I recently made the rather life-changing decision to move away from Leeds. One of the sadder consequences of this is that I’m now too far away from many of my favourite places to eat. Plus, packing up and cleaning my flat was a real bitch, which I only made bearable by finishing off the remaning Havana Especiale I found in the back of the cupboard mixed with Asda smart price lemon juice, it’s like a Mojito for the Jezza Kyle massive, in case you were wondering.

Anyway, enough of my secret moving motivator juice because moving really wasn’t all that bad. I’ve got a huge list of new places to check out in my new neighbourhood and, before I left Leeds I got to say goodbye to everyone . Of course, that meant lots of ‘goodbye’ meals in strategically chosen fabulous restaurants. One of those places was Hansas, which I reviewed last week and another was the king of French restaurants, Kendells Bistro.

As a multiple award winner, if you’re  a Leeds local Kendells is unlikely to have passed you by. It’s got a fantastic  – and having now tested it, I can confirm – well-deserved reputation. It’s often touted as a romantic venue, which may put us single people off. But, it is a great place to take a date and it is romantic, but in a non-oppressive way. When people say Kendells is romantic they mean warm, welcoming, typically bistro-esque, romantic like the romantic poets romantic. Visit Kendells and  you walk into a French culinary landscape complete with commanding boards of specials, groups of friends laughing and drinking lashings of wine, twinkly lights and scintilliating food scents.

The very romantic Kendells Bistro, Leeds

Kendells Bistro, the perfect place to date anyone

I visited Kendells with my former housemates to say a proper au revoir . We decided to choose the Menu Price Fixe and opted for the two course deal for £16.95. Though there were three of us, I limited my photography to the fodder of myself and my nearest diner because it’s become a terrible faux pas to photograph your food recently and I only had my iPhone on me and didn’t want it to land in the Merlot. Food was prompt to arrive and generous in portions. There was a good selection of options on the fixed price menu but my starter choice of roasted beetroot and goat’s cheese tart was a no-brainer, I love the combination.

Goats cheese and beetroot tart

Goats cheese and beetroot tart with some very poor photography

My nearest former housemate dearest chose bacon salad, which featured chunky lardons from a clearly generously proportioned pig, croutons and an oozing egg too. She did say the lettuce was a bit challenging because of the stringy leaves, but overall there was a good range of textures, flavours and a good mound of food.

Bacon salad and poached egg

Bacon salad and oozing poached egg

When I eat French I like to eat duck, because I think the French are pretty good at embracing ducks fattiness and rich flavour and it’s not something I cook at home. After the starter I knew the Confit de Canard I’d chosen would be good, but I didn’t realise how good. There were three separate sauces on the plate so i tried not to let them collide, but I needn’t have. They all worked together perfectly. All of the elements of the dish worked apart, but there was clearly a lot of thought in this dish beyond – rich meat, good veg and garlicky sauce, it was divine duck.

Duck, parsley and garlic potatoes, red onion salad and walnuts

Confit de canard, parsley and garlic potatoes, red onion salad and walnuts

To my right, my homegirl tucked into this pretty bird, complete with creamy tarragon sauce and a pleasing pile of pasta.

Stuffed supreme of chicken with tarragon cream sauce

Supreme de volaille à l' Estragon with pasta

 

The fixed price menu offers brilliant value – the portions were good and we were pleased that we’d opted for two courses rather than three, though I did order a coffee to prep myself for more packing when I got home. Despite there being a time limit on this early bird deal we weren’t rushed for the table. And, when we collected our coats at the desk we were even walked to the door. It was these little things that made the staff at Kendells that balanced mix of attentive and genuinely friendly without being too in your face. You feel a bit pampered without being pressured, just like a good date.

I’m often asked where my favourite restaurant is in Leeds, or where I’ve had the best meal. It is hard if you’ve been to a restaurant only once to rate them as consistently brilliant. With Kendells I got the gut feeling that  you’d be gastronomically pampered each and every time you go in there. I’m so glad I made it to this fantastic place before I moved because enjoying the flawless food and glorious company was the perfect way to say goodbye to Leeds.

I love meat, yeah I do. But I’ll tell you a little secret, I’m actually equally happy gobbling veg as long as it’s cooked well and it ain’t beans. Recently I had some vegetarian food that was cooked to absolute perfection and had me convinced I could go veggie if I really wanted to. That meal was at the ever-so-fabulous Hansas.

Award-winning Hansa’s has won accolade after accolade and yet in my five years in Leeds I hadn’t made it there. Try telling meat-loving dates that you want to take them to vegetarian restaurant and unfortunately sometimes they threaten not to put out and so it was put on the to-do list until eventually, it was done.  I’d heard over and over just how fantastic it was and simply had to go before I left Leeds and thank the lord of lentils I did.

On our midweek trip we were greeted by Hansa herself into a world of  soft lighting and instant snacks (crispy, spiced, battered veg of some kind). The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol, which I didn’t mind a bit after a season of indulgence and I happily ordered a pineapple juice and the waitress offered to bring us a jug of water too (nice service). We arrived very early but there were other diners in there, including a couple who confessed to being regulars unable to stop coming back. At first, we did think the restaurant was maybe a little quiet but half way through some musicians came in and started playing music. This really is a restaurant with everything, except of course meat and alcohol, but the truth is it really doesn’t need it.

I was dining with my friend Catherine, who thankfully isn’t shy of trying new things, in fact, we tend to share meals when we eat out because we both look on the menu and want everything. On this occasion we shared a starter and went solo on the main course.

Hansa's Delight and Patra

Hansa's Delight and Patra

Up first was Hansa’s Delight (£3.95) – a juicy beef tomato stuffed with spiced paneer masala and deliciously dipped in light batter, served with tomato and tamarind sauce and Patra (£4.25), tropical colocasia leaves pasted with curried batter which are packed with onions, sweetcorn, mustard and sesame seeds. As you can see from the photo we split the goods between two plates, so I can assure you the initial presentation was more impressive. Both starters were flawless – the juicy tomato and silky paneer contrasted beautifully with the light, crisped batter.  The tamarind and tomato sauce was the perfect balance of sweet, sour and spice. The Patra was, dare I say it, really meaty in texture. It brought to mind some kind of wonderful vegetarian black pudding, with succulent, chunky veg combining with a little peppery heat in every bite.

chickpea kofte and potato curry

Rich and lovely chickpea kofte and potato curry

For my main course I opted for Bhagat Muthiya (£7.25), which meant crisp, flavoursome chickpea koftas bobbing in a lightly spiced and very fragrant curry sauce. One mouthful in and I was feeling ever so smug with my choice. It was colourful, it was filling and it was flavour-full.

Aubergines topped with onions, masala spice and ground peanuts

Aubergines topped with onions, masala spice and ground peanuts (Ringan na Ravaiya)

Catherine opted for the Ringan na Ravaiya (£6.95). The aubergines were large and ahem, meaty, without a hint of slime. They came topped with a masala spice, onions and ground peanuts. Catherine did mourn the fact her selection didn’t come with a traditional sauce, but she said the mix of flavours hit the spot and because I’m such a wonderful, giving person, I let her steal a few spoons of mine (that will give me brownie points for extra tries of her food choices in the future).

Our carby curry accompaniment of choice was bread, in the form of Puri (£1.25 for two pieces) and Batura (£1.50). The latter fried bread had fenugreek baked into it. In hindsight we probably could have gotten away with ordering only one lot of bread and had we, it would definitely have been the Batura, which proved a tasty mopping tool.

Batura

Fried bread with fenugreek, perfect to mop up my curry sauce with!

Greed and our mutual curiosity  about vegan puds led us to dessert. We ordered Sweet Sev (£4.75) to share, sweet vermicelli in ghee, with sultanas, almonds and plenty of cardomon. I was full to the brim but the sweet nectar that was masala tea loaded with a little brown sugar. I was also a tad giddy about the fact there was no risk of dairy after-effects.

Hansa’s is real gem in what is now a fairly hefty crown when it comes to Leeds’ restaurants. The range of flavours and attention to detail in mix of textures in the food I ate there is unrivalled by any meal I’ve eaten in any other restaurant. Oh, and it’s damn good value too. Hansa also organises trips to Gujarati, where her style of cooking originates and cookery demos. If I hadn’t left Leeds a mere four days after eating here, I’d definitely have been signing up. As it is, without a doubt I’ll be eating more vegetarian food in 2013 and actively searching out vegetarian restaurants in the North East. All recommendations are officially welcome!

Those who haven’t read my previous post about Solita may be blissfully unaware that I decided to celebrate my birthday in Manchester this year by way of a fabulous display of gluttony. During the two day eatathon my eating partner and I had planned to eat at three separate venues, but the generous hotel breakfast and slightly sore heads on the second day put us a little behind schedule, and behind schedule we remained.

Anticipating a bit of a hangover on the second day we had planned to go to Almostfamous – a super cool burger joint that I can’t help but think certain new leeds restaurants are trying to emulate. However, when we arrived  it was packed to the rafters and unfortunately the waitress/front of house woman didn’t decide to bump us to the front of the queue (which she did seem to do with a few other much trendier looking folk what walked through the door after us). I’m starting to get a bit para that I am not cool enough to eat meat in hipster meat joints, which is a shame because I really am excellent at eating meat, in fact, I’m an award-winning meat muncher even if my haircut and colour is little on the beige side and I don’t fit in skinny jeans that good. That said, we did have the chance to sample a few drinks in there and they were very good and the barman were also pretty, smily types (I put the comma in there on purpose).

After almost eating in Almostfamous, we wandered a wee way down the street to find a warm friendly place with seats and carbs and stumbled across HomeSweetHome, which had been recommended to me by a work colleague. The impression when walking in this joint is of a light, airy and friendly place and there was a reassuring sweet smell of pie and cookies in the air, so we took a seat and readied ourself to consume and enjoy. This was an eating extravaganza so we went all out on the ordering front and fully intended to sample dessert too, as we noticed lots of groups around us tucking into multiple plates of cookies, pie and brownies, but our exploits from the night before and ample breakfast meant we weren’t quite up to the job.

HomeSweetHome aim to “feed the child within all of us”  and there was plenty on the menu designed to do this. It all looked good, perfect hangover fodder. Though the food we ordered was good, I would say the service was quite slow and the two waitresses who served us were a wee bit vacant and inattentive, but in fairness the place was rammed and with a good few large groups. It was a long wait (over 35 minutes) until anything arrived and it came all at once, which wasn’t what we’d asked for. We did also give up and go to the bar initially to order a drink because our waitress had forgotten it.

Homesweethome's chicken wings and hot sauce

Homesweethome’s chicken wings and hot sauce

The first element of our meal – the bit we had intended to be a shared starter – was some spicy chicken wings. I’d evidently developed a taste for fried chicken the night before and decided I should binge on higher quality versions rather than risking KFC. The wings came with coleslaw, which much to our relief was tasty and wet. It also came with a serving of hot sauce, which I suspected was Franks sauce (or at least similar, I know my condiments and I know my hot sauce). I think these were about £5 but they aren’t on the menu at the moment so I can’t check. These were good chicken wings with plenty of flavour in the light, crisp batter.

Feeling a tad over confident after just about surviving eating ice cream the night before, my second course was  cheese with a scoop of pulled pork £8.50.

Mac and cheese and pulled pork

Mac and cheese and pulled pork

In an echo of the pulled pork sundae consumed at Solita  the night before, I wanted more of the tangy barbecue sauce that came on top. Take note meat vendors of Manchester, more condiments, please!. The mac and cheese came with hunks of bread to mop up the very cheesy sauce. Eventually my dairy greed did get the better of me and I was in considerable pain on the train home. With this in mind, it was probably for the best that there wasn’t quite as much bubbly cheese on the top as is my personal preference, but the sauce was a beautiful mix of cheeses and the pasta cooked to a lovely consistency (too many places serve total pasta mush).

My dining partner was hell bent on continuing his burger tour of Manchester and so ordered the burger £7.95 and extra bacon 70p. It was a thoroughly good burger, nicely toasted brioche (can you buy burgers not in brioche nowadays?) and the chips were particularly tasty, something I feel translates well in the following photograph.

Homesweethome burger

HomeSweetHome burger

Overall, I thought HomeSweetHome was very good value, I do think the service could have been a little better, but the place itself is a bit of a gem and the food was worth waiting for when it arrived.

 

I’m starting 2013 by finishing off a few half written blog posts from the tail end of 2012 and top of the list is cataloguing my birthday eating extravaganza in Manchester. This took place at the start of November – so not too long ago – and the trip is far from forgotten thanks to the notes I helpfully left myself here as a draft, then promptly lost in the wordpress abyss only to be rediscovered this week.

The idea of the Manchester eatathon was to try out some of the great places I’d been hearing and reading about over yonder way and it was a really fantastic weekend. That said, I was disappointed to only really try out two eateries and a few bars. I did my best to eat everything that took my fancy but my eyes were far bigger than my belly and I’m dying to go back to try out Italia and the Liqorists Trail. So, there may well be a Manchester eatathon part deux on the cards for 2013.

We didn’t want to go too fine dining with our meal as we also wanted to sample some nice cocktails over the course of the weekend and needed the cash to fund both. So, for night one of the eatathon we decided to test out Solita (short for South of Little Italy),  in the Northern Quarter, which had been getting some rave reviews. Although 2012 seemed to be burgertastic in Manchester, Solita isn’t just another burger or rib joint,  it’s a bar and grill that’s got a lot on the menu, including unusual cuts cooked on Inka grill and I had fully intended to sample the Hanger Steak £11.90. But as everyone knows, birthdays are about eating stuff that you wouldn’t usually and well, what I don’t usually eat is typical takeaway fodder like fried chicken cooked to a salivating standard. I caught sight of someone else’s buttermilk fried chicken burger (£11.90) as we were seated and all thoughts of steak went out of the window.

I should probably point out that we’d necked a full bottle of champagne (the good stuff) before we arrived at Solita as most people who know me are aware that once I’ve perused a menu I will usually know what I’m ordering before I walk through the door and stick to it. Apparently the bubbles made me want buttermilk chicken and bacon, on top of pulled pork sundae to be exact.

So that is what I ordered, along with a big jug of the house red wine, which tasted like ribena, beautiful sweet, easy-to-drink ribena. The twinkly fairy lights looked like smudged stars framing the walls. Chances are I was a bit twunted, but please go easy on me blog readers – it was my birthday and I got sozzled and ate fried chicken ‘coz I wanted to.

Service at Solita was very prompt, so prompt that they brought out our main courses before our starters. We questioned this logic and they very apologetically backtracked to sundaeville. Here’s what it looked like…

Pulled pork sundae

Pulled pork sundae

Forget the Chinese calendar, everyone knows 2012 was the year of the pig – pulled pork, crispy bacon and of course, bacon jam and this sundae was like a celebration of the year (and my birthday, naturally, though I think I was born in the year of the dog). The creamy mash was worryingly more-ish and the pork was moist and salty. I particularly liked the tangy BBQ sauce that came in place of the usual chocolate fudge. As a well-documented carb and condiment fan I was delighted with the mash and sauce combo and I was seriously considering ordering a second for dessert.

Next up that fried chicken. Yes, it’s just fried chicken and brioche burgers are dead trendy and whatnot, but this was a really good feast. The buttermilk batter was crunchy without dripping in grease and the chicken was tender. The chips were fairly standard, but the shining star was the chicken gravy, I could swim in that gravy.

Solita's buttermilk fried chicken and gravy

Solita's buttermilk fried chicken and gravy

I wanted to ask for more gravy but I thought it too gluttonous.

Solita's chow chow slaw

Solita's chow chow slaw

One slight let down was the chow chow slaw, which appeared to be made from the value salad bags you get in Asda (sorry, it lacked pazazz and any sauce and at £1.90 was a real let down). Don’t get me wrong, it was proper crunchy and that, but there were no real flavours to shout about and I probably wouldn’t have been able to get it down if it wasn’t for the ruddy marvellous ribena wine.

Anyway, let’s not get caught up in disappointing coleslaw, next up was the highlight of the evening: deep fried coke (£4.90). It arrived promptly after our main, courtesy of our smiley and still apologetic waitress.

Solita's deep fried coke

Solita's deep fried coke, I'm still salivating over the sauce

I’m not a dessert person, so for me to say this was the highlight of my meal is something quite special. The joy of the fried coke was in it’s simplicity. Crispy, churro-like sugar coated dough, creamy vanilla ice cream and sticky, cinnamon lovelinesss that was the cola sauce. I still think about the coke sauce. I would have liked to have thrown some on the pulled pork sundae too to see what that tasted like, I bet it would have been good. And yes, I ate dairy, what of it? I was drunk, it was my birthday and totally worth the stomach cramp I endured when back at my special birthday hotel. And anyone who says different hasn’t eaten deep fried coke.

Neon Cactus has long been a favourite haunt of mine. Nestled midway down the busy and teensy bit too trendy Call Lane, it’s a fantastic place to enjoy a cocktail or tequila or seven thanks to the friendly bar staff and DJs. In fact, one of my fondest Leeds’ memories is dancing on the tables here at a Hot Chip after party with the members of Hot Chip taking turns on the decks. On Friday and Saturday nights the place is typically rammed with twenty and thirty-somethings on the lash, but if you manage to make it down through the day or even early evening, it’s a cracking place to get a feast at a reasonable price.

Neon Cactus, Call Lane, Leeds

Neon Cactus, Call Lane, Leeds

Aware of the plentiful portions and the nice glowy lights, I headed here for a midweek meal with a friend straight after work. We had intended to go to Reds BBQ, the new super-coolest place to eat meat in Leeds,that is, if you have the luck of the gods and can actually persuade the staff to be anything other than dismissive and rude. I’ve tried to go to Reds four times now, FOUR, during different time zones on different evenings, each and every time the staff have said they don’t have room – even though there are tables standing empty – and the wait will be between one and a half and two hours, with no offer of a drink because there’s no waiting area, or a call back, which I’ve heard on the grapevine they supposedly offer. So, on this fourth and probably last attempt to go to Reds, I instead went to Neon Cactus where I was welcomed with a smile, prompt service and a refreshing ginger beer that warmed me from the inside out on a proper cold night.

A refreshing ginger beer to warm my inners

A refreshing ginger beer to warm my inners

Feeling greedy and in need of lovely comforting carbs, my friend and I opted for the Feast menu, which gives you two lots of nachos, a choice of taco, any enchilida or quesadilla and a fajita of your choice. That’s a good whack of food for £9.95 each and it’s all cooked and served fresh to order, which you know because you can see the chef beavering away with your beans at the end of the bar. The plates were brought to us as soon as they were cooked, which meant we were treated to a constant flow of spicy delights and didn’t have to fight each other for the last morsel of each dish. First up were the nachos and I was surprised to find I preferred the vegetarian option, which was Mozarella and Black Bean. The salsa on this particular pot was very tasty indeed and the beans (which I usually hate) were actually nice! I still couldn’t face any kidney beans though.

Chilli beef and chorizo nachos (back) and  black beans and mozzarella nachos

Chilli beef and chorizo nachos (back) and black beans and mozzarella nachos

Next up were the tacos of the day, which we worked out were pulled pork and squash and sweet potato. They came with a lovely lot of sauces, including refried bean, which I couldn’t get enough of – either I’m coming round to liking beans or I’m pregnant with bizarre cravings. The fillings themselves had a hint of spice and I could taste coriander in the squash and sweet potato filling, everything tasted nice and fresh without a hint of grease.

Pulled pork tacos, sweet potato and squash tacos, sweetcorn salsa, sour cream, guacamole, refried bean sauce

Super tacos, salsa and sauces

These two courses alone would probably curb the average lady’s hunger, but we were on a mission and next on the list were the enchiladas (cheesetastic). We’d opted for the butternut squash, veg and sweet potatos, they came bubbling with cheese and smothered in a rich tomato sauce and cheese, sour cream and a sweetcorn salsa.

Butternut squash and sweet potato enchiladas, from Neon Cactus, Leeds

Butternut squash and sweet potato enchiladas, oozing with cheese

They brought the fajita out at the same time and in our eagerness to try the succulent looking pork belly with cumin seeds and crackling we had chosen, I forgot to photograph it until we were part way through, these are therefore the half-consumed components, which were more than generous!

Slow cooked pork belly with cumin crackling and sauces

Slow cooked pork belly with cumin crackling and sauces (half-scoffed)

We had two fajitas each so I actually had a little pork spare thanks to the oodles of onions, peppers, sauces and tiam of red and white rice

Tortilla wraps with guacamole, sweetcorn salsa, sour cream, rice and refried beans

Wraps, sauces and rice ready for assembly

Not surprisingly, we were pretty full after this little lot and with the whole shebang costing us only around £11 each (drink included) the verdict is Neon Cactus is a tasty, warming and filling spot for an after work meetup. Not too busy but plenty of atmosphere. The food was fresh and well-cooked with plenty of flavour, though individual elements were not as hot as i’d like, but I love spice and they are clearly cooking for the average diner. It would be nice to see some hotter options added to the menu in the future. The sauces and refried beans in particular were all lovely and it’s quite something for me to compliment the evil foodstuff that is beans. I would also like to add that I woke up feeling  far happier than after a night on their tequila!