I’ve just had the best meal since the lifting of lockdown. On the face of it, there’s nothing fancy about this former caff that morphed into a restaurant, picked up an Oliver Award, an entry in the Good Food Guide and last month, featured in The Guardian’s Top Ten Places to Eat in Leeds.
Stuart and Jo Myers opened the Greedy Pig Kitchen in 2012 in unfashionable North Street, on the wrong side of the traffic loop. They said it’s all they could afford. With just half a dozen tables and minimal decor, they served an all-day breakfast, loaded sarnies, pies and Scotch eggs. Not quite a greasy spoon, but you get the idea.
A few years later they upgraded their caff to a full-blown restaurant, running them both in tandem until customers began to take note of Stu’s buttermilk chicken, his cotechino with lentils and Jo’s peanut butter cheesecake, and so the couple dropped the Pig in favour of the Swine.
If the decor is still basic, the food at the Swine is more refined. Stu, after all, learned his trade at Leodis and Harvey Nichols and before lockdown served a six- course, small-plate, set menu. It was terrific value at fifty quid and BYO but it couldn’t last and it didn’t – the pandemic saw to that.
They got through it by doing takeaways and now they are open again with enough changes to warrant a second visit. Gone are the small plates. Instead, they’ve gone all retro with an à la carte menu: starters, mains and dessert with a choice of dishes at every course. Your own food on your own plate. How quaint. Whoever thought of that?
What hasn’t changed is Jo’s relaxed, informality front of house. She is modest, self-effacing, and funny. She will tell you if you ask but doesn’t feel the need to explain every last item on the plate.
The Swine lets the dishes speak for themselves like the duck liver parfait. A smooth, rich, buttery, pâté on toast, garnished with broad beans (twice podded), radishes and sliced grapes for a sweet note. It’s gorgeous. There is crab too; a slick of dark meat topped with flakes of white and served with delicate and straight-from-the-oven polenta chips, all crisp, buttery and herby and finished with mild Basque espelette pepper.
For mains, I could have chosen every dish on the menu. I pass on the smoked haddock with masala spice and the confit chicken which left just the three: beef fat bun, lamb neck and summer squash.
Stu Myers knows what makes a good vegetarian dish. The Swine used to run a monthly “roots to shoots” menu full of imaginative veggie dishes. Today it’s basmati rice in a broth with three kinds of squash cooked until near collapse, the rice and squash soaking up the deep savoury juices, then a crumble of goat’s cheese melting into the morass. It’s a lesson in how to make squash taste good.
Nigella has written in praise of brown food. Food that’s nourishing and soothing, not Instagram-able, but totally satisfying.
Myers’ neck of lamb is just such a dish, cooked long and slow with anchovy that dissolves into a rich, umami, savoury mass of falling-apart lamb which he spikes with black olives. On the side, long-cooked, salty carrots. Simple, good food that tastes of itself.
The beef fat brioche bun is photogenic enough to appear on their Instagram page. I’ve never been taken with a sweet brioche bun with savoury. Perhaps it’s the beef fat, but this one is not sweet, just soft and bouncy, soaking up the juices of thick slices of tender salt brisket and cream cheese dribbling down the sides. It comes with a pot of finely cut pickled vegetables.
As if this meal couldn’t get any better, there’s Jo’s custard tart. No dribbles, no smears, just a slice of classic British custard tart served with gently spiced plums.
Tea and Biscuits is a title that seriously undersells this beautifully imagined dessert. Think milky tea reborn as ice cream, pair it with some dark, sticky, spiced figs and a honey and almond biscuit, and you have a heavenly dessert.
So there you have it. If you want your food to speak of what it is, if you are weary of lengthy explanations, of sharing plates, of tasting menus, of wine matching, and if you like independent restaurants run by hard-working people without ego and ridiculously low prices, then the Swine that Dines is for you… and me.
The Swine That Dines, 58 North Street, Leeds LS2 7PN, 0113 244 0387, www.swinethatdines.co.uk. Open Friday to Saturday, 12-4pm and 5.30-8.30pm; Sunday, 11am-2pm. Price: approx. £90 for two inc. bottle wine and service.