Its Facebook page is full of “likes” and pictures of sarnies bursting with brisket, celeriac and mustard slaw; hot chickpeas, red pepper and courgette; jars of relishes and pickles; and sweet things like cinnamon buns and battenburgs.
As a daytime caff it never quite qualified as a restaurant by the terms of this column but late last year the Pig traded up to the slightly more refined The Swine That Dines and on Friday and Saturdays evenings they offer eight small plates, a couple of puddings and bring your own bottle.
By siting themselves on North Street, just beyond the Leeds inner ring road, they’re in a booming hot spot for independent food and drink. A paint job and a new logo on the window hint at the upgrading from Pig to Swine but inside it is resolutely a cafe: bright lights, a counter with kitchen behind, a few wooden tables and not much in the way of decor apart from some ceramic pigs fixed to the wall.
Eight small dishes are chalked on a blackboard, three meat, three veggie and two fish. At a fiver each and with three of us dining, we order the lot. They all look distinctive; besides, how many Leeds cafes offer skordalia, cotechino with lentils, anchiode or seared ox heart?
First up is buttermilk fried chicken, three beautifully crunchy wings on a heap of sweetcorn, mashed to a cream with brown butter. The skordalia, that smooth potato mash spiked with garlic, olive oil and lemon that you find all over Greece, was served with purple sprouting broccoli and a touch of red chilli. Simple and satisfying: another beautifully conceived dish.
The first sign of swine is Italian cotechino sausage, though its provenance turned out to be pure Leeds LS2, made on the premises like everything else. So who is the sandwich chef making clever stuff like his own cotechino? Stuart Myers, a seasoned chef whose career goes back to Leodis and Harvey Nichols. “The place is small, but we work with what we’ve got,” says Jo, his wife, a spirited front of house.
There are more impressive courses to follow: Romanesco (those pretty green cauliflowers) with capers, raisins and ricotta. An object lesson for any chef who can’t think beyond risotto for vegetarians.
Ox heart is next. “Not at all offally,” hastens Jo. It’s served with their own kohlrabi pickle. I confess to having passed on ox heart ever since I was served it at school when it looked too much like the organ it was for my schoolgirl taste. Thankfully this just looks like lean steak and tastes well, meaty. It needs a bit of a chew but matched with the pickle, the mayo and a dash of Sriracha sauce, it scores well enough.
The last three dishes are cider cured anchovies with green beans; seared squid with cucumber, lemon and dill; and carrot, black dhal and smoked onions
Had these three dishes been served first we’d have nodded our heads in approval and thought jolly good. The green beans with anchovy were served cold with a cured egg yolk to mix into a sauce. The squid was nicely tender accompanied by yoghurt, cucumber and dill and it was fine. The sweet carrots and the smoked onion brought a back-of-the-chimney sootiness to the dhal, which wasn’t entirely successful. However, following on from the excitement of the first five dishes, these were good without quite blowing us away.
Both puddings rounded off in style. A pretty passion fruit tart with paper thin chocolate pastry was beautifully and delicately made. For a peanut butter junkie like me, the peanut butter cheesecake was sublime.
So we came home raving about this clever little caff serving terrific food, only to discover it had received a poor hygiene rating from the environmental health inspectors.
The Swine claims it was down to taking over poorly maintained premises and poor record keeping on its part. “We are making good progress to comply fully with the regulations,” says Jo. I do hope so because their food totally exceeded our expectations, from the originality of the dishes to the accomplished cooking and the warm and friendly vibe.
We dined like swines and still had change from 50 quid. I’ve no doubt they could fill a bigger room five nights a week not two. Right now it’s a perfect fit for North Street and when they get their kitchen sorted, this little pig could be going places.
The Swine that Dines
58 North Street, Leeds LS2 7PN
Open: Friday-Saturday 6pm-9pm.
Price: Around £25 per person. Bring your own bottle.
Drinks selection BYO