The problem with visiting relatives in Leeds is not that there aren't plenty of good restaurants up North, but that we're so well looked after by family there's not much opportunity to get out sample them. Our most recent visit saw us being treated to my Uncle's char-grilled steak and crispy potatoes; my aunt’s tartiflette, made with heart-clogging amounts of cream, Reblochon and bacon; and baking lessons where my Uncle and the Ewing made ciabatta rolls, stuffed with black pudding and chorizo, and wholemeal bread with Stilton and walnuts.
And that was before you considered the trays of warm pasties, truckles of cheese and the giant 40th pork pie presented at my Cousins’ birthday bash - plus the obligatory rounds of corned beef sandwiches consumed at the pub quiz.
Still, it probably won’t surprise you we had saved just enough room to hit the town for a little bar crawl, some Christmas window shopping and a spot of lunch on Monday in Leeds city centre.
After an appetite whetting walk around the Kirkgate Market – despite it looking more and more down at heel every time I go back – my Uncle suggested a drink at the Leeds branch of the Scottish craft beer renegades, Brewdog.
He and I had schooners of their Punk IPA, their powerfully hopped flagship beer with its tropical funk that impressed even my Aunt’s down-to-earth, John Smith’s-loving palate. While the Ewing picked the Libertine Black Ale, a rich, black IPA pretty hefty 7.5%.
But even this this paled in comparison to their Tactical Nuclear Penguin, an imperial stout ice brewed at a whopping 32%, and at the time of release the strongest beer ever produced.
Of course it went without saying that my Uncle was keen to sample it, and he had two accomplices equally keen to help him. The nose on this was like Christmas cake, rich with fruit and malt, while it had a viscosity like warm treacle. An interesting curiosity, but definitely one to sip and savour rather than knock back on a pub crawl; (maybe that’s what Danny Cipriani had been drinking while out in Leeds last year?)
While they do offer bar food at Brewdog, as well as a comprehensive selection of board games including Yorkshire Monopoly, Boggle and even Etch-A-Scaetch, after reading a recent Jay Rayner review, I was keen to sample some plates of meats and cheese – along with a few more drinks – at the nearby Friends of Ham.
While you can perch at a few small stools by the bar area, downstairs in the basement provides further seating and a welcoming décor - complete with its faux bookcase wallpaper and comfy leather armchairs - that give it an air of a library in a stately home; the kind of place where Colonel Plum might get thwacked with the lead piping.
Luckily the atmosphere on our visit was rather more serene and we were soon getting stuck into their comprehensive drinks list. My Aunt and the Ewing went with vino tino, The Ewing being particularly excited to try a glass of BLAH, while my Uncle and I went back upstairs to choose a drop from the huge selection of craft beers.
After some serious deliberation (they will provide tasters on tap if you can’t decide) I had a Rapture, from the nearby Magic Rock brewery, while the intriguing Sierra Nevada Kellerweis was my Uncle’s choice. ‘Untamed, unfiltered, and unafraid’ and ‘truly a unique brew’ is how they described this hazy orange wheat ale, which is brewed in open fermentation tanks, and it was certainly an acquired taste, and possibly one we hadn’t quite developed yet.
We started with a plate of chicken liver pate, made locally in Leeds by Our Munch and accompanied by chutney, black olives and bread from the Bondgate Bakery in Otley.
We also picked a sharing platter (two meat two cheese) of goodies including Monte Enebro goat’s cheese, Alex James’ Blue Monday (made in Yorkshire) wafer thin slices of Carne Salata Malenca (smoked Spanish beef) and Tuscan salami made with wild fennel pollen, all served with pickles, chilli jam, crackers and yet more bread.
I liked Friends of Ham. It the sort of place I would be happy to sit and get sizzled while eating my way through their variety of sausages. I also like how it manages to showcase the best of British - with plenty of local stuff, including charcuterie made at the nearby Reliance pub - as well as offering a wide range of continental meats and cheeses. It’s a policy that also extends to its ales, with a large range of regularly rotating keg and cask tipples, mostly from local breweries, to a fridge full of Belgian hefeweizen, German Pilsners and American craft beers.
Not quite finished we called in to Trinity Kitchen (more about that on the blog soon) for yet another morsel before popping in to the Reliance pub (one of the providers of meat products to Friends of Ham) to visit their ‘Reli Deli’ on the way home.
Currently, the selection is little more than a bijou choice of beers and salami, although the helpful chap working there told us about the farmer’s markets where you can pick up more of their produce (although, unhelpfully, all in Yorkshire, when I’d already be back home in the Chilterns) including coppa, lardo and cured hams.
My Uncle very kindly treated me to one of their homemade salamis flavoured with chilli and fennel. There’s not much in this world I like more than a cured sausage (behave) and this one had the wonderful musty funk, giving way to salty, sweet, fatty pork studded through with the nip of fennel seeds.
You can also stop for a meal or a deli board, the place coming highly recommended by both my aunt and uncle and my cousin. If the salami and huge range of beers are anything to go by, you'll be in for a treat.
So, a fabulous afternoon with a fabulous aunt and uncle; the Ewing and I being two very lucky (and slightly drunker) girls to be taken out on the town and spoilt so comprehensively. And we still managed to regroup and take on the rest of the village (and lose) at the pub quiz that evening.