One of the downfalls of being someone who writes about beer and food in their spare time is that sometimes it's hard to switch off. It's hard to simply 'have a pint' sometimes - you may think that you're relaxed and chatting to your mates, but in reality that pint in your hand is being sniffed, examined and the details are being stored in that vault inside your head so that the next time you log onto Blogger you can tell the world what that beer was like, so that other can follow you and create a shared experience via the wonder of the internet.
It creeps up on you in other ways, too. Simply planning somewhere for lunch - especially if it's somewhere you don't know - becomes less of an off-the-cuff thing and more of a military operation. There's news places to go to, your mind implores. Research tells you this place does this beer on tap, or this places' noodle soup or home-baked bread is out of this world. And forget 'The Perfect Hand-cut Chip'. You forget that food and drink blogging is subjective, and all of a sudden you can find yourself in a strange place, ordering strange food for the sake of it and not really having fun. In fact, it all seems a little like work. Switching off, I am recently re-discovering, is fun.
On Friday we decided to do a little Christmas shopping. It was a fine, bright but cold winter's day in Leeds, and we did well to avoid the dreaded 'Christmas Market', fast becoming a temporary Sodom for Loiners. Laden with goodies, and feeling very satisfied with ourselves at a stress-free morning, we popped in to Sandinsta for lunch.
I can't even count the amount of times I've been here - it's a standard - that's why I don't write about it. Sandinista's warm atmosphere, spot-on staff and familiarity was the equivalent of taking of my shoes and putting my feet up in front of a roaring fire. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap. Yes please. A quick peruse of the menu flashed up the words 'Pork Belly Bocadillo' and I read no more. One of those for me, thanks.
A group of guys came in, ordered identikit Amstels and settled in for some Friday afternoon half-day working beers, all laughs and in-jokes. A regular followed, sitting at the bar and drinking coffee, lazily making conversation with the barman whilst leafing through The Times. Bob Dylan and Cream lilting over the chatter.
The food arrived with a smile, and it was heavenly. Succulent Pork Belly, crispy at the edges and topped with a sweet apple chutney, pressed into a crisp, chewy Ciabatta. Dutch Patatas - cubes of crispy potato smothered in melted cheese and spring onion on the side. Sierra's legendary Pale Ale giving just the right bite and bitterness to the jammy meat, and all was well. All was very well - the perfect lunch, right there, without even trying. On a whim. Hell, spontaneous even.
I didn't intend to post about this (hence the hastily taken picture), but Friday's lunch made me remember all that is good about food and drink. Place, people, and relaxation; just what happens when you let your guard down.