Hungry for More: Leeds Independent Food Scene (part 1)
Header Image: @onlyopticempire
When you think of Leeds, you find yourself immersed in a sea of different thoughts about what makes our city so brilliant. We are home to amazing culture, an ever-expanding sense of community and a great scene for independent businesses – especially when it comes to food and drink.
There is no denying its evolution, over the past few years we have seen independents rise from the bottom and steal our hearts, even whilst having to compete with chains along the way. It is because of these businesses that Leeds has become a top place for foodies, and puts us up there with other cities for having some of the best independent eateries in the UK.
Our city has shaped up into a strong independent community over the years which has left us with an appetite for more independent food and drink establishments. People now increasingly want to get to know the owners, they want to eat local produce, they want to support family-run businesses instead of chains and see the value in buying local. They enjoy the option to choose and ‘consumers’ are increasingly searching out their next favourite eatery as the independent sector continues to boom and bloom.
The idea of choice is what helps to make the current food scene in Leeds the best it has ever been. The beauty in our independent scene is that it is home to such variety – we get to experience everything on the spectrum, from delicious street food to the sophistication of fine dining.
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…
KADA BENDAHA OF CAFÉ MOOR AND CARAVANSERAI
When it comes to street food, Kada is your man – with two of the finest street food joints in Leeds. The beautiful Café Moor located in Leeds Market specialises in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine and Caravanserai has been serving up delicious street food for travelers dating back to the 1400’s. As somebody who majors on street food, Kada is in the know of the Leeds’ independent food and drink scene.
Leeds is definitely up there with the likes of Manchester for its street food and especially with such variety. Whether it’s choice, flavour or just some authenticity – our city delivers, and we as individuals are completely enriched by it.
Kada says: “The food and drink scene is unique and has been ideally placed to open doors for both new customers coming into Leeds and particularly new businesses from small towns around Leeds. There is definitely an increased appetite over recent years of businesses to provide different, authentic food experiences – and for customers who want to search them out and discover them.”
What other independents does Kada recommend?
“The exciting new Cat’s Pyjamas on The Headrow by John Lewis, and my old favourites oysters off Hayes on the market as you can sit down and chat to them. Also, Monsieur Dejeuner in Headingley who do the most wonderful, straightforward, authentic food – my favourite for breakfast is toast with goat’s cheese, honey and béchamel on top, not had this anywhere else.”
MARKO HUSAK OF BUNDOBUST
The icon that is Bundobust serves up the tastiest Indian street food in Leeds. Not only do they offer dishes with a modern twist, but also supply us with the most exciting craft beers from local and international breweries. Since the Bundobust doors opened three years ago on a very different Mill Hill, Marko has seen the developments in the independent food and drink scene, especially for street food vendors.
A guaranteed focal point that makes Leeds unique is the friendliness of the people in our city. Even though the businesses are independent, nobody is actually working independently, business owners want to see each other succeed and build our scene to be even better.
Marko says: “Friendliness and community spirit set Leeds apart. There is a great community spirit and a great example is Friends of Ham supporting us in the early days by letting us do a pop-up.”
Whilst the community spirit is high – what also is high is the uniqueness and creativity that each independent has. The logo’s, interior and ideas that our independents create for us are on another level, which is something that needs to constantly be maintained.
Marko says: “The challenge is to stay one step ahead as when you have a good idea, someone will always try and mimic you.”
What other independents does Marko recommend?
“In terms of new places Ham & Friends is great and I’m excited to visit the new restaurant Home. There is also a new great authentic Thai that is called Mommy Thai which opened recently on Duncan Street where I take the team. Then old favourites wise it’s The Reliance, Sushi Waka, Thai Aroy Dee – no frills an old favourite.”
GIP DAMONE OF SALVO’S
The Salvo’s family consists of two key factors… Salvo’s: a restaurant serving the finest Italian cuisine, and Salvo’s Salumeria & Café: an Italian street food experience. With 40 years since the opening of the original Salvo’s, Gip has seen the developments in the independent food and drink scene from then to now.
There is the saying that Italian food is from the heart, and as an independent business that has survived and thrived for 40 years – it is safe to say that Salvo’s is in the hearts of the people of Leeds. In 40 years the food and drink scene has changed, even more rapidly in the past few years as we have seen a switch from trusting chains, to trusting independents.
Gip says: “The outlook on food and drink has witnessed massive changes in recent years. More people are now prepared to pay more for a better sourced and crafted product. We witness the popularity now of everything – from gourmet burgers, to small batch spirits, to craft ales to proper pizza with natural ingredients. The city has seen as massive growth in small quirky independent joints.”
What other independents does Gip recommend?
“There has been a mini explosion of high end creative cuisine and rooftop venues in the last few years, new openings like Liz Cottam’s Home join Man Behind the Curtain and a few others to scratch the itch for those of us who like a surprise for dinner! You would be pressed to find better roast meats and dim sum than at Maxi’s on a Sunday lunchtime, and customers still travel from Scotland for an authentic Salvo’s pizza…”
DAN THRIPPLETON OF LAYNES ESPRESSO
Laynes opened in 2011, in what they describe as “a city that has come a long way since.” – Dan and the team at Laynes Espresso have found their place in our growing city by providing good quality coffee which has allowed them to be found by many people. Their coffee has been a real benchmark in Leeds’ coffee scene in the past six years.
The changes in Leeds over the past 20 plus years are remarkable, as streets that we now know and love (such as Call Lane) have developed into amazing places for independents.
Dan said: “I moved to Leeds from Bradford when I was 18 to start my real professional career at Arts Café, when it was the only restaurant on Call Lane alongside all the drug dealers and prostitution. 1993 was a golden time in Leeds as it was when people were beginning to learn and understand the differences in dining. Then unfortunately I think it became unappealing and saturated in styles of food available.”
Dan left Leeds shortly after that to do different things – but in the last five years he saw the scene blossom and now it is booming again, why is why he is back.
“I feel the ones here now are the ones who experienced that time, and build on it from trends but at the same time making it unique in Leeds.”
What other independents does Dan recommend?
“Always The Reliance, their innovative approach to stand apart of the heart to be better at everything makes me proud. Leeds is unique because of the independence and everyone’s support to one another.”
EDDY LASCELLES OF HAREWOOD FOOD & DRINK PROJECT
Harewood Food & Drink project is another newcomer to the game with its pop-up opening at the end of August. The project focuses on using fresh local produce grown in the Harewood estate to create a series of products, like their gin and seasonal range of beers and pop-up dining experiences on the estate. Eddy’s vast knowledge in local produce means he knows his stuff when it comes to great food.
For those who have lived outside of Leeds, there may be a panic (don’t worry, only briefly) in terms of how established our independent food and drink scene is, especially compared to the likes of London, Manchester and Liverpool. However, even though we may be smaller in size, we are definitely mighty when it comes to our independents.
“Moving here from London two and a half years ago, my biggest concern was that I’d miss London’s endless variety of food offerings. This has been well and truly smashed out of the water, as Leeds has a thriving independent food scene which must be the envy of anywhere else in the country,” said Eddy. “I love the passion of the Leeds folk and this translates into the food you find in the city, people who do it because they really care about it. I think the region has developed a confidence and flair in its food that has been really exciting for me to discover.”
What other independents does Eddy recommend?
“I’ve got to say (and not because they’re my buddies but because they’re brilliant) the incredibly talented Josh Whitehead and the great team behind his restaurant the Ox Club. Also, Liz Cottam and Mark Owens at Home restaurant… but I guess Man Behind the Curtain is established now as well. Some of the dishes I have eaten there are amongst the best I’ve eaten anywhere. Leeds Indie Food is also a great flag-bearer for the cities talent and is something the city should be really proud of.”
DAN PALMER – GRUB & GROG
“Outlaws Yacht Club who turn five later this month! They’ve been an important part of our journey and we love what they do. Hana Matsuri in Meanwood for the best sushi. Bare Coffee in far Headingley, a place after our own heart, if you’ve not been here yet you need to go! The Reliance is still one of our favourites in Leeds and a true original of the food and drink scene here. Laynes still do the best coffee in Leeds. North Star Coffee Roasters, it’s well worth a walk down the river to check them out.”
JANE OF TARTE & BERRY
Tarte & Berry is a birthchild bakery of two sisters, who have featured in Street Food pop ups around town and have worked closely with independents when delivering their baked treats. The bakery started in York, but soon moved to Leeds after the sisters fell in love with it after a successful stint at Trinity Kitchen.
We’ve spoke about the past, we’ve spoke about the present – but what does the future of the independent food and drink scene in Leeds hold for us? Unfortunately, we can’t see into the future – so we can only predict.
Jane says: “I think further culinary influences from Asia and America will filter through to dining in Leeds, not just in the food itself but in the way we eat and our experience in the restaurants themselves.”
“Smaller plates too I think will become more and more popular; the “three main meals a day” mentality seems to be fading out. It is a really exciting time to be running a food company and supplying other foodie businesses – and I love it!”
What other independents does Jane recommend?
“I recently ate in Sous Le Nez and I am ashamed to say it was my first visit, but definitely not my last – what an amazing restaurant, full of French charm and character. The Man Behind The Curtain was also a fantastic experience and such a treat when I visited earlier this year.”