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
Advertisements

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

Vis proves the gem in Croatia’s island crown

The glorious cove at Stiniva, Vis, in Croatia.

The glorious cove at Stiniva, Vis, in Croatia.

There’s no finer way to cling onto the last days of summer than on the aquamarine shores of the Adriatic.

Croatia’s breathtaking coastline combines glamour with natural beauty, offering visitors a glimpse into its Mediterranean past and its glittering future as a top tourist destination.

Just a ferry’s ride away from our base in Split is the island of Vis – the most mysterious of the islands sprinkled between the former Yugoslav Republic and Italy.

We arrive in just over two hours and the afternoon is spent enjoying the peace and quiet of this ancient fishing port, lazily following the ribbon of cobbled streets to a tiny stretch of watering holes at the neighbouring hamlet of Kut.

With darkness falling, we retire to recharge our batteries for a full day of exploration, but not before tucking into artisan, wood-fired pizzas topped with smoked beef at restaurant Karijola.

Hiring a moped is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to zip across Vis and for the equivalent of £18 for eight hours, it’s well worth the money.

Beachside bites

Beachside bites

Croatia is known for its pebble beaches, but the allure of a sandy cove on the eastern side of the bay has us navigating the hairpin bends of the island’s steep hills on two wheels. Stoncica’s secluded shore boasts still, green waters teeming with tiny fish, while a beachside tavern serving up salty, barbecued lamb offers respite from the midday rays under a cluster of palm trees.

From there we wind our way through verdant vineyards drooping with olives and grapes to seek out Vis Town’s rival settlement, Komiza.

The journey offers stunning views from the top of Hum mountain down to the island’s sister village, which has a rough-around-the edges charm. Clusters of fishing boats are piled high at the water’s edge and at Komiza’s centre is a mix of bohemian bars serving crisp Croat beer.

Hitting Vis Town’s bars later that evening, we quaff local wine in backstreet bar Paradajz Lost, which lures us in from the main strip with crackly jazz played on an outdoor turntable.  Dinner is spent at sidestreet eatery Kod Paveta, sampling the catch of the day – grilled seabass in fresh herbs – and gorgonzola gnocchi sprinkled with walnuts.

Our last day in Vis sees us brave a death-defying trek down a crumbling mountainside to Stiniva’s cliff-flanked cove – a walk which requires sturdy shoes and nerves of steel.

Havr harbour

Havr harbour

Beaches aside, there’s plenty to explore on Vis, including Fort George, which celebrated its 200th birthday during our visit, and former top secret military sights abandoned by the Yugoslav army in the early 1990s. Eerie bunkers cling to the island’s craggy cliffs while a submarine tunnel remains carved into its heart.

Our last few days are spent on the party island of Hvar, where the pace is racy and fuelled by cocktails. A day trip by water taxi can take you to the nearby ‘Hell’s Islands’ – known for their clothing optional coves.  But for my money, the relatively unspoilt beauty of Vis is the gem in Croatia’s crown.

REVIEW: Cielo Blanco – a long way from Wahaca

This review originally appeared on the Culture Vulture website.

*

Where's the guac?

Where’s the guac?

Just weeks before learning of the existence of Cielo Blanco, I had quite literally begged Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca to move further north than Stratford.

“PLEASE,” I bleated via the medium of tweet, “Leeds needs you.”

Unsurprisingly, my pleas were politely swept under the virtual rug and it seemed my obsession with Oaxacan street food would have to continue dictating my social commitments during trips to London.

But it was with the opening of the new Trinity shopping centre that I heard an eatery boasting a similar menu to that of my southern fave was opening its doors.

I. COULDN’T. WAIT. So down I went with my pal a week last Thursday, salivating at the thought of all the guacamole I could now consume not 200 miles away, but on my own doorstep.

On arrival, it was evident the restaurant was popular, but being a party of only two I immediately spotted a table that could happily have accommodated us, albeit in the breeze of the front door. “Table for two?” I asked the host chirpily.

“It’s going to be about 15 minutes,” he said, consulting what appeared to be a reservations list on an iPad. “Can I have your name?”

“Oh we’ll just hang about here and wait,” I replied breezily.

“Well that’s fine, but I still need your name,” he snapped.

Sufficiently scolded, we were asked to sit at the bar, where we waited. And waited. And waited a bit more, until I asked, with a touch of impatience, if we had, perhaps, been forgotten about?

Out came the iPad: “Good job you mentioned it, your name hasn’t saved in the reservations list.”

Oh, the perils of technology.

We were asked to wait another five minutes when I pointed out the still empty table by the door, which by this point had been vacant for half an hour.

“Oh,” our host laughed, “I could have sat you there 30 minutes ago.”

Hi-larious!

Our waitress quickly came to take our order – a delectable sounding spread of steak tostada, pulled pork tacos, chicken quesadilla, achiote ribs, turtle bean tostadas and a squash salad.

While we waited for our food, we nibbled on some crisp, homemade tortilla chips served with three thimbles containing salsa and an unidentified green liquid. Our extra guacamole arrived a few minutes later in the world’s smallest ramekin and our mental scorecards flashed: Wahaca 1, Cielo Blanco -100.

Around 25 minutes later, our mains began to arrive and we delved in, eager to judge the Mexican fare by our high Wahacan standards.

But no sooner had I ravenously pounced on the steak tostada, it was whisked away by the host who declared that they “had caught at the edges”.

With my stomach practically eating itself by this point, I settled for picking at the turtle bean tostadas – where I could find no evidence of beans – and the pork tacos with pineapple salsa – where I could find no fruit.

Minor foodie gripes aside however, this is a restaurant which undoubtedly knows its way around a pig. The aforementioned tacos provided satisfying bite-size portions of juicy shredded pork and the meat on the achiote ribs slipped off the bone and into the accompanying pot of sweet and spicy barbecue sauce like they couldn’t wait to get it on.

The mix of flavours and textures in the squash salad was a refreshing break from the cheesy onslaught of the chicken quesadilla, with the beetroot and pumpkin seeds adding an earthiness to the dish.

Standout item however (when it returned ten minutes later) was the steak tostada. Chunks of North Yorkshire rump cooked medium rare and slathered in a jalapeno ketchup: a blissful morsel if ever I ate one.

Despite the unnecessary addition of grated carrot on every dish and the appearance on my plate of a very black hair which could not have come from my own bleached blonde head, the food was of good quality and could easily compete with, ahem, other successful Mexican restaurants. It was also good value for money, at just £10.95 a head.

But on the whole, the experience was let down by the hit-and-miss service. Perhaps the early teething problems will become a thing of the past when the staff and restaurant are more established. For my money however, a quicker turnaround in the kitchen and a lot less carrot would go a long way to improving Cielo Blanco.

Budapest: a tale of two cities

A room with a view – Art’otel, Budapest

ITS reputation precedes it as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe – rivalling the likes of Paris and Prague with its promise of romance and bohemia.

But from the rolling hills of Buda in the west to the vibrant nightlife of Pest in the east, this former Soviet city has far more to offer than passionate embraces on the banks of the River Danube.

My boyfriend and I booked our Jet2 flights from Leeds to Budapest – mindful of its agreeable September weather – and flew just two hours before checking into the four-star Art’otel for a three-night escape, a mere stone’s throw from the water’s edge.

A quick sweep of our stylish double room revealed a picture-perfect view of Matyas Church, its landscape backed by cyan skies and terracotta roofs, so we clambered up the sprawling streets of the medieval district to explore the city’s former seat of royalty.

From the summit of Varhegy (Castle Hill) are striking views of Pest’s skyline which are dominated by the towering spires of its grand parliament building. We dodged the tourists posing for pictures in archways and strolled through the castle district for a visual history lesson.

Castle Hill, Budapest

At the heart of Buda’s enchanting courtyards and passage ways is Szentharomsag Ter (Holy Trinity Square), its most prominent feature being the colourful church.

An amble to the southern side of the hill took us past Baroque houses in dusty shades of orange to the city’s palace and castle complex – demolished and rebuilt in the wake of several battles.

Retiring to our hotel after an exhausting trek through Buda’s winding hills it was lights out once my head hit the super-comfy, foam-topped mattress, but an eight-hour kip and superb buffet breakfast later, we were back on track.

The Danube, Budapest

Leaving the leafy ‘utcas’ of Buda behind for the day, we ventured towards Margaret Island via one of the many bridges straddling the Danube.

Sitting pretty between Buda and Pest, this peaceful island is home to verdant parks made all the more striking by the golden autumn leaves crumbling underfoot.

Luscious stretches of green space are peppered with flower gardens and a musical fountain, making Margaret Island a quiet retreat in the midst of the city.

From there it was a short amble into Pest to take in one of its most famous attractions – the thermal baths.

Szechenyi’s numerous pools are housed in an elegant Baroque building and it’s clear tourists and residents alike enjoy wallowing in its toasty waters. A dip in the outside pool – at a steamy 37 degrees – was a thoroughly relaxing way to spend the afternoon.

Szechenyi Baths, Budapest
Photo credit: Seeuinhungary.com

But it’s the indoor saunas and herbal baths which provide the real entertainment as gnarled Hungarian men play water chess.

Sufficiently shrivelled after an afternoon splashing around, we strolled into the centre of Pest down its iconic boulevard, Andrassy Utca, which is topped and tailed by the monuments at Hősök Tere (Heroes Square) and the city’s infamous ‘ruin bars’.

The 1.5 mile stretch is lined with Neo-Renaissance mansions, cafes, restaurants, theatres, and luxury boutiques, but a meander through the side streets will take you to one of Pest’s most famous bars, Instant.

The venue is a maze of surreally decorated rooms featuring taxidermy owls and the drinks are generously poured. The same can be said for the neighbouring waterholes serving cheap wheat beer and strong cocktails.

But a word of warning to unsuspecting tourists after a tipple or two – check your change. Somewhere in Pest we were slipped an old Romanian note instead of Forints (Ft), meaning we lost the equivalent of £27.

Ditto taxis. We had heard horror stories of shady street cabs but we learnt a hard lesson when a 90 second ride cost us £30.

Esceri flea market, Budapest

The safest – and most economical – way to cover large distances is to pre-book taxis through hotel reception, which was no trouble for the super helpful staff at Art’otel. A 9,000 Ft ride took us 20 minutes out of town to the Esceri flea market with an hour’s wait and return journey.

Budapest is not without its dark side –its history is etched with communism, revolution and unrest, and its legacy is for sale on the market’s stalls. An unnerving selection of gas masks, Nazi memorabilia and muskets were readily available for the right price, nestled alongside austere looking teddy bears and discarded dolls.

Back in Pest we followed the sound of our growling stomachs to a street fair selling Hungarian grub.

Pay-by-the-kilo street-food, Budapest

The country’s cuisine does not cater much for the vegetarian palette with its traditional menu of goulash and veal or pork stew. But I for one enjoyed tucking into a hearty portion of unidentified gamey meat spiked with Hungary’s signature spice, paprika.

For a more glamorous culinary experience head to Gerbeaud – a lavish tea room serving delicious cake and sundaes near to the tourist trap of Vaci Utca. Try the sublime dark hot chocolate or the apple strudel topped with cinnamon ice cream for complete indulgence.

Memento Park, Budapest

Finally, if you have any energy left, take a trip to Memento Park and see the ghosts of communist dictatorship. The venue is filled with Soviet statues which were removed from the city after citizens revolted in 1956.

These gigantic monoliths of oppression are both fascinating and creepy but are well worth the short journey and admission fee for a glimpse into Budapest’s chequered past.