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

Recipe: Truffle Oil and Mushroom Pizza

A few weeks ago I turned 28. Yikes. 28 is meant to be one of those ‘turning point’ ages, right? An age where you’re taunted by the looming vision of the big 3 0 and constantly fielding questions about mortgages, your marital status and babies. Happy birthday to me! Maybe I’m in denial, but I chose to ignore the dark side of turning 28 and viewed it just like any other birthday – an amazing excuse to catch up with my nearest and dearest. No scary questions or pressure, just a week of feasts, parties and bubbles with all my favourites. Now that’s more like it.

The only sign that age was creeping up on me were the presents. Thoughtful as ever, my friends and family paid homage to my increasingly gluttonous ways by sticking to a distinct food theme in their gifts. There were glorious bottles of ‘the good wine’, customary jars of nutella to fuel my addiction, and even a rather nifty salad spinner from my brother. I can practically hear my 18 year old self mocking me. But let her mock, because she’s got ten years to wait before she’s gifted with one very special food item indeed; the first of its kind to ever grace my kitchen with its ethereal presence.

Truffle oil.

My past encounters with truffle have been few but special. There was a truffled pecorino and rocket panino at a hole in the wall bar in Florence, a white truffle pizza in Lisbon with shavings of truffle AND truffle oil, and the almighty truffled Barncliffe Brie at The Greedy Pig’s ‘Roots to Shoots’ pop up. The most notable experience was at The Samling earlier this year, when a canapé of truffled polenta on a truffled mayonnaise nearly reduced Rob and I to tears. And just as I thought I’d managed to get it together, they whipped out the truffle risotto. It was emotional.

Truffle in Florence

Mid mouthful of truffled pecorino

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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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A day at Beacons Festival

festival-reviewdest-yorkshiredales

At the age of 23, I decided to take early retirement from festivals. I had LOVED going to festivals so it wasn’t a decision I took lightly, but I felt like my hand had been forced. It was Leeds Fest, 2009, and I’d just woken up after a less-than-successful night’s sleep in a mildew-ridden tent. But it wasn’t the smell of damp that woke me, or even an overpriced beer-induced hangover. It was our neighbours.

“So, what did you get in your GCSEs, then?” one male voice squeaked, followed by a cacophony of responses; some gloating, some ‘I’m-too-cool-to-care-about-exams’ nonchalant. GCSEs? What did that make them, FIFTEEN?! No. No, no no. Their chorus droned on and on until they were told to lower their voices by an older-sounding voice. Thank GOD. I peeked my head out of the tent door to see who it was, ready to shake their hand and offer them a beer, but I stopped myself. That older voice didn’t belong to a fellow disgruntled camper, it belonged to one of two chaperones accompanying a group that looked barely old enough to be in high school, let alone sitting GCSEs.

That was it. I was too old for this. Festivals, it seemed, were to be one of those activities that I’d have to admit defeat to, along with wearing crop tops and dancing until 3am. I would always look back at them with fond memories, but they were no longer for me. I was no longer for them.

But things change. Dancing until 3am has made a triumphant comeback in my life, thanks to the ingenious swapping of sticky-floored clubs for my best friend’s kitchen and a fully-stocked fridge of chablis and cava. The crop top has also crept back into my wardrobe, albeit styled more conservatively with a high-waisted, midi 50s-stye skirt and only a slither of midriff on show. And over the last few years, I’ve been forced to reconsider my blanket festival veto after realising that maybe, I’d just been going to the wrong festivals. As I’ve travelled through my 20s at startling speed, I’ve discovered that there are so many other festivals to choose from; festivals that, like my newly demure crop tops and chablis-fuelled 3am dancing, offer a different, varied and more fulfilling experience for my older self than the teen-filled hell that made me swear off festivals for life.

Festivals like Beacons.

CREDIT: Giles Smith

CREDIT: Giles Smith

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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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The Yorkshire Grand Départ, cycling and me

dest-yorkshiredales

I am not a cyclist.

I don’t know my hybrids from my roadbikes, I don’t have a clue what a derailleur is, and I used to think pannier was a misspelling of my favourite Indian cheese. I really wish that was a joke…  Until three weeks ago, I’d been on a bike for a grand total of about ten hours in the last ten years, approximately nine hours of which were spent on the floor. I’d blamed uneven paths, dodgy weather and, on one occasion, a pesky bunch of Vietnamese frogs whose cacophonic chorus of ribbits totally ruined my concentration. But it wasn’t them. It was me. I just wasn’t into it.

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Cycling in Vietnam – I didn’t exactly look the part, did I?

I remember the exact moment this changed. I was rattling through Cambodia on one of many long bus journeys during a six-month round-the-world-trip in 2011. I’d just finished reading an amazing book, so I reached into my bag to pull out the next. It wasn’t there. DISASTER! Luckily Rob had had the foresight to bring a spare, but it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. It was called Thunder and Sunshine, the second part of a round-the-world bike adventure undertaken by someone called Alastair Humphreys. A story about cycling? So not my kind of thing. But Rob insisted. “Just give it a try. Trust me”. Begrudgingly, I opened it and started reading, convinced that I’d give in by page three and spend the rest of the journey trying to doze. By the time we arrived in Siem Reap, I’d nearly finished it – all 340 pages.

Thunder and Sunshine, by Alastair Humphreys

Thunder and Sunshine, by Alastair Humphreys

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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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A ‘Tour de Food’ in the Yorkshire Dales

dest-yorkshiredales

Last month, I came across Maptia for the first time. What. A. Find. A treasure trove of travel stories, it’s a website that offers a new, and very beautiful, way of telling stories about places. I’ve since become rather obsessed, and I’m absolutely delighted to have bagged myself an invite to become one of the site’s founding storytellers.

Maptia

My first Maptia story is about a journey through the Yorkshire Dales. Inspired by the Tour de France fever that’s swept through Yorkshire since it was chosen to host the race’s ‘Grand Départ’, I spent a day exploring Stage One of the route this Spring. Mine wasn’t a cycling pilgrimage, though. I didn’t even take a bike. My visit was motivated by something else that makes the Dales special. Its food. Visiting Bedale, Hawes, Masham and Jervaulx; I discovered amazing communities preserving centuries-old traditions such as cheesemaking, brewing and breadmaking. And I was only there for a day.

I’ve included a few photo highlights below, but you can read the full story over on Maptia. I hope you enjoy.

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