Mixing things up in Northgate: Olive and Meze adds a distinctive Turkish flourish to Wakefield’s culinary offer

This article first appeared in the June 2015 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

So, you’re in the restaurant business and you’re looking to open a new restaurant. You cast around and find the premises you’re looking for and they are in Wakefield. You make an approach to the landlord, sign a deal and get the keys. The place needs a few decorative touches and a bit of a tidy up, which you set about doing. Then, you open for business……

Just a few weeks later, nearly 20 members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club decide to pay you a visit. They do at least tell you in advance that they are coming; they even email their orders through to you a day or so beforehand; but you know they will be a demanding and discerning group, well used to putting a restaurant through its paces. And to top it all, at the end of their meal, they will score you on how well you did!

That’s a challenge that might just give you pause for thought but it does explain how I came to be dining at Wakefield’s newest addition to the ever expanding range of restaurants in and around the city. (As President of Wakefield Civic Society, I see it as my duty to participate in the activities of the Society’s Dining Club and it’s a duty I take seriously. The club has been going for over five years now, visiting nearly 60 different establishments, and I think I’ve only missed a couple or so of the monthly outings).

Regular readers of TopicUK may remember that I reviewed Grill! Primal Kitchen (Grill! PK, previously known as Grill! at 31) in February 2014. Sadly, the restaurant later closed and the premises at 31 Northgate stood empty for a while. However, they have now re-opened under new management with a fresh new look and name to match. Olive and Meze bills itself as a “Turkish Grill and Cyprus Mezes” restaurant and is now starting to get noticed by the people of Wakefield.

The restaurant itself has a small frontage onto Northgate but it stretches back inside to provide room for 30 customers. The kitchen and bar area, tucked away at the far end of the restaurant are compact, so proprietor Zafer Firinci and his staff Heddy and Nik have to be well organised and fairly nifty to work around each other.

As the name suggests, the restaurant offers a selection of home-made dishes representing Turkish and Cypriot cuisine. The menu offers a mix of cold and hot starters, very reasonably priced between £3.90 and £6.95 although there are meze dishes (a selection of starters) priced at £12.60 for the cold selection and £14.50 for the hot dishes but these are intended to be shared between two people. Main courses start at as little as £8 and work up to £15.50 (for Sirloin Steak or King Prawns). Again, there is a sharing dish – a mixed grill described on the menu as “a sumptuous platter of barbecued Lamb Shish, Adana, Chicken Shish and Pirzola, served with rice, salad, dip sauce and home-made bread”. This costs £24.90 but, remember, this is intended for two people.

There is a limited choice of desserts – Baklava, ice cream and chocolate cake being on offer at the time of our visit, again very reasonably priced at £3.50 each. If you opt for the set three-course meal at £22 per person (a minimum of two people required as it comprises of meze dishes for starters and main courses), the Baklava is included. A lighter lunch menu is available from Monday to Saturday. One piece of advice: from Sunday to Thursday, the restaurant offers two courses for £13.50. However, it is possible to select two courses whose prices total less than £13.50.

What was it like, I hear you asking? Well, on the whole it proved to be a rather enjoyable evening. The staff are lovely, very friendly, helpful and willing to please and the camaraderie of the Dining Club members always adds a certain something to the experience wherever we go. Dining in a large group can, of course, bring its own kind of chaos: even when people have ordered meals in advance, there’s always one or two who forget what they’ve ordered, but Heddy and Nik kept their cool and made sure everyone ended up with the meal of their choice, even if it didn’t quite start that way. A couple who had ordered the set meal were rather surprised by the apparent over-generous quantity of food served up as their meze starters – until it was realised that they’d been given two plates of meze rather than just one between two, the second plate being intended for another duo at the opposite end of the table who’d been a bit slow to put their hands up when their meal was called out by one of the waiters! However, the quantity was still generous and, by all accounts, the quality was good.

I opted for the Aubergine Salad as my starter: oven-roasted peppers and aubergines with spring onion and olive oil dressing. It was light and very fresh – but those onions were very hot! To follow, I had the vegetarian pide. This is rather like a pizza but, in this case, topped with fresh Mediterranean vegetables, feta, halloumi and mozzarella cheeses and served with salad. For dessert, I opted for the strawberry ice cream. Total cost of the three courses, excluding drinks, was just £15.50 – a real bargain and the quality of the food could not be faulted.

The general consensus seemed to be positive enough. Will Olive and Meze win the accolade of the Dining Club’s Restaurant of the Year for 2015 when all the votes are counted? Well, that’s too early to say just now: we’re not yet half way through the year and it will be next April before we reveal the winner.

After the meal, I chatted to the proprietor Zafer. He told me he had been in the restaurant business for 25 years, first in Turkey and then in the UK. His last restaurant, Tom, Dick and Harry’s, was at Thorpe Arch near Wetherby but he told me that he wanted to move to a city centre where people would find access easier than being out on a trading estate. He took over the lease from Grill! PK and decided to redecorate to provide a much lighter and more airy feel. This is still a work in progress; there was some evidence of the old Grill! branding on display but I suspect that will be removed in due course.

Opening a new restaurant is a brave move, especially with so much competition, but as Wakefield’s only Turkish restaurant, Olive and Meze is definitely worth a try and, as a new venture, it would be nice to see it build up a loyal following. If you’re looking for somewhere new to try, do pay Olive and Meze a visit.

http://www.oliveandmeze.co.uk

31 Northgate, Wakefield, WF1 3BJ

A big Witamy! welcome from Duchniak’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant

This article first appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

One of the joys of writing this column is that I get to eat some delicious foods, skilfully prepared and served up by some very talented and enthusiastic people. I also get to sample foods from around the world without having to carry my passport. Yes, I’ve said it before: you really can have the world on a plate here in Wakefield with Italian, Greek, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Kashmiri, French, Japanese and, yes, traditional British foods all readily available.

One of the more recent additions to this multinational offering is Duchniak’s Coffee Shop and Restaurant, bringing a taste of genuine Polish cuisine to our increasingly cosmopolitan city. Situated a little out of the way at the bottom end of Lower Kirkgate, and not far from Kirkgate Station, the restaurant opened just over a year ago: a cosy café by day and an intimate restaurant in the evening.

Whether you just want a cup of coffee with a slice of cake, perhaps to break your walk between the Hepworth gallery and the city centre, or to make a meal of it and go for the full restaurant experience, proprietor Aneta Duchniak and her team will be delighted to serve you. That team consists of ‘three Polish ladies’ who do the cooking and Julija, from Lithuania, who does the ‘front of house’ with Aneta.

Aneta has previous experience of the restaurant trade – she worked at Sloanes in Wakefield and the King’s Croft Hotel in Pontefract, but this is the first time she has set up on her own. She told me that we have her brother Adrian to thank for the restaurant being here – he had spotted that there was no Polish restaurant in the area, although there is a resident Polish community. However, although Polish families are supporting the restaurant, most of the customers are British people looking to try Polish food or re-live memories of visits to Poland. Some of the customers have travelled from well outside Wakefield – from Leeds, Bradford and York, for example, as they had heard about the restaurant and wanted to give it a try. It’s certainly scoring well on-line – look at the customer reviews on TripAdvisor and you’ll see people really do love Duchniak’s. We have a lot to thank Adrian for, it seems!
At first glance, the restaurant might look small but with a number of booths that seat four people, standard tables and even a small yard outside round the back, it is deceptively accommodating and, on an evening with the lights lit, it’s a beacon of calm away from the rush and roar of the Kirkgate traffic.

Having eaten there a couple of times now, I can see why people are so positive about the restaurant. The food is freshly prepared to order from a fairly simple menu (printed in English but with Polish translations!), supplemented by a daily specials board; and it’s incredibly good value with starters priced at £3.50 or £3.95 and mains from under £6 up to £11.95.

I spotted some foods on the menu that caused me to raise a quizzical eyebrow – could dumplings (Pierogi) really be Polish? Well, yes they could: the word might look familiar, but these were dumplings served Polish style – semi-circular parcels stuffed with potato and cottage cheese, or cabbage and mushrooms or meat. Or how about pancakes (Nalesniki), filled with mushrooms and cheese and served with a garlic sauce (very much enjoyed by one of my party)? As Aneta pointed out, Polish cuisine has absorbed influences from many of the neighbouring countries so it has an international feel all of its own.

One thing I particularly liked was that there was a generous selection of vegetarian dishes (always a point winner in my book), as well as salmon, chicken and pork options. There’s also a crispy beef meatloaf with lemon and mustard sauce available. For my starter, I opted for breaded Camembert served with a sweet blackcurrant sauce and a salad garnish. One of my favourite dishes, it proved a good choice and did not disappoint. My companions opted for mushrooms stuffed with mince (or onions) with cheese on top. Soups are also available – fresh velvet tomato served with pasta, sour rye with white sausage and egg served with bread, and beetroot soup served with meat ravioli.

Between us, our main courses were peppers stuffed with rice and cheese (for me), chicken fillet coated with breadcrumbs, and the pancakes mentioned above – all served with a selection of salads (including grated carrots, cabbage and sauerkraut, all simple but light and very more-ish – I couldn’t resist the carrots which had been sprinkled with apple and lemon juice to give them a lovely sweetness which served to enhance the savoury flavours of the main dishes).

Puddings – well, somebody has to – were Raffaelo Cake for me – a light sponge with cream and almonds; apple crumble with ice cream; and apple pancakes. All accompanied by coffee, they were the perfect end to the meal – except they turned out not to be the end. Aneta presented us each with a shot of fruit-flavoured vodka as a brace against the chill night air. Na Zdrowie! (As they say in Poland – or Cheers! if you prefer).

Yes, what I haven’t mentioned so far is that Duchniak’s is fully licensed and serves a selection of Polish beers (by the bottle), Italian wines and Polish vodkas, both clear and flavoured varieties. Of course, there is a range of non-alcoholic drinks as well.
Now, as I mentioned, the restaurant is at the bottom end of Lower Kirkgate, so it’s a short walk from the city centre itself. However, it’s well worth the effort. If you do travel there by car, there is a pay and display car park nearby but there’s plenty of on-street parking available to the rear and side of the restaurant which is free after 6 pm.

I asked what Aneta liked about Wakefield. She told me she loved the fact that the city was not too big and that it was easy to walk around. She likes the Cathedral area but she’s also very fond of Pugneys and, as well as walking around the lake, she’s also been known to take a kayak out onto the water. But she also likes the people – she says that Wakefield people are so very friendly (and I wouldn’t disagree!).

Perhaps it’s time that the people of Wakefield took Aneta and her staff to heart – do go and discover this lovely little restaurant for yourself.

Duchniak’s on Facebook

Unit 1, 212-214 Kirkgate, Wakefield, WF1 1UF

Getting Convivial in Chester

I visited this restaurant in October 2014. Please check their website for the latest menus, prices and opening hours.

You know how it is: you find yourself in an unfamiliar place and want something to eat – but where to go? You haven’t really had time to do any research and have to be guided by your senses and intuition – all mixed in with a high degree of good luck.

I recently found myself in such a situation in Chester, a place I have visited only occasionally so it’s a place with which I can’t claim to be very familiar – my loss, I’m sure. I’d been asked to give a talk at the Grosvenor Museum to members of the local civic society, starting at 7.30 pm. As a result of delays on the motorway, my arrival in Chester was a good deal later than planned – in fact, I arrived at my hotel near to Chester Race Course at around 6.40 pm – just in time for a quick change and to hotfoot it over to the museum to set things up for the talk.

On the way into the Museum, I noticed what looked to be a well-supported Italian restaurant in the rather attractive old building next door. I made a mental note to explore it as a suitable place to eat afterwards.

The talk went well and, in conversation with some of the civic society members afterwards, the restaurant next door was given favourable reviews, so I determined to give it a try. That was how, on a chilly October evening I came to be seated with my partner at a table for two in Convivio Bar and Restaurant, 29 Grosvenor Street, Chester.

It was something like 9.30 when we walked in to the restaurant by which time the customers had thinned out somewhat – it was mid-week but perhaps people in Chester like to eat early? However, this meant we had a good choice of tables to pick from. Proprietor Giovanni Caggianelli greeted us warmly and showed us to a table by the window. Menus were presented and orders taken. Our waiter, James, brought us our wine, a very pleasant bottle of red, and just the thing after over an hour of talking and taking questions. Had we had a win at the races, I might have been tempted to work my way around the wine list – although it would have had to have been a big win to pay £1,000 for the top-priced offering, even if it was a magnum!

While we waited for our food to be prepared, I had a chance to look around the restaurant. The building, which is grade II* listed, was built originally for the Chester Savings Bank and, like many banking halls, built to impress. Although we didn’t venture upstairs, there is a large bar area upstairs – Grosvenor 29. Downstairs, the décor and furnishings are classically understated and elegant with artworks and images of Italy displayed on the walls. If so minded, you can watch your meal being prepared as the kitchen runs almost one length of the room.

To start with, we both had the Insalata Caprese, as salad of tomato, basil and buffalo mozzarella and a traditional favourite of mine that always appeals. This was followed by Tortellini ai 4 Formaggio although we went off piste by asking for it to be served with a tomato sauce rather than the cheese sauce listed on the menu. We concluded the meal with Italian styled desserts and coffee.
Now, I mentioned that picking a good restaurant to try when you’re in an unfamiliar place can depend very much on the luck of the draw. Well luck was definitely on our side. The whole experience right from entering the restaurant until the moment we left was very enjoyable. The ambience was relaxing, the food beautifully cooked and the service discreet, unhurried but attentive. We had plenty of time after the meal for chat with James who gave us some background information about the restaurant – it was very clear that he enjoyed working there.

Well, at the end of the evening, you have to pay the bill. This came to a little under £80 for the two of us; not bad for a meal of this quality in such pleasant surroundings.

I’m not sure when I’ll find myself in Chester next but should I make a return visit, I’ll not need to do any research to find somewhere to eat – Convivio will be at the top of my list! If you’d like to check them out, have a look at their website for special events, including Opera Nights, and give them a try. As the restaurant can get very busy, booking in advance is recommended.

http://conviviochester.co.uk/
29 Grosvenor Street, Chester, CH1 2DD

“Ma Kin Khow Kun” at Malagor Thai Restaurant – a taste of the Orient in Ossett

This article first appeared in the October 2014 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

Now, I have to start with an admission. Dining at a Thai restaurant is not something that usually comes very high on my list of things to do. However, as your regular restaurant reviewer, now back from my holidays, I was asked to try out Malagor Thai Restaurant in Ossett. A table was duly booked and three of us went along one recent Monday evening to sample the Malagor experience. I’m pleased to report that I really rather enjoyed it – and one of my companions (who has had far more experience of this sort of thing than I have) assured me that this was one of the best Thai meals she had eaten.

Some of you may remember the Two Brewers public house on the corner of Queen’s Drive and Towngate in Ossett. Well the pub has long gone (as has the Indian restaurant that followed it) but the building remains. Now under new management, the building has been delightfully, but simply refurbished, to create a light, bright and welcoming venue that offers the traditional taste of Thai cuisine.

Business owners, husband and wife team Benjamin and Benjawan Marshall (Ben and Benjie for short), have created something very special in their new enterprise, opened just three years ago. Ben, born in Leeds but who has lived in Ossett for 25 years now, has a marketing background and previously worked for a businessman who decided to set up a chain of Thai restaurants. Ben handled the marketing and suppliers for the chain and it was while doing this that he met Benjie, who hails from Thailand and was working in one of the restaurants. They got on well, married and cooked up a plan to branch out on their own. Thus was born Malagor Restaurant (as well as their daughter, now aged four).

At Malagor, Ben and Benjie have a simple philosophy – to provide the very best authentic Thai ingredients and herbs, freshly cooked and beautifully presented to create attractive dishes that are both healthy and appetising; they don’t use additives, such as MSG.

The menu is extensive, with a good range of starters and mains and a nice selection of vegetarian options. Dishes are marked for the potency of their spices, from ‘mild’, through ‘spicy’ to ‘very spicy’, but don’t be deterred if you don’t like the hot and spicy: there are many alternative dishes available. There are set menus (banquets, for a minimum of two people to share), early–bird menus and an à la carte menu; there’s even a take-away menu. Prices are reasonable with banquets starting at £17.95 per person. On the à la carte menu, starters begin at £4.50 and (vegetarian) mains at just under £8. Of course, with such a range of dishes and side dishes on offer, it is quite easy to mix and match, especially if dining in a group, so that you get to sample a wide range of flavours and textures – something that would be a normal part of any Thai family gathering, where starters, curries, stir fry dishes and steaks, would all be served together, along with a big bowl of soup to share and enjoy.

Having ordered our food and drinks, I took the opportunity to have a quick look around. As I said, the restaurant is light, bright and welcoming but with some interesting touches, including a fascinating mural, hand-drawn and painted by Benjie who has creativity running through her veins (amongst other things, she also makes clothes, for example). The restaurant was quite busy for what might be regarded as a quiet night, including a birthday party group, and is divided into a number of distinct areas, each with its own theme and ambience.

There’s the Bar Suchart area, named after a Thai legend renowned for his love for life and fun. Here you can enjoy a pre- or post-prandial cocktail. The Jantra Room, taking its name from the Thai word for moon, is a cosy, intimate section of the restaurant, perfect for couples perhaps wanting a bit more privacy. The Thong Na Room features the Thai mural, striking potted greenery and big, picture windows. Finally, the Lanna Room, named after the Lanna region of North Thailand, is an upper area at the far end of the restaurant and is advertised as being particularly suitable for business meetings, or very special family occasions.

Re-joining my companions as the food was delivered to the table, the first thing to strike me was how eye-catchingly presented it was – each dish a work of art to stimulate both the visual and culinary palettes. Between us (two vegetarians and an omnivore) we began with a selection of spring rolls, homemade sweetcorn cakes and pork on toast, served with either a fruity plum sauce or a sweet chilli sauce. For mains, we had dishes of stirred fried vegetables, fried rice and egg with vegetables and tomatoes, and stir-fried chicken and vegetables. Two of us managed puddings – a very nice lime panna cotta and a mango pudding, both accompanied by fruit salad. Coffees and after dinner mints completed the meal.

Afterwards, I spoke to Ben about the restaurant. His pride and enthusiasm showed through. Ben is the only non-Thai to work in the restaurant but told me that the restaurant takes its name from the Thai word for the papaya fruit, one of the most important ingredients in Thai cuisine. Ben explained that as well as running the restaurant, they also offer monthly cookery classes, run by his wife, for people who want to learn how to cook and prepare Thai dishes. These classes have proved very popular and gift vouchers can be purchased from the restaurant for those wanting to treat family and friends. Ben joked that a number of his male customers, having sampled the food in the restaurant, have bought the vouchers for their wives to learn how to cook their favourite Thai food at home!

Thais, whose culture is centred on family and food, have a phrase inviting you to stay and enjoy food with them: ‘Ma Kin Khow Kun’. They extend open invitations to friends and family to come round to their homes to enjoy time together. When someone visits a Thai home, they will be invited to stay longer and enjoy some food – ‘Ma Kin Khow Kun’. Having now sampled the food at Malagor Thai for myself, I can understand the attraction and I do urge you to give it a try – let Malagor extend its welcome to you.

http://www.malagor.co.uk/

Queen’s Drive, Ossett, WF5 0NH

Learning their trade: Great service and value are on the menu at Gaskell’s Restaurant at Wakefield College

This article first appeared in the April 2014 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check with the restaurant the latest details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

When you sit down to a meal in a restaurant or hotel, do you ever wonder where the people who are cooking your food or waiting your table learned their skills?

Did you know that, right here in Wakefield, we have our own well-established and fully-licensed training restaurant operated by young hospitality students who are working towards their Professional Cookery Diplomas and BTEC National Diploma in the hospitality industry?

Well, wonder no more – Gaskell’s Restaurant at Wakefield College (Margaret Street Campus building) is the establishment in question and I had the good fortune to sample their lunch menu recently when I visited as a guest of the restaurant.

My first visit to Gaskell’s was nearly four years ago when I dined there with members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club. The food was so well prepared, and the students so friendly, that the evening was judged a great success by all and it was no surprise to us that members voted Gaskell’s one of the Society’s Restaurants of the Year in 2010. It was, however, a very pleasing outcome for the man in charge of the hospitality and catering programme, Laurent Berges, who was, of course, delighted that his staff and the students had been recognised in this way. Gaskell’s then completed the hat-trick by going on to win the award again in 2011 and 2012.

It was, therefore, with high expectations that I chose Gaskell’s, named after Wakefield’s first MP, Daniel Gaskell (1782-1875), for my review and I decided to try their lunchtime offering, a new experience for me.

The restaurant is situated off Margaret Street in the St John’s area of Wakefield, an area resplendent in fine Georgian and Victorian architecture. Alas, the architecture of the college building doesn’t match the style of its neighbours being a rather utilitarian contrivance that dates from around the 1960s. Somebody must have loved it once, I suppose, but we’re not here to judge the architecture, so I’ll press on. All I’ll say is, don’t let the outside deter you – it’s what happens inside that matters and, from the moment we crossed the threshold, we were once more impressed by the warmth of the welcome we received.

Greeted at the door to the restaurant and our coats taken, we were shown to the bar area and given our menus to peruse while we sat in comfortable chairs sipping our drinks. The restaurant is fully licensed and offers a reasonable mix of soft and alcoholic drinks – wine, for example, at £12 or £13 a bottle, also available by the glass.

Our waiter, Chris George, introduced himself to us and showed us to our table. The restaurant was nicely busy with a mix of couples and groups, everyone chatting away and seemingly enjoying their meals.

The lunchtime menu, which changes weekly, is simple affair with a choice of starter, three main course offerings and three desserts to pick from. I went for the Yellow Split Pea Soup served with a bread roll, followed by the vegetarian Toad in the Hole, served with Sauté Potatoes, Roasted Root Vegetables and Sauté Cabbage, finishing off with Apple and Wensleydale Pie with Cardaman Ice Cream and Custard. (I also sampled a good piece of my partner’s Curd Tart, this sweet being one of my particular favourites). The whole meal was truly excellent: beautifully cooked and presented with sufficiently-sized portions to fill without being over-faced.

Service by Chris and his assistant table waiter Luke Bradbury, was efficient and attentive. Like all the students working in the restaurant, whether front of house or in the kitchen, they operated under the supervision of staff lecturers but otherwise, the idea behind Gaskell’s is to provide students with “a realistic working environment in which to practise the skills they have learnt in the classroom”. This is not one of those slick, high-class establishments where the waiters are haughty and everyone speaks in hushed tones: it is a training school for young people learning their trade and conversation seems to be encouraged. I asked Chris if he had drawn the short straw in having to wait on my table – quite the contrary; he had volunteered to do so and this attitude is typical – the students are keen to impress.

According to the website, Gaskell’s provides customers with “the opportunity to sample high quality dishes at moderate prices” and, at this point, I must say something about the prices – they are exceptionally good value for money! With a three-course lunch for just £8.50 and dinner prices starting at just £13.50, (drinks extra), no one can complain about the cost especially as the quality of the food is something you would perhaps associate with a much higher-priced meal. Watch out for their programme of themed dinner menus – details on the website.

After my lunch, I chatted with Chris, now in his final year as a BTEC student, and Luke, who is a first-year student. Both were committed to their chosen career paths. They enjoyed working with people but also saw the catering and hospitality business as one that could offer great job opportunities in the future. Interestingly, they also saw the industry as one that would offer opportunities to travel – something that is in fact about to happen as they will both be taking up a month-long placement in Sweden in the near future as part of their course work. With some of their fellow students studying in Venice at the time of my visit to Gaskell’s, it certainly does seem that Wakefield College is creating international opportunities and a great reputation for its students.

Reservations Hotline: 01924 789505 (Phone line open Tuesday 9am – 3pm, Wednesday 9am – 3pm & 5pm – 8pm, Thursday 9am – 3pm, Friday 9am – 12pm)