Rare Review

We headed to relative newcomer, Rare, for Sunday dinner. After the meal, I briefly thought what my parents, card carrying members of the British carvery club appreciation society, would have said if I’d brought them. Mum would have started by asking “Why is there a large stuffed cow in the middle of the restaurant?” and I’d awkwardly point out it’s called Sue and it’s great they’re being bold and making a statement about their passion for their ingredients. She’d nod and they’d take their seats, Dad would immediately look for Carling on the menu, “What’s a schooner son?” I’d explain its two thirds of a pint and it seemed to be all the rage at the moment. He’d shake his head and I’d nod my head knowingly. “That’s 6 quid for a pint, no wonder it’s so expensive if they can afford to have a cow instead of tables.” I’d envy the stuffed dead cow.

There’s a lot to like about Rare. First the setting it’s relaxed trendy bar upstairs, new court yard festooned with bunting and sophisticated but cosy downstairs. The latter is where we dined, joined by the steely stare of Sue the cow. The service is relaxed and informal which I’m a fan of but the other diners on the day weren’t as impressed. The menu is short, something I’m also a supporter of, with 2 starters, some smaller lunch options and 4 roast dinners. The roasts were Tamworth Pork Belly, Roosters Ale glazed mini chicken, nut roast and Treacle cured Longhorn topside.

The sausages served to wet our appetites served with brown sauce were tasty indeed as we eagerly awaited the feast to come. However I must call to order another session of the beer liberation army, Rare sells a fine selection of craft beers including Jaipur and Ilkley Pale in schooners. There’s room here for a joke about Kylie being small and the only petite export I’d welcome from Australian. However I feel that detracts from other great Australian exports such as Zinc, Danni Minogue and Hugh Jackman’s sideburns. Unfortunately the drinks arrived at the same time as the starters, although we had ordered a couple of cocktails alongside beer and wine. We were equally unlucky on the night that the kitchen was out of pork belly, cauliflower cheese and horseradish.

The Cured Gressingham Duck Salad was a slight disappointment. The mix of sharp raisins, sweet nuts and aniseed rich fennel surprised but was simply too sweet. The thin slices of duck were lost. The goats cheese salad had earthy, sweetness from the beetroot and more sweetness from tomatoes. The soft goats cheese was very richly flavoured, so rich it was difficult to finish so I did the gentlemanly thing and helped out.

Unlike the duck, the meat was the star of the show when it came to the mains, proud atop an unpretentious plate of food. The Topside was rich and deep in flavour, cooked nice and rare and clearly left to rest. The generous portion melted in the mouth, full credit to sourcing such an impressive cut of meat. The Yorkshire pudding too, bold on the plate, crispy and full of braised red cabbage. The sweet carrot puree was a perfect accompaniment to the iron rich meat. However the roasties hidden beneath the meat were left soft despite good flavour and seasoning. It was a great roast dinner but it didn’t excite. The small chicken visually impressed, the succulent, tender bird again showing that these guys really know what they’re doing with meat. The chips were faultless with a soft fluffy interior and crisp coating, a great accompaniment to the beef sandwich.

For dessert we went for sticky toffee pudding over the eton mess or pancetta, brave after such a filling main and required at least one notch moving on the belt. The sponge was piping hot. I was rich, treacly and deep in flavour accompanied by crispy cinder toffee on the side. The pistachio ice cream didn’t quite reach the same level and lacked any oomph.

I feel good food is worth paying for and what was on show here were really quality ingredients cooked well. Nevertheless the stars of the show, the duck, goats cheese, beef and pistachio just didn’t have the right balance of supporting flavours in their dishes. If I had brought my Mum and Dad here, they wouldn’t have made it past the prices on the menu, and for the first time I would have to agree with them. I left wishing I hadn’t spent so much money.

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Street food – Amazing Graze Review

I imagine when some people hear the term ‘street food’, they groan, roll their eyes and return to reading an article in The Telegraph about how Katie Hopkins thinks she’s too good to eat cupcakes and they should be called fairy cakes. But what has led to ‘street food’ popping up across the country like an untreated rash or well…Nandos. Is it the recession? Is it an excuse to exploit free spending foodies with fake horn rimmed specs, willing to part with £10 on a glorified burger van with no overheads? Or is it the only way new food business can get started these days? In Leeds some worry about the commercialisation of street food, with Trinity Kitchen potentially capitalising on the recent trend. I for one signed the petition to keep Leeds hallowed pizza van from being moved by the city council. The council hoping to to move in trendier vans which also sold pizza. However, I’m a big fan of Trinity, anything that moves us away from the Mcdonald’s, KFC, Nandos screen saver of traditional food courts is okay in my book. Especially if some traders can make in a month what they might make in a year.Image

I don’t have the answer by the way to the popularity of street food, but I know why I think it works. Think about the number of menus featuring every conceivable cuisine, trying to be something for everyone but ending up being a distant fart of a memory. Street food vendors don’t have this ‘luxury’, every dish needs to count. They do a few things incredibly well as if their livelihoods depended on it, and quite often it does. Whilst we get to try cuisines from around the world, last weekend’s now annual Amazing Graze proved to be just this. Here’s a quick low down of what was on offer and who to keep an eye out for…

Original Fry Up Material 

Following their stint in Trinity, the boys were back to Leeds. I’ve claimed previously that this is the best burger I’ve ever had and the first bite had to be a let-down right? It was not. This is the kind of food to make grown men cry. A burger you want to take a little private moment with. Take it out for a drink, to the movies, let it meet your parents, take a trip away with it, get down and one knee and propose to, get a kitten with, having a few kids with…then eat the crap out of it and your burger offspring.

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This time I went for ‘cheesy’, a free range burger, cheese, lettuce and yellow, green and red sauces on a brioche bun. The burger, deep in flavour, perfectly pink and oozing tasty juices joined by layers of flavours from the sauces. Seeing these chaps cook, you can see the care attention and fun they have. The burger stayed intact just to the end as the juices steadily soaked into the tasty brioche bun. It was a bit messy to hold but it meant I didn’t wash my hands for a good week afterwards to hold on to the memory. Their ‘brekkie’ is a home-made sausage patty with bacon, cheese and egg…it’s just like the McDonald’s classic only it tastes of something other than bitter disappointment, the cheese doesn’t resemble a warped condom and it’s just bloody delicious. Usually based on London, all I can say is come back chaps, you’re always welcome on Leeds.

The Greedy Pig

I’ve reviewed the Greedy Pig before and I had a few nice things to say about their down to earth, high quality, affordable food. Friendly Jo and Stu tried something different at Amazing Graze and chef Stu has put his passion for offal on a plate with their nose to tail tapas. They mentioned the struggle to get some of the cuts for these dishes which included heart kebabs, meat balls, terrine, and quail scotch eggs. The revelation of all the dishes, and possibly the day, were the tongue tacos. Stu explained that tongue is like brisket in that it needs cooking with the same time and patience. He wasn’t wrong – the rich, tender, flavourful meat topped with sour cream and crunchy seeds really impressed. The wantons were simple, the iron rich tasty black pudding cut through with bold, sweet and sour onions. The biscuit for the terrine was a little too thick, the sweetness competing against the flavoursome pork, liver, kidney and cognac. The meatballs with barley were like the best school dinner you can imagine and the scotch eggs surprisingly light and moreish with their own brown sauce. This was the bravest of menu’s on the day and it’s also the one I’ll still remember by next year’s Amazing Graze for all the right reasons – can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

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Gingers Comfort Emporium

When I was 15 I spent many an hour wondering the hallowed halls of Afflex Palace in Manchester, a sort of alternative indoor market. These were the days of having my hair gelled like Peter Andre, wearing Bob Marley T-shirts without a hint of irony and believing Natalie Imbruglia was edgy music Thankfully those days are gone and it’s now permanent residence to Ginger’s comfort.

The ice cream flavours are bold, unique and they rightly describe themselves as ‘an ice cream van for grownups’. First up the Plum and gin didn’t hold back flavour with mouth-watering plum and strong smack of gin. A dazzling and refreshing taste after such a heavy day of eating. Their Chorlton crack- salted caramel & peanut butter, bordered on too salty for me but the rest of the group couldn’t get enough. The spiced pear crumble immediately conjured up Christmas with plucky, warming spices mixed with crunchy buttery, crumble. My only issue is their toasted brioche sandwiches weren’t on offer which were a real highlight from last year. Looks like I’ll be heading back over the Pennines for those!

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Special mentions are needed for…

  • First for El Kantina, I loved their pulled pork last year and was simply too full this time round to give them a go. I heard some good things from those who tucked in.
  • Noisette Bakehouse (and the Madeleine Express) I won’t mention yet as I’m crafting a blog on the best cakes in Leeds as we speak (spoiler alert).
  • Fish& as always made their twist on fish and chips without compromising on quality ingredients, perfectly crisp batter and melt in your mouth fish.
  • Last but certainly not least was Grub and Grog shop, quite new to the scene but if their garlic sausage sandwich is to go boy, these chaps are one’s to keep an eye on. You can try their stuff at Outlaw’s Yacht Club every Friday.

Twisted Burger Company @Aire Bar Leeds

“Not another bloody burger?” I hear you cry, “Haven’t we had enough brioche buns and honest burgers topped with pulled pork?”. To all you naysayers, go and eat some fennel pollen and quinoa, there’s always room for another. With my better half @CULTUREleeds we decided to visit the first night of Twisted Burger Companies (TBC) residency of Aire Bar. TBC, originally from The Harley in Sheffield were winners of Best Casual Dining 2013 at the Eat Sheffield Awards. I was expecting slow service, missing ingredients, confusion, and panic – the usual hallmarks of an opening night. Instead, what immediately stood out was a bunch of passionate folk who were knowledgeable about the food on offer, excited about what they were serving, offering genuine recommendations and enjoying it to boot. The location in Aire Bar is great, is a huge venue by the Calls with some decent beers on tap and more besides in bottles. I don’t think I saw a schooner in sight. With some much welcome sunshine, we sat outdoors by the river and played guess what’s that floating through Leeds.

The menu, a bold slap across the chops, features 9 burgers but plenty of room to customise. The burgers range from the veggie ‘Baby got guac’ featuring a porcini and button mushroom patty with Asian slaw and guacamole through to the terrifying ‘This is hardcore’ – 2 burgers, induja sausage, deep fried jalapenos, cheese and hot sauce. The burgers are described as ‘The Main Attraction’ on the menu and they’re not wrong! I plumped for the ‘Pig Daddy Kane’ – 2 beef burgers with pulled pork and cheese. The burger was packed to the rafters with flavour – the deep, smokey Kraken BBQ sauce worked perfectly with the sweet apple and chorizo jam and oozing cheese. It stood up to one of the ultimate burger tests too, you could eat the whole thing with an intact brioche bun at the end. Hat’s off to you TBC, hats off. The burgers here aren’t pink and dripping but the flavour of the beef patties still stand up impressively to the bold flavours that make up their ‘Main attractions’. The pulled pork too was not dripping with BBQ sauce but added some welcome texture to the burger. I also sampled the ‘Smokin’ Joe Frazer’ burger, chicken patties with crispy, smokey streaky bacon, Monterey jack cheese topped with ranch and house relish. Whilst as a whole this was delicious, the chicken patties are something I’ll need to get used to, a whole chicken breast would have made this a stand out dish.Finally on the burger front, no sign of a tomato – let’s all raise a schooner of craft beer to that.Image

There’s more besides The sides we ordered didn’t dazzle and nor should they as the burgers are the star turn here. The fries with skins on (a bargain I must say) were thin & crunchy, the home made slaw perfect contrast to the rich BBQ flavours of ‘Pig Daddy Kane’. There’s plenty more though, with ‘Pig Pimpin fries’ – a double portion topped with pulled pork, smoked cheese sauce and BBQ sauce! Alongside Cajun and chilli flavoured fries. Next time (there WILL be a next time) I’ll be trying the Mac & Cheese (or ‘Crack and cheese’) with bacon bits and jalapenos. All the sauces are homemade and I think are part of the secret to their success. Whatever you order, ask for extra ranch dressing – the sharp tang perfect to dip your fries into, standing up to all the other bold flavours on offer.

I’m a really big fan – they serve incredibly tasty food in a basket for a very decent price, you can’t say fairer than that. It’s great to see a place do one thing really well and with a passion too. If you head there now, there’s a good chance of 50% off. See you soon!

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