So long, Leeds

unnamed (26)I’m leaving Leeds today and my emotions are far more mixed on the subject than I ever would have thought possible when I moved here eight years ago.

I came across the Pennines from Manchester where I’d lived, studied and partied hard for five years. I felt at home there and for good reason – it had been the big city in my life since even before my student days, when I spent my teenage Saturdays in Affleck’s Palace buying purple hair dye and baggy jeans that soaked the rain up to my knees.

It was the first city I sneaked, underage, into a disco night at the Ritz, back when bouncers looked the other way at the date of birth on your provisional driving licence. When I filled in my UCAS form, it was the University of Manchester at the top of my list and when I got offered a place, I couldn’t have been happier.

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When I finally arrived a deferred two years later (that’s a story for another day), I knew I could handle the hurdle of permanently leaving my parents’ home a few miles down the A34 in Cheshire. And for those few years, I loved Manchester – the way the sun hit the Victorian red bricks; the sticky dives sadly no more (RIP Roadhouse); my attic flat with the Velux windows that had views over the Northern Quarter’s roofs; the bars, the history, the swagger, the accent, the music, even the rain.

So I approached moving to Leeds in 2010 kicking and screaming. My friend Amy patiently kept me company during those bleak weeks when we went back and forth on the rattling Pacers to look at depressing basement flats in Headingley. When the time came to leave for the new job I packed a van, sobbed across the M62 and moved into a (much nicer) flat on North Street with a girl I’d met on Gumtree.

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The following year was a difficult one as I struggled cluelessly through my trainee reporter paces, and though I wasn’t altogether happy, I had started to try and make the best of things. I was lucky enough to have a gracious and relaxed roomie (thanks Carmen). I was introduced by a mutual bud to the positive life force that is Gemma. I reconnected with my best pal from university, Emily, who had moved to Leeds and whose support and friendship I am lucky enough to enjoy to this day. I started writing for a local blog and going to gigs, finding refuge in Nation of Shopkeepers and North Bar and spending weekends covering festivals like Live at Leeds and Constellations.

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But I still hadn’t entirely warmed to the place. I spent most weekends either going back to Manchester or escaping to my best mate’s house in London. It was only when my new flatmate moved in and tweeted about our housewarming party that things took a turn for the better, because who should turn up but the man who would bowl me over by throwing a record on to the NCP from my balcony.

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Ewan was (and still is) a big-time advocate for Leeds and its surroundings, and was a more than willing tour guide. We drove out to Ilkley, to Golden Acre Park and to Yorkshire Sculpture Park. We went to Otley car boot on Saturdays and took in the view from the Chevin.

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We picnicked in the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey, built snowmen in Horsforth, petted animals at Temple Newsom and visited the meerkats at Tropical World. We walked down the canal, saw the viaduct at Knaresborough, played on the beaches in Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and Staines.

We ate at the Man Behind the Curtain before it got its Michelin star, got really drunk at Cosmic Slop, went to Belgrave’s opening party, consumed delicious roasts at the Adelphi and the Reliance. We drank beer in Friends of Ham when it was the size of a cupboard, saw bands in a field near Skipton, and made a home for ourselves in Burley, where we were lucky enough to live a stone’s throw from literally all our friends.

It’s only as we are leaving for Birmingham I realise how much I will miss the latter and the ease of drunkenly stumbling a few hundred yards between our houses. I’ll miss the fact that in the summer we would sit in the park together on a random Wednesday evening, or on the stoops at one of our houses, and drink cans until it got cold. And that every Christmas we would set aside a date to celebrate our own December 25 by each bringing a dish to the table.

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In addition to the pals on my doorstep, I was also welcomed into the Armley fold – a warm and wonderful bunch of musicians and creatives who lived a few miles away. It meant I was doubly lucky because I had two crews to hang out with, all of them patient and funny people who taught me everything from yoga, to how to change a baby’s nappy, to how to party just that bit harder.

Our house was a gorgeous end terrace on the steep streets, with stripped floors, amazing afternoon light and views from the top room that allowed us to watch the fireworks at several different parks. Leaving the first home we made together makes me too sad to type.

Yesterday, as I walked around Leeds on my final day as a resident, I realise how much it has changed into this wonderful, creative city. Its independent scene has blossomed, to the point where it may even surpass Manchester’s.

I already know I’ll long for the food at Bundobust, the meat at Ox Club, the brunch at Layne’s and films at Hyde Park Picture House. Where I once missed the red bricks of Manchester, I will miss the bleached sandstone of Yorkshire. Also, &Other Stories. I will definitely miss that.

But the sadness I feel about leaving Leeds is different to how I felt about leaving Manchester eight years ago. The desire to start again in a new city is similarly lacking, but whereas back then I couldn’t envisage anything living up to what I had left, I know now that Birmingham will be what we make it.  For Indian street food, we’ll go to Zindya; for films, The Electric. For excellent brunch, there’s a whole host of amazing looking places to try, and the Jewellery Quarter beckons. When we crave the countryside, we’ll drive to Warwickshire, or the Cotswolds.

And if it doesn’t work out, Leeds isn’t going anywhere.

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Review: Ox Club, Headrow House, Leeds

Ox Club

Photo: Tom Joy

Meat – I’m a big fan.

So much so that once I established there was at least one vegetarian option on the menu at Headrow House’s new restaurant, Ox Club, I had no reservations about making my herbivorous boyfriend watch me devour a steak in the name of journalism.

I am no stranger to the wares of its chef, Ben Davy, whose delicacies I have stuffed my face with at Belgrave Music Hall, where he has carved out a reputation as the culinary spark behind resident eateries, Patti Smith’s Burger Co and Dough Boys Pizza.

So I was expecting good things from his latest venture, a collaboration with Headrow House owners Ash Kollakowski and Simon Stevens, to bring what they claim will be an “adventurous” new dining concept to the Leeds foodie scene.

A tall order, you might say, but one with legs as it turns out.

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We started with a plate of ham hock rillettes and burratina with smoked mozzarella – dishes which were neither too over-facing or stingy in their portion sizes.

The former managed to avoid the mistake often made with terrines and pates of over-seasoning and rather danced a fine line between ‘just enough salt’ and ‘wait, could it do with a pinch more? No, I’m mistaken,’ while the latter comprised a silky blob of Buffalo milk mousse whose delicate smoky flavour nodded to time spent canoodling the charcoals.

Next up was Ox Club’s party piece – hanger steak from the wood grill complete with dollops of salsa verde and béarnaise sauce. The use of a knife was practically redundant as the tender meat fell apart on the plate and, having being cooked to a blushing pink and with a depth of flavour one expects from a cut of this kind, it’s probably the best steak I’ve ever eaten – so much so that I was left lifting the watercress in the hope there was more hiding on my plate.

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It seems unfair not to mention the inventive range of side-dishes which included kale that tasted more like cake than a bitter green leaf through some sort of cider-based sorcery, and an earthy, blackened cauliflower which came with a chunky romesco sauce – highly recommended, both of them.

The only fault I could pick would be with the dessert, a pumpkin pie which tasted strangely of very little other than ginger and felt like an afterthought in a restaurant specialising in grilled goods.

But if you’re going to Ox Club it’s unlikely you’re going to appease your sweet tooth – stick to the obvious and you’ll leave a happy diner.

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The Roast Post: The Old Bridge Inn, Kirkstall

Living out in the ‘burbs has its plus side. It’s quiet, I don’t have to pay nose-bleed parking fees and if I ever let my kitten out of the house, he would probably be relatively safe roaming the streets.
The disadvantage of living in a residential area however is that there’s rarely a pub nearby for fear of drunks disturbing the peace.  So when I heard a new watering hole had re-opened in stumbling distance (or a five minute drive) of my house, I was pretty excited. When I heard it offered a Sunday roast I was practically beside myself with joy.
I badly wanted The Old Bridge Inn at Kirkstall to feed me an awesome meal when we arrived last Sunday – partly because I would like the option of eating closer to home from time to time, but mostly because I was bloody starving.
The long-forgotten pub opened its doors a couple of months ago and has been newly fitted out in the manner of a classy old man’s boozer – all stained glass and mirrored advertising touting the beer brands of yore.
A simple menu of three meat options greeted us – beef, turkey and pork, with a veggie option of a broccoli and Stilton parcel for the herbivore amongst us.  Between us we opted for beef, pork and a parcel and sat back to await our gravy-laden grub. We waited… and waited a bit more. Then 35 minutes later our plates arrived and the critique began.
Perhaps I’ve become a bit of a roast snob in recent years, owing to my penchant for dousing everything in olive oil and crisping it in rosemary and thyme, Jamie Oliver-style. But when I go for a Sunday lunch, I expect my plate of meat and veg to be, well, roasted.
Kirkstall's latest roast.

Kirkstall’s latest roast.

I don’t doubt the beef and pork had seen the inside of an oven for several hours and the potatoes and parsnips had certainly received an appropriate basting. But the carrot and Brussels sprout sides smacked of a mass boil, varying between overdone and undercooked depending on shape and size.
The gravy – our waitress proudly told us – had been made with meat juices and did contribute to the overall flavour of the meal.  Two Yorkshires improved matters (because who doesn’t love a totally unnecessary second pud?) and the meat was nicely cooked, but the size of the broccoli and Stilton parcel was laughably small and left our veggie diner hungry for more.
On the whole, the food was average, though portion sizes were good. In fairness, it’s early days for The Old Bridge Inn, having only opened its kitchen a couple of weeks ago. Possibly with a few tweaks, I would give their £9.50 roast a second spin, but I’m sad to say I won’t be banging down the door.
5.5/10

The Roast Post: The Midnight Bell

Once upon a year ago, I had a blinding roast beef dinner at The Midnight Bell, so I was rather hoping to repeat the

experience when we visited last Sunday.

In the absence of lamb, and for the sake of continuity, I opted once again for some cow-meat and waited eagerly for its appearance.

The service was speedy, but, as I’ve come to realise during my extensive roast search, it isn’t out of the ordinary these days for pubs to present their meals at high speed given that many of them pre-cook much of the meal to cope

with the rush of hungry mouths. I have no beef (pun not intended) with such service, on the proviso that everything is piping hot. Unfortunately, it was not the case at The Midnight Bell.

Juicy does it.

Juicy does
it.

But first! The good news.

A heavily-laden plate was placed before me  offering a vast

array of side dishes cooked in a variety of creative ways. It

can be difficult to distinguish one roast from the next when you

eat as many as I, but this is one area in which  The Midnight Bell excelled.

Alongside the staples of meat, roast potatoes and Yorkshire Pud, was a healthy portion of cauliflower cheese, a melee of chunky carrots and swede, a slightly unnecessary but non-the-less enjoyable dollop of mash, and a spoonful of sweet, braised red cabbage – all languishing in a thick and tasty gravy.

The meat was thinly carved and melt-in-the-mouth tender, and apart from my own personal preference for blushing beef, I can’t fault the kitchen in that area.  I inquired after the nut roast and was informed the flavours were good but a little pile of cashew nuts on the side of the plate spoke of a dissatisfaction with the texture.

Now for the bad news.

While the red-wine soaked cabbage was a tangy addition, the swede was a tad hard and the carrots a little on the cold side. I discovered a rogue green bean whose solo addition made me wonder whether it had escaped another pan in its

bid for freedom from a rolling boil. If it wasn’t an escappee, where were its brothers and sisters? Lastly the cauliflower cheese was practically scalding, but lacking in the, well, cheese department.

Big portions, well flavoured meat and a nice selection of veg  scores The Midnight Bell plenty of brownie points – especially at a reasonably priced £11.95 – but varying temperatures let the side down. 

7/10

Review: Belgrave Music Hall

Bright like neon love

Bright like neon love

For too long now, Leeds has lacked the sort of venue that combines the style and substance needed to rival Manchester’s musical hotspot, Deaf Institute.

Thankfully, those dark days are over.

Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen opened its doors this month with a two-day launch party fuelled by artisan pizza, free drinks and buzz bands.

The ground floor boasts a wall-length bar stacked high with spirits, bookended by two cantinas – one operated by thin-crust supremos Dough Boys and the other by street food gurus Northern StrEATS – who will be bringing a host of independent vendors to the fore, starting with the folks at Fish&.

Upstairs lays claim to a roomy gig space with clear-cut sound and a second bar tucked around the back, promising a programme of events which will see the city’s newest stage filled with both emerging talent and household names. Acts pencilled in so far range from Simian Mobile Disco to British Sea Power and These New Puritans.

Just when you thought Belgrave couldn’t tick any more boxes, the top floor reveals a Wonderland-like roof terrace, dotted with potting sheds, benches and painted brickwork.

Though unfinished, the venue’s rough-around-the-edges decor adds to the charm of its many other facets and its future looks as bright as its glowing neon signs.

The Roast Post: The Adelphi

In my experience, I’ve found a juicy roast can fix just about any of Sundays woes. Monday doom? Drown your sorrows in gravy. The world’s darkest hangover? Get some meat down you. Bit povo? Get a Taste Card and go to The Adelphi.

Which brings us to The Roast Post. Since moving to Leeds three years ago, I’ve sampled many of the city’s lamb and beef
 offerings, and as a self-confessed authority on the subject, I’ve taken it upon myself to start documenting my 
quest for the perfect roast.

Plus, with the winter months upon us, what better way to justify the outrageous amount of meat I’m about to consume on a weekly basis?And I’m starting with a tough act to follow: the aforementioned Adelphi.

Now before I gush about how great their roast is, it does come with a disclaimer. If Scottish Boss Man is running the show, you can guarantee yourself some damn fine service. But have the bad luck to show up on a particularly busy Sunday and you run the risk of sitting outside, in the cold, with a second-choice beef in front of you while smokers puff in your general direction.

Thankfully, Scottish Boss Man is running the show when we stop by today. We are sitting at our table within a minute, our order in at the bar, and before I even have time to read the second paragraph of the Sunday Times magazine, our heavily-accented friend is back with one lamb and one nut roast.

“That was quick!” I say, with a touch of suspicion. “Aye, it’s been slow-cooked so it’s ready to go straight out,” he drawls, setting it down and making sure all of our condiment needs are met before striding away.

The Adelphi's lamb shank

The Adelphi’s lamb
shank

As promised, the meat falls off the bone with an ease that suggests its been clinging on simply for presentation’s sake. The potatoes are on top form – the peppery skins crisp and just the right side of burnt, while the middle squidges out in a heavenly carby goo.

On the side are herb-sprinkled Chantilly carrots, a Yorkshire pud the size of my face and a serving of peas dotted with broad beans which were strangely elusive when I try to chase them onto my fork.

The whole meal floats in just the right amount of juicy gravy and as I stuff it in my face, I remember to inquire about the nut roast. I’m reliably informed it’s “chunkier than usual”, which I understand to be a compliment as the plate is scraped clean.

I, on the other hand – despite skipping breakfast – have never managed to finish an Adelphi roast and feel a bit disappointed in myself as I watch the remnants of my meal being taken away.

The woman next to me orders a sticky toffee pudding. I resist the urge to steal it from under her spoon and begrudgingly concede defeat in that I cannot possibly eat another morsel.

With a Taste Card in our possession we pay for just one of our meals, bringing our bill to £18 including a pint of Blue Moon – just another reason to keep going back to The Adelphi on a Sunday.

9/10

REVIEW: The Market, West Yorkshire Playhouse

This article originally appeared on the Culture Vulture website.

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'Woodbine Lizzie'

‘Woodbine Lizzie’

Believe it or not, in my regular line of work I write about markets a fair bit. Sadly I write about the threat to the town’s once beating heart far more than I write about it being saved from the council’s axe-wielding bean-counters.

The times – they have changed. Some of my earliest memories are of zig-zagging through the maze of Blackpool’s indoor market on South Shore in the late 80s, watching my grandma buy unbranded cereal from huge drums and nagging her to buy me a tacky shade of Glitz ‘n’ Glam nail polish.

By the late 90s In my hometown of Congleton, the market was considered something of an embarrassment, its rows of stalls empty in the shadow of a Safeway looming above.

It was a sign of things to come. I don’t know anyone my age that goes to the market – the last time I went to Kirkgate Market was in a last ditch attempt to find a 10W refrigerator bulb.

Unsurprisingly, given that it’s Europe’s largest indoor market, I find Leeds’ infamous trading landmark a stressful place to be. It’s huge and there’s no stall directory. Despite proclamations that the market industry is dying on its arse, it always seems to be heaving. The smell of Meat Alley makes me want to gag. And don’t even get me started on the shouting – personally, I find being yelled at to buy a bag of bananas off-putting.

So it was with great relief that I was able to explore what I knew to be one of the city’s gems in the relative peace and quiet of a theatre production, as part of West Yorkshire Playhouse’s annual Transform festival.

‘The Market’ began both in darkness and silence, finally giving me the opportunity to take in Kirkgate’s character: its ornate balcony and regal colours, the quaint, retro signage of stalls simply named ‘Whittaker’s Eggs’, ‘Martin’s Curtains’ and ‘Lyn’s Accessories’. Unfortunately it also revealed there’s an unbelievable level of crap still being sold in markets – as Dion says in Clueless, no-one wears cheap polyester hair anymore.

A cast of story-tellers crept out of the gloom to tell the market’s history, including Linda the Button Lady, Michael the Master Butcher (who was fittingly hammy in his performance) and a woman who looked back with whimsy on the days she was paid 75p to sell huge knickers.

While I was unable to confirm the existence of many of these characters, I was heartened to learn the legend of Woodbine Lizzie – whose role was largely to lament the passing of the market’s ‘hustle and bustle’ – is based on fact, as were many of the stories that peppered this promenade-style performance.

A crowd of us were led from one part of the hall to the other, snaking up and down the passageways on a choreographed route which took us from one historical chapter to another.

Events in the market’s history – such as the two fires which ravaged the city centre’s trading centre – and its narrow escape from destruction by a World War II bomb were brought to life in animated, informative soliloquies from a constantly changing cast of actors.

Finally, a trip up into the rafters of the market allowed us to look out over the stalls and down onto its winding corridors, where the performers revealed their last secrets in a cacophony of noise that captured the raucous nature of the once glorious market, petering out to the sound of a lone opera singer’s haunting voice echoing through the room.

Sure, times have changed. There are no longer abattoirs surrounding Vicar Lane or chain-smoking bag-ladies pestering customers for cigs. When we clatter down the market’s paved passageways, it’s with the knowledge that under our feet at are the shells of air-raid shelters. This is a market with a fighting history and one that’s being kept alive by people who still care.