The Pit (Chapel Allerton) – Review

Just before writing this, I read this review by Jay Rayner on Avenue in London. It was about a high end restaurant, which seems to be jumping head first into the Americana trend. Head first, whilst shooting a revolver into the air shouting yeeHa, dressed as Gordon Gekko that is. Not a place I’ll be spending any time in. The Pit in Chapel Allerton also features some ‘traditional’ American dishes on its menu. However a supposed quick lunch, turned into 6 hours, 4 bottles or Prosecco and 3 courses. Admittedly in leaving we were a little less stable on our feet than when we arrived.

The Pit is recently relaunched, having previously been The Hub, and is part of the Arc group which also has Kobe, The Box and Trio on its books. Inside, it’s almost too polished – money has been spent trying to create an atmosphere that money can’t really buy. That said, I’m still a fan with plenty of cosy booths, friendly staff, great lighting and more wooden panelling than you can shake a stick at. We felt right at home. You’re also likely to be familiar with it’s big sister in the city centre which features Ping Pong tables (or wiff waff if you’re a massive tool) and a private area you can book, alarmingly called  ‘The Bunker’. There’s a decent selection of beers with craft lagers including Jaipur, Brooklyn and Vedett. These are served as schooners, a trend I hope never takes off. Our table also made the most of ‘Fizz Fridays’ a decent bottle of Prosecco for £15, ideal after a long week at work.

The menu features the perfect range of American mains including ribs, steaks, burgers and lobster along with tempting sides such as Mac & Cheese, corn bread and BBQ beans. For those of you wondering whether this menu needs a public health warning attached don’t worry. The pit has a range of smaller lunch dishes (£6.96 meal deal with a drink), salads and even superfood dished featuring quinoa and bulgar wheat. The menu doesn’t try to cover every base and is all the better for it. The dishes are generally well thought out, with care taken to each element on the plate. Attention is also given to the ingredients which are locally sourced including fruit and veg from RK Harris and meat from Alan Morton Butchers in Horsforth.

In a frenzy of hunger, we ordered starters and mains to come together. The ‘Hot or not’ chicken wings were tender, sticky and above all tasty but made so much better with the butter milk dip. I’ve heard the ‘hot’ version will knock your socks off, be warned. The generous portion of nachos didn’t last long either, the home made guacamole the star or the show.

I plumped for the Boston Butt (a phrase I never thought I’d utter), featuring pretty much everything I’d want on a plate of food – Pulled pork, streaky bacon, apple sauce, corn bread, fries and coleslaw. The intensely rich, smokey pulled pork was a joy to get stuck firmly between your teeth and complimented well by the generous helping of apple sauce. The pork hid the tasty cornbread which was a little sodden underneath and the bacon could have been crispier. That aside, this dish really hit the spot. Pulled pork is everywhere these days but here all the bits of the plate made it more than a box ticking exercise. I will be back for this dish alone but will bring tooth picks. The rest of the table went for burgers. The Pit Master burger stood tall with a well-seasoned, juicy, burger topped with pulled pork & charbroiled chicken and dripping, tangy Monterey Jack cheese. All the dished featured chips, traditional French fries which had a great crunch with not a single one left on any plate.

Having moved onto the next notch on the belt (apologies for that image) we risked dessert. The star was the almost sickly sweet pecan pie. The warm pie with crumbly, buttery pastry topped with crunchy pecans and swimming in maple syrup was the highlight of the meal. The ice cream managed to just about cut through the tooth achingly sweet dessert. If you go, please order this! The fudge cake, although not served warm, was also a treat. Topped with swiss chocolate, it managed not to be too rich even after such a heavy meal.

Perhaps The Pit is trying to be a bit cool and may be it doesn’t quite manage it but I’m 28 now and I think I know how that feels. Neither is it the cheapest of nights out but the impressive refit, local produce and crowd pleasing dished I for one look forward to spending many a happy an hour in The Pit, avoiding schooners at my peril.

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Ambiente Review

I’ve heard murmurings around Leeds about Ambiente, what in particular was drawing people to it, I wasn’t sure, but there was a definite excitement. After some overpriced drinks in the first class airport lounge surroundings of Malmaison, we merrily headed over to Ambiente on Calls landing in search of something better. Walking through the doors of Ambiente you’re immediately hit with the tempting, smokey smells from their theatre kitchen situated at the heart of this busy restaurant. The riverside location, immediately attentive and friendly staff and contemporary surroundings make it an ideal place to get the weekend started.

I struggle to find fault with the menu featuring a range of influences and interesting ingredients, boosted only from hearing my mate from Barnsley trying to read the Spanish names. It ranged from veggie dishes so tempting, you forget they don’t include meat. Including refreshing salad (ensalada ambiente), generously full of crumbly, salty feta, ripe tomatoes and a sharp dressing. To seafood dishes, one of the stars being a generous helping of chorizo with glass noodles (Vieras con chorizo y noodles). The small, delicate scallops holding their own against the punchy, smoky chorizo. Right through to treats for fellow meat eaters from lamb, liver, pigeon, pheasant and even a Moroccan shepherd’s pie. 

Rare for when out for Tapas, we opted for starters. The meat sharing platter, a real treat, with rich & creamy chorizo pate as the centre piece. The more traditional cuts of meat were joined by sweet, sticky dates and crunchy almonds cooked in salty parma ham (Datiles con serrano). The first surprise of the night. The starters showcased some really quality ingredients including rich Manchego cheese and soft, salty, white anchovy fillets.

The restaurant made traditional twists on popular favourites. The meatballs (albondegas) with chilli and lemon grass was the next surprise here. These Thai flavours adding a delicacy to a typically hearty dish. However some of the traditional dished were under-seasoned. These included the patatas bravas and calamari. This is a real surprise when their more unique dishes impressed us all. With great quality ingredients, only a little boost was surely needed.

The ‘wow’ dishes included the perfectly cooked, soft, pan fried seabass in a rich, indulgent ham and sherry cream sauce. The dish we still talk about days later is the salty and sweet goats cheese with tender fennel and beetroot crisps. This dish typified the well balanced flavours and textures found across the menu. Yorkshire was represented with a black pudding scotch egg – the big flavours of the well seasoned filling perfect with a soft, creamy yolk and crunchy coating. The earthy, flavourful lentil and chorizo stew were slightly let down by pheasant which was slightly overcooked and almost chewy. The pork belly too, cooked simply with cumin was tender but lacked a crispy skin – a personal preference. These minor issues withstanding, this was impressive feast punctuated by frequent calls of “You have to try this!” and a race to get your share on your plate.

What I liked most about Ambiente was that intangible bit about enjoying a great meal out – great location, warm welcome, approachable staff, tempting dishes, well timed service and something to talk about once you’ve left. Writing this I’ve immediately been able to recall the goats cheese, sherry sauce and chorizo pate. Flavours that prompted excitement, discussion, extra orders and big smiles from friends. Coming in at £110 for 15 dished, 2 sharing platters, a bottle of prosecco and beers, it’s great value for the quality of food, service and location. We’ll be back to be surprised by the rest of their menu and to simply have a great time!

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Ambiente Tapas Leeds
36 – 38 The Calls
Leeds
LS2 7EW
0113 246 1848​

Open 7 days. 12 noon to 10.00pm

 

Website here

Laynes Espresso brunch @Belgrave_leeds

Living in Leeds we’re lucky to have a wealth of independents. In recent months @Belgrave_Leeds has been a great showcase for these with its street feast and in-house foodie treats, the perfect accompaniment to one too many local ales. These include @NofishyBusiness, @DoughboysLeeds, @PattySmithsUK and more recently @Laynesespresso. I headed along to Laynes latest Belgrave take over, a brunch service between 11am and 3pm on 2nd March, to see if their brunch was half as good as their coffees.

Laynes have previously acknowledged the waiting time issue at their last service and were keen to improve, introducing an at-table service. Ideal for a lazy Sunday sat with good tunes and a crossword.  The team are still ironing out a few kinks with some really long waiting times for orders, drinks and food. An hour and a half from sitting down to being served food. Luckily the team themselves were just as genuine, welcoming and friendly as they are at their coffee shop even during such a busy service and numerous large tables.

Those who’ve been to Laynes coffee shop on New Station Street will already be familiar with their fantastic coffees. Fellow Leeds blogger @Dimingwong wrote this great blog about the store as part of her North Leeds coffee community series which helps explain their passion for what they do. Their coffees boast an impressive depth of flavour and their cakes and sandwiches are too tempting to ignore.

Their brunch menu was perfectly formed and had something for everyone. From a sin-free smashed avocado with pistachio pesto through to hearty braised beans with smoked pancetta and sourdough. We greedily ordered 3 dishes between us despite the impending roast dinner later than day at my mother in laws. First up was the ham hock sandwich. The simple, crisp presentation promised much and on the whole the dish delivered. The sweet brioche bun and caramelised onions contrasted well with the ham lightly flecked with mustard. The fried egg, perfectly cooked added little and almost drowned out the tasty ham hock, but what’s a breakfast butty without the egg!?

Next up was French toast, an original dish of caramelised banana, espresso mascarpone and nut brittle. The flavours surprised with the almost bitter espresso a great match to the achingly sweet and delicious brittle, adding much needed crunch. I’d have preferred pieces of banana rather than puree but on the whole an indulgent and original take on French toast. Lastly we went off menu with poached eggs on a brioche bun for my better half. These perfectly cooked eggs and sweet crisp bun showed that even a simple dish can be elevated to something special by these guys.

This wasn’t fast food but with their passion, care and attention to detail, already synonymous with their coffees, transferred to their brunch dishes, I was ready to forgive the wait. Once the service issues are ironed out, I think the Laynes brunch will be drawing in the crowds and showing yet again show why great food is worth waiting for.

Laynes at Belgrave Music Hall

1-1A Cross Belgrave Street

LS2 8JP

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Margherita Pizza

ImageFlorence is one of my favourite places. We spent some great days wondering the streets in the sunshine, frequently stopping at Grom for pistachio or hazlenut gelato. At night, stumbling home with full bellies after a few glasses of red listening to the sounds of street musicians. Sounds good right? Well let’s gloss over the heated argument I had with an Italian shop owner about a travel adapter.

Our travel guide had given us some poor recommendations. One occasion saw a pizzeria owner show us so much contempt – I can only assume I insulted both his wife and kids whilst ordering bread sticks in Italian. One balmy night in Florence, we headed South of the river to Gusta pizza. The pizzeria was small, packed with locals and tourists huddled round barrels with pizza on paper plates and delicious wine in plastic cups. The incredible pizzas were cooked right in front of you in big wood fired oven in the corner. We loved them so much we ordered two more and scoffed them down next to the imposing Pitti Palace. Whilst I’ll never replicate those pizzas, with the help of a pizza making class whilst in Italy, I’ve managed to make something quick and pretty tasty indeed.

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Here’s my thin and crispy margherita. The trick, like all Italian cooking, is to keep it simple and use good quality ingredients. If you do have a pizza stone then brilliant, a slab from B&Q will do too. It helps to cook the pizza fast in a super hot oven to give a crispy, blackened base. If not a pizza pan with holes in will do. I use beer rather than just water which helps give a much needed, malty taste to the base, perfect for dipping your crust in some garlic mayo.

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METHOD

ONE First whisk the beer, yeast, water and oil in a bowl and add your flour and salt to the mix. TWO Get your hand in, making a claw shape with your hand and turning the dough like it’s a massive dial whilst rotating the bowl THREE Once roughly combined, oil a clean work surface and knead for 10 minutes FOUR I tend to divide the dough into 150g and make them into ball shape, Leave the balls to rise for 1 hour FIVE Whilst the dough is on its way empty the tin of tomatoes in a saucepan and roughly tear some basil in to it. Season with sea salt and black pepper and leave on a low heat for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally SIX Preheat your oven to as high as it will go with your stone in the oven!

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SEVEN To get a really thin base, roll out your dough so its almost see through. When confident, stretch out a bit using your hands EIGHT (The tricky bit) I remove the pizza stone from the oven carefully using oven gloves and quickly spread over the dough NINE Top the pizza with a ladle full of sauce, scatter 5 large leaves of basil and tear the mozzarella over the base, covering the basil with the cheese TEN Cook for 7 minutes but keep an eye out, it will cook fast. Enjoy.

ELECTRIC MIXERS You can of course combine and knead the dough using an electric mixer by mixing on the lowest setting as you add the water using the dough hook. Then turning up the speed to the next setting for 3 minutes. BUT where’s the fun in that?

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