Sunday, 27 April 2008

Pickles and Potter Deli

It could be said that at one point, Pickles and Potter had become something of a victim of its own success. Queues could be seen curling well out of the door of the deli and trailing down the insides of the Queens Arcade, with hungry punters salivating in anticipation of some of the best homemade sandwiches in town. Times have changed however, with the shop expanding to cater for the Leeds lunchers with extra time on their hands. Now we can all sit down and enjoy the full range of sandwiches and hot and cold foodstuffs, along with a nice cup of tea or bottle of juice in the homely dining room.

I always find that I get hungrier when I know that the place I’m about to eat at is really quite good, and that is exactly what I found happening to me as I waited in line to place my order on a recent visit to the newly-expanded premises. As I stood, surrounded by other twitchy eaters, I felt my hands getting sweaty and my eyes darting about in my head — taking in the different sorts of homemade tiffin resting on the counter, the piles of cheeses teasing me from beneath the glass and the bowls of salads glistening in the light — not to mention the abundance of meats and chutneys jostling for my attention.

The place is a veritable orgy of good, wholesome, fresh ingredients and you only need to glance around you to realise this. There really is something verging on debauched about the sheer variety of treats on offer — as the painting in the back room of the extroverted owner Lorna wearing nothing but fruit and veg aptly proves.

I was awoken from my gluttonous daze by the charming counter girl who seemed more than happy to whip up a sandwich feast for me and my eating chum. We opted for two sandwiches from the blackboard — me going for the award winning beef (£3.90), and my friend for the roast ham (£3.80), along with a cloudy lemonade (£1.75) and a filter coffee (£1.85). Soon we were sitting at a big wooden table, among other happy diners, my friend making polite conversation as I drummed, wide-eyed on the table, maddeningly jealous of the smug people who were already enjoying the delights on their plates.

We weren’t waiting long though before the objects of my hunger-lust were placed before us, spilling off the plates with fresh salad and I was digging my teeth into some of the best beef in Leeds. If there is a better sandwich in existence than rare roast beef with thick slices of mature cheddar, rocket leaves, mustard, horseradish and red onion marmalade on herby, oily, toasted foccacia, then I’ll happily eat it, and my hat too. My pal made similar squealings about her ham — but I wasn’t really listening — I was too busy enjoying my beef. So if you’re serious about food, and you want your tastebuds to be mesmerised on a lunchtime, then I highly recommend you make your way down to Pickles and Potter for some food porn.
18-20 Queens Arcade, 0113 242 7702

Monday, 7 April 2008

The Boar's Head, Ripley

When I opened the door to our room at The Boar’s Head in Ripley, north Yorkshire, I fancied that I was not staying at a hotel at all, but rather at an eccentric, rich uncle’s country retreat. Paintings of dogs, chintz curtains and a sherry decanter all screamed for my derision, but somehow the bowl of fresh apples and homemade butter biscuits won me over. It was all very ‘Brideshead Revisited’ meets ‘Calendar Girls’, but how would this ‘Great British Inn’ - as it is so marketed, fare in the food stakes?

The carefully contrived British charm may be the selling point of the hotel, but the restaurant is all about the continent, with a French-inspired modern menu curated by none other than Lady Ingilby, the owner of the inn and Ripley Castle. The setting couldn’t be more classic, rural money – all dark wood panelling, mauve walls and huge oil paintings - but the menu I am pleased to say, was full of surprises, like the sweetcorn mousse with lobster vinaigrette and a dessert of butternut squash sorbet – which we will come to later.

We were seated at are table by an incredibly jovial and attentive Frenchman, and brought warm bread and some creamy, salty butter as we breathed in the sumptuous smells coming from the kitchen. The menu works like this: mains are priced around the £30-£40 mark, but this includes a starter and pudding, to which an extra course of cheese can be added for £6.

The wine list was a joy, with page after page of French wines, varying from the good to the extravagantly special, a true exploration of the finest wine regions. Not long after we had ordered, our wine, a fine Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape, was brought over, opened, and poured into a huge wine-glass for me to try. It was deep, powerful stuff with hints of cherry, and everything you’d expect from such a superior Cotes du Rhone.

The starters came promptly, my companion’s salt cod resplendent on a fragrant seafood bouillon. The cod was meaty and moist with a crispy, slightly tinged skin, and surrounding it were muscles and clams just visible beneath the coral coloured liquid. The seafood was fresh and delicious, but it was the smooth, thin bouillabaisse that stole the show with the sheer intensity of its flavour, which sang of a rich fish stock, fine wine and saffron.

My langoustine mousse was a shimmering, two-tone, pretty pink tower of quivering foam that held within it two meaty langoustine tails, and was topped with a generous spoonful of caviar. Beside it came a mound of nutty crab and herb salad with a lemon dressing that cut through the lush, creamy mousse. These starters witnessed a sophistication that earlier, when staring at a lurid red, boar shaped bath fizzer in our en-suite, seemed an unlikely prospect.

We barely had time to compose ourselves before our mains, along with a dish full of colourful, buttered vegetables were laid before us. My fillet of Yorkshire beef was among the best I’ve ever tasted – bloody and meltingly tender. It came with porcini mushroom infused buckwheat rice, which tasted smoky and glorious, and a vivid green smear of guacamole puree.

My companion’s sliced lamb with spicy roasted parsnips and braised fennel had him in raptures. The lamb apparently tasted “like it had been grazed on a diet of wild mint and honey”. The food had induced in us the kind of warm, fuzzy satisfaction which left us (along with a little help from the 15 percent alcohol) gazing at each other with hazy, purple-toothed smiles like two gluttons from a Dickens novel.

And so, our trousers tight around our bellies, but our mouths wanting more, we agreed on sharing a light pudding of hazelnut panna cotta with crystalised roasted hazelnuts and butternut squash sorbet. If any pudding has ever captured the essence of its constituents with utter perfection this was it – the panna cotta silken and nutty and the sorbet refreshing but somehow earthy and sweet all at once.

The Boar’s Head is a restaurant that plays with expectations and delivers immaculate, superior cuisine. Set in the scenic beauty of the north Yorkshire countryside, I’d certainly recommend making a trip to eat there, or staying there, as we did. Just don’t make our mistake of emptying the sherry decanter afterwards.

The Bill (for two)
Yorkshire beef fillet £39.50
Roast lamb with braised fennel £37.00
Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape £28.00
Total £104.05