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 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…