If, like me, you’ve been thinking that what Bradford’s culinary scene lacks is a record shop that sells real ales and charcuterie which you order from a menu clipped to the sleeve of Minute by Minute by the Doobie Brothers, then you’ll be as delighted as I am by the arrival of The Record Café.
Situated in a former recruitment agency office on the newly-resurgent North Parade, the Record Café is the brainchild of proud Bradfordian and real ale fanatic Keith Wildman. Spurred on, in part, by the success of Friends of Ham in Leeds, he decided to unite his knowledge of beer with his passion for music and love of all things cured and porcine and designed, converted and opened this marvellous establishment in the latter months of 2014. It’s Keith’s first foray into the world of catering but he clearly knows what he likes, knows what he wants and he has done a great job of delivering it.
The Record Café (is it a restaurant? a bistro? a bar? an actual café? – hard to define, really) is one long room with a record shop in a mezzanine to the rear. It has a bar and food prep area, seating for 30-odd and standing room for another 20 or so drinkers. There are classic album sleeves decorating the walls and even lampshades made of old vinyl LPs. The music playing at all times is also fantastic. Within any half hour there will be at least one track that you haven’t heard for years – or ever before – that will have you nodding or singing along.
You could argue that it’s not really a restaurant, as there’s no chef and all the dishes are basically arrangements of cold produce. It has many of the characteristics of a restaurant, though – great ingredients, a distinct aesthetic and new and intriguing taste experiences. All that’s different, really, to a traditional restaurant is the application of heat to the food.
Whatever the Record Café is, within a few short months it has attracted a large, regular clientele, great word-of-mouth and is offering an impressive range of food and drink from a menu that is growing steadily and confidently. I went twice, a few days apart, and from visit one to visit two a line of boutique whiskies had appeared and an octopus dish had popped up next to all the pig on offer.
Pork is, indeed, the main constituent of the menu. Plates of Spanish cured pork as good as I’ve ever tasted. Favourite is the Cecina Nieto I.G.P. which is smoke cured beef from the hind quarters of mature cattle. It’s dried and smoked very slowly so that a deep, rich taste develops and this is complemented by a drizzle of oil, a twist of rock salt and a few shavings of Manchego cheese. It comes in at £6.50, so that paired with a pint of whichever real ale is on the bar at the time will mean you’ve enjoyed a hugely enjoyable and flavoursome lunch for under a tenner.
A mixed platter at £5.50 offers Somalo Lomo (soft and slightly woody tasting), Ibérico Salchichon (made from pigs fed on acorns) and Montenegra Ibérico Chorizo (acorn-fed pigs again, but this time a sweeter taste).
All the meat plates come with a little shot glass full of pickled guindillas (green chillies with a noticeable but not too heavy kick), black Hojiblanca olives and sourdough bread – made in a bakery up the road – with dipping oil. It’s served simply, with the emphasis on experiencing the complex tastes of the pork.
Beyond the meat, there is the aforementioned octopus, which is poached, thinly sliced and served with lemon, olive oil and a sprinkle of paprika. It’s not sliced thin enough to qualify as carpaccio, so there is still a distinct meatiness when you take a bite of the clean, fresh slightly spicy flesh.
Then there is delicious Villadiego cured Manchego sheep cheese or Montbru Garrotxa goats cheese, both served with quince jelly and good sized portion for just over £4. And there are little bowls of snacks like toasted almonds and (because this is Yorkshire, after all) local pork scratchings. It’s very much a place to graze and mix and match food to go with what you’re drinking. Speaking of which...
It would be remiss of me to not make special mention of the drink. There are always four cask ales and six keg beers on, as well as a varying number of real ciders and many bottled continental beers. All are rotated on a daily or weekly basis and the staff have encyclopaedic knowledge of everyone of them so you can always get a good lead as to what drink goes with what food. One thing I’d definitely recommend trying is one of the sherries. It’s not often (unless you’re Emily Bishop) that you order sherry in the UK, yet here it seems like the best choice to go with the food. With a plate of cured meat, a chunk of cheese and a glass of sherry, you could be in could be in a little bar in the Sierra Morena.
Personally, I could spend all day, every day sat at the bar of the Record Café being presented with an endless chain of plates of pig product, chunks of cheese and delicious real ales while some fabulous and obscure music drifts through the room and enthusiastic chatter fills the gaps between tracks. Great food, great drink, great music, great atmosphere – Bradford finally has an alternative to curry.
• The Record Café, 45-47 North Parade, Bradford BD1 3JH. 01274 723143, www.therecordcafe.co.uk
Open: Sunday to Thursday, 11am to 11pm; Friday to Saturday, 11am to midnight.