The Northern Belle

Travelling back in time – in which I take a train ride back to the ‘golden age’ of luxury travel to experience fine dining aboard the Northern Belle luxury train.

The Northern Belle – Photo courtesy of the company

The Northern Belle was originally launched in 2000 by Belmond, the company that runs the Venice Simplon Orient-Express (VSOE) and offers a similar standard of service and comfort to its European cousin. With its Pullman carriages and offer of fine dining experiences, the train epitomises the golden age of rail travel.

The train runs day excursions from various departure points around Britain and special events such as trips to the races.  Since 2017, it has been owned by Yorkshire businessman David Pitts who lives in Thurstonland and whose advertising business, DP Publicity (DPP), is based in Wakefield.

Although redolent of 1930s glamour, the Northern Belle isn’t quite what it seems! It actually consists of former British Railways carriages from the 1950s and 60s but they have been extensively and sympathetically re-engineered, refurbished and ‘retro-fitted’ to resemble the Pullman cars of the ’30s. They come complete with beautiful marquetry work, specially commissioned from the family firm of A Dunn and Son of Chelmsford in Essex. This company created panelling on some of the original Orient Express coaches as well as on the Pullman cars used in a number of the famous ‘Belle’ trains of the ’20s and ’30s including the much-loved Brighton Belle.

But enough background – let’s get back to my trip – a day out taken in July 2019!

A very early start!

When we arrived at Kirkgate Station in Wakefield, somewhat bleary-eyed as it was only 6.15am, we were greeted by a representative of the company who checked our names on her list and directed us over to Platform 2 where, in due course, we were joined by over 30 other guests. The train arrived on time and we found our carriage. In true Pullman tradition, each of the dining cars is given a name. In this case, the carriages are named after castles and stately homes, and our seats were to be found in ‘Alnwick’. We were shown to our seats by Thomas, one of the train managers, who then introduced us to Adam, our senior steward for the day (each carriage has dedicated stewards) and assistant steward, Paddy. No sooner were we seated than we were offered a ‘refreshing’ and sparking Bellini. It was only 6.55am but, yes please, I didn’t mind if I did! As the train made its way to our next pick-up point in Huddersfield, we sat back and relaxed while the bubbles did their work.

After gathering more passengers at Huddersfield, the train moved on towards Manchester Victoria for our third and final pick up. While we crossed through, and sometimes under, the Pennine terrain (including travelling through the three-mile long Standedge Tunnel), brunch was served. To start, there was natural yoghurt with ginger-seeped apricots, homemade granola and honey. Next, there was a cooked dish consisting of Bubble and Squeak, spinach and a vegetable ragù. (The non-vegetarians had Scottish Haddock with all the trimmings.) To finish, there was a selection of breads and cakes from the bakery basket and copious quantities of tea and coffee were served throughout.  

Somewhere in the middle of working our way through all that, we picked up the final passengers at Manchester and then made our way, via Crewe, to Stratford upon Avon, the train’s final destination, pulling in at around 12.15pm. Here, the passengers divided. Most had opted to spend the afternoon in the town whereas a group of around 30 of us were taken by coach to Warwick Castle for an afternoon visit. Two and a half hours later, we were on our way back to the train.

Adam, our carriage steward, waiting to welcome us back on board in Stratford on Avon.

The Northern Belle looked absolutely splendid as we arrived back in Stratford. All along the length of the train, doors were open, welcome mats were laid out along the platform and our uniformed staff stood to attention to receive us back on board. The train had been transformed once again and we regained our seats to discover that the tables had been laid ready for the five-course dinner with wine that was to come: beautiful fine china, some still bearing the VSOE legend, elegant glassware, and polished cutlery all glinting in the late afternoon light.

As the train pulled out of the station, we were offered a glass of champagne and canapés and before long, dinner was served. This comprised of a salad of goat’s cheese, pickled beets, and bread to start followed by a vegetable Wellington for main course. (The standard menu was Hot smoked salmon to start and a chicken and ham dish for mains.) Then came the cheese board, followed by dessert – a ‘summer berry Pimm’s jelly, elderflower and lemon verbena cream, and candied orange’. To conclude, there was coffee with petits fours. All the food was prepared on board by head chef, Matthew Green (who comes from Barnsley, continuing the ‘northern theme’) and his team.

Champagne and canapés are served before dinner….

Dinner is served at a leisurely pace with ample opportunity to talk to the stewards and train managers – even fellow passengers if you’re feeling sociable – and it was noticeably much more sociable on board after the champagne and the wine! The train returned along a different route from that taken on the outward journey so there was plenty to see in the evening sunshine as we made an unhurried return to Wakefield – the first dropping off point – and we arrived back all too soon at around 8.20 pm. We deboarded and watched as the train rolled out of the station on its way back to Huddersfield, and then Manchester, slightly envious of those passengers who had remained on board. But for us, the day was over – a short walk home and it was time to put the feet up, bask in the memories of a wonderful day and wonder what to have for supper…….sadly, there were no stewards on hand to serve it!

Need to know:

The Northern Belle will be making several other trips to various destinations from Yorkshire stations this year.

For details see website: northernbelle.co.uk

Telephone: 01270 899681

Cost of the Wakefield to Warwick Castle excursion was £390 per person including a £30 supplement pp for a guaranteed table for two. The ticket price included coach transfers and admission to the castle. Prices as at July 2019.

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

Settle Down Now – and join me for a trip on the Settle-Carlisle railway line

The Settle-Carlisle railway line is billed as the most scenic railway journey in England – and who am I to argue? By way of a post-birthday treat to self, I decided to take a steam special, The Dalesman, run by West Coast Railways.

A classic diesel locomotive hauling the train into Westgate Station, Wakefield
The journey actually began in Wakefield one morning back in June when my partner and I arrived at Westgate Station ready to catch the train as it glided smoothly in alongside us on Platform 2 at a rather civilised time of 9.45 am. At this point, the train was being hauled by a classic diesel locomotive in the maroon livery of the operating company. The train had begun its journey from York station earlier that morning, calling at Normanton and then at Wakefield’s Kirkgate Station before arriving at Westgate, so the train was already quite busy as we boarded to find our pre-booked and reserved seats.

Ready for breakfast
We had opted for the ‘Premier Dining’ service. Tables are available for two or four people. We chose to go for a table for two, although this upped the price further by £15 each. We were travelling in what had originally been first class inter-city carriages back in the day, now restored and furnished with comfortable armchairs. Dining tables are aligned to windows to make the most of the views (unlike many modern trains where you can easily find yourself sitting up against a pillar). There were curtains, table cloths and table lamps, and every table laid for the serving of breakfast!

Breakast is served!
Hardly had the train moved out of the station before our stewards were bringing round orange juice, tea and coffee. There was a choice of cereal, porridge or orange and grapefruit segments to start with, followed by the ‘full English’ (here entitled the ‘Great British Grill Tray’) or Grilled Manx Kippers. (A vegetarian option was available – although this had to be booked in advance, as we had done). To complete the breakfast, there was a selection of toast and croissants with jams and marmalade.

The steam locomotive, seen here at Carlisle Station
But I’m skipping ahead! Breakfast was actually a leisurely affair, so there was plenty of time to chat and look out of the window as we headed towards Leeds, our next stop, to pick up more passengers, and then onto Skipton, the final boarding station. At Hellifield, the diesel locomotive was exchanged for our steam engine.

For any steam buffs reading, the loco was former LMS Stanier heavy freight Class 8F 2-8-0 locomotive No. 48151, originally built in 1942 and now painted in the black livery of British Railways.

Crossing the Ribblehead Viaduct
We passed through Settle and headed on towards Carlisle. As we picked up speed, steam and smoke swept past the carriage windows. Soon we were crossing the famous Ribblehead Viaduct before plunging into the Stygian gloom of the Blea Moor tunnel, nearly a mile and a half long. More viaducts and tunnels followed as we approached Ais Gill Summit, the highest point on the line (and with a name that sounds as if it comes straight out of the pages of a Tolkien novel). Alongside, nature performed its magic: rolling hills, rocky limestone outcrops, verdant trees and grazing sheep, all beneath a cloudless cerulean sky.

The plaque on Appleby Station commemorating the late Eric Treacy, MBE, Bishop of Wakefield from 1968 to 1976
After a brief pause at Appleby to allow the locomotive to take on water and an opportunity to stretch our legs on the platform, we continued on to Carlisle as Yorkshire Dales gave way to Cumbrian Fells. Drinks were served ‘at seat’ and orders taken for wine to accompany the evening meal.

We arrived in Carlisle at around 2.30 pm and had a couple of hours to look around but such was the heat of the day that a few of us headed for a nearby coffee shop to take advantage of the air conditioning while drinking coffee and eating muffins!

The wine awaits!
Heading back to the train, we found our table was now laid for dinner and our selected bottle of wine waiting for us. It seemed pointless to delay, so we poured ourselves a glass apiece and toasted Carlisle as the train pulled out of the station just after 4.30 pm.

Dinner consisted of four courses plus coffee and chocolates, again with a vegetarian option (special diets can be catered for if notified at the time of booking). We had the Asparagus and Pea Girasol to start and this was followed by vegetarian lasagne and then Eton Mess. We had to decline the cheese board – too many muffins in that coffee shop!

The return journey was every bit as relaxed as the journey out, but mellowed even further by the bottle of wine and the slowly setting sun. The diesel locomotive was there at Hellifield to take over again for the final haul to Skipton, Leeds and back to Wakefield.

The sun had just about set as we pulled into Westgate Station at 9.20 pm, saying farewell to travelling companions we had come to know but who were staying on until the train reached its final destination of York.
All in all, this had been a thoroughly enjoyable and memorable day. You could even say I was chuffed!

Need to know:

The Dalesman is one of a number of special trains run by West Coast Railways throughout the year. Have a look at their website, www.westcoastrailways.co.uk, for more information or telephone them Monday – Friday from 9:30am – 4:00pm on 0844 850 3137.

Prices: Tickets start at £59 for an adult travelling in Standard Class (£25 for a child). For passengers wishing to travel in First Class, the price is £115 (£50 for children) and includes complimentary teas and coffees along with a Danish pastry served on the outward journey and a savoury of the day with cakes on the return journey. The Premier Dining offer costs £199 per person. Subject to availability, it is possible to reserve a table for two in First Class and Premier Dining at a supplement of £15 per person. (All prices for the York-Wakefield-Settle-Carlisle return journey described above and correct for 2017.)

There is a buffet car on the train from which it is possible to purchase refreshments.

[A version of this article appears in the September 2017 edition of TopicUK magazine – Wakefield issue]

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

Sizzling! A new menu, a new name and a new look greet diners at Restaurant 85 at Cedar Court Hotel, Wakefield.

This article first appeared in the September 2016 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

Many readers will have visited the Cedar Court Hotel, just off junction 39 of the M1 on Denby Dale Road, over the years. Whether for business or pleasure, a work do or a family occasion, the hotel has been home to many a function and celebration since it opened and has become something of an established institution in the city.

Now, the hotel is undergoing a major refurbishment with over half a million pounds spent so far. Many of the public areas have been transformed and two thirds of the bedrooms have already been upgraded with more to follow over the next couple of years.

Part of this transformation has seen the bar, lounge and restaurant areas given a complete reworking to create a light, airy and connected space, decorated in a contemporary style. The restaurant, which is open to non-residents, has been re-branded as Restaurant 85 in tribute to the year when, 31 years ago, the hotel first opened. With the re-brand comes a new menu which includes the ‘Hot Stones’ option – where you get to cook your steak to your own liking at your table on a slab of, yes, you guessed it, hot stone.

I visited the restaurant at the beginning of July with around twenty members of Wakefield Civic Society’s Dining Club to check things out for myself. This was a ‘special’ night that had been arranged for us by the hotel, a Silver Corporate Member of the Society, in recognition of the long-standing relationship between the hotel and the Civic Society.

As I’ve said before in these pages, satisfying all our Dining Club members can be a challenge but it was one that Restaurant 85 rose to admirably. With plenty of space available in the restaurant, they had arranged for us all to sit at one large table, which certainly helps conversation to flow, overlooking the planted terrace area. It was a warm evening and the doors to the terrace were open so we were able to step outside and admire the setting, although a sudden downpour did have us scurrying back inside moments later!

Welcome drinks of Prosecco and sparkling Elderflower pressé were served as we took our seats and we were introduced to our chef, Jamie, and Jacob, our lead waiter for the evening.

As we were quite a large group, members had been asked to email their orders in advance and we chose from three starters, three mains and three desserts. Starters were Cream of Watercress and Spinach Soup; Whipped Goat’s Cheese, with honey, walnut and salt-baked beets, with a pesto dressing; and In-house slow-cooked Chicken Terrine, Caesar style, grana padano and anchovy dressing. I chose the goat’s cheese dish, light and full of flavour, but the consensus was that all three options were delightful.

For the main course, around half the group opted for the 8oz-Rib Eye Steaks, on ‘Hot Stones’. These were served with plum tomatoes, garlic and thyme-roasted flat mushrooms and a generous portion of herb-crumb, hand-cut chips, and dressed baby watercress together with a choice of butter (Café de Paris, Garlic or Paprika). As people started to cook their steaks on the hot stones, the room filled with sizzling sounds, steam and not a little smoke – as well as much laughter and chatter. The steaks certainly brought the table to life! If you’d prefer it, the chef will, of course, cook your steak for you in the kitchen. Just state your preference when you order.

Meanwhile the rest of us had chosen from either the vegetarian Pumpkin Ravioli, in nut brown butter with toasted seeds and baby leaf salad, or the Char-grilled Chicken with chorizo, kale, new potatoes and olives. These were cooked for us by the chef in the kitchen – cooking ravioli ourselves on hot stones might have proved a little messy!

Desserts were a warm Yorkshire Curd Tart with vanilla bean ice cream; or Dark Chocolate Brownie with honeycomb ice cream; or Yorkshire Strawberries with cream.

We concluded with coffee and the settling of the bill, made easier because we had agreed a set price for everyone, so no calculators were required.

As I’ve explained before, one of the things we do as a Dining Club is to score the overall experience each time we meet – not just the quality of the food but also the service, value for money and atmosphere. Final scores are kept as a closely guarded secret by Civic Society treasurer Jean Broadbent until the year end when the Society announces its ‘Restaurant of the Year’ Award. Jean doesn’t let on what the scores were for each night until the year-end reckoning but I understand that the scores for Restaurant 85 were very good. Certainly, from talking to fellow diners, all seemed happy with their experience and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and the excellent service we received.

For those whose curiosity is piqued, have a look at the hotel’s website where you can download a copy of the new menu. Here you will see that prices are very reasonable with starters costing from £4.50 to £7.00 and main courses from just £10.00 to £18 for the rib-eye steak, somewhat less than you might expect for a hotel restaurant.
Of course, the restaurant isn’t just open on an evening. It’s a great place for lunch as well and I hear they do rather lovely afternoon teas which can be taken in the restaurant and lounge areas with prices starting at just £11 per person.

Meanwhile, the bar and lounge provide a bright, comfortable place to meet up during the day offering a full bar menu of soups, sandwiches, light meals and homemade classics daily. It’s also a great place for a relaxing pre-dinner drink area in the evening.

And with ample free parking available, there’s really no excuse for not re-acquainting yourself with the Cedar Court Hotel!

www.cedarcourthotels.co.uk/hotels/wakefield

Sleights of Hand and culinary magic – mystery and wonderment at Orlando’s Italian Restaurant

This article first appeared in the July 2016 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK. Please check the restaurant’s website for updated details of menus, prices, opening hours, etc.

I still don’t know how he did it. Standing just inches away from me, Orlando Gubbini, experienced restaurateur and, it turns out, accomplished magician, managed to turn Kings into Aces before my very eyes! It was at that point that I realised this was going to be an interesting evening and one unlike any other I have so far written about in this series.

My mission when I am asked to write these reviews is to report back on the food and service at the various establishments I visit and to give an account of the overall experience to be enjoyed should you choose to follow in my footsteps (or, more likely, tyre tracks).

For my latest review, I was asked to visit Orlando’s Restaurant at Grange Moor – around 9 miles out of Wakefield city centre on the way to Huddersfield. As such, it was a bit off my well-beaten track but I’m always keen to explore so two of us took ourselves off, heading west along the A642.

The restaurant is set back from the main road behind a large carpark and has open views to the rear over open countryside. On entering the building and being shown to our table, I was reminded by the décor of the many traditional trattorias I have visited on my travels in Italy. With the windows open and the sun gently settling towards the horizon, it even felt a bit like Italy!

Our orders were taken and shortly after we were presented with fresh bread and tomato dip to nibble on along with our drinks while we waited until the starters arrived. It was at this point that proprietor Orlando approached with his pack of cards. Showing us four cards, two revealed to be black Kings, and two face down, he shuffled them and asked us what we had seen. Two black Kings, we replied! Not so, he said to show us to red Kings but with two cards still face down. Obvious, we thought – he’s just reversed the cards and we’re not so easily fooled! But then came the master piece – he turned all four cards over to reveal four Aces and no Kings! And it wasn’t as if he’d had something hidden up his sleeves – he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt!

Time to eat as our starters arrived – one serving of Mozzarella Carrozza (deep-fried mozzarella cheese in bread crumbs, served in a tomato and basil sauce) and one of Triangoli Di Formaggio (golden deep-fried brie served with cranberry sauce – a particular favourite of mine). These were generous portions and rather lovely.

As we ate, we watched Orlando and his team of kitchen and serving staff as they looked after their customers for the evening. The restaurant, which can accommodate up to 65 diners, employs three chefs and the kitchen opens out on to the restaurant, so you can see the staff working hard preparing the food you have just ordered.

In between attending to his customers’ culinary requirements, Orlando moved from table to table performing more of his magic tricks, to the bewilderment of the adults and the delight of any children present: prestidigitation, or legerdemain if you prefer, goes down well here! Orlando is a member of the Huddersfield Circle of Magicians (find out more at www.huddersfieldmagic.co.uk), but he wasn’t giving anything away about how he did his tricks.

For our main courses, my partner and I had the Cannelloni Vegetariana and the Tortellini Ricotta; simple authentic Italian-style food that was freshly prepared, nicely presented and a joy to eat. I needed a slight pause after that before I could face dessert so took the opportunity of asking Orlando something about himself.

He told me that he spent the first fifteen years of his life living in France and then moved to live in Italy. Having attended catering school, he has spent his career working in the catering and hospitality trade – from working on cruise lines and as a plane steward, to running the café at Hampson’s Garden Centre, first in Huddersfield and then in Wakefield.

Fifteen years ago, he acquired what had been a Little Chef café on the Wakefield Road at Grange Moor and opened his restaurant with his wife Caroline. (One of the reasons Orlando gave for choosing the location was that it was half-way between his former customers from the Huddersfield and Wakefield gardens centres.) The café had originally built in wood but Orlando was to demolish that building to erect the more substantial structure that is there today.

Somehow, I managed to find room for a dessert and opted once more for a traditional Italian favourite – a light and creamy Tiramisu – before ending with a coffee.

All in all, it was a very enjoyable evening. Prices are very reasonable – starters from under £4 and mains from under £8 (but going up to over £20 for the top-end fillet steak dish). There is also a set menu for £13.95 including a glass of wine and a children’s menu. On Thursday evenings, Orlando has reintroduced a popular Tapas option – only £17.95 for two people which includes seven dishes. As you would expect, there’s a good selection of wines and beers to accompany your meal.

So, that’s Orlando’s for you. If you’ve not been before, it’s well worth a visit. Good food, great hospitality and, of course, it’s magic!

www.orlandosrestaurant.com

5 Wakefield Road, Grange Moor, Wakefield, WF4 4DS

Dining with the Quality – Taking Yorkshire to the House of Lords

This article first appeared in the April 2016 edition of the Wakefield magazine TopicUK.

As a restaurant reviewer, I’m always prepared to travel in search of that special meal and when the Yorkshire Society provided a rare opportunity to dine at the House of Lords back in February 2016, I needed little convincing. Here is my review of a rather unique evening.

Back in 2013, I took the opportunity to visit the Houses of Parliament, doing the full guided tour offered to members of the public. If you know that in my career as a Civil Servant I made the occasional visit to the building in my official capacity, this might sound surprising but the tour revealed parts of the building to me that I’d never seen before when there on business, so it was well worth the entry fee: the building simply oozes history with parts of it dating back to the eleventh century. The tour also proved fascinating for my partner whose ancestors include one of the stone masons, Timothy Peckett (born in Barnsley in 1819), who helped with the construction of what is the New Palace of Westminster after the fire of 1834 destroyed much of the former palace building. Timothy Peckett was recruited to work on the building because he had experience of working with the Yorkshire Stone from which the New Palace is built.

One thing that I never did when visiting with my work, was to have a meal there so when the Yorkshire Society announced that they would be holding a dinner at the House of Lords, I found it difficult to resist and purchased tickets for my partner and myself.

Now, my relationship with the Yorkshire Society is through Wakefield Civic Society as each organisation has reciprocal membership of the other. The Yorkshire Society is a not-for-profit membership organisation established in 1980 with the aim of encouraging businesses, charities and individuals, whether from Yorkshire or just based here, to join together in “promoting the county”.

My tickets duly arrived. Our official host for the evening would be Lord Kamlesh Kumar Patel of Bradford, OBE, one of the Yorkshire Society Vice Presidents, and we were to present ourselves at Black Rod’s Garden Entrance at the House of Lords for 7pm. Train tickets were ordered and a hotel was booked for the evening (talk about pushing the boat out!).

On the day, we travelled down to London and checked in to our hotel before setting out to do some sight-seeing. As luck would have it, by evening, the heavens had opened so we decided on a taxi – a tear-inducing extravagance in London!

It’s not every day that you have to go through airport-style security to gain admission to your dinner but the process was efficiently handled and we soon found ourselves in the Cholmondeley Room in the House of Lords rubbing shoulders with around 120 members and guests of the Yorkshire Society at a drinks reception. Many had travelled down from Yorkshire especially for the dinner (and it was good to count a few members of Wakefield Civic Society in their midst) but some had travelled from elsewhere, including some now resident in London. One particularly recognisable face was BBC Look North presenter, Harry Gration, another of the Yorkshire Society’s several Vice Presidents.

In due course, we were ushered into the Terrace Dining Room which gave commanding views across the River Thames. Seats were pre-allocated and we discovered that we would be in some very good company as we joined a table with Sir Rodney and Lady Walker (Sir Rodney is also a Vice President of the Yorkshire Society), Rod and Sheila Scholes (Rod is Treasurer of the Yorkshire Society), Wakefield business leader Margaret Wood MBE, as well as two people whom we got to know better over dinner – Karen Swainston and Caroline Pullich, both Yorkshire representatives of Barclays Bank.

Speeches were from Lord Patel, Sir David Wootton (the first Bradfordian to be Lord Mayor of London), businessman Ken Wootton (no relation but he and Sir David did both attend Bradford Grammar School), and Keith Madeley, MBE, chairman of the Yorkshire Society.

One of the mains reasons for the dinner was to mark the creation of a Yorkshire Society branch in London which will be chaired by Ken Wootton with Sir David Wootton taking on the role of President. Having a Yorkshire Society branch in London will not only provide a place of sanctuary for homesick Yorkshire folk but will also help to promote the interests of Yorkshire including its business and sporting achievements to a London audience, particularly to decision makers and influencers within government. As Lord Patel explained, if the Northern Powerhouse was to become a reality, there had to be a connection between the region and the Westminster village.

Now, and not forgetting my role here as a restaurant reviewer, I must turn my attention to the meal itself. This consisted of a three-course set meal starting with a double-baked cheese soufflé, followed by loin of venison with all the trimmings and then what was billed as a dark chocolate brûlée for dessert (it was closer to a chocolate mousse in reality – but still very enjoyable). Special diets were, of course, catered for and the vegetarians among us, me included, were presented with vegetable cannelloni. To finish, there was coffee and House of Lords truffles (the latter wrapped in little presentation boxes). Wine accompanied the meal and I’m pleased to report there was no stinting on the measures – which probably helped with the rather relaxed atmosphere and we were all in party mood as we left having had a truly marvellous evening in a splendid setting.

As we emerged into the late evening rain, my partner and I looked at each other and after some conferring, we agreed that we’d walk back to the hotel – no more expensive taxis for us. Well, we are from Yorkshire after all!

While dining at the House of Lords might require a specially organised event or a private invitation, you can enjoy a tour of Parliament and follow it with an afternoon tea on most Saturday afternoons throughout the year. See www.parliament.uk/afternoon-tea for more information.

Find out more about the Yorkshire Society at www.yorkshiresociety.org.uk or by emailing membership@yorkshiresociety.org.uk