Two music graduates chronicle the culinary delights of Leeds and London and explore the height of fine dining on a limited budget.

Good food is well punk.

February 25, 2010

Distrikt, Feb 14th 2010: Not a fucking Valentine's date.

Distrikt is new. Distrikt needs to tell you it's new. They have this flyer that proclaims not only do they do tapas, they do Different Tapas that utilise the elements or something. This could only bode well.

Naturally, G and I didn’t get tapas. We went on a Sunday afternoon, exposing ourselves to yet more pretension by opting for an "Acoustic Roast." The New Flyer promised live music but maybe that was on later in the day; we were greeted by a table of bored waiters messing around in a corner on their Mac Books.

Perhaps I'm being a little harsh. Once we'd managed to find the place (tucked discreetly away sort of behind Oxfam) and navigated an imposing set of stairs we were greeted with the sort of ambience that a student would expect from a restaurant slightly higher of the brow. Distrikt doubles as a club, playing host to the very successful Louche Tuesdays, and manages to keep that atmosphere throughout the day with low lighting, quiet ambient music, and a simple but effective layout. Think good solid blocks of dark polished wood and prominent, bare concrete pillars. That and the lack of windows. The artwork on the wall was for sale, though, which was a nice touch.

G had the beef (which, unfortunately, is not on the ever-changing menu at the moment) and it was tender, really gorgeously slip-off-the-tongue oh-god-it's-like-I'm-drinking-a-cow tender. The accompanying parsnips were just soft enough and had been smeared with some sort of fennel concoction which drew out the sweetness of the root in contrast to the sharp aniseed. The beetroot slivers were essentially tasteless but improved the overall texture by c.1000 miles.

We both felt I fared a little better with some beautifully juicy pork belly spirals. Caraway is an excellent fruit, should be used liberally in everything, and complimented my crunchy cabbage and buttery curly kale (honestly, it was buttery) no end.

Two points: firstly, we were disappointed with the choice of desserts. There were no petits fours as advertised which meant we had to pig out. I had the recommended citrus tart which was sour and sharp but contrasted well with a very sweet pastry. That’s right, yet more butter. All three of G's balsamic strawberries were "amazing to the point of orgasm" or something suitably hyperbolic. The vinegar did benefit from a little demerara, as the strawberries were especially ripe.

Secondly, the portion sizes. The menu boasts high quality ingredients and yet startlingly low prices. This is because you get a child's plate. G and I do have a habit of spurring each other on appetite-wise but seriously guys, a bit more carbohydrate wouldn't have killed.

Overall, though; go. The service is lovely, the wine was surprisingly fruity and the food you do get is interesting and often a novel take on more traditional Mediterranean cuisine. Perhaps the tapas might have been a wiser choice with hindsight, though.

7 Duncan Street
Leeds LS1 6DQ
0113 243 3674

February 21, 2010

On Soups, Stews and Other Frugal Foods

As February begins to breath its last, and the renewed snows heralding a depressingly cold March begin to fall, the food cupboard begins to become increasingly bare. Fresh vegetables feel more and more expensive (probably due to increased shipping costs) and inspiration for meals becomes harder and harder to come by. I put this meal together last night as a means of clearing all the odd bits of food still lurking in the cupboard. Despite not having any main ingredient or substance to it, it ended up surprisingly tasty, yet I'm still unsure of what to call it; my mother would say "stewp". One word though: I'm a firm believer that a quality specialist casserole dish imparts a depth of flavour dishes like these that you just don't get with ordinary saucepans. Maybe it's a placebo effect, or simply that cooking becomes more enjoyable, but I use a slightly battered Le Creuset nicked off my parents that has never let me down. Oh god, that sounds so hideously pretentious. I'll shut up now and get on with the food.

Serves 4-5

2 Onions
2 Cloves of garlic
2 Sticks of celery
2 Carrots
2 Potatoes
2 tsp dried thyme
1-2 chillies
1 Tin of Lentils
1 Tin of Kidney Beans
1-2 Tins of Tomatoes
1 Tbsp Tomato pureƩ
1 Stock cube (Chicken or vegetable)
100g assorted shaped pasta
Oil and butter for frying
Salt and Pepper

Chop the onion into medium slices, and fry gently in oil and butter until soft, but not brown. Chop the carrot, celery and potatoes into small chunks and add to the mixture, along with the thyme and salt and pepper. Finely chop the garlic and chillies and throw in, being sure not to let the mixture get too hot. Let the ingredients soften for about 10 minutes, then drain the lentils and kidney beans and add to the pot. Give it a mix, and throw in the tomatoes. Crumble the stock cube into the stew, and add three refilled tomato tins of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the pasta and cook until soft. Serve in a bowl, and top with cheese if so desired.

It may be slightly carb-heavy (the potatoes were probably not entirely necessary) but it went down a treat on a cold Saturday night. Variants could include 2 tbsp peanut butter to make it a bit more 70s veganesque or a few slices of cabbage for added iron. If you're feeling extravagant, some slices of bacon, sausage or chorizo added at the start of cooking could transform this into a gloriously satisfying dish, but the lentils and beans are enough to satisfy. Obviously, the ingredients are all subject to change. Bean is a bean is a bean is a bean.

February 19, 2010

A Simple Student Lunch

Feeling the pinch of rapidly dwindling finances in the aftermath of a week spent eating out, and mildly hungover and bloated as a direct result, I had a craving for something frugal, carby and tasty for lunch today. Perfect for a meal for one, the ingredients are pretty basic and all stuff I have kicking around in my cupboard. I used Blue Dragon noodles, but it doesn't really matter I suppose.

Handful of Monkey NutsPretentious chopsticks not shown
Handful of Pumpkin Seeds
Handful of Sunflower Seeds
75g Wholeweat Noodles
1 Green Chilli
2 Cloves Garlic
1 Small chunk of Ginger
Light Soy Sauce

Put water on for the noodles. Peel the monkey nuts and remove all skins. Crush them with a rolling pin (or pestle and mortar if you're feeling fancy), and toast gently in a dry frying pan (or wok) with the seeds for about 2-3 minutes. Cook the noodles as per the packet. While that's happening, de-seed the chilli, and finely chop, along with the garlic and ginger. Pour a small amount of oil into the pan with the seeds and throw in the garlic, ginger and chilli. Stir it about a bit to get until it all takes on a lovely golden sheen. Add the cooked noodles and a splash of soy sauce, mix about for about 30 seconds and serve. Simple!

As the photo shows, it went down pretty quickly, but I felt satisfied without any heaviness. If you wanted to be flash, I suppose you could toss in some thin strips of chicken or pork. Tofu if you're that way inclined. But tofu is clearly for wimps.