Saturday, 10 November 2012

Magpie Cafe, Whitby

Back in the Summer, me and A were effectively homeless, as we had sold our house and not bought a new one. This is part of the reason LeedsFoodLeads has “gone dark” over recent months, as we were busy looking for a house whilst living out of a few suitcases at Casa Parents. On the plus side, all the washing was done, living was cheap and we managed to get away for a few weekends.

One of the places we visited was the East Coast, with a 2 night deal at Raven Hall on the East Coast. It was all very Agatha Christie, as it was a weekend of heavy rain and thick fog. I half expected to trip over a body on my way to our room. In fact, Raven Hall is known for its sea views but we could have been anywhere, given that we couldn’t see anything. Despite this, I recommend the place – great food and breakfast and very “in the middle of nowhere”.

On the Sunday before our return we visited the Magpie Cafe in Whitby. Reviewed by both Jay Rayner and Michael Winner, and supposedly the best fish and chips in the country, I thought it deserved a visit and review from the lowly LeedsFoodLeads as well!

I have been to Whitby many times before, but have been put off by the big queue always forming outside the Magpie Cafe. This time, however, all was quiet and we got straight in. The menu is extensive – you can have every kind of fish imaginable, along with favourites such as Fish Pie. We decided to go with the traditional, and famous, fish and chips.

The fish was freshly battered and light. Proper fried chips were as they should be. A portion of mushy peas was served on the side. Accompanied by bread and butter and a pot of tea each, it was a classic British lunch! I can see why they have the good reputation they do.

The Magpie cafe is a series of small rooms on a number of floors. Tables are packed in but not too much – I didn’t experience any elbows in my face.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Casa Mia Millenium, Leeds

Out for lunch a few Saturdays ago with Psycho Psu and Miss Babs, we decided to eat at Casa Mia Millenium, given that we had met for a few drinks round the corner at All Bar One.

The interior is slightly alarming – lots of pink and purple, from the walls through to the exceptionally hard chairs. Thankfully, your eyes are drawn to the big glass displays of cakes and pastries, which help distract you from the “disco” decor.

We ordered a bottle of pinot grigio which at £23, was a bit more than I would usually pay. Sadly when it came, it wasn’t chilled very well and we asked for a glass of ice to cool it down.

We decided to share starters. We ordered the Italian antipasto, along with pate della casa, which was a duck pate with ciabatta and chutney. The antipasti was not very well presented and a bit “heaped” on the plate. A bit tricky when you are sharing to dig out the food! The pate was good.


A great thing about Casa Mia, is that that they do my favourite pasta dish – Spaghetti Aglio, Olio, Peperoncino & Pinoli - This is a very simple spaghetti with garlic, chilli, pine kernels and olive oil. You don’t see it everywhere, as I imagine it doesn’t appeal to the British way of drowning pasta in sauce, so I am always impressed to see it on an Italian restaurant menu. Casa Mia do it very well.

Miss Babs had Pizza Italiano – a pesto base with tomato, shaved parmesan, mozzarella and rocket leaves. She reported it good.

Casa Mia is authentic Italian, and is in a great position on Millenium Square. The food is good, although a little expensive. Pasta dishes are between £9 and £11 which is about the same price as Bibi’s.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Frankie & Benny's, Kirkstall

Frankie and Benny’s asked me to try out their new menus quite some time ago, but with moving house and generally being stressed up to the eyes, I didn’t get a chance to pay them a visit until last Sunday. We went to the one in Kirkstall, with a loose plan to see a film at the same time. Sadly the cinema listings lived up to my claim that “Most films are now crap” and so we just went for lunch instead.

I am glad we had time to linger over a three course lunch, however, as we were pleasantly surprised. It’s not that we were expecting anything bad, rather that I often have pre-conceptions about chain restaurants, especially the ones that pop up at those out of town cinema-parks. You know the sort of thing – lots of children and deep fried food. I am pleased to say that we were wrong on both counts.

Having said that, there was a children’s party going on when we walked in. But when the waiter who greeted us asked where we wanted to sit, A took the initiative and said “Not near them!” Now that may seem rude to some, but the waiter laughed and took us to a quiet table near the kitchen, well away from the kids’ party.

Crab cake

I had a look at the new lunch menu, which was £8.25 for 2 courses, £9.25 for 3, which seemed like brilliant value. But it was available Mon-Fri only, so we focused our attention on the main menu. For starter, I went for the “Lighter Option” Crab Cake. This came on a bed of rocket with a tomato chilli sauce. It was packed with flavour, particularly considering it was from the low calorie section.

A had the Calamari, which can be a risk. Not the frozen ring style calamari here, though. Instead, they came freshly cooked and even with some tentacles, just as A likes them. These were served with a Neopolitan dip, which is also tomato based. I would have preferred a mayonnaise, or tartare dip, but that’s just my personal preference.

For main, I ordered the cheeseburger. I just fancied something plain and simple, and I have to say, they do a great burger! Served with some crispy fries, it was just right.

A ordered BBQ chicken and ribs, which came with corn on the cob, coleslaw and fries. All good, he reported. A real meat-fest on a plate!

We decided to go mad and have a pudding. I chose the caramel pecan cheesecake, which came with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. The cheesecake was fantastic, although I prefer cream rather than ice cream to go with it.


3 scoops!

A had 3 scoops of ice cream. They need to invest in peanut butter ice cream, in his opinion, as he still has dreams about it since that dessert in Lindeth Howe.

On the whole, I would say we had a good Frankie and Benny’s experience. Again, my preconceptions about it being a chain were banished. It was a better meal than I have had at some so-called “authentic” Italians. It is definitely a family-friendly restaurant, so people can take their kids out for lunch, but it is big enough that you can be seated in a quieter spot if you prefer (as we did!). The decor is very American-Italian, with Frank Sinatra crooning in the background. In fact, F&Bs reminded me of some of the American restaurants we have visited in Vegas, which do huge menus with good value and quality food. I may have a try of their breakfast next time.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The White Swan, Leeds city centre

We decided to meet up with friends at the White Swan last Saturday. We had to do some shopping in Leeds, and so did our friends, N and S. So after watching a protest march go by on Briggate, A and I wandered up the cobbled back alley and entered the latest Leeds Brewery pub.

The White Swan is attached to the City Varieties, and you can imagine stopping off there for a drink on the way to see a show. I love the Varieties, especially to see comedians (in fact, we are off to see Rich Hall there at the end of May!).

The bar had all the usual Leeds Brewery beers on hand-pull. As well as his favourite, Leeds Best, Al is enjoying Yorkshire Gold at the moment. It was the usual pinot grigio for me, and the White Swan does a nice one. The place was busy, as it always seems to be when I have dropped in recently. This time, however, we were determined to try some food from the clipboard menu at the bar.

The menu has the usual sandwiches, burgers and a range of traditional dishes, very similar to the Midnight Bell. I ordered Moules Frites, which appears on the menu but also on the specials board, as they have a different sauce every day. On Saturday, it was cider, bacon and onion and it was great. The chips were homemade and just right for dipping.

A had the burger with cheese and bacon. We had seen these being delivered to other diners, and I am not exaggerating when I say they are massive! As well as the chosen toppings, two huge onion rings bulked the burger out to be bigger than a Big Mac (A still managed to get it in his mouth, though!)

I don’t know what the White Swan was like before but under the Leeds Brewery umbrella it is light and airy with a great menu and a good selection of drinks. We will be visiting again soon.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Lindeth Howe Country House Hotel, Bowness, Lake District

I decided to book Lindeth Howe for Easter weekend, as they had a great offer - £200 per night for room, breakfast and dinner. Trip advisor showed very positive reviews, particularly of the food, so I was sold.

We arrived on Friday afternoon and were quickly shown to our room – we had a great view of Windermere lake from the top of the house. Lindeth Howe used to be owned by Beatrix Potter so there were loads of references to her throughout the hotel, including pictures of the hotel as a grand family home at a time when the wealthy would visit the Lakes for their holidays.

We had dinner in the restaurant on both nights, but this is just a review of the second night. Both evenings we thought the food was excellent. You start in the lounge, where a waiter takes your drinks order, brings you the menus and some delightful canap├ęs to start the evening off. The menu contains a Table d’Hote menu for residents having dinner, along with some chef recommendations. There were also a range of other dishes that you could pay a supplement for, but this was really unnecessary as the Table d’Hote menu had sufficient options. On this night, however, we decided to “push the boat out” and go for the extra main courses (partly because A fancied a steak).

On being seated, we were brought an amuse-bouche, which on the Saturday was a mini Yorkshire pudding with roast beef.

After this, our starters were served. Both A and I had the crab fish cake starter, which was just right.  A passionfruit sorbet was then presented to "cleanse the palate". 

For my main, I had sea bass with a bouillabaisse broth. The fish was cooked perfectly with crispy skin and a light broth containing other seafood. 

 A had the fillet steak, which came with a mini steak suet pudding and mash. We ordered some vegetables as a side dish to try to compensate for all that meat!

For pudding, I ordered the old favourite of Sticky Toffee Pudding, which came with Earl Grey ice cream (not my favourite flavour of tea – a hint of washing up liquid, I always feel).

A had the same pudding on both nights – a chocolate mousse with chocolate flakes on top, which was served in what I can only describe as a mini flower-pot. But the real attraction was the peanut butter ice-cream it came with. In fact the second evening, A said he would have been happy if they had just brought him an enormous bowl of that with a big spoon!

We were offered coffee or tea but declined. Although a lot of courses, the food isn’t overwhelming because they don’t outface you with massive portions. But we were certainly full by the end of it and coffee always seems like a bad idea just before bed!

I would go as far as to say that the food on offer was of equal standard to the few Michelin star restaurants I have visited. The waiters were pleasant and service was of a high standard. In fact, the hotel in general is well worth a visit. It is set in lovely gardens, has a small indoor pool and it is great to hear the geese and ducks quacking away on the lake from an open bedroom window as you drift off to sleep. A very relaxing but also “foodie” weekend.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The White Swan, Wighill, Nr Tadcaster

I grew up in Garforth, which is on the edge of some lovely countryside with plenty of village pubs a short drive away. After I passed my driving test at 17 (after only three months of lessons – go me!) I used to drive from Ledston to Ledsham, then on to Towton and Aberford, each village having a real old-fashioned pub. Zipping down country lanes with my sixth-form mates in the back of my mum’s old fiesta, we had a great time. You don’t mind sticking to orange when you are a brand new driver!

The novelty of having a car and drinking soft drinks all night has worn off a bit after 23 years, but thankfully on Saturday night I wasn’t the designated driver. And Wighill is a bit further than we used to go, but those country lanes really brought back some memories. We were going to the White Swan for my Dad’s birthday, and it is one of those traditional village pubs I remember from my youth.

Thai fishcakes
We ordered drinks at the bar and were taken straight through to a table. The menu isn’t extensive, but this is always a good sign in my experience – too many options and you just get lots of dishes done quite badly. There was also a specials board, but none of them grabbed me so I ordered off the main menu.
For starter, I shared some Thai fishcakes with my sister. These were done very well.

Black pudding
A had a black pudding starter which was fried in batter.

For main, I had Cottage Pie which came with chips and vegetables - a bit of a carb-overload in that I never think that you should have chips with a pie that already has mash on it! The pie was excellent, though, with lots of beef mince and creamy mash. The vegetables on the side were slightly the wrong side of al dente, however, and almost raw.

Cottage pie

Other meals around the table looked good – A had the fish and chips which was a really big portion.

Fish and chips

It was a good meal overall. Service was just right and the pub was busy with other diners. Obviously a popular place.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

A Nation of Shopkeepers, Leeds City Centre

This place used to be The Courtyard, which I remember vaguely as a place that played loud dance music and wasn’t really for us “student types” in the 1990s. Now it seems to be a far more relaxed bar that does good food. It also probably has the best outdoor area in Leeds.

It was a “work do” out on Friday, and a chance to sip a few pinots and relax after a hard week. We ended up outside in the courtyard, as they have bench tables – great for large groups – and those big patio heaters.

We ordered some of the sharing plates. The Meat Platter contained mini-burgers (or “sliders” as they are known in America), chicken, lamb kebabs and fries.

The Vegetarian Platter was a mix of falafel burgers, fried courgettes, halloumi cheese, pitta, houmous and tzatziki.

Some of the blokes in the group ordered the burger, and I have to say they looked pretty substantial! Good reports all round.

The Pinot Grigio on offer was nice and I had a few glasses. It was lovely having a drink, eating food and chatting. It kind of reminded me of being in the famous beer gardens of Munich a few years ago (although it was a bit colder!)