Pudsey might not be the obvious choice to open a new restaurant but Feed has found a good home.
I would like to have been a fly on the wall when seasoned restaurateur Luke Downing and ‘bad boy’ chef Jono Hawthorne were discussing the location for their new opening.
Downing is a Leeds lad, his city centre fine dining Vice & Virtue scooping up gongs left and right, and in the ‘burbs, there’s crowd pleasing Aperitivo.
So, where to locate a ‘hipster, edgy, urban yet chilled’ café/restaurant? Chapel Allerton or Roundhay perhaps?
Nah, tell you what, how about Pudsey. Pudsey? Don’t get me wrong, I like Pudsey.
I lived there for a dozen years back in the 80s and it was many things; semi-rural, close to Leeds but above all, you could pick up a Victorian semi for half the money you had to find in Headingley. But it’s never been cool.
Storm Ali has blown in and rain is coming down sideways. Lovely, then, that the welcome goes, “ah, come in, let me take your brolly, thanks for turning out on a night like this, where would you like to sit?” I can forgive pretty much anything – even the ear-splitting, head-banging music – with this kind of hello.
Most of the hipster boxes have been ticked; pink walls, neon signs, exposed brickwork, bare boards, banquette – it’s not a big room and the tables are a bit packed in, and there’s nothing soft to mop up the noise, so what with that and the grunge we have to lean in to hear one another. The warning on the menu is “our music is quite loud from 6pm to create the atmosphere WE want to achieve. It’s quieter to come earlier, or on a Monday”. Well it’s 7pm on a Thursday and I want it turned down. It’s done without a blink.
The menu is terse: Jaffle – spag bol, parmesan, thyme, (it’s a toasted sandwich. I had to google it too) spelt; sweetcorn, egg yolk, chives, seaweed and radishes; fermented red chilli, sesame salt, which is a lovely little dish, the radish ice-crisp and pink, the puddle of dip with just the right amount of kick. Hawthorne’s cheeseburger spring roll has got tongues wagging (it’s a dish he concocted at his XO Supper Club). Imagine a spring roll served in a polystyrene burger box, then biting into it to discover a cheeseburger – you got it. The idea, I guess, is to confound expectations, and it does just that – it’s genius. And nuclear hot, so I take the roof of my mouth off. My fault, I was just too eager.
From ‘small plates’ comes crab tartine. Insta-pretty, like something Monty Don might come up with, it’s a riot of flowers and herbs, with soft, sweet crab meat revealing itself underneath. It’s a pinch of salt away from perfection. I was hoping for a properly burnt taste in the burnt cucumber but it was too subtle for me; are you breaking Pudsey in gently chef?
Hawthorne has serious form. He’s worked at Noma, The Box Tree and The Man Behind the Curtain, so he’s no stranger to busy kitchens, massive egos and Michelin stars. Feed is open from eight in the morning through until midnight, so he has a lot on. The brunch menu suggests he’s playing it slightly safer for the time being, with the likes of mushrooms on toast and eggs benedict.
Plates arrive; an ‘aged’ pork chop lurks under fine shreds of iceberg lettuce, a blob of nduja delivering a smoky hit of heat – the meat is perfectly judged and the slick of burnt apple – the darkest green you can get before black – works magnificently.
It’s another handsome plate but nothing can prepare us for cod, bonito butter, seaweed. A black star shape on a white plate brings to mind Michael O’Hare’s outrageous coal-black fish & chips dish, and his take doesn’t disappoint.
Beneath the sheet of seaweed is a hunk of pearly cod which flakes at the fork – and that bonito butter!
A roast carrot side packs a punch with an immense hit of umami in the goats curd and a fabulously crunchy, sweet pumpkin seed praline. This is such clever food and we’re enjoying the element of surprise, that not everything tastes as it looks and that you have to discover it.
Hawthorne’s hangover cone already enjoys notoriety only weeks into trading. A cynic might suggest that you just throw as many sweet and savoury things onto one plate and stick an ice cream cone on the top. Well, that’s pretty much what it is; chocolate, parfait, something chewy, crisps, bacon sprinkles and pretzels. It’s a riot but not my thing, though if I’d had a hangover I might have got it.
More satisfying is a dish of soft, roast plums with a silky, creamy rice pudding and cream shot through with star anise, a blizzard of fine chocolate on top.
Hawthorne is blurring the lines between fast food and fine dining and there’s a lot of fun to be had, but it’s underscored by seriously good cooking and due respect paid to ingredients and the marriage of taste and texture.
His plates are slightly challenging but full of wit, charm and heart – he’s not being playful just for the sake of it. There’s bounce and good humour to the service, too. Overnight, Pudsey got cool.
Feed, 163 Richardshaw Lane, Pudsey LS28 6AA tel: 0113 204 0928 www.feed-leeds.co.uk
Dinner for two, 10 plates, two glasses of wine £89.50.