spirit of its independents; independents who work with, not against, each other to create a city-wide food and drink offer that’s earned Leeds the reputation of being one of the country’s tastiest cities. Think Belgrave Music Hall’s Street Feast. Gusto Italiano at Lazy Lounge. The almighty brethren of organisations that make up the Leeds Food and Drink Association. And, as of this July, Bundobust.

Bundobust is a very special collaboration, combining the might of two award-winning purveyors of fine food and drink. On the food side you’ve got Prashad, a Leeds-based Indian vegetarian restaurant that propelled to infamy when it was crowned runner-up in Ramsay’s best restaurant of 2010. All that spice needs a special kind of sup to complement and refresh, and that’s where The Sparrow comes in. A Bradford-based craft beer bar, The Sparrow has racked up an impressive mantelpiece of accolades including a spot in The Guardian’s top 10 UK craft beer bars, Shortlist magazine’s top 10 UK pubs and the title of Bradford’s CAMRA pub of the year in 2012. Beer and Indian food are a beautiful combination indeed, so The Sparrow and Prashad have united to create Bundobust – a craft beer bar with an Indian vegetarian street food kitchen. Lucky Leeds.

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Degustation at The Man Behind the Curtain

 

Disclaimer: I was invited to sample The Man Behind the Curtain’s Degustation menu free of charge in exchange for an honest, unbiased review on The Culture Vulture (where this post originally featured). 

PEA at The Man Behind the Curtain

PEA at The Man Behind the Curtain

I’m staring at my plate. Not eating, just staring. My partner has given up waiting for me, devouring the dish on his plate with a symphony of satisfied noises that are slowly weakening my resolve. I want to join him; I’m dying to join him, but not yet. I need to relish this moment for just a little bit longer.

Seconds before, the dish on this plate was just a string of enigmatic words. “PEA,” the menu read. “Hot and cold.” The chef arrived, clutching a trio of silver pots, a steaming silver jug and a frosted glass dish. It began simply; a lime green quenelle perched on the glass dish, adorned with a sprinkle of crispy onions and a few delicate leaves. Then it happened. I watched as my plate became a canvas, daubed with layers of colour by our chef-turned-expressionist artist. A splash of green, followed by swirls of purple, orange and crimson. It was extraordinary. The chef stood back, admired his masterpiece, then returned to the kitchen; his pointed silver heels clicking as he walked.

I think I’m ready. I take my spoon and reluctantly disturb the painting, scooping up each of the layers. I put the spoon in my mouth. And I start laughing. I can’t help it; it’s genius. Mirroring the expressionist flair with which the chef created the dish in front of me, the flavours of each layer surge in colourful waves around my mouth. There’s the sweet creaminess of the ice cream, the tangy crunch of the crispy onions, the rich intensity of the pea soup. I take another slurp and the flavours intensify, seasoned by notes of bitterness and sweetness from the beetroot, carrot and red cabbage foams. I don’t want this dish to end. It’s a masterpiece. A Michael O’Hare masterpiece.

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Grubstaker Launch – An evening of food and wine pairing

review

Food collaboration is a wonderful thing. Think goats’ cheese and honey. Garlic and mushrooms. Tomato and basil. Simple ingredients that work perfectly well as individual elements, when they come together they seem to undergo an alchemic process that produces flavours akin to food magic. How else could you describe that sensation of a sharp, tangy cheese cutting through a golden, saccharine honey; that heavenly combination of earthy mushrooms and pungent garlic; that sweet tomato acidity matched with a burst of aromatic peppery basil? And best of all, you don’t have to be the world’s greatest cook to achieve this alchemy. You don’t even need to know why. The ingredients do the work for you. See? Magic.

But while pairing certain flavours together is second nature to many of us, the thought of applying these principles to food and wine pairing is, well, not. Because wine is scary. Lovely, but scary. There are just too many variables to consider. Which grape varietal should you choose? How does that grape varietal vary from country to country? And what about specific regions? Vintages? Reserves? Oaked or unoaked? Should you let the wine breathe, first? (And what does that even mean?!) How do you know if it’s corked? Is cork better than screwtop? And that’s all before you’ve even begun to contemplate what bloody food you’re going to pair it with. Gahhhh.

So is it worth the hassle?

Yes. I quickly arrived at this conclusion last week at a special wine and food matching event to celebrate the launch of Leeds Food and Drink Association’s (LFDA) Grubstakers. In case you’ve not heard about it, Grubstakers are a pretty special bunch. An LFDA initiative aimed at Leeds’ food and drink lovers, a one-off £25 subscription gets you a lifetime of food and drink benefits. Yes, a lifetime. We’re talking special events, exclusive insider info, opportunities to test products and menus, and all sorts of amazing ‘money can’t buy’ foodie opportunities from the glorious Leeds indies that belong to the LFDA.

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A taste of Asian street food in Leeds

 review

This post originally featured on The Culture Vulture.

I’ll never forget my first experience of street food. It was August 2011, a time when street food in the UK meant a stomach ache from a dodgy van rather than an £8 ‘gourmet’ burger from a shopping centre. The arts sector had just taken its first series of sizeable whacks from the government, and I’d taken voluntary redundancy from my lovely arts job. But it was ok, because I was in possession of a round the world ticket with a return date of February 2012 – screw you, reality!

Our first stop was Bangkok, the start of a six-week food crawl around South East Asia. Like millions of travellers before me, I’d been enticed by beguiling accounts of Asia’s street food; of heaving streets packed with tiny tin cooking stations radiating the intoxicating aromas of dishes I couldn’t even pronounce. I was so excited and I remember that first night so clearly; walking slowly down each street in a giddy trance as I was guided by the seductive scents wafting from bubbling cauldrons and hissing woks.

But there was a problem. Me. Striking at the most inopportune of times, my awkward veggie syndrome meant I was all but excluded from street food fun times. I wandered from street to street, visiting cart after cart only to be met with endless varieties of meat and fish. It became my nemesis throughout Asia and I persisted, learning the phrase for “do you have anything vegetarian” in Vietnamese, Khmer, Thai and Malaysian, but my efforts were continually met with stares of confusion. I finally gave up, taking my exploration indoors where I tasted some of the most fantastic dishes of my entire life. But still, my Asian street food flame flickered. ONE day, veggie Asian street food joy would be mine.

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A veggie in Fazenda?

“Your girlfriend’s a veggie? Unlucky, mate… How do you manage that? Does she make you eat veggie food too? Or do you have to eat separately? AND WHAT ABOUT BACON?!”

SIGH. Forget the prospect of being force-fed tofu and lectured on animal cruelty; this is what you should fear about dating a vegetarian. Because apparently it’s not love, respect and trust that a successful relationship rests on; it’s the compatibility of a couple’s attitude to eating meat.

But I’ve got a secret to share, and it’s a big one. Dating a vegetarian is not hard. Seriously. Sure, we don’t want to eat dead animals, but most of us really don’t care if our partners do. And honestly, that’s all there is to it. I’ve been in a carnivore-veggie relationship for nearly six years now, and we ‘manage’ just fine. Neither of us has tried to convert the other, meat and vegetables coexist peacefully in the same fridge, and, shock horror, we even share meals together. Mine just don’t include meat. And bacon? Well, what about bacon? He eats it, I don’t. It’s not rocket science, people.

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Cosmo, and the conundrum of the buffet restaurant

This post originally appeared on The Culture Vulture. 

It started with a pie…

Mum and Dad had taken us to Greece for our summer holiday. It was August, sometime in the late 90s, and it was bloody HOT. Energy zapped and tummies rumbling, we piled into the hotel’s air-conditioned buffet restaurant to escape the sear of the midday sun. Lunch was served on help-yourself silver platters, the contents of which incited inevitable grumbles from some.

“How the hell do you pronounce that, Clive? And WHAT is that?!” yelled the lady in front of me, picking at her peeling left shoulder and wrinkling her crimson nose.

“I don’t know June, looks a bit iffy to me. ‘Ere, just have some chips – safer than this foreign muck”.

They piled their plates high and sloped off, leaving me to assess the situation. There were the remains of the usual suspects – pasta, pizza and the few paltry chips left after Clive and June’s obliteration, but there was also a pie. There was something about this pie. Maybe it was the strange name, maybe it was the fact that nobody had touched it, but I had to try this pie. I served myself a slice, hurried back to our table, and took a bite. And that was it. A crisp, flaky wrapper of filo encased a filling so sensational that my mouth instantly waters every time I think about it. Salty feta on the brink of melting was entwined with irony spinach, imbued with the distinctive tang of fresh dill. Simple, but utterly magical; I’d never tasted anything like it and 20 years later, Spanakopita remains one of my favourite ever meals.

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