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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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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Blackhouse review

January is the month for Blackhouse with its 50% off deal. Despite being part of a small chain it’s something of a Leeds institution and one of the first places friends will recommend when asking where’s good to eat in town? Praise needs to given to the setting. With a backdrop of fairy lights, regular pianist and dim lit booths, you feel like you’re on for a proper night out.

You come here for the steaks which are cooked to perfection, some might consider their version of rare – pretty rare but it’s perfect for me and friends who came along. After a few visits now, what comes across is the real passion and care taken over there steak dishes. Accompaniments are spot one, the chips are crunchy and seasoned to perfection, the mash smooth and creamy, the green beans have the right crunch and a welcome kick of garlic and the Bearnaise sauce was thick (almost too thick to leave the pot) and wonderfully sharp. However my personal favourite was the Diane sauce, only difficulty is getting ever last drop out of the gravy boat with a chip. On a recent visit I shared the chateaubriand with my other half, definitely worth it as a one off but the individual steaks are my preference for taste. The sirloin lives up to the menu’s description of ‘big beefy flavour’.

The magic they produce with their steaks, doesn’t quite translate to their starters but they’re still worth having. They have a very tempting selection and most won’t be disappointed. The duck spring rolls are a real treat, the sweet sticky sauce bringing the dish to life. The chicken skewers are tasty but the scattering of sesame seeds doesn’t quite add enough crunch to what is otherwise a delicious dish, it also lacked some promised spice.

The prices are fairly high but as their moto states they sell ‘solid, honest, simple, proper food’ – you’re paying for quality products, brilliant service and a great atmosphere. I haven’t yet got as far as the desserts as generally have been much too full. A consistently impressive venue in the city centre that take real care over what they serve, great stuff!

I’ll see you there!