The Dakota Bar and Grill – A refined taste of luxury at an affordable price in the heart of Leeds

The Dakota Hotel, Russell Street Entrance

If you like alliteration, you might want to try breakfast in Bradford, dinner in Doncaster and supper in Skipton, but for lunch, it would have to be Leeds and having lunch in Leeds is exactly what I did recently for the purposes of this article.

My first encounter with the Dakota Hotel, located in Russell Street, came about in the summer of 2018 when TopicUK, the magazine I write for, became a Yorkshire-wide publication and held its launch event at the hotel in June. It was a relatively short visit for me, just a couple of hours, but I was very impressed! The friendliness of the staff and the stylish décor left a lasting memory: so much so in fact, that I met a friend there for lunch just before Christmas. A three-course lunch, accompanied by a bottle of wine, cost us around £60 each including service charge but I thought that was quite a reasonable price to pay given the quality of the food, the presentation and the standard of service.  

Based on my earlier experience, it was therefore an obvious choice to recommend to TopicUK editor Gill Laidler that I should include the hotel on my list of places to review for this magazine and that’s how, one lunchtime in February 2019, my partner and I found ourselves settled into a comfortable booth in the subterranean calm of the hotel’s restaurant.

After the hustle and bustle of the streets outside, the Dakota Bar and Grill, which is located downstairs from the ground-floor bar area (there’s a lift), offers a tranquil and fashionable venue, whether you’re looking for a leisurely meal or somewhere to meet a client for a business lunch. We were greeted by restaurant staff Sofia and Ashley who looked after us throughout the meal, bringing menus, taking orders, serving food and pouring drinks. In between courses, I was able to ask questions about the hotel and the restaurant to fill up my notebook. Service was friendly, attentive and courteous.   

At lunchtime, you can choose between the full à la carte menu (which I tried at Christmas), and the simpler ‘Market Menu’. There’s also a separate Vegan menu. It was the Market Menu that we were to sample on this occasion. This offers exceptionally good value for money with two or three courses for £15 or £20 respectively, which really is a terrific price. You get to choose from three starters, three mains and three desserts. A selection of side orders (for which an additional charge of £3.50 each is made) is also available. All the food is beautifully presented. There’s a 10% discretionary service charge will be added, but, believe me, it’s worth it.

Having made our selection, we sat back to enjoy the ambience and admire the look and layout of the room, designed, we were told, by international designer Amanda Rosa, wife of the hotel group chairman, Ken McCulloch. Shiny mirrors, lots of dark wood enlivened with colourful artwork and bright squishy cushions, and subtle lighting that makes everyone look good, all combine to create a very elegant look. There’s recorded music playing quietly in the background and which, as part of the design aesthetic, changes to help to create the mood appropriate to the time of day – one of those little flourishes that you might only pick up on if you visit regularly, or happen, like me, to be doing research for a magazine review!

Ken McCulloch is well-known in the hospitality industry with a long-established track record of opening and running bars, restaurants and hotels. He was responsible for setting up the Malmaison hotel chain. Having sold his interests in that group, he and Amanda moved to Monaco, where, in partnership with David Coulthard, Ian purchased the Abela Hotel, rebranding it as the Columbus, a luxury hotel in Monte Carlo.

Their current project is to create a brand of luxury hotels in the UK. There are now five Dakota hotels in the group with Leeds being the fourth to open. The first was in Edinburgh; then came the Dakota Eurocentral in Motherwell, handy for both Glasgow city centre and the airport, followed by a Dakota in Glasgow. The fifth, opening in May this year, will be the Dakota Hotel in central Manchester.

In preparing for my review, I did some thinking about the hotel name. “Why ‘Dakota’?” I wondered? A quick check on the internet showed that the word derives from the Native American Dakota people, and gave rise to the area today known as the North and South Dakotas, but the word also means ‘friendly’ in the Dakotan language. That’s a really good connection, I thought. What better place to meet a friend for lunch than in a place which literally means friendly? It turns out that I was missing a step: the hotel actually takes its name from the Douglas DC-3 Dakota aircraft which used to fly the New York to Chicago route from the mid-1930s, bringing affordable luxury air travel to the general public and it is this emphasis on ‘affordable luxury’ that lies behind the concept of the Dakota hotels.

Anyway, you didn’t come here to read about history (did you?); you came to read about the food. Well, let me assure you that it was excellent and fully justified my recommendation for the review.

To begin with, we had a complimentary ‘Venetian Dip’, a simple dish consisting of a tomato purée sauce and Mascarpone cheese served with freshly baked bread. Our starters were Roast Squash and Sweet Potato soup for me and a Tofu Salad for my partner. The soup was a meal in itself! The salad, with beansprouts, watermelon, sesame and cashew nuts was also a healthy plateful.

For the main course, we both ordered the Pea and Mint Risotto with pecorino cheese. Temptation got the better of us, though, and a side order of Hand Cut Chips also found its way onto our order. For desserts, and I’m not sure quite how we managed it but research is research, I had the Rhubarb and Ginger Crumble (served with Vanilla Ice Cream) and my partner had the very colourful Eton Mess, consisting of a salad of fresh fruits on a meringue base.

Over coffee, we chatted to Debbie Dobson, Director of Sales at the hotel, who provided me with some more background facts while checking to make sure that we had enjoyed our meal – we assured her we had!

All too soon though, it was time to leave. Hauling ourselves out of our seats, Ashley fetched our overcoats and we climbed the stairs back to street level where we were soon subsumed back into the pell-mell of the crowded streets of central Leeds.

Kevin and his partner dined as guests of the Dakota Bar and Grill, 8 Russell Street, Leeds, LS1 5RN.

Website: http://leeds.dakotahotels.co.uk/bar-grill/

Telephone: 0113 322 6261

Email: enquiries@leeds.dakotahotels.co.uk

The hotel offers customers a discount of 25% on parking charges at The Light underground car park nearby (entry via St Anne’s Street, Leeds.)

The stylish décor of the restaurant

All prices and details correct at the time of my visit – February 2019

Modern Artwork adorns the walls
And let’s not forget the food!

Corarima – the true taste of Abyssinia comes to Wakefield

For my last review of 2018, and continuing my circumgyration of world foods (without leaving my home city …), I visited Corarima, a new Abyssinian-style restaurant in Cross Street, Wakefield which offers an exclusively vegetarian and vegan menu.

We’re all being encouraged to heat a healthy diet these days. ‘Diet and exercise’ is the mantra of the moment as well as being put forward as the cure-all for all ills. As a vegetarian of over 30 years who likes to keep fit, it’s sometimes hard to resist the ‘told you so’ refrain….

One advantage of this focus on healthy eating is that it has become easier than ever to follow a vegetarian, or even a vegan, diet and still eat out enjoying good food. Gone are the days (mostly) when you’d be lucky to find even one ‘choice’ of vegetarian dish on the menu of your local restaurant. Today, you should find most restaurants worthy of your consideration will offer a choice of dish. And there’s also much more awareness now of the needs of people who have to follow special diets for medical reasons, such as the gluten-free diet, and chefs worthy of their salt will rise to any challenge. Meanwhile, vegetarian and vegan diets are seen as being good for the planet as they help people to reduce their carbon footprint.

This emphasis on healthy (or healthier) eating has also seen the rise of the ‘flexitarian’, someone who chooses to eat less meat and to experiment with the vegetarian and/or vegan diet on at least a part-time basis. 

Imagine then my deep joy then when I saw that Wakefield was to get its first ‘vegetarian restaurant’! Yes, Wakefield can now boast it has a restaurant that is dedicated to serving healthy vegetarian, vegan and gluten free food. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Corarima – not only Wakefield’s first exclusively vegetarian and vegan restaurant but also our first-ever Abyssinian eatery.

Corarima is a brand new venture set up by husband and wife team Asamnew Asres and Rahel Bein together with their friend Bizunesh Kebede. Their mission is to offer customers the opportunity to taste “the sensational flavours of Abyssinian cuisine – lovingly prepared by Ethiopian and Eritrean chefs who know how to conjure up the authentic taste of Abyssinia”. Having now had the chance to sample some of their dishes myself, I can report mission accomplished.

Transforming what had been an empty shop unit in a 1970s office block, the trio have created a little oasis of calm and tranquillity where you are assured of both a very friendly welcome and delicious food. My partner and I were greeted by Asamnew who showed us to our table – it didn’t take much finding: with a capacity for just 24 or 25 customers at any one time, you also get very personal service at Corarima.

The restaurant doesn’t serve alcohol (but, if you book in advance, you can take your own bottle of wine which they will serve to you for a very modest corkage fee of just £1.50), so we chose our drinks from a list of smoothies and juices. Asamnew recommended we try the Telba and the Beso, so we ordered one of each. (Sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and be daringly experimental!) Telba, it turned out, was a creamy and refreshing drink made of toasted and ground flax seeds while the Beso was another creamy drink but this time made of barley and honey. Both, we were assured, were very healthy and good for us!

Now, I don’t profess to have any prior knowledge of Abyssinian cuisine so I had a steep learning curve to follow but Asamnew proved to be a worthy and expert coach as he explained the menu and helped us to choose our food. We opted for the milder dishes – if you don’t want hot and spicy, do say so, as recipes can be adjusted to taste.

Having ordered our food, more of which shortly, Asamnew brought us something to nibble on – crudités with homemade hummus – while we listened to his story.

Back in Eritrea, he was a structural engineer, running his own company which employed 15 staff. However, in 2007, he and Rahel and their three children found themselves fleeing their country and in the UK as asylum seekers. They were ‘allocated’ to Wakefield where, Asamnew said, they were made to feel welcome and helped to settle in. Over the years, they have come to regard Wakefield as their home. Asamnew found work in his profession in Leeds and Wakefield but meanwhile, Rahel’s passion to open a restaurant burned deep inside. Earlier this year, Asamnew gave up his job to work on the restaurant project full-time and the result is Corarima. As Asamnew explained, they wanted to open their business in Wakefield, the city that had taken them in; they wanted to give something back.

Corarima takes its name from the Ethiopian spice korarima (corarima), also known as Ethiopian cardamom, or false cardamom, one of the ginger family.

We were now ready for our main courses, delivered to us with a flourish by Asamnew and Rahel. I had opted for the Aubergine Stew (fresh aubergine cooked with onion, tomato and rich flavoured spicy herbs) while my partner had ordered the Mushroom Stew (mushroom cooked with garlic and seasoned with assorted spice). We also ordered side salads. Both dishes came with injera, a flatbread made from teff flour (teff, we discovered was high in fibre, iron, protein and calcium and being a very small grain, is easy to cook). The bread had a slightly spongy texture but was an ideal accompaniment to the stews which were spicy but not too hot (I speak as someone who has never acquired the taste for hot and spicy dishes!).

Lurking at the back of the table we saw a couple of stuffed chilli peppers. I regarded these somewhat suspiciously – I’ve been caught out before! But after some prompting from Asamnew, I took a small forkful – and moved a little further along the learning curve: it was deliciously sweet!

We finished the meal with coffee and small chickpea biscuits topped with sesame seeds and honey – they don’t do puddings – but it was the perfect end to a really enjoyable evening. All that was left was to take some photos and to gather up my notes as we said our farewells. I have a feeling that we’ll be going back. We still have lots to learn!

Finally, if you’re in Wakefield at lunchtime, you can eat in or you can try the Corarima Lunchbox. For just £3, you can pick up a lunch box between 12:00 noon and 2:00pm each day containing the chef’s selection of vegetable and pulse stews served with rice or injera bread. 

Open Monday to Saturday from 12 noon to 9 pm

Kevin and his partner dined as guests of the restaurant.

Corarima – 10 Cross Street, Wakefield, WF1 3BW

Website: www.corarima.co.uk

Tel: 01924 695713

The Corarima Crew – From left to right: Bizunesh – Rahel – Asaminew

Banking on Success: Bar Biccari in Horbury

In July 2018, my partner and I took a short trip over to Horbury to sample the treats on offer at Bar Biccari on behalf of TopicUK magazine. Read my review below.

OK, there are going to be some changes around here! Now that TopicUK magazine has a Yorkshire-wide distribution, I’ll need to explore what’s on offer in other towns and cities around the county. But with a whole region available for me to pick from, the choices of where to go next are dizzying so I’m open to suggestions! If you’d like your restaurant, gastro-pub or diner to be covered in these pages, do get in touch.

I’m going to start my wider investigation of Yorkshire’s eateries with an Italian restaurant and bar in the centre of Horbury: yes, I know, it’s still part of the Wakefield metropolitan district, but, baby steps and all that: I have to begin somewhere!

The written history of Horbury appears to start with the Domesday Book of 1086 in which it is recorded as Orberie. The fact that the settlement already existed to merit an entry in Domesday suggests, of course, that the town’s history goes back even further. The name derives from the Old English word ‘horu’ which means dirty or muddy land and ‘burh’, or burg, which means a fortified settlement or habitation. So, Horbury can be said to indicate some form of stronghold on muddy land. Its proximity to the River Calder probably attests to its strategic and etymological origins – it was possibly a place where the river could be forded before bridges were built.

Today, Horbury is a busy town of around 10,000 inhabitants with an interesting and eclectic mix of buildings dating from medieval to modern times and with some fine Georgian and Victorian properties, including the handsome St Peter and St Leonard’s Church by John Carr (1723-1807), often referred to as ‘John Carr of York’ (where he was to become Lord Mayor in 1770 and again in 1785) but who was actually a son of Horbury.

Bar Biccari is one of the more prominent buildings on the town’s High Street, not least because this former bank building is situated in a commanding position on the junction of Highfield Road and Westfield Road. Boasting an imposing domed tower and oculus window, the building, in brick and stone with leaded windows featuring stained glass, dates from 1910 when it was built for the United Counties Bank (absorbed by Barclays in 1916). When the bank moved out, the building became a pub for a while but was transformed once more some eight years ago when Bar Biccari opened its doors for the first time.

The business is owned by David and Judith Rayner together with Lindsay Dawson. On a day-to-day basis, it is managed by general manager Wil Frost who looked after my partner and me on the night of our visit one pleasant summer’s evening in July (just a week before Wil’s wedding to David and Judith’s daughter!).

We were greeted by bar man Eddie who quickly made us feel at home as we ordered some drinks and perused menus while we waited for our table. The restaurant was already throbbing – all the tables were either occupied or reserved (so take a hint and book early if you don’t want to be disappointed!). Meanwhile, a garlic-and-tomato pizza bread helped to stave off the hunger pangs and a few minutes later head waiter Massimo was showing us to our seats and taking our orders.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest dishes that satisfy and my partner began with an Insalata Caprese (buffalo mozzarella, fresh beef tomatoes with balsamic reduction, fresh basil and green oil) while I had Bruschetta ai Pomodorini (toasted slices of altamura bread topped with vine cherry tomato, garlic and finished with basil oil). Both were fresh and light, getting us off to a very good start.

For mains, we moved on to sample a vegetarian Pasta Forno (slowly baked penne pasta with mushrooms to ‘nonna’s secret recipe’ – also available with meat!) and a Gnocchi Ortolano (baked roast vegetable gnocchi with crumbled goats’ cheese). Again, both perfectly cooked by head chef Gianluca Chiarelli and his team.

Gianluca hails from Settimello, a little village seven miles from Florence. He trained in Florence and gained experience working in restaurants in Italy and on board a cruise ship where Gianlucca met his English partner. In England, Gianlucca has worked in a number of successful restaurants, including Gordon Ramsey’s in Chelsea, The Box Tree in Ilkley with Simon Gueller and Oulton Hall in Rothwell. This led him to open his own café bistro which he ran for 4 years before taking up his current position at Bar Biccari.

By now we were beginning to feel the pull on our waistbands but couldn’t resist the desserts – a classic Tiramisu for my partner and Italian Gelato for me. Coffees to finish the meal and we were replete. All that was left was to speak to Wil about the restaurant to get some more background on the restaurant and the family.

First the name: Bar Biccari takes its name from Biccari, a town in southeast Italy where, it turns out, David Rayner’s mother comes from, so Biccari is a place with which the Rayner family (and now Wil) are very familiar, so it is no surprise that they wanted to recreate something of the feel of Italy in their restaurant. Wil explained that they would like to open an Italian-style deli counter within the restaurant from where they can sell imported Italian foods to local residents. He feels there would be a demand for quality Italian foodstuffs, and I’m sure he’s right.

Until then, customers will just have to make do with having their meals cooked for them in the restaurant which can accommodate 50 diners at a time and is open evenings Tuesday to Sunday and lunchtimes Thursday to Saturday. There’s an à la carte menu, a mid-week menu (with two courses for £12.95 or three for £15.95) and a specials board.

If you’re just looking for a drink and light nibbles, there is a spacious upstairs Prosecco Bar with an outside terrace, where a range of drinks, antipasti and pizzas can be enjoyed. There are also special event nights – have a look at the website for details.

So there you are. Bar Biccari was a real treat and we enjoyed our visit. If you’re looking for good food and a friendly welcome, try Bar Biccari. I’m sure that you too will love it. In fact, you can bank on it!

My partner and I dined as guests of Bar Biccari.

Bar Biccari, 2 Highfield Road, Horbury, WF4 5LU

Website: www.barbiccari.co.uk Telephone: 01924 263626

With Cream on Top: afternoon tea at Wakefield café Mocca Moocho

Always something to tempt at Mocca Moocho!

In June 2018, I had something to celebrate – and Mags and Jamie Blackshaw, owners Wakefield café Mocca Moocho invited me and my partner in as guests to help make the occasion even more memorable. I wrote up my experience with a review for TopicUK magazine – and you can read it here.

There’s something quintessentially British about the idea of ‘afternoon tea’. It conjures up images of delicate finger sandwiches, fancy cakes and scones with jam and cream, all served on fine chinaware in a lovely sunny setting on a summer’s day or cosily by the fireside in the deep of winter: lashings of hot tea, the chink of cup against saucer and the sound of sparkling conversation.

Historically, our notions of afternoon tea can be traced back to Anna, the 7th Duchess of Bedford who is reputed to have started the trend back in 1840. Apparently, she felt a bit peckish one afternoon and asked her staff to bring her something light to eat with a pot of tea. This became a habit and she started inviting friends in to join her. (In those days, dinner at the finest houses was served around 8 pm, so they needed something in between lunch and dinner).

Before you could say ‘cream scone’, the habit had become a tradition – and a fashionable one at that. By the 1880s, the refined ladies and gentlemen of high society were dressing in their elegant clothes to share tea, sandwiches and cakes at formal afternoon teas served at around four o’clock each day.

Now, of course, most of us are too busy to take a formal afternoon tea every day so the words ‘afternoon tea’ have become synonymous with refinement and elegance and perhaps most of all they hint hint at something that’s a touch special. The best china, the tiered cake stands and the fanciest of cakes are brought together to create a moment of calm when friends and family can indulge a love of cake while catching up with each other on their latest news.

There’s an afternoon tea for every budget and, however mouth-watering the food, some of the prices charged by the poshest hotels can perhaps best be described as, well, eye-watering! But, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to spend a fortune to enjoy a quality afternoon tea! I’ve found somewhere where it’s possible to sample some delightful sandwiches, some delicious cakes and the fruitiest of scones, all served with tea or coffee, for under £10! Where, I hear you ask, is such incredible value available?

Well, right in the centre of Wakefield is the answer. Yes, at the long-established and well-known café Mocca Moocho, it’s possible to enjoy a lovely afternoon tea for just £9.95 per person. If you want to add a bit of fizz, and you can afford it at these prices, you can spoil yourself with a glass of sparkling Rosé wine for just £5 extra – and what a treat you will have!

My partner and I enjoyed such a treat one afternoon in early May when we called in to see proprietors Mags and Jamie Blackshaw who opened the business some ten years ago (they won a Wakefield Civic Society Design Award back in 2009 for their premises) and now employ 15 staff, a number that goes up to around 20 during the summer months to meet the extra demand.

Some readers may remember Mags and Jamie running August Day in the Ridings Centre and before that when they ran Colonel Mustard in Wood Street. Altogether, they’ve been part of the Wakefield catering scene for some 30 years but they first came together a couple of years before that while working for a large national retailer, something they’d been doing for many years. They discovered a shared a dream of running a business of their own. Mags took a catering management degree course to prepare and they found their niche in Wakefield in the coffee and café trade. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, their fully licensed café in Cross Square is a hive of activity with business people dropping in for a coffee and a chat with colleagues, shoppers resting their feet and their bags over a cuppa, and visitors to the city perhaps having a breather from sight-seeing.  Whether you’re looking for breakfast or lunch, or just a coffee and a bun, there’s plenty of seating in the café – there’s a large upstairs space as well as the seating on the ground floor, and, of course, you can sit out front where you can people watch from under the awning. Whether you’re there to chat or to work, there’s free wi-fi available. Should you venture upstairs, look out for Jamie’s bookshelves from which he offers second-hand books for sale from his personal collection of hand-bound Folio Society editions.

The café is open from 8 am until 4.30 pm Mondays to Saturdays and from 9 am until 4 pm on Sundays. Group bookings are possible, both during opening hours and for special events outside these times – just get in touch to enquire.

So, what was out afternoon tea like? Well, it was, of course, truly scrumptious. We were there as guests of Mags and Jamie but as it was part of a personal celebration too, we just had to have that glass of Rosé to get things started. Yes, we had the tiered cake stands, which always add a touch of style, and, believe me, they came fully laden! In fact, we were defeated and ended up asking for the proverbial doggie bag to take some of the cakes home with us for later. All in all, it was a very enjoyable afternoon and I think the Mocca Moocho afternoon tea must be one of the best-value treats in Wakefield!

If you fancy experiencing a Mocca Moocho afternoon tea for yourself, please note that you will usually need to book at least 2 days in advance. You can do this by telephone or via the café’s Facebook page.

Mocca Moocho, 10 Cross Square, Wakefield, WF1 1PH.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/moccamoocho/

Telephone: 01924 361755

Start your afternoon tea in style!
A stack of tasty treats!

These scones take some beating!

The New Inn at Walton is a thriving pub and restaurant at the heart of a very old village

The New Inn at night

In March 2018, I visited the New Inn at Walton on behalf of TopicUK magazine. This is my review.

There was a time when you could have reached The New Inn at Walton by land or by sea. OK, that last part might be a bit of a stretch, but Wakefield was once an inland port, navigable to (and from) the sea, and the canal system enabled boats to reach just about anywhere inland. The Barnsley Canal, dug in the late 1790s used to connect Barnsley and Wakefield and passed close by the pub until the canal was closed in 1953. Although the canal has long gone with some sections filled in and even built on, there is a group, The Barnsley, Dearne & Dove Canals Trust, who are campaigning to get the canal re-opened. Until that lucky day, though, the only way to get to The New Inn is by road.

The name ‘New Inn’ seems a misnomer for such an old building although it must, of course, have been new once upon a time. Walton is known to have been settled in Anglo-Saxon times (when it was known as known as Weala-tun, meaning ‘village of the Welshmen’) and is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086 as Waleton.

Records show that there were at least six licensed houses in Walton at one time. As well as The New Inn, there were The Cross Keys, The Star Inn, The Rose and Crown, The Boot and Shoe and an apparently unnamed beer house on Greenside, not to mention numerous other unlicensed ones.(1) That there were so many thriving pubs in the past can probably be attributed to the fact that many navvies came to the area to help with building the canals and later the railways, adding to the number of agricultural labourers and coal miners already working in there.

Today, though, The New Inn is the only pub in the village and is run by husband and wife team Ria Brooks-Bell and Iain Bell. They bought the property in November 2011 and invested heavily in the premises and the business to create a thriving village pub and restaurant that offers visitors a warm welcome in comfortable surroundings.

Ria, who is a native of the village, and Iain each have a background in the licensed trade and were both working for the Slug and Lettuce chain when they first met ten years ago – Ria was employed in sales and marketing while Iain ran one of the chain’s pubs in Leeds.

Having ‘teamed up’ the couple took on responsibility for running the Slug and Lettuce in Deansgate, Manchester, but then, around seven years ago, Ria’s father, Adrian, drew their attention to the fact that The New Inn was being offered for sale and, with a bit of help from the bank of mum and dad, the couple decided to make an offer, which was accepted.

The pub is today very much a family affair; Ria’s father and two brothers help to keep the business running (if mostly by doing their socialising in the bar) while Ria’s mother, Jacqui, does the office work, allowing Ria to focus on running the pub and Iain to lead in the kitchen where he is head chef. It is perhaps a mark of their success that the pub now employs some 28 staff: it was certainly very busy when my partner and I dined there one Wednesday evening at the end of March as guests of the establishment.

As I’ve mentioned before, the life of a restaurant reviewer is not without its challenges. To do the job right, you have to work your way through three courses and so it was that we set about ordering our meals. For a starter, I opted for Salt and Pepper Halloumi Slices in batter. These come with a salad garnish and chilli chutney (although I had mine with ketchup!). I followed this with a Vegetarian Shepherd’s Pie served with ‘seasonal vegetables’ and then topped it all off with Caramel Apple Pie and custard. Had I been paying, that would have set me back £21.65, which is not at all bad for a three-course meal and typical of what you can expect to pay there.

Meanwhile, my partner chose dishes from the specials menu. He started with a Bread-Crumbed Brie Wedge, with mixed salad leaves, and for mains chose the Penne Pasta with Pesto, topped with rocket leaves and parmesan shavings. For dessert, he went with the ice cream. Again, the meal would have cost around the £20 mark. The specials’ menu is changed daily while the standard menu is refreshed every six months (so by the time you are reading this, the summer menus will be in use – you can check the menus on the pub’s website).

Should you be visiting at lunchtime, there is the option of a main course from a lunchtime specials menu for just £6.95 and even the offer of a sandwich, chips and a soft drink at the same price. No wonder the place does good business. Or how about an afternoon tea – you have to order these at least a day in advance but at just £12.95 per person (£17.95 if you want it with Prosecco), it certainly looks like good value.

The New Inn can cater for groups in the main restaurant area or there’s the option to book a private room – the Chef’s Table, which seats up to eight people for a private dining experience. Or try the upstairs dining room, Lock Eleven, named after the Eleventh Lock on the afore-mentioned Barnsley Canal which was closest to the pub, where you have the choice of dining inside and experiencing the cosy surroundings, or outside on the open air terrace enjoying views of the surrounding countryside. Lock Eleven can be booked for private groups of up to 20 people.

The New Inn is open from 12 noon until late, seven days a week, and food is served until 9 pm. There’s an extensive garden area with lots of seating and a large car park, there’s plenty of room for everyone. Taking the dog for a walk? Well, provided your pooch is well behaved, you’ll find your four-legged friend is even allowed into the tap room!

So, there you are. If you’ve not yet sampled The New Inn for yourself, there’s really no excuse. The service is friendly, the food is good and the price is right. The canal may no longer be there, but the road still leads to Walton….. Why not follow it there?

My partner and I dined as guests of the New Inn.

(1) Source: A History of Walton by Peter Wright Published in 1985 by Countryside Publications.

The New Inn, 144 Shay Lane, Walton, Wakefield, West Yorkshire WF2 6LA

Website: http://www.thenewinnwalton.co.uk/

Telephone: Tel. 01924 255447


With the opening of Robatary, Wakefield’s reputation for stylish new restaurants goes up another notch

A stylish interior creates atmosphere

In January 2018, I was asked to review Robatary, then Wakefield’s newest restaurant, on behalf of TopicUK magazine. Here’s what I wrote at the time (and I have been back several times since!).

You may already be familiar with 25-27 Northgate in Wakefield. For many years the premises operated as the popular, if unassuming, Qubana Restaurant and Grill – but the building fell quiet when Qubana picked up its skirts and moved across town to the spacious former Barclays Bank building at the end of Wood Street just over a year ago.

Since then, the Northgate premises have lain empty and were even boarded up for a while as work started on a major refurbishment project. The only clue to what was happening was the mysterious word ‘Robatary’ etched across the front. The business is still owned by Jenny Thompson and Matthew Burton, who also own the new Qubana, but they needed a different brand for their ‘old’ restaurant, and Wakefield’s bon vivants waited with breath abated to see what would emerge.  

Finally, the shuttering was removed and all was revealed. Just a week before Christmas 2017, the new place opened its doors to the paying public. And that word ‘Robatary’? It turns out to be the name of the restaurant!

The word actually has a Japanese origin (although that is the only connection the restaurant has with that country – the food is British, albeit with a twist). Apparently, a robata is a sort of charcoal grill used to prepare food in Japan. Robatayaki is a form of cooking in which food is cooked over hot charcoal, rather like a barbecue but, in the case, indoors. The charred taste that the hot coals infuse into the food, be it meat, fish or vegetables, brings the flavours to life.

Keen as ever to sample something new, I booked a table for two and my partner and I went along to see what it was like.

From the moment you step inside, it’s obvious that everything has changed! In fact, the only carry-over from the old Qubana is manager Gareth Quinn whose task it was to look after us as we sampled the food and I spoke to the customers and generally wandered around the place with my camera aloft.

Gareth brought us menus and took our orders. For a Tuesday evening, the restaurant was nicely busy, despite it being a very wintry night. (Honestly it was! Snow was falling outside as we arrived and not even in Wakefield were people taking advantage of the outdoor seating!), Seating inside is a mix of open plan and private booths (we had a booth, giving us a slightly raised vantage point to see what was going on) and, when the weather turns warmer, the glass doors facing onto the street can be opened up in the European manner.

One thing that Jenny and Matthew do well is style. Visitors to the new Qubana have been very impressed with what has been achieved with the old bank but here at Robatary, the more modern building needed something contemporary. There’s a mix of textures, wood, (faux) concrete – one wall reminded me of the Hepworth!, ceramic tiles, glass, chrome, and steel, giving off a slightly industrial vibe, but reined back and softened with velvet and leather upholstery and fluffy cushions. Carefully chosen background music adds a touch of class and even a slightly sultry mood.

But of course, we were there to sample the food, not just ogle the soft furnishings. The menu was still slightly experimental at the time of our visit and was being updated after the pre-Christmas opening. The intention is that the menu, devised by executive chef Craig England, will follow the seasons and will be updated throughout the year.

To begin your meal, you can select from a number of nibbles, breads and charcuterie dishes or go straight to the starters. Although a ‘grill’, the restaurant caters well for vegetarians. The main courses are listed under three headings – Land, Sea and Earth (for which read meat, fish and vegetable) – and there’s a fourth section offering a variety of steaks. All can be ordered with side dishes and sauces.  There’s a handful of desserts (or ‘treats’ as they are listed) from which to select to finish off your meal.  Prices are £5 – £7.50 for starters (nibbles range from £3 to £4.50), and mains run from £12 to £17 – but be prepared to pay more for a steak! Sides and accompaniments are charged extra.  Desserts are all priced at £5.

As regular readers would expect, my partner and I opted for the vegetarian dishes. For starters, I had the grilled spiced courgette skewers (the spiciness dialled right down which, for me, was good) while my partner had the goat’s curd (which looks and tasted better than it perhaps sounds!). These were both light and beautifully presented, setting us up well for the main courses: wood-roasted aubergine in my case and homemade gnocchi for my partner. For desserts (sorry, treats), we had Key lime tart, served with clotted cream, (me) and wood-roasted rhubarb, served with ice cream. These were served ‘deconstructed’ and again very artistically arranged. The cost of our meal would come in at a little over £20 per person plus drinks, which is very reasonable.

So, what did we think? Well, in terms of style, the friendliness of the service, food quality and overall presentation, Robatary comes out very well indeed; it will certainly give some of the local competition a run for their money. And that wasn’t just our verdict. Chatting to some of the other customers, they also thought very highly of the establishment.

The restaurant is conveniently located and is at the heart of the city’s burgeoning restaurant scene. It is open daily from 12 noon (until late) and small groups can be catered for but, as Gareth pointed out, the restaurant is really designed to provide for a more intimate dining experience.

Gareth also told me that his ambition is to make Robatary the best restaurant in Wakefield. On the basis of our evening there, he’s well on the way to achieving that goal.

My partner and I dined as guests of Robatary.

Robatary, 25-27 Northgate, Wakefield, WF1 3BJ. Tel: 01924 211904.

Website: www.robatary.co.uk

Art on a plate – the Hepworth Wakefield Café is now ‘under new management’

I think it is fair to say that, before the arrival of the Hepworth gallery, Wakefield had rather turned its back on the River Calder. Unlike other towns and cities, we weren’t making very much of our ‘waterfront’. The railway line high on the embankment from Kirkgate Station and running parallel with Ings Road rather delineated the city centre – why would anyone want to venture down to the riverside?

That all changed when The Hepworth Wakefield opened its doors back in the spring of 2011 but despite its success at bringing visitors to the city, the gallery still feels like it’s a bit out on a limb, part of Wakefield’s cultural offer and yet slightly apart from the city itself. That too will change in the not-too-distant future if, as expected, the eagerly awaited plans to convert the former Rutland Mills into “a vibrant mixed-use creative quarter for collaborative partnerships in music, film, TV, design and new media” come to fruition: the Hepworth Wakefield will find itself part of a much bigger waterfront ‘arts scene’, complete with boutique hotel.

Galleries and cafés go together, of course, but the newly re-vamped The Hepworth Café is something a bit different from the usual offering. Since 20th October 2017, the management of the café has been in new hands: independent Leeds coffee shop House of Koko (Shanshan Zhu and Chris Ball) has partnered with Wakefield’s MasterChef quarter-finalist Chris Hale and his wife, Sophie Mei Lan, to take over the running of The Hepworth Café.

New management, new approach and totally independent: the café is a mix of café and restaurant. It offers a simple range of dishes that will appeal to both vegetarian and vegan palettes but which can then be augmented with a number of extras and side dishes to cater for the omnivores among us. For example, when I visited the new café back in November 2017, I had the ‘The Full Vegan’ (£8.45) which consists of homemade baked beans, sweetcorn fritters, half an avocado, and crispy red onions, salad and toast. (It also comes with tomato and chilli jam, but I passed on this as I never did acquire a taste for chilli.) While this was a real plateful in itself – warming on a cold day and nourishing – you can, if you wish, add a poached egg for £1.50 or smoked salmon, crispy bacon or smoked chicken for £2 each. Skinny fries at £2.95, coleslaw at £1.95 or a side salad (also £1.95) can also be added to any dish.

Meanwhile, my partner opted for the ‘Homemade Baked Beans’, a dish which consisted of chick peas, butter beans and kidney beans with toasted pumpkin seeds, all served on sourdough bread. The dish can be had with or without shaved parmesan. This had a menu price of just £6 but again can be ordered with any of the extras mentioned above.
Among the other dishes available, there’s also a Steak and Ale Pie for £8.95, Corn Fritters and Avocado Stack for £6.95 and a couple of salads (Chicken Caesar and Autumnal Salad, £6.95 and £5.95 respectively).

For desserts, you can choose buttermilk pancakes or select from a range of cakes and pastries available at the counter. Sophie told me that they wanted to keep the menu simple to start with and then build it up once they got to know their customers better. She takes great pride in pointing out that ingredients are sourced from local suppliers wherever possible.

Alongside a range of beers and Fentimans soft drinks, The Hepworth Café builds on the experience of Shanshan and Chris from House of Koko in bringing speciality coffee to Wakefield – something of a first for the city. As with House of Koko, The Hepworth Café serves North Star Coffee‘s Czar Street seasonal espresso. A brew bar offers single origin coffees from around the globe. Tea drinkers are not forgotten: the café serves 20 loose leaf teas, all weighed, timed and brewed to perfection – and there’s always a good cup of Yorkshire tea on hand.

The café employs a team of 20 friendly staff. The business partners each have distinct roles but show a willingness to lend a hand wherever it is needed: Shanshan is in charge of front of house management while Chris Hale works in the kitchen as Executive Chef. A quarter-finalist in the 2016 MasterChef TV competition, self-taught Executive Chef Chris continues to run his Pop-Up North catering and pop-up restaurant business alongside his work at the café while Sophie leads on the media and public relations aspects of the café. Chris Ball from House of Koko is responsible for marketing and design. (Sophie is a blogger and freelance journalist who is also part of the editorial team for the Wakefield edition of TopicUK, for whom I originally wrote this article.)

The café retains the dark wood chairs and tables that regular visitors from the past will be familiar with but there are also soft squishy sofas and even ‘work stations’ for people who want to sit and work while drinking their coffee.

Wherever you sit, you’ll find yourself amid potted and hanging plants which add a welcome touch of greenery and visual contrast while also helping to soften the space and making it feel more intimate. All around the café you will see unusual houseplants, succulents, cacti, ferns, concrete pots and plant hangers supplied by Yorkshire-based plant specialist geo-fleur and these are available to buy. Additionally, The Hepworth Café sells its own range of gifts with produce from across Yorkshire – from the best pickles and condiments to sweet treats – and they also offer hampers. There really is no need to go away empty handed!

So, there you have it – a gallery café which can claim to be a destination in itself. But don’t just take my word for it: get yourself down to The Hepworth Café and try it out. Oh, and while you’re there, you might just want to take in some art as well…..

My partner and I dined as guests of The Hepworth Café. A version of this article first appeared in the January 2018 edition of TopicUK magazine for Wakefield.

My Perfect Restaurant

I’ve been doing restaurant reviews for Wakefield’s business-to-business magazine TopicUK since 2013. In consequence, I’m often asked “What is your favourite restaurant?”

Well, if truth be told, there are several restaurants in the city that I’m rather fond of so it might be more tactful to explain what I look for when choosing somewhere to eat, whether dining in Wakefield – or further afield!

Service with a smile

I want to feel welcomed when I visit a restaurant and, if I’ve been there before, I want to be recognised for being a ‘repeat’ customer. I like to be shown to a good table, preferably with a view, and to exchange a few words of conversation with the proprietor and staff. I want to feel that they care about my experience of eating in their restaurant.

Food quality

I suppose I’m looking for something that I wouldn’t necessarily have at home; so something a little bit out of the ordinary, whether it be the ingredients or the way they are combined – the wow factor if you like – gets the establishment extra points. Having said that, some of the most enjoyable meals I’ve eaten have been the most simple – a plate of fresh pasta, cooked to perfection, can just as easily ‘cut the mustard’. There’s no need for a huge menu – but as a vegetarian, I do expect to see more than one veggie option on there, otherwise the only choice I have is whether to eat there or not.

Food quantity

I’m not a fan of gargantuan portions. Some restaurants seem to want to compete with their American cousins, piling food onto the plate, perhaps in the belief that customers associate value for money with sheer quantity! Eating a meal should not be a test of stamina and endurance. I also suspect that it’s actually bad for business: after all, if you’ve worked your way through a huge main course, who has room for pudding?

Presentation

Food needs to look good on the plate – and yes, when I say plate I mean plate. I’m not into gimmicks, thank you: you can keep your slates, shovels, cloth caps, glass jars, and so on. I like to eat off a clean plate with clean cutlery. Call me old fashioned but I do have my standards! Oh, and I do like a nice bit of napery. Clean white linen can really set off a table. But if there’s no tablecloth, one of my pet hates is to be shown to a table that has just been wiped down – still damp and usually streaky!

Of course, there are other factors to consider: cost, ambience, background music (or lack thereof), furnishings and décor, and so on, but, at the end of the day, what really makes for an enjoyable and memorable meal is the choice of table companions. Eating out with friends and family should be a social and sociable occasion. Conversation and repartee should flow freely (a little alcohol helps!) but that, of course, is something over which the restaurant has little control!

(First published in TopicUK for Wakefield in November 2017)

One of my favourite restaurants afloat: the Verandah Restaurant aboard Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth

Boosting the Ego!

In which I tell the story of how, in May 2017, I pootled over to Horbury to experience the delights of new restaurant, Ego @ the Bull’s Head.

Looking back through my diary, I discovered that it was in 2011 that members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club last ventured out along Horbury Bypass to the Bull’s Head so a revisit was somewhat overdue. However, a change of management and the introduction of a new brand provided just the push we needed so, at the beginning of May, Society members, myself included, went back to try out what is now, to give it its full name, ‘Ego Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar @ the Bull’s Head’. It gave me a chance to have a word with Martin England, the deputy manager, who was on duty that evening, to see if they would be interested in my doing a review for TopicUK Magazine. Not surprisingly, they agreed and so it was, a few nights later, that I returned with my partner for something of a ‘private viewing’ as guests of the establishment.

The first thing you notice on entering the building is that the place has been given a very stylish makeover by the new management. Smart and contemporary, with a mix of modern and retro touches, Ego is very much ‘bang on trend’ as they say in the fashion magazines. Larger than it looks from the outside – the restaurant can accommodate up to 130 people with an additional 32-seat private dining room (and there’s room for 36 more sitting outside if you fancy a bit of al fresco dining on a warm summer’s evening). It retains a pleasantly intimate feel, however, thanks to the sub-division of the interior spaces into a number of separate dining and seating areas.

The restaurant is now one of a group, part of Ego Restaurants Ltd, based in Bolton, with fifteen Ego establishments across the north of England and the Midlands. Ego @ The Bull’s Head opened in its new guise on 9th March this year. Judging by the number of customers, it is already proving to be very popular. Just as well, then, that there is a large car park!

So, what’s it like to eat there? Well, to start with, there’s a very comprehensive menu, with a strong Mediterranean influence. Special diets can usually be catered for – there’s a full gluten-free menu, for example, so be prepared to ask if you need something that’s a bit ‘off-menu’.

Prices are very reasonable and typical of what you might expect for the Wakefield area – starters from £4.95 to £7.95 and mains from £8.45 (for a pizza Margherita) up to £17.45 for the Andalusian Pork Fillet, wrapped in prosciutto, pan roasted & served with apricot & sherry cream sauce with dauphinoise potatoes. Steaks come in a tad more expensive at £18.85 for the 8oz Sirloin, £22.95 for the 10oz Ribeye, and £23.95 for the 8oz Fillet, each chargrilled & served with confit vine plum tomato, rocket & ‘skin-on’ fries. A variety of side orders can be added at extra cost. Desserts range from £4.95 to £6.45 but there is also a number of ‘Ego Minis’ – mini desserts with any tea or coffee included for under £5.

Look out for the fixed-price menu which is served from Monday to Friday until 7pm, Saturday until 6pm, and Sunday from 5pm onwards. This offers 2 courses for £12.95 or 3 courses for £15.95.

Menus are available to view on-line should you wish to do your homework in advance and it’s definitely worth having a look as there are special offers and/or themes on most days of the week – Monday’s offer is two courses from the à la carte menu for just £19.95 each including a full bottle of wine per person; Tuesday is Steak Night where 8oz steaks starting at just £10; Wednesday is Tapas Day, with three tapas dishes for £12, offered all day; Thursday is Kebab Night with Kebabs starting at £10; and on Sundays, roasts start at just £10.95.

There’s a good wine list too and, should you wish to have a cocktail, you’ll be well catered for with a large selection available: better still, the classic cocktails are ‘2-4-1’ every day until 7pm! Nor do you have to miss out if you’re the designated driver for the evening – the list includes some non-alcoholic cocktails as well.

If you see yourself becoming a regular at Ego, it is possible to join their Ego Club. Not only will this entitle you to receive their newsletter and details of special offers, but it will also give you some specific benefits such as 25% off the à la carte menu from Sunday to Friday, a free 3-course meal on your birthday, and a free bottle of Prosecco on a special anniversary day of your choice!

When I visited with the Civic Society’s Dining Club, the friendliness of the staff shone through. When I returned a few nights later, my partner and I were looked after personally by the manager, Craig Humphriss, who made time to answer our questions in between serving and chatting to other customers and he introduced me to the chef, Emma, whose culinary efforts we had sampled during the evening. The food was of very good quality and well-prepared while the portion size was more than generous; so much so in fact, that we each had to settle for one of the Ego Minis when it came to dessert!

All in all, we had a very pleasant evening and I can certainly recommend Ego @ The Bull’s Head to you – definitely not one to be by-passed!



Havana a good time at Qubana! Sampling the Cuban delights of Wakefield’s newest restaurant

I’m going to begin this review, if you’ll indulge me, with a short history lesson.

The banking firm of Leatham, Tew and Co was originally established in Doncaster and Pontefract in 1801. In 1809, the bank acquired premises in Wakefield when it took over the failing Wakefield firm of Ingram, Kennett and Ingram and opened a branch on the corner of Wood Street and Silver Street.

In 1880, the bank commissioned the building of imposing new premises, designed for them by Leeds architects J Neill and Son. This new building, still on the Wood Street site, opened to customers in 1881. It’s actually two buildings: look at the Wood Street elevation and you’ll notice the main banking hall to the left and then a smaller, ‘mini-me’ version to the right. This smaller building was designed as residential accommodation for the bank manager! (You’ll also notice the dates 1809 and 1881 inscribed above the windows.)

Leatham, Tew and Co continued in existence as an independent bank until their merger with Barclays Bank in 1906. The premises on the corner of Wood Street remained in use as a bank until Barclays moved to Trinity Walk in 2011, ending a banking tradition on the site that had endured for over two centuries.

When one of the city’s grand old buildings falls empty, one can only wonder what fate will befall it. When a business as important as a major bank moves out, there is inevitably a knock-on impact for neighbouring properties, and I suspect that many businesses in and around the Wood Street area noticed the drop in footfall when Barclays moved away. So it was with some considerable relief that we saw plans being submitted last year to bring this landmark building back into use as a restaurant (with flats above) and to help breathe new life into the street.

Those of you who dine out in Wakefield may already be familiar with Qubana, a restaurant that has traded with considerable success from its Northgate premises for several years now. The re-location to Wood Street has enabled owner Matthew Burton and his partner Jenny Thompson to develop their ideas to create a smart and very stylish bar and restaurant that is sure to be a major draw for anyone looking for a lively and glamorous evening out in the city.

As the photographs show, having bought the building, the new owners have gone to considerable lengths and not inconsiderable expense (around £1M) to renovate the interior of the former banking hall. High ceilings and a mix of new and retained plasterwork, exposed brickwork, chandeliers, comfortable seating, some of it in high-backed booths, and lots and lots of pictures add touches of elegance while a spacious bar area and open kitchen give the place a vibrant atmosphere. There’s also a new rear entrance onto George and Crown Yard and an open air roof-top terrace on the first floor, La Terraza, with its own bar.

The food is a mix of Cuban/South American and European tapas – the Qubana website says they take ‘the sensual Latin flair of Cuba and combine it with the hearty, honest flavours of Spain to create dishes that perfectly fuse these two cultures’. It also says that all their ingredients are sourced as locally as possible before being treated ‘with all the know-how of a Catalonian’!

I can certainly vouch for the quality of the food. When we visited the restaurant in March 2017, my two dining companions and I enjoyed a mix of tapas and main course dishes – I’m told that the chicken Jambalaya with King Prawns was especially good. As regular readers would expect, I sampled a selection of the vegetarian tapas and found that four or five dishes between two of us was more than adequate, allowing plenty of room for dessert (and just as well I did – the Turron Cheesecake I ordered was light but very filling!). Tapas dishes start at just £3.50 while main course dishes range from £12 to £17 – a little more if you want one of the grilled steaks. I was the designated driver for the evening so contented myself with a soft drink but large glasses of white and rosé wine were consumed by my fellow diners. Maybe next time I’ll get to try something more exotic from the extensive drinks menu which includes draught and bottled beers, wines, cocktails, gins, rums and, of course, Daiquiris and Mojitos.

Presentation and service could not be faulted. Although we were there on a Tuesday evening, perhaps one of the quieter nights in Wakefield, the restaurant was busy with a steady stream of customers and the staff were kept fully occupied. (I’m told that there are some 40 staff currently employed by the restaurant under the overall managership of Gareth Quinn and more are being recruited. I didn’t get to meet Gareth but assistant managers Craig Cizic and Faye Capitano made sure that my party and I were looked after.)

The restaurant opens at 10.00 am on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays when a ‘brunch’ menu of light snacks is available until 12 noon when the lunchtime menu (served from 12 until 5) takes over, offering a mix of sandwiches, wraps and tapas dishes. On other days, Monday to Thursday, the restaurant opens at noon. It stays open until 10 pm except for Fridays and Saturdays when it is open until 11 pm.

You can see the full menus on the website. Watch out for special live music nights and, if you are a party of up to 10 looking for something special, ask about the The Vault, a private dining room which, as its name suggests, is inside the former bank’s vault.

Whatever time you visit, if my evening there is anything to go by, you’ll be sure to be Havana good time at Qubana!

Qubana, 1-3 Wood Street, Wakefield, WF1 2EL

Website: www.qubana.co.uk