Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Soul Kitchen at The Wardrobe

It's been a long time since I've had a meal in The Wardrobe.  So long in fact, that I only have a vague recollection of the evening.  It was a few weeks after R had been born and a couple of weeks before we could finally take him home from the Neonatal Unit at St James's Hospital.  We decided to have our last baby sitter free restaurant meal on our way home from visiting our tiny bundle of joy.  We had been to The wardrobe before, never for food, but as it was on the bus route home from Jimmy's we decided to give it a go.

I think that I had duck that night and I have no idea what Z had.  I couldn't even tell you what style of food the restaurant served.  It could have been some kind of British bistro offer but I'd be guessing.  It turns out that I'm not the only person who has struggled to pin down the restaurant in The Wardrobe.

The venue has recently changed hands and the new owners didn't know what to make of the restaurant either.  It seems that the eclectic menu had evolved over the previous twelve years without much thought or direction.  The perceived need for a restaurant at all in this glorious bar and music destination was the draw of the pre-theatre set, looking for a 2-for-1 before going to the Playhouse or Northern Ballet. 

Being on the outskirts of the city, it had always been imagined that people would only eat in The Wardrobe if they were soaking up some culture at the same time, but it doesn't look like that is the case.  The Wardrobe's neighbours, both good restaurants, always do good trade so something had to change and change it has.

Soul Kitchen, as the name implies, has its roots in the soul food of the deep south of America, Creole cookery and food from the Caribbean.  The new menu sees Shrimp and Grits and Jambalaya sat comfortably next to Jamaican Crab Cakes and Sweet Potato Macaroni and Cheese.  There is also a large grill menu.  I say large, there are only six options but they are all on the man verses food scale and can be customised with rubs and marinades before making their way to the table.

I was invited to an evening of tasting the new menu, along with a cohort of some of Leeds' number of food bloggers and foodies.  This was an interesting evening because The Wardrobe management were really keen to hear our feedback after the meal.  We were served a selection of dishes from the menu, shared them around the table and mused about what was on offer.

It's fair to say that it's not quite the finished article yet, but that is why we were invited.  The basic offer is fine and just needs turning up to eleven so that you really know you're in a soul kitchen.  I'm really looking forward to going back under my own steam to see if they take the feedback in the spirit that it was intended.  Hopefully it will cement St Peters Square as a food destination in Leeds regardless of what you are looking for.

The Soul Kitchen at The Wardrobe, 6 St Peters Square, Quarry Hill, Leeds, LS9 8AH.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Macaroni Cheese

It's funny how these things happen.  There was I, extolling the virtues of Rick Stein's India, when an on-line conversation moved rapidly from curry to Macaroni Cheese via pork chops and pesto.  There and then I knew that it wouldn't be long until it found its way into our plans.  That was last week and it happened in a corner of the internet that isn't full of my usual cohort of foodies.

Imagine my surprise then, when one of my food friends started talking about having macaroni and cheese.  In a third and unrelated conversation about meal planning, an other friend decided to change their plans for stuffed rolled pork loin in favour of "mac and chee", such is the power of suggestion.  

We had planned to have our macaroni and cheese on Thursday as a family meal after a day out together.  Our plans were changed however by a belly busting lunch in town.  By the time R's tea time came around we were still full and not in the slightest bit interested in eating more food.

Any other meal may well have fallen off the meal planner for a week or two, but macaroni cheese has a strange power.  Once you have decided that you are going to cook it, it has to be cooked, as my on-line discussions seemed to prove.  Our planned meal for this evening was steak with boulangere potatoes.  We'll now be having that some time next week.

As with so many family favourites, macaroni and cheese is a very personal dish.  Some people will use any old pasta shape.  Some will have a particular cheese that must be in the sauce.  We stick to macaroni but use whatever cheese we have in the house.  Today our sauce had mature cheddar, wenslydale and jarlesberg.  Along with cheese and pasta, our macaroni cheese is always topped with sliced tomatoes, breadcrumbs and extra cheese.  Sadly there were no leftovers, but we do still have steak to look forward to, so all is not lost.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Old Peacock, Elland Road

We moved to Leeds in September 1999 and, against everyone's advice, we ended up renting in Beeston.  Although I had been a Leeds United fan since I was ten I had never visited the city.  I'd watched Leeds play live, but only at away games, so you can imagine my joy at discovering that I could see Elland Road from the end of my street.

After we'd settled into our new home I decided to take my first look at the stadium where my beloved Leeds play their home games.  Having walked down the steps of Beggers Hill, I was welcomed by the statue of Billy Bremner.  It felt like all of my Christmases had come at once.  I hadn't booked a tour so we just wandered around the outside of the ground getting misty-eyed.  We then stumbled across The Old Peacock* on the other side of Elland Road.  It felt rude not to pop in for a pint.

What we found was a local's pub, a bit worse for wear and festooned with Leeds United memorabilia.  Every available surface, apart from those dedicated to drinking, had signed shirts, old programs and faded newspaper cuttings on them.  The beer was what we had grown used to at university; a choice of two lagers or smooth flow bitter.  It was not a pub to write home about, but it was my new local and it did have two pool tables.

Much water has flowed under many bridges since then.  The pub's decline seemed inexorably linked to that of Leeds United.  As my team fell from grace, as did The Old Peacock.  I'm sure the global financial meltdown and the ban on smoking in pubs played their part, but as the gate reciepts dwindled at Elland Road, so did the foot-fall into the pub.

But, like a phoenix from the flames, The Old Peacock is back.  It is now being managed by The Ossett Brewery and, unlike recent variations on a tired theme, they are trying something a little different.  Rather than selling the usual pub fare they have transformed the Peacock into an Ale House and Kitchen.  I was invited along to the VIP opening to get a taste of what was on offer and can report good things.

Out with the smooth flow bitter and in with nine real ale pumps.  The new beer offer is mostly from The Ossett Brewery, along with a couple of guest ales and standard lagers.  The beer to look out for is 1919.  Named after the year that Leeds United were formed, it has been brewed specifically for The Old Peacock and will not be sold anywhere else.  1919 sold out by ten o'clock on the opening night and to me that is recommendation enough.  Sadly we didn't get to sample the food.  We did get a couple of canap├ęs but they weren't really representative of the food that will be on offer.

It's not just the food and drink that has changed.  The place has a new feel too, as you would expect after a £400,000 facelift.  The wall to wall memorabilia has been replaced with a "one-off design" wallpaper featuring images of Leeds United's past.  The swirly carpets and matching upholstered stools and benches have been torn out and replaced with stylish wooden furniture and solid wood and tiled floors.  The pool tables have also gone creating space for a restaurant area that seats 40 people.

We had a good time on the opening night and a free drink is always welcome.  I've now seen the menu and I'm looking forward to my next visit even more, perhaps for Sunday lunch with the family.  I especially want to try the Thick Cut Pickled Brisket.

I've been longing for a decent pub, selling real ale and good fresh food, to open somewhere in Beeston for ages and it looks like my dreams have come true with the re-launch of The Old Peacock.  I only hope that Leeds United's fortunes are still linked to the pub as that would mean that good times are around.

*The Old Peacock is actually The New Peacock, or The New Old Peacock.  The original Old Peacock stood on the opposite side of Elland Road opposite the present McDonald's drive through.  It's thought that Leeds United got their nickname "The Peacocks" from the pub.