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.
“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.
It’s been two months since the grand reveal of Leeds’ latest foodie hub, Trinity Kitchen. Possibly the most hyped launch of the year since Trinity Leeds itself, the whir of the PR machine paid off and it opened to a virtual fanfare of glowing reviews, which I was very happy to add my voice to. We all swooned over the décor, were impressed with the range of permanent restaurants, but most importantly, we loved the fact that Trinity Kitchen would give a temporary home to five exciting, independent street food traders that would change each month.
And two months on, it’s these traders that have made Trinity Kitchen worth visiting again, and again, and again. People love to get ancy about the term ‘street food’, but I’m more interested in what it represents and for me, it’s the chance to enjoy a diverse mix of exquisitely-crafted food served up by passionate people. No more, no less. And this is where Trinity Kitchen has excelled, especially during the advance of winter when street food would normally mean frozen fingers and soggy sarnies. Seeking shelter from the cold, I’ve been wowed by the changing traders during the first two months, with highlights including the glorious chilli paneer delights of Manjit’s Kitchen, The Marvellous Tea Dance Company’s sparkly brownies (aka the best brownies EVER) and the pakora goodness of Fresh Rootz, a purveyor of vegan and vegetarian world street food.
Left to right – Chilli Paneer Wrap from Manjit’s Kitchen, Brownies from The Marvellous Tea Dance Company, Spicy Mexican Style Pakoras from Fresh Rootz
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep on saying it, us Leeds folk are a lucky lot. Our city is strewn with a vast array of fine establishments, and frankly, we’re spoilt for choice. I know, I know – poor us. Driven by this variety of choice, everyone seems to have an opinion on ‘the place to go’ for every possible food and entertainment niche, and I’m definitely no different.
Want exceptional coffee? La Bottega Milanese is your place. Cheese fiend? Look no further than Homage2Fromage, who will sate all of your dairy desires. The best Turkish food in the city? My beloved Ephesus can’t be beaten. And if you’re in the city centre and hankering for live music of the soulful variety, those in the know would always make The Wardrobe their first stop.
A shining beacon of Leeds’ music scene, The Wardrobe has earned a solid reputation as one of our city’s most exciting music venues. A champion of eclectic soul music, it’s a musical mecca that, like Brudenell Social Club in Hyde Park, has become the place to go for the quality gigs performed in its atmospheric, underground lair. And with a very well-stocked Brooklyn-esque bar blasting an equally stellar playlist, its reputation as one of the best venues in Leeds is unquestionable.
“Do you ever think of anything but food?” If I had a pound for every time I’ve been asked that, I’d be, well, you know the score. We’ve all got to eat, but like many of you, my relationship with food runs far deeper than relying on it for mere sustenance. I daydream of recipes, doodle market shopping lists and my bedtime reading is cookery books. I’ve even been known to spend whole Sundays in bed, watching cookery programme after cookery programme. Those Sundays ROCKED. Obsessed? Maybe. But life’s too short for bland, uninspiring food, and I’ve made my life a perpetual quest to discover food that’s anything but.
Everyone has an opinion on what the best restaurant in their local area is. I’m sure that we’ve all passed on a glowing recommendation for the ‘best Italian restaurant’, extolled the virtues of the ‘best Indian restaurant’, or enthusiastically tweeted about the ‘best Chinese restaurant catering for small children in a square mile of Roundhay Park’. Ok, that last one may be a step too far, but you get the point.
Touted around far too often, ‘best’ can be a problematic description. As @philkirby eloquently put in his recent article ‘Why would anyone say that Leeds was the “best city”?’, best can be a divisive term that can aggravate anyone whose idea of ‘best’ differs from the one proffered. It’s also a highly subjective term, which in turn makes it a highly contested term which can have no crowned winner. How can one restaurant be termed ‘the best’ when there are so many restaurants sharing the same glowing accolades from their customers?
So why, you may ask, have I written a post entitled ‘ The best restaurant in Leeds?’?
As a vegetarian, you know that certain eating establishments just aren’t for you. You’re unlikely to find solace in a Brazilian steakhouse, a barbecue grill probably won’t do it for you, and if meat or beast is the prominent component of a bar’s name, you can make a safe assumption that it’s not going to be veggie friendly.
I used to feel this way about Friends of Ham. Close to celebrating its first birthday, Friends of Ham has earned itself a stellar reputation in Leeds. Favourable reviews and social buzz a-plenty, it’s clearly doing something right, but you wouldn’t necessarily think that ‘something’ appealed to vegetarians. After all, vegetarians are NOT friends of ham. Friends of pigs maybe, but certainly not friends of the meaty product of their demise. And when a bar so brazenly flaunts its love of meat, you’d be forgiven for assuming that veggies wouldn’t get much of a look in.
“We’re in it to enjoy ourselves” declares Gip Dammone. To which his brother, John Dammone, immediately adds: “And be proud”. It’s been several days since I met the Dammone brothers at their restaurant, Salvo’s, but their words have lingered. Two simple but poignant declarations, they epitomised the very essence of what makes Leeds’ independent restaurants, like Salvo’s, so utterly fantastic.
Salvo’s is a Leeds legend. A small, family run restaurant in the student hub of Headingley, it’s spoken about throughout Leeds, and beyond, with utmost respect and reverence. We’re in an age where restaurants must fight harder than ever before for our business, where chefs need to inject even more passion and creativity into their dishes, where waiters and waitresses must wait even harder. Reputations can be built and lost by just one customer’s experience. But Salvo’s reputation never falters. After meeting its owners Gip and John, the sons of founder, Salvatore, it’s no surprise. Gip and John’s genuine passion, dedication and commitment to providing the very best experience for their loyal customers was truly inspiring. This doesn’t mean huge price tags or fussy plates reeking of ‘value added pretention’, as Gip ingeniously phrased it. No, it’s much simpler than that. Quality ingredients, a carefully thought-out menu, passion and pride. No more and no less.
Emblazoned on a makeshift sign at the side of the busy ring road, I was captivated by a sequence of nine words. Akin to beautiful poetry to me, these nine words signalled the arrival of one of my very favourite times of year.
“Horsforth ready picked asparagus fresh at the PYO daily”.
Yes, we’re currently in the midst of THE season of the year – English Asparagus season. We all know that seasonal produce is best, and is there really any finer produce than fresh English asparagus? I mean, really?