Hungry for More: Leeds Independent Food Scene (part 2)
Words: Lauren Hockney
Header image: Tom Joy (tomjoyphoto)
It goes without saying that nobody else knows the independent food and drink scene like those that run it, so we spoke to some of your favourite independents to hear straight from the horse’s mouth what they think about it…
BEN DAVY OF OX CLUB
The Ox Club, located in the beloved Headrow House, is definitely a stand out in Leeds for its sophisticated dishes combined with its relaxed ambience. After opening in 2015, Ben and the gang have seen the developments in the Leeds food and drink scene over the past few years – whilst also massively contributing to it with their unique style which has become a firm favourite.
Leeds is definitely a unique city, there’s no question about it – but what is it that makes us stand out? Ben says: “Leeds has an incredible buzz at the moment. Maybe helped by the fact Leeds is geographically small compared to other cities such as Manchester, Liverpool etc. which means the growth of such a strong, inclusive independent scene has been relatively easy. It feels like the food and drink scene supports itself and everyone in it, in a special way.”
This support that businesses have for one another is definitely a factor that really underpins the success of the scene. The beauty of Leeds’ food and drink scene is the diversity, meaning no two businesses are the same. Not only do we see exciting collaborations between them, but a general love and appreciation for one another.
What other independents does Ben recommend?
“The Old Guard for me will always be the best, like Manjit’s Kitchen and Café Moor, both in Leeds Market. Zucco in Meanwood too. As well as Laynes and La Bottega for coffee. Plus, the new opening for North Star and Noisette Bakehouse is wonderful.”
RENA GUELLER OF THE BOX TREE RESTAURANT
The Box Tree Restaurant is a Michelin starred eatery which provides you with a modern/classical fine dining experience. The restaurant delivers a mix of styles, with mostly English produce. Located in picturesque Ilkley The Box Tree is an independent business that has been running for 55 years and.has established an enviable reputation
In terms of fine dining, our city is up there with the best of the best. Businesses of a more sophisticated nature are opening as Leeds takes the title of being the region with the most Michelin starred restaurants outside of London.
Rena says: “The quality of the food and drink scene has improved with more artisan/local producers, micro breweries and distilleries. Long standing successful businesses like Kendall’s Bistro and Sukhothai having good, reliable reputations built up over 20-years have really helped establish the foundations of the scene.”
The Box Tree with its impressive 55-year reputation goes to show that the independent scene is not only strong in the city, but in the suburbs and surrounding areas too. In some major cities the focus is only on the city centre and the outskirts tend to be forgotten – but not in Leeds. We focus on areas such as Ilkley, Otley and Farsley who have a strong, beating heart for their food and drink spots.
What other independents does Rena recommend?
“The food and drink project at Harewood House looks to be an interesting concept. In addition to this, the new places such as Tattu, Issho and Iberica all bring an interesting international flavour.”
SAMUEL HAWORTH OF THE BRUNSWICK
The Brunswick is a Gastropub that focuses on food originating from local suppliers, with a particular emphasis on The North. The Brunswick offers a unique experience of high end quality dishes, in a environment that is not so high end – in a big (but beautiful) pub. As a city that really loves its pubs, The Brunswick is a great example of what we hold most dear in terms of our food and drink.
The love that Leeds has for beer, roasts and pubs may seem quite common – but the individuals and the city as a whole is anything but. Samuel says: “What’s unique is the great people with a common interest in food and supporting one another to build our community, also offering great service and building relationships.”
The common interest in food that residents and business owners share in Leeds is special, as is the huge variety in cuisines in the independent F&D scene. Whether it’s Indian street food, traditional Spanish tapas, specialty coffee joints or even just a place that does nice sandwiches… We got it. Diversity is beauty.
What other independents does Samuel recommend?
“New happenings? I really like the great new collaboration between North Star and Noisette Bakehouse opening at Leeds Dock. Also, an old favourite is Zucco in Meanwood, and then obviously The Reliance who are a great establishment and have always been helpful to us as neighbours since our opening.”
STEVE NUTTALL – THE RELIANCE
What other independents does Steve recommend?
“People are always on the lookout for new, authentic dining experiences and are much more willing to widen their horizons in the hope of finding it. My favourites include Thai Aroy Dee, where I nip after work for some great value authentic food. I also love Zucco and sushi bar Hana Matsuri in Meanwood.”
TOM RENNOLDS OF HEANEY & MILL
Heaney & Mill, located in Headingley, mixes traditional French deli with modern techniques to create innovative dishes that are made from local produce. Tom was a finalist on the TV programme Masterchef in 2012 and has learnt the tricks and the trades of the independent food and drink scene along the way.
Although Heaney & Mill is a new start up, the past five years have been a build-up in which Tom has seen the evolution of the independent industry. He says: “In the last five years there has been a huge rise in the number and diversity of independent businesses. The quality has improved substantially too, with about 20 good restaurants that have casual offers, like Zaap. As a result of this growth of choice, people want more for their money and turn to independents.”
There is a variety of challenges that arise for independent businesses, especially for new ones who are yet to become fully established in Leeds – but when the passion is there, which these owners have, they are unstoppable.
Tom says: “Two worlds are colliding. Big chains are taking prime space and bringing invention – but without the creativity of the independents.”
What other independents does Tom recommend?
“We got some real gems like Sous le Nez and more like Cat’s Pyjamas and The Mustard Pot in Chapel Allerton. Home is somewhere I am looking forward to trying out.”
JO MYERS OF THE GREEDY PIG & THE SWINE THAT DINES
The Greedy Pig is a little café that focuses on using high quality, seasonal ingredients. At night, The Greedy Pig turns into The Swine That Dines every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening to provide you with a different dining experience to that in the day. Since opening TGP in 2011, Jo has shared her passion for food with others, whilst witnessing the changes in the independent food scene here in Leeds.
The rise in the number of independent cafes and restaurants over the years has been evident as our independent community has built up. Something that is slightly newer to the scene is the likes of street food – with places like Trinity Kitchen and events such as Belgrave Feast and Eat North allowing a platform for these businesses to have a presence in Leeds, some of which have become permenant in the heart of Leeds’ food scene.
Jo says: “When we started there were only a handful of small indies and the dining scene was much more formal than it is now. Of course, then came street food and things went crazy. In the last few years though it’s grown up a bit as some of those early street food traders have found permanent residences. They settled down and the stuffy restaurant scene had to take notice.”
The community in Leeds is what makes the food scene unique as Jo mentions it’s not the food or the trends, as there’s always somebody who a done a version of what you are doing somewhere else. It’s how we worth with and support each other that she says is what makes us stand out.
What other independents does Jo recommend?
“The big name of the moment is Home, we’ve yet to visit but we’re so proud of one of the young chefs working there who started off with us at The Swine. Our favourites remain The Reliance and The Brunswick for service, quality and welcome. We’re thinking of moving to Chapel Allerton simply because of the larger George and Joseph and the new offering from The Reliance… or failing that we’ll just spend more on taxis!”
ANTHONY KITCHING OF FRIENDS OF HAM/HAM & FRIENDS
Friends of Ham is a bar and charcuterie situated in the heart of Leeds, whilst Ham & Friends is the whole shebang – a restaurant, wine bar and food hall. FOH work hard to offer to a unique approach by sourcing only high-quality produce to deliver the best experience to their customers. With Friends of Ham opening in 2012 and Ham & Friends this year, it is fair to say Anthony has seen the developments in the Leeds independent food and drink scene at close hand.
Though despite its flourish over the years and its now apparent strong nature, the Leeds independent food and drink scene does come with competitive challenges as the quantity of independent businesses in Leeds has increased – as well as the standard and quality. Another concern is the increase in the amount of competition from non-independents. Business owners are fighting back by working hard at what they love, sharpening their offer and shopping locally to differentiate.
Anthony says: “The main challenge is rising costs from ingredients, to staff to rent. With Brexit exchange rates and new pension laws hiring and keeping good staff is a major challenge. We are trying to absorb costs to provide the same value and not pass price rises onto the customer as their wages are invariably not going up. Also, we need to be very mindful of the national competitors moving in who have deeper pockets and are actively competing for businesses.”
What other independents does Anthony recommend?
“I still like my old favourites Preston (North Bar, near where I live), Stories, The Reliance and Thai Aroy Dee.”
ELIZABETH COTTAM OF HOME
A newcomer to the independent food and drink scene is Home, a dining concept from chefs Elizabeth Cottam and Mark Owens. The team at Home have worked hard to make fine dining appear less pretentious and provide you with an environment that feels exactly like their name… Like home. Their different approach to fine dining is a reflection of how diverse our independent food and scene is.
Diverse is one word for the scene – another is passion. Everybody has a passion for what they do which is what we love about them. Elizabeth says: “The independent scene is the heart and soul of the food scene, people work long hours with passion and devotion. Independent businesses support each other and build relationships, the city is on the cusp of a really important time.”
The evolution of the independent food and drink scene has allowed it to become more knowledgeable and focused – businesses in Leeds are learning new ways of presenting food or introducing new flavours to entice customers and develop on their unique style. We have seen a rise in independent fine dining establishments, such as Home which Elizabeth says is because: “TV programmes have changed people’s expectations, particularly Masterchef. People are getting much more interested and adventurous with food.”
What other independents does Elizabeth recommend?
“Exciting and new? I would definitely say Doghouse on Kirkgate and the rediscovered Northern Guitars. Northern Guitars has got real soul and we need more of these individual businesses.”