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.

May 30, 2010

A Mediterranean in Leeds: The Olive Tree

Well, to celebrate the ongoing success of notafuckingfoodie, the two of us went out for dinner at The Olive Tree - winner of the Best Mediterranean Restaurant in the Leeds Restaurant Awards. And as dedicated food bloggers (but not Fucking Foodies, mind), what was there to do but complete the meal with a review?

In terms of dividing up the writing, we'll use a cunning trick of internet publishing, and write with the following voices:

Tom here...
...and Marianne over here!

Upon walking into the restaurant we were immediately hit by the waft of good food and the buzz of lively chatter. But instead off getting bogged down in the miscellanea of the décor let's get straight down to business and talk about the food!

Chargrilled octopus on a bed of spinach with citrus dressing to begin with for me. My previous culinary experiences of octopus consisted of a tastelessly leathery sushi and gorgeously panfried tapas. This offering came in as a very good third experience - cooked so simply on the hot grill, the freckly, slightly burnt smokiness of the suckers and gorgeously meaty tentacles were brilliantly cut through with the dressing.

Starter of king prawns in a chilli and garlic cream sauce. These were surely not king prawns but Steroid Prawns. They were so huge, in fact, that their texture became even more squid-like than the octopus. Still gorgeous, however, and wonderfully complemented by an unusually sweet garlic aroma floating through the pool of cream sauce. All-in-all, though, the octopus juuuuust beat it.

The wine was a Cypriot white - named "Aphrodite" for some reason. Perhaps because of the ease with which one could knock it back? A fairly dry bottle of table plonk, really. Though pretty pricey at £14 a pop. Still, it added to the illusion of having a meal at some cheap family-run bistro near the coast in the mediterranean. And after all, that's why people eat at Greek restaurants, surely? That and the fabulous dips.

Ooh, taramasalata. Forgot about that. It was GORGEOUS, and deservedly award-winning. The cod roe almost took on a tomatoey flavour it was that juicy, yet remained rich and creamy. The just-warm pitta sticks that came with were the perfect accompaniment.

Agreed. I'd never claim to be an authority on Mediterranean dips (although growing up in south-west London has exposed me to an excessive amount of hummus) but it was possibly the best bowl of mashed up fish eggs I've ever eaten.
Main course for me was a joint of slow roast Kleftiko Lamb, a traditional Cypriot dish cooked with garlic and oregano. The meat was gorgeously tender, flaking softly off the bone at the merest stroke of a fork. served again of the spinach salad, the meat was incredibly well done, but felt it needed just a little kick more of garlic. Of course, as with anything labelled as 'traditional', I have no bloody idea whether the garlic is supposed to be subtly infused or powerfully overwhelming. But I love garlic. Crave it, even. Oh well.

Main of red mullet on bed of capers and salad: There were no capers. I love capers and there were none. That was half the reason I ordered the dish. The lack of capers was sort of made up for by the shock of not one but THREE red mullets sitting delicately poached on my plate. However much warm spinach salad the chefs were willing to throw at me (with again an unusually sweet vinaigrette! Is this a Greek thing or was there extra sugar in the kitchen?) there was no way I could eat all that fish. The, uh, petite wedge of lemon provided couldn't possibly make up for the lack of flavour throughout the mullet, and Tom gamely finished the dish off for me. Again, the lamb won in terms of amount, flavour, presentation (although the mullet's presentation was very good) and for simply having all the components listed on the menu. Hmph.

Since neither of our dishes came with something starchy to soak up the lashings of citrus dressing, we ordered a dish of Briam to share - a sort of Greek ratatouille flavoured with dill, the flavours were earthy and rich, but we just couldn't manage to eat all the food. Should have got the chips.

Dessert was baklava: initially was disappointed by having only one but then I realised not just how much it had been "poshed up" in terms of exquisite presentation, with trails of sauce and icing sugar floating over the bowl - I tasted the damn thing. More pistachios seeped out through the pastry layers than I could ever have imagined and the syrup was delicately flavoured and not too heavy. No need for any accompaniment; the baklava was balanced all on its little lonesome.

My Stafidhopitta was slightly less satisfying - similarly, a singular portion of filo pastry-based sweetness but instead of pistachios, was filled with sultanas and flavoured with orange liqueur. Unlike the delicately balanced baklava, it was just too sweet. To the point of sickliness, even, and had to be quickly counteracted by an immediate serving of strong espresso.

Overall, the food was impressive, if a little expensive. The bill for two eventually came to £96 - perhaps a little too much emphasis on filling stomachs rather than satisfying palates and well out of the range of most student budgets, but there exists a much more comfortably-priced set menu, with three (presumably smaller) courses for £14. We should have gone for that option really. Oh well.

The Olive Tree Headingley
74-76 Otley Road

Tel: 0113 274 8282


May 21, 2010

Getting a taste for the tasting menu: Anthony's.

Today, my friends, I am taking you to Nom Central. The wonderful and expertly coiffed G turned 21 and, as the ultimate treat, we had the tasting menu at Anthony's.

There were thirteen in our party altogether, and the attention to detail, the level of knowledgeable service and mouthwatering presentation given equally to all of us was absolutely impeccable. Cannot commend the staff highly enough. Special mention goes to the dashing head waiter from Barcelona who could probably have told us where every ingredient was locally sourced from but instead gamely put up with many, many El Clásico jokes; you are brilliant. You are the bees' knees. Keep winning at life.

The mood lighting and tasteful minimalist cream interior set the relaxed mood, punctuated by swift service; all eight courses had about fifteen minutes between each and no-one was left waiting. Accompanied by approximately a bottle and a half of wine each, this is what we ate:

1. Duck confit, butternut squash purée, hazelnut powder.
Purée in this case means absolutely 100% smooth as a baby's bottom. It was like a zingy set yoghurt, offsetting the coarseness of the gamey duck. The hazelnut emphasised how sweet the duck was and tasted like Christmas on its own.

2. Onion risotto, parmesan air, espresso.
The parmesan came in a foam which oozed a mature aroma but, if anything, made the onion stronger. The espresso cut through the creamy sauce and created a wonderful residue which lingered long in the mouth after the course had gone.

3. Moroccan spiced scallop, apricot reduction, chocolate reduction, pistacho sauce, chocolate prawn cracker.
The point in the meal where the waiter definitely explained what everything was, but tipsy time meant it was more fun to discover the flavours yourself on the tongue. The soft scallop's delicate flavours were not overpowered by the spices, especially when teamed with the juicy apricot.

4. Smoked haddock, manchego, white sauce, chicken skin, chestnuts.
My absolute favourite of the evening. The white sauce was poured over the manchego, creating a theatrical level of smoke and showing off the nutty, meaty qualities of the smoked fish. To quote G's mother, 'Oh God, I've died and gone to heaven!'

5. John Dory, chorizo, whelks, butternut squash purée.
Ah well, you can't have it all. Unfortunately, no-one seemed to be a fan of the texture of the whelks; they were a little rubbery and a discernible flavour was lacking. Also, a slight sense of déja vu with the reappearance of the squash was a shame. The chorizo, however, was gorgeous, meaty and oily and wonderfully punchy, making the John Dory seem almost smoked. Yum. I would have had more of the chorizo than anything else!

6. Pork belly, pig's tail, pig's ear, sushi prawn.
This is a personal bugbear, but I was hoping for red meat for the 'main'. Not to detract from the loveliness of three different types of pork, however. This dish was particularly immaculately presented and, through experiencing different parts of the same animal on the same plate, it helped us appreciate the subtle flavours throughout the little meat we actually got. The prawn was similarly juicy and delicious.

7. Bulgur pudding, vanilla sponge, cardamom milk, apple sorbet.
The first of our two desserts would have been a posh rice pudding if it wasn't for the milk being sent down from heaven and the bulgur being as soft and starchy as the risotto we had eaten before. It definitely had an aroma of vanilla, rather than sugar, and the sorbet (while miraculously staying cold?!) tasted like extra apple juice had been syringed into the middle of it. About a melon ball's worth of appley concentration and I am salivating while writing this.

8. Peppermint chocolate cheesecake, salt toffee foam, brittle, almonds.
The cheesecake mousse came in two piped tubes about the size of a piece of chalk, but were surprisingly thick and substantial considering their size. The peppermint oil was particularly wonderful, offsetting the sweetness of the toffee foam. The cake was completed by the crunch of the nuts and brittle, similarly sweet and satisfying.

Lordy. Save those pennies, create a special occasion and go go go! Perhaps price-wise it might be sensible to go for the á la carte - and certainly the taste won't disappoint - but portion-wise we came away from the tasting menu not just feeling full but like we'd experienced a myriad of cookery delights and skills. This sort of place is deservedly a one-off, and definitely something to be experienced. The tastes will linger on for weeks afterwards.

19 Boar Lane
0113 245 5922

May 17, 2010

Ode to the Potato - from Earth to Oven

A belated update, due to the pressures of finishing off a degree. It's not as if there's been too much to write about, as I've been surviving mostly off coffee, instant noodles and bags of Bombay Mix; incredibly healthy, I know. Yet born of a need for low effort meals and an ever-dwindling supplies cupboard, I thought I'd share one of the more nutritious (and delicious!) meals from the last few weeks. There's a certain romance to the jacket potato that I've not quite been able to put my finger on – is it the lingering memory of an early childhood visit to the Tooting Spud-U-Like? Or its roots as a solid working class meal that appeals to my Guardian-reading public school guilt? The jacket potato has long been the cheap staple for lunch, served at home from the oven or out of a polystyrene tray in a cafeteria. Easily multiplied, requiring minimal effort and infinitely variable in the filling. It seems to be the ideal student meal (especially with the classic combination of baked beans and grated cheese), yet I feel the jacket potato is an all-too-rare occurrence in my own life. In the (going on) three years I've been a student, I can't say I've relied too many times on the simple pleasures the dish provides, often preferring more involved fare. As lovely as a couscous and feta salad is, it doesn't exactly fill a hole in the same way. Thus, I hereby present a simple mediterraneanish filling for the jacket potato that provides a welcome change from baked beans, but is still satisfying in its own way.

A quick note on cooking methods: a jacket potato is never made in a microwave. A baked potato, sure, if you're short on time, but it'll never develop the crisp skin and fluffy inside that defines the jacket potato.

Serves 1

1 largish potato (floury variety)
Sunflower/vegetable oil
Rock salt (i.e. coarse grains)
Half a courgette
2–4 cloves of garlic (depends on how garlicky you want the dish to be)
1 tablespoon of capers
2 tablespoons tomato purée
1 tsp dried / 1 tbsp fresh Basil
1/2 tsp dried / 1/2 tbsp fresh Oregano
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Grated Cheese (optional)

Begin by heating the oven to about 180. Clean and scrub the potato, and coat liberally in oil - olive oil may be healthier but doesn't quite crisp up in the way sunflower oil does. Then rub the sock salt into the oily potato. This draws out the moisture from the skin of the potato, again helping to create the desired crispy jacket. Whack the potato into the oven for an hour to an hour and a half, turning halfway through. I've yet to work out whether covering the potato in tin foil is at all beneficial, but intuition says it would keep the moisture in, delaying the development of a truly crisp skin.

For the filling, thinly chop the courgette and garlic, and fry in a mixture of butter and olive oil for about 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to brown slightly. Roughly tear up the herbs (if fresh) and add to the mixture, along with the capers, salt and pepper. Stir in the tomato purée and cook off for about 5 minutes more to let the flavours develop. Simple!

The potato is only done when the skin has browned and crisped up - the inside may be cooked long before that point, but remember this is a jacket potato, not merely a baked potato. The skin should audibly crack when you cut it open, and stick into your gums when you try and eat it.

When it's done, slice open, ladle on the topping and cover in more more salt and pepper if needed. I added cheese because I just needed it. Not a posh cheese either - it has to be the cheap kind that melts easily and coasts everything in a lovely fatty layer.

The filling may seem weird in that it doesn't feature onions (an omission caused by not having any in the house) but it didn't feel at at lacking. The beauty of the filling is that it is infinitely variable. Some sun-dried tomatoes, a couple of anchovies, or roasted aubergine would all have gone well. It may take a long time start to finish, but the effort level is so ridiculously low it hardly matters.

May 14, 2010

Good friends and good memories: A Quickie in the Dry Dock for old times' sake.

Well, final hand-in was a total anti-climax. No sunlight for a month plus sudden decrease in stress levels equals getting drunk off three pints and then falling asleep. Lame. Lunch the next day, however, became all the more real in terms of Life Stage Transgression Fun Time when we had to say goodbye to the only coursemate still with dreadlocks, Tom Cat T. Sob. Violins. It was so emotional we wouldn't have finished eating, except that I think B and I had both missed breakfast.

This is essentially a review of the Library as well as the Dry Dock as they're both run by the same chain, Scream. Both have their points of merit; the Library has long been famed for its comedy evenings (totally gutted I missed Alun Cochrane a couple of months ago) and as for the Dry Dock, no-one ever really gets over the novelty of drinking in a full-on boat.

Food-wise, there isn't much that can be said other than it's standard pub fare. In all honesty, it was pretty bog-standard, and not what I've come to expect from both places. T was happy with his Classic Burger, which came from the extensive burger menu and has always been on top notch form whenever we've eaten there, but was a little disappointed with the portion size when he saw how huge B's mixed grill was for the same price. This was an unusual complaint; the burgers are normally so huge they dig you a second stomach. Either Scream are shaving a centimetre off their burgers in These Troubled Times, or the cows were particularly small this year.

K, M and I had fish and chips, and while they honoured my request of garden peas instead of mushy (who even invented mushy peas? why would you do that?) they came out of the microwave pretty pebble-like. And there weren't that many of them. AND they appear to have stopped doing chunky chips; all our meals came out with shoestring fries, which had a nice sunflower oil-y crunch but are not what you want for the ultimate chippy experience. I also don't get this trend of serving fish and chips in paper on a plate. K made the point that, as the fish has come straight out of the fryer, it just sticks to the paper and you've got half your batter covered in it. It was good solid beer batter as well. The fish itself was perhaps a little overdone, but at least we could eat all of that.

B's mixed grill was absolutely huge, containing as it did steak, chicken, gammon, sausage, chips and several other trimmings... completely covered in salt. Everything bar the steak, however, was cooked very well. The chicken and the gammon especially were juicy and tender.

Overall, mixed bag. If you've been on a Sunday recently, let me know how the roasts are. I still have fond memories of the freshly minted lamb/thick gravy/three types of veg still with some flavour(!) and would love to carry on the idea that Scream bars are good at food. Hopefully we just went on an off day, coupled with the fact that emotions were running slightly higher than normal. Hopefully the memories of good times and good food won't have to be rose-tinted by student nostalgia...

Dry Dock
Woodhouse Lane
0113 391 2658

**PREVIEW** Next review is slightly off-topic in that there were eight courses in a much higher-brow establishment, but it was the best meal I've ever eaten in my entire life...

May 04, 2010

"The Lebanese invented everything, you know..." How to make tabbouleh, with love from Beirut.

Mmmkay, so it's been a little bit longer than a week. If anyone is particularly bothered, I'M SORRY. Like the rest of the student population, I've had work to do. This time of the year is the worst.

But anyways. Tabbouleh, done properly. I rang home to clarify and everything. The main point to remember is that you want it as acidic as possible; we're talking so sharp it will take a layer off the roof of your mouth. If you were to do a quick Google for tabbouleh recipes you will often find English versions recommending the usage of fresh mint or spring onion; this, according to my Beirutian father, is absolutely plain wrong. Far too mellow. To go over:

1. Try not to substitute ingredients. It really is worth beef tomatoes instead of normal, for instance.
2. Don't add anything else. This is my grandma's simplest and best.
3. When it says chop finely, this means 5x5mm pieces. Really small.
4. Don't chicken out! Once you've experienced the amount of zing, you will be hooked. Promise.

Makes a large salad bowl's worth of, uh, salad.

Half a mug of dried bulgur wheat
Two beef tomatoes
One large white onion
Whole packet of dried parsley, or half a pot's worth of fresh.
Extra virgin olive oil
Lemon juice (in all honesty, the bottled stuff is better in this case, it's slightly sharper)
salt and pepper

Soak the bulgur wheat for about half an hour, so it still retains a bit of bite. FINELY chop the tomatoes, onion and parsley if using fresh. Bung everything mentioned so far into a bowl, mix well.

Season well with salt and pepper. Add two or three good glugs of olive oil, so the mixture looks glossy. If you want to do the lemon juice the Lebanese way, add enough so that the lemon is very definitely the main flavour. You should find that the other flavours will still come through because of the salt, but they'll be secondary certainly. If you want to balance your flavours go right ahead I guess but y'know, I will judge you from the spheres of the internet.

And you're done! Serve with most fish, especially salmon. Get some pitta or, ideally, khobez (one of the shops on the takeaway row near The Library/Henry Price does large bags of it), tear chunks off and use as pockets to eat the tabbouleh with your hands. Scrumptious :)