Sunday, February 25, 2007

Salt's Deli

Hidden away not a stone’s throw from The Adelphi at the bottom end of Leeds sits Salt’s – a real foodie jewel in the crown of Leeds.

Firstly, the shop itself is heaven for gastrophiles – polished woods and an ornate tiled floor give the place the feel of Andalusia or Tuscany, and the sheer range of foods, both hand-made and imported do nothing to quell that vibe. Hams and meats hang from the ceiling; pates, cheeses, preserves, breads and pastas in every shape and form line the shelves and cabinets.

Friendly staff, importantly, seem to know what they are serving; the sandwich menu ranges from such staples as Cheese and Yorkshire Dales pickle, to the more rare and artisanal varieties such as Pastrami with sauerkraut on Rye bread. Certainly beats the high street bakers over the road!

Add to that tartines, soups, salads, and a hamper service, and you’ve got a wonderfully unique shop that, in my mind, certainly represents the lush, European – style deli that secretly, we all wish we owned.

Salt’s Deli
14 Swinegate, Leeds
Tel 0113 2432323

Thursday, February 15, 2007

North Bar, Leeds: From Hell to Heaven via Pink Floyd

It’s Sunday, just after one o’clock, on a typical may day in Leeds. Outside, rain is battering the pavement, and inside I’m draining a bottle of Anchor Porter. There are few places I would rather be than North Bar.

Fact: North Bar is one of the best places to drink in Leeds. It’s easily my favourite, anyway, at least in the ‘city bar’ stakes, anyway. However, I didn’t always feel this way; in fact, the first three or four times I visited it I hated it. ‘It’s full of pretentious idiots’ I would moan, ‘…and I only like about two of the fifty or so beers they have there’. In those days (many, many moons ago) , all I knew about ‘World Beers’ was that they were all weird, cloudy beverages with enough alcohol in them to strip paint. ‘Too strong to drink all night…’ I would complain, as my friends got more and more smashed as the prospect of yet another early night due to the alcoholic horrors of North Bar loomed.

This was my opinion of North Bar circa the turn of the century. For a couple of years I stayed clear, and then, inevitably, I got into food, wine and beer -I mean really got into food, wine and beer. I discovered a whole world of boozing that didn’t even acknowledge the horrors of ‘Generic Beers’ and ‘Alcopops’; a world where taste and pleasure were the main reasons for drinking, and getting drunk was a happy side-effect of this. The world of fast-food drinking and chain-bars was one I had left behind, and I was never going to look back.

I found a small, yet highly trained crack team of aficionados to share this epiphany with. I became enamoured with American craft breweries in particular, and slowly, but surely, decided to go back to North.

Home, Home Again...
Rediscovering North was like that third or fourth spin of Dark Side of the Moon – where it al clicks into place. You realise that what you have is a masterpiece, not because of individual performances, but al the little things added up. North is the drinking equivalent of DSOTM; mysterious and pretentious to the uninitiated, adored by the regulars and the people who hold it as a benchmark for modern drinking. I was wrong, but now I am right.

I wonder if Bigfoot listens Pink Floyd?
Ok, the reasons why North is great;

Rotation. Every time I go (on average once a week), there is an element of surprise – a new beer on tap, two new bottles in the fridges, ones I haven’t yet tried. Given the amount of beer I have tried/know about, this is some achievement.

They have their own beer – North Bar Ale. It’s brewed by the Outlaw Brewing Co, and comes in an old-school glass tankard with those square knobbly bits on. It’s great – smooth and too drinkable for its own good. Tastes like Tim Taylor Landlord but fruitier. Lovely, although seasonal.

Staff. Always happy, always ready to help you out with your choice of tipple should you come unstuck. Down to earth too – there are a couple of bars in Leeds that must recruit staff on a ‘must be pretentious’ policy. I don’t need my pint of Jever spun around like a top, please.

The Bar itself – come on! No contest. Loads of bottles, at least ten pumps, filled with distinct world beers. All the time. No generic beers ever. Local beers. Fruits, Lambics, and SIERRA NEVADA ON TAP. (Also worth a try is the Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale – at 9% abv it doesn’t hide the alcohol in silk like, say, Duvel, - it kicks you straight in the face with a big, hairy claw.)

Music – never thumping, always tasteful. A few nights ago we had Hendrix tunes played by some jazz band. Folk, World, Jazz, Blues - all the great drinking albums. (Imagine if they played DSOTM - i'd just about lose my mind!)

A great selection of spirits; Hendricks gin, about 6 different rums, I could go on…add to that an Observer Food Monthly “Best Place to drink in Britain” award, along with the other accolades North has garnered throughout the last few years.. Not that I’m all about awards, but it’s not often the press get it so right. If it’s good enough for Nigel Slater, then it’s good enough for me.
Top Five; North Bar

Any Roosters ale - fast becoming a staple, Roosters brew simply fine beers. not tasted a bad one from thier brewhouse yet. light and ultimately quaffable.

Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap. One of the finest brews to come out of the States, tastes even better on tap.
Anchor Porter: want the taste of stout but none of the heaviness? Then try this. Second only to Sierra Nevada Porter.
Goose Island Honkers’ Ale – always good, wherever. Tastes of caramel and one is never enough.
Little Creatures Pale Ale: Wonderful Aussie brew – clean, crisp, but still manages to pack in a lot of flavour.

Today i am a total beer nerd and i owe it all to North.

24 New Briggate

Monday, February 05, 2007

Saturday, 3rd Feb 2006: 16.00
Not even the concerned tone of voice from Sky Sports broadcasting legend Jeff Stelling could soften the impact of the news he was bringing me; my beloved Leeds United were being soundly beaten again, this week by the yellow and green onslaught of a toothless Norwich. Couple this with the slowly dawning realisation that this latest debacle could possibly lead to Leeds being relegated to the lowest tier of English football they have ever inhabited, and you have a fairly depressing Saturday afternoon for your dear writer.

Faced with such tragedy, there was only one thing to do; Organise some comfort food, some food that can warm me and melt this horrible state of mind away, food that makes me proud to be a Yorkshireman – something that my football team are, presently, uncapable of.

Yep - It’s time for Beef.

I first came across Bolton Abbey Foods at Skipton Autumn Food Fair in 2006, and the sheer sight of the meat they had on offer stopped me in my tracks. I’m a stickler for Rib of Beef; for me, the most majestic cut from the most majestic of animals. The rib they had on offer were not only visually impressive; dark, dark red with a ‘proper’ amount of marbling and fat, but also good value, too. I walked away that day with a little sample, shall we say...

Steve Crabtree, who owns and runs the farm, the animals and the business (With his family, of course!), is one of the many hard-working farmers and independent businessmen fighting against the onslaught of supermarkets in our region; but with produce that is as good as this, you wonder why someone would ever choose that way of shopping for meat. Bolton Abbey Foods not only supply many excellent gastropubs with meat (such as The award-winning Angel Inn in Hetton, and The Fleece in nearby Addingham), but their wares can be found at many a famer’s market and selected independent retailers.

As for the meat itself; I can’t speak highly enough of it. I come from a family of butchers, and our speciality was the famed Aberdeen Angus; so you can believe me when I say that Bolton’s grass-fed beef is simply excellent. Simply rubbed with salt and pepper, sealed and roasted, it was pure heaven on a plate; paired with roasted spuds and a glass or three of red wine it really did make an unhappy Yorkshireman happy again. Want even more regional? Then try some Black Sheep Ale alongside, or one of my personal faves, Coniston Bluebird Bitter.
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