Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Finding my vocation

It wouldn't be our biannual trip to Leeds without a trip into town before we go home. As it was our December visit - for Christmas Number One - we also decided to involve some festive shopping. Theoretically that means a few hours happily browsing, while picking up the perfect gifts for all our friends and family. In reality that means bickering our way around two shops, max, followed by a row because it's been at least two hours since breakfast.

This trip was surprisingly peaceful - apart from a disagreement about which way to go beside a giant illuminated reindeer, which I'm blaming firmly on Google Maps - although I was exceedingly happy when my Uncle John called while were we in Lush, meaning I could duck outside to escape the eye-watering aroma of patchouli and despair. Even better he told us he was also in town, and did we want to meet for lunch.

Of course we wanted to meet for lunch. And where better than the very recently opened Assembly Underground, located on the previous site of the former Leeds School Board building on Calverley Street (as I was reliably informed by my Uncle). Run by Hebden Bridge's Vocation Brewery it features fifty taps of beer, a hidden cocktail bar and an open dining hall area featuring grub from Slap & Pickle, Felafel Guys, Punjabi street curry specialist Jah Jyot, Leodis Coffee, and Bread and Butter Churrasco BBQ.

Uncle John went for a classic pint of  what I *think* was Vocation's Heart and Soul on cask (I was somewhat distracted at the time, trawling through the vast beer menu myself). Whatever it was, look at it - all things bright and beautiful, glittering in the afternoon winter sun. He nearly managed a second pint, but a queue at the bar saw him fall back on plan b; a very nice looking flat white from Underground Coffee.

Somewhat overwhelmed with choice, I asked the barman for some 'murk' and was rewarded with a schooner of Vocation's Where's Dan, a delicious, opaque NEIPA that tasted, and looked, like hoppy pineapple Just Juice.  The Ewing, our designated driver, also went fruity with a half of the Vocation agave and lime radler. 

I hadn't already had a surfeit of red meat on my visit - with roast sirloin of beef for Christmas Dinner Number One, followed by a game pie at the House of Trembling Madness the day after - I decided to complete the hat trick with a big ass burger at Slap and Pickle.

I went for the light option with the Baconator and a side of Big Mick's fries. The burger - double cheese, double bacon, double beef, iceberg and burger sauce - was one of the best I've had this year. Salty, oozy, greasy, drippy, just like all the best things in life.

The loaded fries, as you can probably tell from the name, riffed on a popular burger chain's popular eponymous burger and came topped with burger crumble, cheese sauce, burger sauce, mustard, lettuce and pickles. Eat 'em while they're hot for maximum pleasure, although I do secretly love the odd cold and congealed chip that gets welded to the bottom of the dish.

My Uncle and the Ewing went for a bit of spice from Jah Jyot, Punjabi inspired Indian street food traders who have ended up in West Yorkshire via Horsham in West Sussex. Alongside curries and thalis they also offer a range of filled dosas, samosas and tikka wraps made with fenugreek chappatis.

Both chose a selection of curries including the Amritsar chicken with potato and fresh coriander and a vegan ajma (red kidney bean) curry with fenugreek seeds, which was excellent. Alongside were rice and the aforementioned chapattis, flecked green with the aromatic leaves.

Of course a trip into town wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Kirkgate market for provisions before the long schlep home -  which on this occasion included ten sirloins for a tenner and over three kilos of limes for two quid. having said that, I skipped the arseholes and tripe. My wife says that's the standard of my drunken Christmas conversation already...

Thursday, 6 December 2018

I said lady, step inside my Hyundai

So, it’s finally happened. Our trusty drive Steven Archibald (Archie) has given up the ghost; broken down; kaput; we’ve cruised ‘round the hood with the (manually wound down, if we can find the winder in the foot well) windows down for the final time.

While it was sad (sad? I was DEVASTATED - TE) when his head gasket finally blew, after 13 years of faithful service it was hardly a huge surprise. And now he can finally enjoy his time in the sun, it also meant we could think about a nippier replacement. Or certainly one with central locking; and less rust.

Which is how we came to take delivery of Beck - named after a lyric in Debra, one of the greatest falsetto funk numbers you’re ever likely to hear and already on heavy rotation on the stereo – with his wondrous Champion Blue paint job (a special release for the World Cup, they saw us coming) and a whole host of electrical mod cons with the potential to go wrong…

And after several long weeks of being bus wankers and utilising shanks’s pony, there was much excited anticipation for our first Sunday spin. And, whilst not quite the glamorous hills of Glendale, a jaunt straight down the A40 for breakfast in Brent seemed like a pretty good second choice. What have the Hollywood Hills got on the beauty of Hangar Lane gyratory.

Yet another Eater tip, this time from their 5 restaurants to try this weekend, a Friday column that tips the unsung and the far-flung, with the proviso that all suggestions must not be featured in either the Eater 38 Essential map, nor the monthly-updated Heatmap, and must be outside Zone 1.

Luckily, it often features somewhere from around my old endz, with exotic places such as Southall, Harrow and Rayners Lane getting a shout. A few weeks ago it was Dosa Express. Now, I can get pretty incredible dosas less than a ten minute stroll from my house, but that's no fun when you have a new motor to show off. I was also fascinated by the picture used to illustrate the story, showing the vast menu made of laminated sheets of A4, that stretched neatly across one wall and around the corner.

It's probably best to google the menu before you go, especially if you're indecisive, as the choice is vast (it also covers most the wall opposite) and is arranged with absolutely no rhyme or reason. Failing that, just look around and see what other people are eating, or what is being freshly cooked on the hotplate next to the counter, at least that way you can avoid food envy.

To drink we had ginger coffee and sweet, fudgy cashew and almond milk. I say we, but I found they smelt a little too much like scented draw liners and left them for my wife, who was hugely happy to have something sweet and soothing alongside all the fire and spice.

As well as dosa they offer a handful of other dishes, including vada, or lentil doughnuts, that were piled up temptingly on the counter, spinach pakoras and veggie samosas. We started with papri chaat, papri translating as wafer, or discs of crisp pastry, and chaat meaning 'to lick'. The pastry discs are broken up and layered with chickpeas, tamarind chutney, onions, yoghurt, chilli and fresh herbs, making a crunchy, sweet, sour and spicy snack.

We also ordered some chilli garlic paneer, that was served in a gargantuan portion that the photo doesn't quite do justice to. An classic Indo Chinese dish, the cheese curd cubes are stir fried with spring onions in a sweet and fiery sauce with huge amounts of fragrant garlic, chilli and ginger, served here with a token leaf of crunchy iceberg lettuce.

Obviously I had spent most of the week dissecting the menu but in the end eschewed the additions of cheese, salad, chutney and noodles, plumping instead for a classic rava masala dosa. Made with semolina, which helps give it its distinctive lacy appearance, the crisp pancake had been folded around a generous filling of spiced potato. Certainly beats cornflakes.

Alongside was a ladle of the familiar sambar, a thin vegetable stew with lentils and spices, a rich tomato and onion chutney and a virginal coconut chutney. The latter always looks so invitingly cool and fresh, yet ends up being the most insidiously fiery of the lot. Here was no exception, and I could just about note the sympathetic glances from the ladies behind the counter through the tears in my eyes.

The Ewing went off piste with the pesarattu paneer masala dosa, a pancake made with moog daal (green gram flour) instead of urad dal (black gram flour) and stuffed full with spiced potato, peppers, onion and shredded paneer cheese. This was a top rate dosa, although I'm not sure you could really distinguish a huge difference between this and a standard dosa, other than the slightly bilious tinge and a slightly spongier texture. 

And here he is, the main man himself, ready to whisk us away for some more culinary adventures. He's even got cup holders.