Bilbao Bar, Leeds

Eating out
Bilbao Bar, Leeds

The new entrance to Leeds Station, the one that looks a bit like Kylo Ren from Star Wars if you look at it from a certain angle, has suddenly connected the waterfront area around Granary Wharf a little more successfully with the city. The trail down under the underpass and past the roar of the Dark Arches has gone if you’re heading city-bound by train, and you end up right in the heart of the Wharf.

That area was something of an alternative haven way, way back, packed with stalls selling crystals and Native American paraphernalia that had an uncertain use in West Yorkshire, but that part has disappeared, and the focus is on the waterfront, with new bars and restaurants emerging all the time, cocooned in the old railway arches, facing the canal.

It’s been renovated and developed well, and investment has attracted a string of new venues, Bilbao Bar among them.

Open for a couple of years now, Bilbao Bar is the closest thing to a Basque style pintxo bar in West Yorkshire. It’s like stepping into somewhere in the back streets of San Sebastian. There’s a big, broad counter, designed to be loaded up with food, and intended for use by people casually propping it up, glass of Rioja in one hand, slice of octopus on toast or whatever in the other. It’s an excellent space.

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Korean Food Made Simple, by Judy Joo

Books
Korean Food Made Simple, by Judy Joo

A few months ago, we were in town, and had lunch at the superb Trinity Kitchen.

For those unfamiliar with the mighty city of Leeds, Trinity Kitchen is the food court attached to its big, shiny shopping centre.

At this point, I’d expect most people with an ounce of self-respect to run screaming from any recommendation to eat in a shopping centre food court, but this one has a little trick up its sleeve in the form of a huge vehicle hoist and a big door in the wall, through which a revolving cast of street food vans are driven each month. The set list changes all the time, showcasing the very best in British street food, and it really is something.

On this particular visit, there was a van there that had trundled up from London. How it got to Leeds, I do not know, but it was there, and it was pushing Korean burgers – big patties of just slightly rare ground beef, served in a brioche bun and covered in kimchi. The boy and I had one each, went home, and started to make kimchi immediately.

It was familiar, but so entirely different, a burger with an otherworldly touch. Leeds is a city that can knock out a decent burger or two, but these were off-the-scale good.

There’s a looseness and playfulness about Korean food that makes it really attractive to the home cook. The rules are there to be flexed, bent, and smashed to pieces, and nobody Korean will care. Don’t have exactly the right variety of cabbage to ferment in your kimchi? Doesn’t matter. Chuck in whatever you’ve got, and anything else that’s left over in the fridge, just remember the chilli, OK?

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Viennese café culture, and the magnificent apple strudel

Food & drink
Apple strudel

It’s said of Vienna’s cafés that you consume time and space, but only coffee appears on the bill. These are places to think and contemplate, to sit and read, to discuss the weighty matters of the day over a cup of coffee and a slice of cake.

One cup is enough.

The waiter will not hurry you, will not bring the bill until you ask for it. Sit here all afternoon, among the shabby, romantic grandeur, next to the billiard table, surrounded by the world’s newspapers and nobody will notice.

Dream, discuss, write, plot, conspire, just as Freud, Mozart, Stalin, Klimt, Wittgenstein, Schubert and the rest did before you, many in the same cafés, in the same booths, eating the same food and drinking the same coffee.

There’s a very real sense in Vienna that the course of world history, particularly in the twentieth century, pivoted around those streets. I feel this in Berlin, too, where a glance downwards catches a brass plaque bearing the names of Jewish people who used to live at that address, sent to their deaths at the hands of the Nazis. In Vienna, the same thing happens, a scene feels familiar, too familiar, and a quick Google reveals that you’re standing under the balcony from which Hitler addressed 200,000 people in 1938, a time when things fell apart.

There’s an eternal quality to Vienna. It’s seen horror and bloodshed, but it’s also shaped some of the world’s greatest thinkers and artists, a creative catalyst fueled by the murky grey waters of the Danube, and fermented in those wonderful cafés.

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Char sui pork

Food & drink
Chinese char sui pork

I like to be ready.

Normally, this translates into having something versatile in the fridge, some sort of ‘mothership’ that could turn into a couple of meals in those situations where everybody’s forgotten about eating, but suddenly become really hungry.

For this reason, I tend to over-order, to buy a slightly bigger joint than strictly necessary, with one eye on the leftovers. I bought a rib of beef the other day from the butcher’s, and got a choice of where the line of the knife should go … tight up against the rib, or further over towards the next one. I opted for as much meat on the cut as possible, causing the butcher to note that he needed more customers like me … he mused that when he cooked rib of beef, nothing went to waste anyway, so he saw where I was coming from.

This pork is another of those ‘fridge recipes’, something I make in quantities far larger than is strictly necessary, simply because having char sui pork sat in the fridge is the very definition of A Good Thing, huge, glistening chunks of belly, red from the marinade and charred from the grill, just ready to be sliced and carved and secretly eaten in the middle of the night.

Many parts of the noble pig can be char sui-ed, but my cut of choice is belly. I slice away the skin and cook that separately as crackling (wasting it would be a crime against gastronomy), and leave as much fat behind as possible, fat that will sear and blacken under the grill, melting and keeping the meat moist and succulent. If the cut of belly you choose comes on the bone, cut these away too, but follow the steps here and get them marinaded for a small number of some astonishingly good spare ribs.

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Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, by Sumayya Usmani

Books
Summers Under the Tamarind Tree, by Sumayya Usmani

There’s a quote on the front cover of Sumayya Usmani’s book, Summers Under the Tamarind Tree: Recipes and memories from Pakistan, from Madhur Jaffrey that states simply that “this book is a treasure”.

It’s placed front and centre, right at the top, a badge of some considerable honour.

It’s difficult to comprehend the thrill Usmani must have felt on first reading an endorsement like that from a cook and writer of Jaffrey’s stature. I learnt to cook Asian food from Jaffrey’s books, and of all the food writers out there, I perhaps owe her the greatest debt.

So, yes, an endorsement influenced me. It made me take notice, made me wonder if this book was something special, something different. It signalled promise.

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