Our fourth and final destination for our City Watch Series this year was Leeds, a compact city that was easily walkable (unlike like our previous expeditions to Nottingham, Edinburgh and Bristol). It may be small, but it packs in a heck of a lot, which only makes the decision of where to eat even harder for visitors.
It has the reputation for being a city that makes being a student fun, but this isn’t a bad thing – students like good food and drink, too. As a result, healthy concepts reside alongside hangover cures, both independents and chains are able to thrive, and all budgets are catered for. In fact, there are arguably some of the most exciting restaurant brands of the moment that were either born or have fully established themselves right here. Whether you’re looking for small plates and craft beer or steak and wine, every foodie can finish every day suitably stuffed and well hydrated.
To give some of the restaurants the spotlight they deserve, we took a tour of the city with empty bellies and thirsty mouths, bringing our friends over at Pepsi MAX along for the 10km walk. We deserve a little sympathy for having to whittle such a wonderful range of eateries down to just 10 venues, don’t you think?
D&D London extended its presence in Leeds when it opened East 59th at the Victoria Gate development in July. Guests can either take the lift up to the rooftop restaurant or walk up the impressive spiral staircase. While plush red chairs provide seating by the bar, guests are able to dine closer to the open kitchen, which serves up a main menu of steaks, lobster and gourmet sandwiches, weekend brunch dishes and late-night grazing options. In the corner lies DJ decks to turn the venue from day to night and provide more of a New York feel that inspires the venue.
How could we go to Yorkshire and not pop into a pie shop? Pieminister may have started in Bristol, but it feels right at home in Leeds. The two-floor venue is industrial, with bare brick walls, steel frameworks and low hanging lighting, while the pies are warm and hearty. In February, the restaurant launched a weekend brunch menu complete with two brunch pies, two skillets and a Bloody Mary. Beer drinkers are catered for with a range of draught and bottled varieties, including the Pieminister Pie IPA, with smoothies, milkshakes, cocktails and Pieminister soft drink blends completing the menu.
Red’s True Barbecue
The first ever Red’s True Barbecue restaurant – or place of worship, as it’s otherwise known – opened on Cloth Hall Street in Leeds in September 2012. From chicken wings to brisket, everything is cooked low and slow, inspired by founders James Douglas and Scott Munro’s pilgrimage across the USA. The site is dimly lit, but is full of hungry diners gorging on an alternative Sunday roast at 3pm. Leading the way for the sites that followed, it is adorned with murals and messages to spread the faith in really, really good barbecue.
Back in 2014, Bradford craft beer bar The Sparrow and vegetarian Indian restaurant Prashad teamed up to create Bundobust, the now hugely popular Mill Hill venue that has since moved into Manchester. It ticks a lot of boxes – vegetarian, small plates, global flavours, craft beer – and I can’t say I’ve heard or read a bad word about it, so I’d have felt foolish not to sample the goods. The verdict? The okra fries alone make this place worth shouting about.
This Living Ventures Group restaurant has been providing diners north of the Midlands with an arguably more high-end offering than the other businesses in our City Watch. The Greek Street site in Leeds, which opened in July 2015, is certainly swish – a marble bar, a parquet floor and tablecloths before a backdrop of copper and bronze and a menu of Italian dishes from bruschetta to pizza. The Sue Crimes-led brand has now begun entering the south of the UK, with an opening in Chislehurst.
Just a hop across the road from Gusto is Neighbourhood, the latest site for the East Coast Concepts brand. It’s very shiny and new – opening its doors just a couple of months ago – and a £1.7m refurbishment has brought in a bright pink ceiling, mustard booths and graffiti walls. It caters to the young, New York-adoring crowd with sushi rolls, seafood and steak during the day, followed by live sax music, Champagne on ice and even fire eaters at night. The cocktails at the bar have just as much theatre, with additions including candy floss, edible flowers and even a lace mask.
Leeds locals and visitors with a craving for pinxtos can head to Pintura in The Trinity. The restaurant takes inspiration from the Basque region for its menu of bar snacks and larger tapas dishes. As with any self-respecting Spanish restaurant, there‘s a big focus on gin, so much so that Pintura has a dedicated basement bar that stocks over 100 types of the spirit from around the world, used to make a range of cocktails and 12 signature gin and tonics – each one served in a 21oz goblet. Pintura is due to open its second site in Manchester early next year.
The Restaurant Bar & Grill
The Restaurant Bar & Grill may just have the most jaw-dropping site in Leeds. Located in the Old Post Office building in the City Square, it offers a clean and classic space for guests to dine on steak and wine. Speaking of which, one of the key features is the enormous glass bottle display that greets you as you enter the dining room. The front terrace offers extra seating during the summer and the rear of the mezzanine level provides private dining for up to 24.
Meaning ‘The Man That Rolls’ in Hindi, Rola Wala is one of those success stories of a food business that began in street markets such as Street Feast and Kerb, and has gone onto to open permanent bricks and mortar sites. The first of which opened in the Trinity Centre in October 2014. Founder Mark Wright is indeed the man that rolls – sourdough naan to be exact, which can be filled with Indian-inspired fillings such as charred chicken, spiced beef brisket, channa dal, sweet potato and chickpeas, and a range of chutneys. There’s not a korma in sight.
Driven by the botanicals that make up cocktails, spirits and tonics, The Botanist is a self-proclaimed secret garden of food and drink. The Leeds site is nestled beneath the Trinity Centre outside on Boar Lane and, as with every other location, enhances its concept through its design. Plant pots and garden shovels adorn the white brick walls while picnic benches provide the seating, which makes the striking chandelier suspended above the bar area a little out of the ordinary.
Elliot Fox, assistant general manager of The Botanist Leeds, explains how the venue uses Pepsi.
“We use Pepsi as a soft drink and in Long Island Ice Teas. We offer hundreds of cocktails, so if you ask for it, we’ll make it. On a Sunday, when you’ve got families in, there are more Pepsi orders. There’s also a greater awareness of drinking diet drinks – I personally do myself, because I think they taste sweeter.”