Yakumama, Todmorden: The vegetarian restaurant that makes you forget you aren't eating meat
For a while now a friend has been nagging me to go to this Latin American-inspired cantina in Todmorden. It’s four miles from my front door for heaven’s sake, and I trust my chum’s judgement, so what’s been keeping me? Full disclosure: I called in briefly one Sunday lunchtime a couple of years ago in haste, had one dish with friends and was distracted. Turns out I’ve been missing out big time and Jess, you’ve every right to say I told you so.
Todmorden has never had Hebden Bridge’s cool credentials but has grown in stature and grace and, whilst it will probably never be a “destination” in the same way, it’s increasingly becoming a bohemian corner of Calderdale.
The lively Golden Lion hosts eclectic DJ sets (including Jarvis Cocker, Maxine Peake and snooker legend Steve Davis) with music fans flocking from far and wide, and foodies make a beeline for Site, a stylish, buzzy pizza place, the extraordinary tasting menu at Good Food Guide favourite the White Rabbit, and, no thanks to me, Yakumama.
Through a Kickstarter campaign, Hannah Lovett and Marcelo Sandoval raised over half the funds needed to transform the Old Co-op into a cantina and bar, opening in April 2019. They’d run a street food and events catering business back in 2014 and after doing a few pop-ups at the Co-op jumped at the chance to rent the ground floor. It’s a stunning Victorian building, all coloured and etched glass, black and white harlequin tiled floor and beautiful original shelving and grand staircase. A light, bright, lofty space, it’s full of character and charm – and somehow the perfect setting for food that transcends its Latin label and delivers joy at every turn.
There are five “plates” which feed two perfectly. They arrive in no particular order, but it seems fitting that the least photographic but arguably the tastiest arrives first: spiced cassava broth – tomatoes, tamarind, turmeric and ginger – not so much a wake-up call but a klaxon for the taste buds. The depth of flavour is astonishing for a little bowl of brownish stuff. We should have had one each to avoid the unseemly skirmish that broke out.
Ceviche is a riot of colour, like a child’s drawing of food: banana blossom, cucumber and red onion steeped in vibrant tiger’s milk, with sweet potato puree and watermelon radish spiked up with their own mango and Aji Amarillo sauce (which should be on prescription) with a tangle of cassava crisps on top – it’s a bejewelled flavour bomb and a lot of fun.
Next up, an unexpectedly sophisticated plate: plantain gnocchi with goat’s cheese, roscoff onions, raw honey and swirls of pickled beetroot puree; it’s earthy with a touch of sweetness and could easily have been a bit worthy with its scatter of pumpkin seeds but they’ve cleverly sidestepped that with a presentation worthy of a kitchen looking for a mention in Michelin.
Baby gem lettuce turns up on a lot of menus and it can be a dull thing but charring it brings out the natural sweetness. Here it works well with a drift of Old Winchester, a hard dry cheese reminiscent of Italian Pecorino, caper salt and fabulous crumpet croutons, finished off with a sharp chive and lemon dressing. Everyone I know who’s been says you’ve got to order the Andean spuds and I can see why. They’re everything you want in a roastie without knowing it: crispy, with smoked paprika oil, kalamata olive sauce, red pepper pickle and a soft boiled egg. Oh my, they’re mighty.
The menu changes regularly and each Sunday they serve a Big Colombian Brunch which I will soon be engaging with. Worth a mention too is the rather fine cocktail list, with weekly specials and a good selection of local craft ale on draught, as well as a vegan-friendly and organic wine list. My Margarita was the sharpest this side of Tijuana.
This is such clever, assured cooking, all of it plant-based, much of it vegan-by-stealth. Like the best vegetarian food – I’m thinking of Minal Patel’s fabulous Gujarati offer at Prashad – within one mouthful you’ve forgotten you’re not eating meat or fish. Minal captures the heart of the most dyed-in-the-wool carnivore and you’ll fall in love at Yakumama too. Hannah and Marcelo, whilst not sticking slavishly to one food culture, have an innate sense of pairing flavours and textures, resulting in some of the finest vegetarian food I’ve had the pleasure of, matched by faultless presentation which is too all often an afterthought. Flavour, balance, colour – it’s all there. The prices are ungrasping and service is sweet – warm, informed and discreet. And it’s on my doorstep – funny how sometimes the best treasures are.
Yakumama, the Old Co-op, 29 Rochdale Road, Todmorden, OL14 7LA, www.yakumama.co.uk. Open, Friday, 5 to 11pm (small plates menu until 9.30); Saturday, 12 to 11pm (small plates menu until 9.30); Sunday, 11am to 4pm (Big Colombian Brunch until 3.30pm).