Saturday, 26 April 2014

OUT AND ABOUT | PIZZA AT TAPPED BREWING CO. LEEDS

Always on the look out for a bargain eat that is fresh and of good quality, the other night I could not help but be intrigued by the buy one get one free offer on pizza at Tapped Leeds. Out with a friend for a post-work drink it was a temptation we couldn't resist and won us hook, line and sinker.


Whilst Tapped might be better known as the relatively new American-style bar to Leeds serving an extensive selection of craft beers,cask ales and bottles from all over the shop... they also happen to have a corner of their bar designated to a pizza station.

In comes Big Dan's Pizzas! Hand made on site, they use imported Italian ingredients and even use beer brewed on site to add to their pizza dough.


Pizzas come in three sizes at 7", 12" and 18". When I was there the BOGOF offer was only available with the 7" pizzas so with a friend (yes it's Diane!) we thought we'd buddy up. The cheapest 7" pizza is £3.50 and the most expensive was £4.50. We went for 'The Truffle Shuffle' and 'The Hammy One'. The most expensive pizza was used for the BOGOF offer so it came to grand total of £2.25 each.

With lots of competition on the Leeds pizza scene as of late there were high expectations. Two of my favourites of small pizza/slice offerings are Kitschen, which sell mini pizza's at £3 a pop and Dough Boys, with their most expensive slice at around £2.80 (that's if you're not counting the extremely generous half price slice offer they've got going on).


The pizza arrived at the table, it took a good 15 minutes to arrive but we could see it being made by 'Big Dan' in the corner. How can you grumble when a pizza is made from scratch before your eyes?


Splitting both pizza's in half, I first started on the The Truffle Shuffle. The pizza, small and wee as a 7", was loaded with cheese and toppings. Perhaps too many toppings for this little'n as it made the base quite soggy and difficult to take a singular bite from... a singular bite that is without having the whole piece of pizza slop off very attractively on your chin (A very serious fear of mine due to a pizza cheese burn on my chin from my younger years!). The pizza was hot, but luckily not burn-worthy so my chin and I were alright there!

The toppings were a delight and a nice surprise. Good quality and well matched flavours with the buffalo mozzarella white truffle salami, grilled fennel and capers. It had a great bittersweet taste to it and all the flavours came through sharply. I am however a little bit fussy when it came to the cheese, with the cheese being rather clumpy and heavy, making it overall too much for the small pizza.


On to The Hammy One. This was topped with buffalo mozzarella (again, too clumpy and too much for me!), Italian gran cotto ham, mushrooms and garlic. I'm sure this pizza would have tasted a lot better if I hadn't still had the taste of the previous pizza still lingering in my mouth. As with the last pizza, the base on this one was also rather soggy and sloppy from the toppings. The flavours were there, but unfortunately they were no match compared to The Truffle Shuffle.


Overall, for the bargain offer that was available for FRESHLY made pizza one can't complain. I would be interested to try their pizza in a larger size to see if the base held up better. I definitely recommend trying The Truffle Shuffle if you like a good interesting pizza and to hit up their 2-4-1 offer (available every Monday and Tuesday) if you are down that end of town.

Tapped Leeds is obviously not a restaurant and it does not specialise in pizza, however 'Big Dan's Pizza' and their little pizza station in the corner are doing a great job of offering some good in-bar grub which is made to order and uses fresh, quality ingredients.

Have you tried pizza from Tapped Leeds? Or do you have a favourite pizza haunt in Leeds?

Friday, 25 April 2014

OUT AND ABOUT | TWISTED BURGER COMPANY

I am probably one of the last invited bloggers to re-visit Twisted Burger Company at its new residency at Aire Bar in Leeds. Invited at the beginning of the month to the press launch night, it was extremely busy, hyped and not a great chance to test the food so I was asked to come back to do a follow-up review.

I'm just going to say this now. I have honestly not eaten or ordered a burger in about four years.
I also find the 'lets stick everything greasy and crazy' burger phase which has been sweeping Leeds for a good year or two now extremely unappetising, overdone and unnecessary.

...so why did I accept this review? I genuinely wanted to see what all the fuss was about.


Hopping over to a new city, Twisted Burger Company which is usually found in The Harley in Sheffield has now taken up a residency at the riverside basement haunt Aire Bar in Leeds. Bringing the same menu to Leeds, the burgers of giant proportions and of quirky combinations join the Leeds burger gang with the aim of going bigger and offering more beserk options than what the city already plays host to.


Seeing on other blogs a mixture of all singing all praising reviews and then some which were less than impressed, I could see an inconsistency emerging. Going with as an open a mind as one can, I went with my friend Liam (not a burger fiend but one who most definitely enjoys and knows a good burger) and we ventured down to Aire Bar after work on a Wednesday evening.

The menu at first glance is garish, bold and at times a little headache inducing. A bit overwhelmed by the menu we worked our way through slowly to make sure we both ordered exactly what we wanted.

I went for the Baby Got Guac burger (£6.50) one of two vegetarian burgers on offer which contained a Porcini and Button Mushroom Patty, Grilled Mushroom, Asian Slaw and Guacamole. The "no mayo, no cheese burger" appealed to me as I was not after something that could have a high possibility of busting some arteries in one sitting.


Arriving, my burger resembled an overflowing tower of Pisa. The bun was a nice consistency, hefty enough to wield the filling it contained but also soft and buttery in the mouth. The asian slaw was lovely, not too overpowering but had a nice crunch and filled out the burger well. The guacamole was smooth and creamy, usually a fan of a chunky guacamole this didn't bother me too much as it complimented all the flavours really well. A grilled portobello mushroom added a nice texture and chew.

The main man of the game however was of course the porcini and button mushroom patty... Piping hot, this was a dark, earthy and extremely powerful and flavourful beast. It's hearty meaty texture was also welcomed. I was very impressed by the strength of the flavour. For most it might be too overpowering, but as a vegetarian burger, for me it had a confidence and an air of 'oomph' which I think similar burgers in other places would lack.


Liam went for the Holy Cluck (£7.50) which was described on the menu as Double Chicken, Chorizo, American Cheese, Guacamole and Jalapeno Salsa. Arriving before us was again another impressive looking burger. 


On doing a little deconstruction, Liam was in fact rather a tad disappointed. What was this double chicken that lay before him? An unidentifiable mass of processed meat topped the burger. Certainly not what he had been expecting at all. Upon taste it was even more of a disappointment. Rubbery in texture and anonymous in any chicken way, Liam's closest resemblance was to a cheap 'chicken' takeaway burger or even a vegetarian 'fake meat' burger... in all honesty, for my recollection, it reminded me of a spam fritter (which I have unfortunately had the displeasure of trying).

I can actually tell you that this burger was made of 80% chicken thigh and 20% chicken livers to give it a bit of mojo. However the appearance AND the taste certainly did not make ones mojo jumpstart at any rate.



On to the sides! I went for the Harley House Fries (£2.75) which come as skin-on fries with cajun seasoning. On all their fries they have an option to upgrade to sweet potato fries for an extra £2 and I decided to go for this so the portion would have been £4.75 in total.

These were bloomin' FANTASTIC. I have thought hard and strong about this and I can truthfully say these are the best fries to have ever found their fatal plight in my mouth. They were fluffy, crisp, golden, rugged, well-seasoned and addictively moreish. Everything fries aspire to be but usually fall short at on one level or another. The portion sizes were indeed made for sharing. A huge basket piled high of these wonderous creations even two of us struggled to get through. These were great and I would definitely go back just to have more chips...


Liam went for the Crack 'N' Cheese (£3.75) as his side which is essentially Macaroni Cheese with Bacon Bits and Diced Jalapenos. Disappointment round #2 for Liam - ding ding (the poor sod)!
Rather than any macaroni cheese we were both familiar to, this was more of a pasta in a white sauce job. For starters the pasta was overcooked and then the sauce on the pasta had only the faintest taste of cheese. 

Macaroni cheese to us is also a pasta bake of sorts - pasta part-cooked then added to a sauce and baked in an oven to be served up in crispy glutenous wedges. But that was not the state of affairs here. The bacon bits added a bit of a texture and jalapenos made for a new and interesting take on the dish. Edible and filling, Liam devoured this, but again it left much to be desired. 


On to pudding. Both pretty full we had a good breather. On to the puddings we then went.
I ordered the Brownies with Ice Cream (£3.25) and Liam went for the Rocky Road Dessert Pot (£4.25).

Both puddings were served in a matter of minutes. My brownies came out on a hot plate (from what I could tell they were fresh out the microwave) with two scoops of vanilla ice cream.
The brownies unfortunately were not like any brownies I have ever tasted. They reminded me of the chocolate traybake puddings you might have once had with your school dinner. Liam's description summed it up nicely with him wondering which packet mix they were from. A disappointment for both of us.


The rocky road dessert pot was described on the menu as brownies, cream and chocolate. The chocolate was the only component of the traditional rocky road that I recognised. The dessert came in a chilled glass topped with a generous layer of whipped cream and a glace cherry.

Too much cream for my liking. After finally a lot of scraping we both got into the dessert itself to find a dessert which I can only describe as a cold cookie dough/mousse. There was no crunch or rocky road texture to it. The odd cherry popped up here and there but there was nothing rocky road about it in the slightest. It was too sweet for me but Liam appeared to enjoy it. An interesting dessert indeed.


So we've got a pretty mixed review here. All in all not a bad experience but an odd one to say the least.
I'm still not a burger convert and probably wouldn't find myself out ordering a burger any time soon... but saying that, these guys have also produced the best fries I have eaten to date.

I am still as confused over the whole ordeal as I was when I first entered... but then again, maybe burgers are just something I will never understand?


Disclaimer: I was invited to review this restaurant with a complimentary meal for myself and a guest, however all the views within this review are my own honest opinions.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

OUT AND ABOUT | THE FLYING DUCK

When visiting Ilkley last week to review La Casita (see my post here), fellow blogger Diane and I (yes we come as a pair!) were an hour early so we thought we'd have a little wander and find a nice watering hole for a pre-dinner drink.

Not having to walk far (although to note we did walk further than the nearest pub which was the local Wetherspoons) we stumbled across this charming little pub on the side of the main road called The Flying Duck.


A Wharfedale Brewery pub, this is the real deal, a proper Yorkshire Dales retreat in an idyllic small town setting. With a stone flagged floor, wooden beamed ceilings and a grand fireplace this is somewhere you can see cosying up to in the Winter months.

 It was quite quiet when we walked in and the bar staff were very polite and patient whilst I worked my way up and down the blackboard looking at the ales on offer. Their range was impressive and varied and everything seemed extremely reasonable in price and was a welcome change from some of the drinks prices in Leeds right now!


I had a few tasters to see what I fancied but I settled for a pint of the Wharfedale Blonde (3.9% ABV) at £2.85. A blonde zesty ale that had a bit of zing but also a pleasing bitter finish to it. It was nice and light but also refreshing so I knew it wasn't going to spoil m'tea!


What's even better is that my beer had been brewed just in the barn situated at the back of the pub. With Wharfedale Brewery having their own brewing facilities on sight. There is a raised decking area outside which joins the pub to the brewery and you can peer in through the huge windows to have a look inside (they also do tours which you can book on to for £10).

Upstairs are also two joined rooms and also another bar. There's plenty of seating and well-worn chesterfields. The whole place just has such a lovely charm and character to it.


I didn't get a chance to have a look at the food on offer but I would very much like to return to give it a try on another occasion. If you are in Ilkley I would recommend popping into this lovely unpretentious pub to see its charm for yourself!

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

OUT AND ABOUT | BLACKHOUSE, THE GRILL ON THE SQUARE

It occurred to me when I received an invite from the team behind Blackhouse to visit their Leeds branch 'The Grill on the Square' that I had in fact never ordered a steak in a restaurant before. Mainly because of a reason... the price.

I am a BIG steak fan. Every three weeks or so I treat myself to a sirloin or rump (whatever looks best quality down Butcher's Row) from Leeds Kirkgate market and get my griddle pan a'sizzling. Two minutes each side, precisely measured with a countdown timer on my phone.

As a student I would usually treat myself to a steak from one of the local pubs, cheap and maybe not so cheerful but it did the deed in terms of providing that much-needed dose of iron that students tend to lack. But yes... steak in a restaurant was about to become a new experience for me.

After a long drive back up to Leeds following a short stint back home down South, I took Papa Wood as my guest to Blackhouse. Arriving on a Monday evening at 6pm, the restaurant was relatively empty and quiet but had a nice ambience to it. Some people were just enjoying drinks after work at the bar, whilst others were sitting down to enjoy a meal or some cocktails.


We took our seat at a table by the window and ordered wine. Red of course (I only drink white to be polite) we both went for the house French red, La Serre Merlot priced at £5 for a small glass.

The wine was served and the temperature was perfect. Not cold, slightly warm and exactly the temperature a red wine should be. I have never had a glass of red served where it has not been too cold before so this was a pleasant surprise indeed.

We had ordered some starters, I went for the Scottish Mussels in Cider and Chorizo (£7) and my Pa went for the Crispy Calamari with Lemon Mayonnaise (£6). Both arrived in good time, just over 10 minutes from order to table.


First up, my mussels came served in a shallow dish with a lid for the shells and a water bowl with hot water for what would become inevitably messy fingers.

The mussels were juicy and plump. They tasted fresh and clean with not a bit of grit in sight. The mussels were bathing in a shallow layer of cider stock, accompanied with two crisp tostada's on the side. When crumbled into the mussels they added an almost crouton-like texture to the dish. The chorizo was not overpowering or too salty and there was plenty of it to go about. The cider added a nice depth to the dish without it being too rich like its popular white wine and cream counterpart.


With seafood being the continual theme, Papa Wood's calamari came with the tentacles on. They had kindly asked him on ordering if he would like them to remove the tentacles but we don't do things by half in this family!

The calamari was fresh and coated in a light and crispy batter with a a rather decadent lemon mayo to add a bit of oomph. This was snaffled up almost instantly and received a firm nod of approval.


Next up is the headline act! Yes we both went for steak... with chips. I had a little discussion about this too as all the steaks are served with either a portion of chips, mash potato or a baked potato and whilst all three are obviously great variations of the potato in their own right, I could still not really envisage eating a steak with a jacket or a portion of mash!

I was told that their beef is sourced from local Yorkshire producers. It is prided on being of a premium quality and is aged for 28 days to ensure tenderness and flavour.


Papa Wood went for the Ribeye Steak (£17.95), a hefty hunk of juicy meat cooked medium rare and served with a little mini fryer basket full of home-cut chips and watercress on the side. This steak was indeed juicy and extremely succulent. Served as he had asked for, it came medium-rare. I had a sneaky strip and it was indeed succulent and tender. It had a melting texture in the mouth due to the marbling of the fat through the meat.


I went for the Rump Steak (£17.95), which was also cooked medium-rare. My steak was juicy, slightly firmer but was also tender to the taste. As a leaner cut, it was not as supple as the ribeye steak but it had good flavour throughout and was pink and oozing juice all the way through. A very fine steak indeed.

My absolute MUST for a steak is a good serving of horseradish. I know horseradish is a marmite-type love/hate condiment but for me it is the absolute making of a good steak. In my eyes too only the hot chunky versions will do, not like the creamy mild slop you find in a Wetherspoons.

I asked the waitress for some horseradish and HURRAH she brought over two shining little pots of hot chunky horseradish which just made my steak sing to an even finer tune.


We were both sold on the chips. Hand-cut skin-on potatoes which were soft and fluffy on the inside with a good crisp jacket on the outside. With a steak I want simple sides. A bit of greenery usually does the trick with some fresh salad leaves or even some steamed green veg.

A healthy one at heart, we shared side dishes of a Mixed Herb and Leaf Salad (£3.75) and a portion of Roasted Sprouts (£3.50) - however as sprouts were out of season we were offered baby cabbage instead. I was impressed to see a commitment to using seasonal vegetables where possible.

To accompany my steak I also had a second glass of red wine, this time going for a Spanish wine, the Borsao Garnacha at £5.50 for a large glass. This was slightly colder than my previous glass but it was well bodied in taste and went down very smoothly with the steak.


To finish we had a coffee each, Espresso (£2.25) for me and a Macchiato (£2.25) for who I think the staff were now wondering whether was my actual Pa or just a sugar Daddy I had brought along for the ride.

Glancing over the dessert menu we were both eyeing up the interesting looking apple pie which came with a Lancashire cheese crust and custard but alas we could not find the room for such a heavy dessert. Instead we shared an Affogato (£4.50) which came as a ristretto, a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a shot of Amaretto. This wasn't something I would usually order but I was intrigued to see how it was served. It was a bit of a DIY job and a nice light offering from the dessert menu. I did however then pour the whole Amaretto shot on without knowing how strong it would be and after a few mouthfuls we couldn't eat anymore.


This meal would have came to a total of £82.25. A similar price to the total of the bill for the meal I had at The Alchemist a few weeks back (see post here) which for me seemed shocking considering the poor quality of the food and service.

It's also interesting to me and something that I think I should note that both The Alchemist and Blackhouse are run by the same restaurant operator.

However, in the case of Blackhouse, the standard of the restaurant, the service and the high quality of the food on offer was on a different scale altogether. For two starters, two mains, two sides, one dessert, three glasses of wine and two coffees this was a very reasonable price (although still not one I would usually be able to afford!).


Whilst this is not your average restaurant to visit on a regular basis, Blackhouse would be one that I would be happy to recommend to someone to visit for a special occasion or for a celebratory meal.
The service and the quality of the food were both very good and the atmosphere on that evening that we went was welcoming and relaxed.


Disclaimer: I was invited to review this restaurant with a complimentary meal for myself and a guest, however all the views within this review are my own honest opinions.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

OUT AND ABOUT | GUSTO ITALIANO 'TASTE OF ITALY' NIGHT AT THE LAZY LOUNGE

Mario Olianas, a Sardininian chef turned his passion into a successful by starting up Gusto Italiano which hosts a series of supper clubs (look out for Cena Sarda) and 'Taste of Italy' nights, as well as hosting his own Italian cookery class and featuring regularly at farmers markets and cooking demonstrations.

Mario was looking some food bloggers to come and try out his latest 'Tasty of Italy' night at the Lazy Lounge in Leeds, his 16th one if you must know. With a feast of all wonderful Sardinian and Italian creations awaiting us, myself and food blogger Diane jumped at the chance to go along and took up our invites.


Arriving at the Lazy Lounge, Mario was there with a few other guests and also his special guest of the night, Adam Thur, talented p√Ętissier from The Pastry Stall. Each month, Mario likes to team up and collaborate with local producers, with previous ones including The Yummy Yank, Costello's Bakery and Pudsey Pickles.

An area was reserved on the mezzanine layer of the bar with a table set out in the corner. The spread looked incredible. Before us lay a table adorned with bruschetta, cured meats, pecorino, salads, frittata and antipasti which was beautifully presented on large ornate mirrors. All of this (with refillable plates plus a dessert course to follow) is a bargain at £10.99 - something I would have been more than happy to pay.

The evening started and ended with great conversation. Both Mario and Adam were keen to talk and tell us about their backgrounds, history and passion. The guests we were sat at the table were also full of tales of food adventures in Leeds and one couple in particular were keen fans of Mario's nights, having visited previous 'Taste of Italy' nights as well as one of his supper clubs.


Waiting until all the guests arrived was a great opportunity to have Mario tell us what exactly was on the table in front of us. 

His home made carta di musica, crisp thin sheets of unleavened bread which get their name from being so thin before cooking that a sheet of music can be read through it and a popular Sardinian flat bread.


The impressive plank (I mean it!) of cheese was a selection of five different variations of Pecorino cheese. The hard, salty cheese of Italy made from ewe's milk. Mario had made three of the cheeses himself using Yorkhire produce with a ten day, twenty day and thirty day old pecorino. These were very light and mild compared to what I am used to but made for a nice change and complimented some of the dishes beautifully.

There were also two Sardinian pecorino's available which were a lot stronger and harder in texture - these are my sort of cheese and they were extremely mature and strong in taste.


Next up was the bruschetta. There were two choices available. A classic Tomato and Basil Bruschetta as well as a Roasted Vegetable Bruschetta with aubergine, red onion and peppers. The bread was hard and crispy, just as it should be. The toppings were light and fresh and the bread sucked in the moisture whilst retaining its texture. These were both executed very well.


The Frittata was light and fluffy and made with spinach and mushrooms. It was thin and dense and not like some of the pie-esque fritatta's you see popping up in deli's at the moment. It was delicate but held its own good flavour.


Two salads were also freshly prepared. The traditional Insalata Caprese as well as a salad which I had never tasted before, the Polpa di Granchio alla Catalana which was made with shredded crab sticks. Both were fresh and nice accompaniments to the heavier dishes.


If that wasn't enough for you then just wait til you get a look at this meat platter! Parma Ham, Mortadella and Salami Napoli laid out across a huge board. Margarita Pizza's with the local Italian ristorante Primo also arrived and everyone was just about ready to tuck in.


Bowls of balsamic glazed baby onions, sun dried tomatoes and artichokes in olive oil were also there for us to pick at to complete the perfect antipasti plate.


Stocking up the plate with a bit of everything made you realise just how much effort had gone into this spread. The food was extremely good and inspiring to me as I have never tasted Italian food in this way before.


Feeling very full and very happy with what I had just eaten... along comes the beautiful dessert spread from The Pastry Stall.


With a delightful range of tarts, desserts and macaroons there was not an option to be full... always room for dessert they say?!

Passion Fruit and White Chocolate Tart, Straciatella Cheesecake (with popping candy!), Lemon Meringue Pie, Fruit Tart, Salted Chocolate Tart and Strawberry and Coffee Macaroons filled the table.

Cutting each tart into pieces we were all able to have a mouth sized taster of each (if our stomachs allowed).
The cheesecake had a light consistency and wasn't too sweet. The addition of popping candy made it rather exciting to eat but didn't detract from the taste.

The lemon meringue pie was again not too sweet and had the right balance of acidity and sourness from the lemon. The pastry was firm and held the tart together with its perky whipped meringue on top.

I also had a little nibble of the salted chocolate tart, a soft chocolate flavour which was not overpowering or rich in the way that most chocolate desserts can be. The coffee macaroon was also light and soft with a bit of chew, just how a good macaroon should be.


The night was a great success and for me a real insight into authentic Italian dining. I would struggle to fault anything as all the food was fresh, using local produce where possible and made by two chefs which were passionate about their food. I would highly recommend booking onto one of Mario's 'Taste of Italy' nights if you are looking for a night of good food, conversation and a nice friendly atmosphere at a very reasonable price.

The 'Taste of Italy' nights are held every month at the Lazy Lounge on Wellington Street in Leeds. You can keep up to date on Mario's next events by visiting his website here.


Disclaimer: I was invited to review this meal for free, however all the views within this review are my own honest opinions.