Even before I moved back to the North East I’d planned myself a schedule of scoffing to look forward to and the very first thing on the scoffgenda was a rather special supper club event. This particular supper, held in Ouse Street Arts Cub on February 8th, was the brainchild of Anna from The Grazer. If you have somehow missed her blog you need to take a look – it’s packed full of lust-after recipes and food photography that makes dribble drop from the side of your mouth down onto your laptop.
Having gazed longingly at the food porn featured in some of Anna’s posts for a wee while, I was super keen to graze in her presence and messaged her about tickets for the Middle Eastern Meat Free Feast night as soon as they went on sale. Be warned: I only managed to snap one up as she decided to hold an extra night, so if you want to attend one of Anna’s other events you really need to be quick off the mark or book her for a private event.
Setting the table at The Grazer's Middle East Meat Free Feast
My date for the evening was the delightful Danielle, a greedy girl after my own heart who I picked up at a wedding. This makes our friendship sound nice and sleazy but really we just got talking about carbs and decided to be food friends, which is fast becoming my friend pickup technique. After briefly getting a little lost in Ouseburn (I’m not a proper local yet, obv), we rocked up to the shipping container where our supper was to be served, eager to tuck in to the following menu.
- The Grazer’s Middle East Meat Free Feast Menu
The venue itself was really rather cosy and the lighting and projector helped set the ambience. Warming ourselves up with a glasses of ginger fizz, Danielle and I decided to do a bit of a mingle and got talking to two fellow food appreciators from Durham who gave me more eateries to add to my ‘to try’ list, including a pancake house in Durham. And then it was time to get to work on the middle eastern mezze, which was a sea of colours and textures.
The Middle East Meat Free Feast begins
I know I bang on a lot about beans being the work of Satan and on the whole I stand by this, but I really couldn’t get enough of Anna’s bean and feta crush, which was gorgeously garlicky and incredibly more-ish. In fact, the whole of the starter was more-ish. I shovelled heaps of carrot dip down on the caraway crackers and suspect I took more than my fair share of the mint and feta cigars (I really need the recipe for these please Anna, they were a real crowd pleaser with everyone).
Butter bean, feta and Za'tar crush, pickled vegetables with curry, mint and feta cigars, roast carrot dip, harissa creme fraiche and caraway and cumin seed lavosh crackers
I’m a real meat eater but since my meal at Hansas, I’ve been embracing vegetarian food far more enthusiastically and there’s even talk about Bitsandbobs Becs and I completing an entirely meat-free March. SERIOUS SAUSAGE LOVERS QUIT MEAT FOR MARCH – YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST! Anyway, one item that will definitely be getting an outing during this time is lentil kofte and Anna’s red lentil versions were crisp without being crunchy and tasted amazing with the harissa creme fraiche and yoghurt dips. The pomegranate was a great finishing touch adding even more colour to the smorgasbord of shades.
Honeyed sweet potato and chickpea, tomato and spinach stew
After nibbles galore, which we washed down with BYO white wine, it was time for the carbs and they came in the form of nutty cous cous and honey sweet potatoes. Alongside these perfect partners was some chickpea, tomato and spinach stew, which tasted hearty and I suspect helped me ward off all illness as I ate it, though Danielle and I did think it could do with a bit more spice/depth of flavour. Again, I suspect I took more than my fair share of my favourite part of this course – the honeyed sweet potato. I often mash sweet potato with harissa but I’ve never thought of cooking it in honey – until now. It’s such a simple thing to do but it’s most certainly a case of once tried never forgotten.
Toasted almond and date couscous
After a brief pause to serve some Ouseburn coffee and mingle more we were again seated for the sweet course, which came in two parts, the first was an amazing almond flavoured dessert, which has since sparked an almond binge
- Milk and almond pudding with honey and hazelnuts and Ouseburn coffee
To finish, we were presented with some stunning tiny tartlets filled with flavoured cream and scattered with pomegranate seeds and some rose, almond and pistachio filled dates. The tarts were beautifully crisp and I could have quite happily eaten about five or six of the dates washed down with more of the lovely Ouseburn coffee – so I was a tad disappointed when I realised the coffee had run dry and I’d scoffed my allocated date. I couldn’t even steal Danielle’s as hers had disappeared even more quickly than mine.
Pomegranate and mint clotted cream tartlets with pistachio stuffed dates
At the end of the meal we were asked to make a monetary donation for our food with the suggested donation set at £30. We were both happy to give this amount because we really enjoyed the whole experience and Anna had obviously put a lot of effort into preparing the evening. I didn’t go home quite so full as after my evening at Dinner in the Manor supper club in Leeds, but the nights were slightly different types of experiences – the Manor is a little more cosy and intimate and The Grazer felt like a magical, secret event and one that I would definitely recommend.
One further outcome of the evening was a rather tipsy Danielle and I deciding that it was about time we got our greedy girls’ bums in gear and started some food events of our own. With this in mind, we will be holding our own supper club event in aid of Macmillan Cancer in March. Watch this space!
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
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.
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 (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.
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!