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

José’s Tapas Restaurant – “where friends meet to eat”

This article first appeared in the March 2017 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

There are some obvious benefits to being a restaurant reviewer. That I get to try out different restaurants and taste all kinds of delectable food goes without saying, of course, but, in what is now nearly four years since I started writing these reviews for TopicUK, I have also had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people, from restaurant proprietors and managers, to the chefs and waiters without whom no restaurant could succeed.

In my reviews, I often make reference to how cosmopolitan Wakefield has become over recent years with many and varied culinary delights from around the world being available and yet, somehow, I haven’t before managed to fit in a review of a Spanish restaurant. That is an omission I can now correct following a recent visit to José’s Tapas Restaurant.

Now, regular restaurant goers in Wakefield may well have met the proprietors, husband and wife José and Sofia Escribano before – they used to have a restaurant at Newmillerdam and José has worked in a number of restaurants, both in the city and in Leeds, including Rinaldi’s and Bella Roma, before opening this newest venture in Cross Street, Wakefield. As his name suggests, José hails from Spain where his home city was Madrid, although he has been in the UK now for 37 years. Sofia meanwhile, was born in Leeds but to an Italian mother and Hungarian father.

On the night we visited, Sofia was front of house, supported by waiters Maria and Franklin. While Sofia sorted out our orders, José took charge in the kitchen with Paco, the second chef, helping to prepare meals for a steady stream of customers throughout the evening. Sofia was keen to impress that the restaurant, although bearing José’s name above the door was very much a family affair. Their son, Richard, had worked up the business plan and even done some of the fitting out while other members of their family – daughters Maria and Elizabeth and son Jonathan, along with daughter-in-law Liz – all helped out. Sofia even pointed to the table cloths and said that her mother had helped with the stitching and hemming. As well as family involvement, José and Sofia have a team of six staff to call on.

As the name suggests, this is the place to come for tapas. The last time I dined there, it had been with around 30 members of the Wakefield Civic Society Dining Club on an evening when we had taken over the whole restaurant and Sofia and José had organised a sampling menu where members were invited to try out lots of tapas dishes – and there really is a good mix to choose from, with over 20 different tapas listed on the menu, including ones with chicken, chorizo, ham, prawns and anchovies.

For the purpose of this review, there were just two of us but, as both my partner and I are vegetarian, we dispensed with the menu and left it to Sofia to make recommendations for us. She did explain that the secret with tapas was not to order too many dishes – she recommended that around five or six sharing tapas dishes would probably work for two people – there was always the option of ordering more later on, of course, if appetites allowed. You can see the menu on their website – and it’s worth taking a look beforehand.

Our meal started with pitted marinated olives (José marinates his own olives so that they are not too salty), bread and cheese, mushrooms in garlic and olive oil, tortilla (Spanish omelette – very light and fluffy!), tomatoes and asparagus, and some slightly spicy potatoes (when I say spicy, it was nothing we couldn’t handle!). There was also a basket of bread with butter to accompany.

For our main courses, José, knowing that we were vegetarian as I had mentioned this to him when I booked our table, had prepared a butternut squash for us, served with lightly roasted tomatoes and sauce. This was followed by a lovely vegetable paella for us to share.

At this point, I was ready for a lie down – the food was simple but delicious and each dish visually and aromatically appealing but there comes a time when the belt needs to be undone a notch. It was just then that Sofia asked me if we would like dessert..….at first, we declined, but our will was weak and before we knew it we found ourselves eating a creamy and fruity lemon cheesecake, although we did have just the one between us: there are limits!

Since opening, the restaurant has featured regularly at the top of the TripAdvisor customer reviews for Wakefield and has proved very popular with the Wakefield public. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch from 12 noon until 2 pm and then again in the evening from 5.30 pm until 9.30 pm, the restaurant can also be booked for private parties on Sundays and Mondays. Whenever you are planning your visit, it’s always advisable to book to avoid disappointment, especially at busy times such as Friday and Saturday evenings, and do remember to pass on details of any special dietary requirements at the time of booking. The restaurant can serve vegetarian, vegan and gluten free dishes but it always helps to let them know in advance if you can.

We had a really enjoyable evening with José and Sofia and had plenty of time to chat with them between courses. It was clear that they are passionate about the food they serve and that they are really proud of what they and their family are doing. Their enthusiasm really does shine through!

But don’t just take my word for it: go in and see it for yourselves!

http://josestapasrestaurant.com/

9-11 Cross Street, Wakefield, WF1 3BW

Eastern promise: Street Food offers diners a blend of Iranian and Turkish delights!

This article first appeared in the January 2017 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

Over the last few years, there’s a part of Wakefield that has become a sort of ‘restaurant central’ for the city centre. Walk down Northgate from Rishworth Street towards the Bull Ring, turn right and right again and walk up Wood Street. Then turn right down Cross Street and re-enter Northgate. You’ll have walked around a third of a mile. But count the restaurants as you go – how many do you think you’ll see? 5? 6? 7? Believe it or not, you’ll actually find over a dozen restaurants in this relatively small area, and that’s not counting the cafés, the takeaways and the pubs that serve food.

In the last edition of TopicUK, I wrote about one of Wakefield’s newest restaurants, the New York Italian Kitchen on the corner of Cross Street and Northgate. Having ‘filed my copy’ I went off on holiday. When I came back, well, knock me down with a feather, but I quickly spotted that yet another new restaurant had opened its doors – this time one called Street Food which is also to be found in Northgate in a converted retail unit next door to what was, until recently, Wakefield’s main post office.

Not surprisingly, given my task here is to review the city’s restaurants, I toddled along to make an appointment to view and proprietor Paul Wiper and I fixed up a date for me to dine at the restaurant. With notebook and camera in hand, I turned up at the agreed hour to set about sampling the fare.

As I said, this is a former retail unit – formerly part of a carpet shop. Well, the carpets have gone and Paul has given the shop a complete makeover to achieve a stripped back, almost industrial look. The kitchen area is front of house and an integral part of the restaurant area, so you can see what’s cooking and how it is being cooked. Large plate glass windows all round add light and give diners uninterrupted views of what’s happening in the streets outside. At night time, the restaurant sheds a warm glow onto the pavement enticing you to enter. If you do, you’ll not be disappointed!

The food is a mix of Mediterranean and eastern dishes with a tilt towards Iranian and Turkish flavours. You’ll find charcoal grilled kebabs, lamb chops and halloumi along with stuffed vine leaves, roasted aubergine and hummus. Greek salads and Turkish breads also appear on the menu. Talking to owner Paul, I learned that he had long held an aspiration to run his own restaurant but wanted one that would serve his favourite foods, something he has certainly achieved here. The restaurant is also a complete change from his usual day job selling power and construction tools.

On the night we visited, my partner and I were greeted by lead waiter Sedat and fellow waiter Tyler. A number of tables were already occupied and people were clearly enjoying their meals; word obviously travels fast on this street. Menus were offered and we made our choices. Vegetarians are well catered for in the selection of starters but mains are mainly meat or fish based. However, let Sedat know if you want a vegetarian main course and he will offer you a mezze platter made up of a number vegetarian treats. We opted for two starters each and dessert (a home-made and traditional Turkish baklava, made by Sedat himself) and were well satisfied. There is also a self-service salad bar.

Street Food is described on its Facebook page as a “bright and contemporary restaurant serving eastern cuisine” offering a “relaxed and friendly atmosphere with fresh kebabs and cocktails. What more can you ask for?” Well, I can confirm that this description rings very true: the food we ate was well presented and beautifully cooked; the service was relaxed, informal and unhurried. What more could you ask for indeed!

One thing I’ve not mentioned yet is the prices. Street Food has to be offering some of the best value dishes in Wakefield at the moment. Starters cost from £2.50 and go all the way up to £4.50 while main courses range from £7.80 for charcoal grilled chicken breast pieces served with Turkish bread and salad, up to £9.80 for charcoal grilled lamb served with chips and salad. Desserts are just £2.70 for the baklava or, for the same price, there’s a traditional Iranian sponge flavoured with rose water and cardamom. Or if you want to splash out, there’s a chocolate fudge cake with fresh cream for only £3.50.

This extraordinary value for money also extends to the drinks and beverages – a post meal coffee comes in at £1.95 and a bottle of house wine can be had for a very reasonable £11.50.

Street Food is open seven days a week from 11.30 am until 10 pm Mondays to Saturdays and from 12 noon until 9 pm on Sundays.

It’s early days yet for this restaurant but I noticed that it’s already receiving good on-line reviews from customers. With this sort of value and quality, I have no doubt that Paul and his team of 8 staff will continue to win support from the public.

So there it is, and if you didn’t know already, the word on the street right now just has to be Street Food!

Street Food on Facebook

Unit 2, Trend House, Northgate, Wakefield