13th Jun, 2018
Five Leeds Indie Food Heavyhitters
Words by Phoebe Ryan
Photographs by Lucy Forrester
That’s it. Leeds Indie Food has been and gone for another year. Months of planning, developing, angsting, and finalising hurried through an amazing two weeks of absolute culinary indulgence and spat us out the other side, bloated and smug.
Another stunning line-up of events offered a diverse range of foodie experiences, from vegan/plant-focussed to sustainable/no-waste to Indian, to dessert-focussed, to fast food…the list goes on.
As well as the usual passport discounts and collaborations prompted by LIF which proliferate across the city centre’s excellent crop of independents, the event line-up highlighted up-and-coming issues and priorities in the food sector, for both consumers and producers alike – namely, an impetus to minimise waste and maximise plant-based, vegan ingredients – alongside a continued focus on provenance and quality ingredients.
Find the Forest
I’ll kick off with Friday night’s Find the Forest event. What an amazing, surreal, tasty experience. My fave combo of experiences.
Arriving down the lane outside Skelton Grange, the magic remained hidden. “The Sat Nav says we’re here… can we be here? The back of a power station hub?” The buzz of electricity and an air of suburban neglect lifted my hackles. Was I about to be unsure about a LIF event?
Arriving early to snap some shots before the party began in earnest, I followed my nose (slash, listened to the distant rumble of voices) and was led up to the Skelton Grange Environmental Centre. A little perfect rural paradise stretched out before my eyes! With the heat of the day fading (I know! England! Hot! I was confused too!), a complete faerie glade of English countryside opened up in the midst of this suburban wilderness. A rabbit’s tail bobbed a flag of surrender as it flew down the path ahead of me, and a vole, mind clearly on other topics, pottered out of the undergrowth and then scattered, scared no doubt by the meandering of my big human feet.
Through a garden, over a lane and across a lawn I found a quintessential English paradise. Framed by a winding willow arch and sleepily rustling green, was a pond, dipped by glistening dragonflies, and in front of that, a table covered with white linen, and more importantly, elderflower cocktails. Also the friendly face of Beth Webber, aka Forest Found, the brains behind this beautiful set up.
After a few minutes of sipping and a good deal of chatter, humming away like bees, the diners were led through the trees to our dinner setting, in true woodland. Find the Forest wasn’t even a metaphor, then. Under the woodland canopy, a long trestle table beckoned, and soon got covered in ridiculously tasty fare. In the corner celebrated chef Josh Whitehead crouched low over a fire pit, ceaselessly basting colossal lamb legs. If camping was like this, I’d be on it.
With no electricity, everything Josh rustled up was a piece of woodfired culinary magic. Tenderstem broccoli with charcoal mayonnaise followed mangetout with smoked salt, and amazing seatrout preceded the aforementioned Balinese spice-basted lamb. The crowning glory, for me, was the dessert – accompanied with charcoal cream. Yup, literally just cream with charcoal in. BLEW MY MIND. I’ve never wanted to leave a power grid less.
Cupping with North Star
Stop it with your filthy mind. Cupping is the (perfectly innocent) internationally-recognised process by which coffee aficionados rate the quality of the beans they’re about to buy. After an amazing night with Find the Forest, a nice bit of coffee and a dose of Saturday morning education was right on the cards.
North Star founder Holly is properly a coffee aficionado. Like, terrifyingly knowledgeable. She spent a good half hour explaining the sourcing process to an eager crowd of coffee loving passport holders, mentioning the estates and even the farmers themselves, who North Star source from, by name.
Unlike 99% of the coffee industry, North Star don’t operate on the global market for coffee (where a bumper crop means prices plummet, and a shortage means prices go sky-high, regardless of quality), but they invest in their growers, and pay more money for better beans. She then showcased her award-winning coffee slurp (it’s how you taste properly, propelling those volatile aromatics up your nose rather than just over your tongue), and no joke, she sounds like you just got shot. Quite a heart-stopper early on a sunny Saturday morning. Once we got over the shock, we had a go too, and made a miserable slurpy dribbly attempt to become excellent coffee tasters. I may’ve failed, but we sampled (/cupped – still can’t quite put that in a sentence…) each of North Star’s roasts pure, and understood a little more about growing terroirs and their impact on the taste of the final cup. Pure genius. It’s not often that a LIF event leaves me with actual knowledge to show off about, rather than just a massive crush for a bunch of dishes.
Pizza and Prosecco
Slightly less highbrow was the fab day of Pizza and Prosecco at Waterlane Boat House which followed our Cupping escapades. And, I mean, still pretty highbrow – I mean, I’m hardly talking Carling (please, no, never) and a kebab, am I.
At least five pizza pop-ups settled down in Waterlane’s outdoor area, which filled up with sun-seekers pinking up like suckling pigs at a hog roast (have you even SEEN the weather lately? Do we really live in England?! What IS this?), complemented by Waterlane Boathouse’s own bar, as well as a prosecco pop-up from Latitude Wines. The latter, showcasing a range of specially imported prosecco and sparkling wine, available by the glass, created the perfect equation of pizza + sun + prosecco = magic Saturdays. After indulging in some amazing pizza from the likes of Frizza, Scream for Pizza and Honest Crust (looks like the “new thing” for pizza toppings 2018 is honey, beeteedubs…), we escaped the imminently burny rays of the sun for the cool and dark interior of a trip to Latitude itself (did you know they gave 10% discount to passport holders during the festival? That makes even my wine spend a little bit less painful…).
Seeds Supper was the brainchild of the amazing Seeds Collective, a group of women from all sorts of different creative fields who club together for collaboration, mutual support and inspiration.
The perfect location for plant-focussed, authentic Mexican cookery? Munro House’s back courtyard. Well, it wasn’t only days before, and has returned to its former state again, but the Seeds ladies truly waved their Cinderella wands for this two night event, completely transforming the space. The resulting hacienda-inspired courtyard (think macramé, plenty of on-point succulents and lush green potted plants, fairylights and stylish, white-painted wood) was a perfectly tranquil, urban refuge as the sun began to set on another sweltering Leeds day.
The (Mexican, plant-based) menu was cooked up by Miski’s Estela Arrendondo. This is Mexican food like you’ve never had before. Not one taco or burrito in sight. Think huitlacoche, tamales and sope. Unless you’re a bit Mexican, well-travelled or have watched as much Top Chef as I have, you might not know what any of those things are (FYI – sweetcorn fungus, a sort of maize flour Mexican gnocchi – terrible cultural ignorance there but you get my drift – and a sort of maizey, thick blini/tortilla. You’re welcome). It was an amazingly relaxed, colourful and friendly night, as guests and Seeds ladies mingled, celebrating the weather, Leeds, food, beauty and talent. Congrats Seeds Collective on a great night showcasing a range of Seeds talents which came together for such a fun night.
Bundobust x Prashad x Ox Club
Last but certainly not least. Good god, the food. The beer pairings. The flavours. The spice. It was indescribably tasty… but I’m paid to try. Imagine the baby of Prashad’s fine and delicate Gujurati specialties, Ox Club’s modern, stylish and subtle approach, and Bundobust’s inside-out knowledge of Indian food and drinks pairing. You shouldn’t want to eat a baby. But you can’t help it.
A fine and delicate dill kebab (paired with a de cam lambic) was followed by the Broad Bean Sanku (that’s Gujurati for cone. You now know one crucial word of Gujurati for any future holidays), an amazing sort-of pea and broad bean mini ice cream. It wasn’t icey, or creamy, but it was in a cone (which was made of samosa pastry). I want to eat it forever. Paired with a Gewurtztraminer/Riesling blend, it was the star of the show for me, though the asparagus and halloumi (which tasted a little bit like a more grown up version of my most beloved Bundo snack, paneer and mushroom tikka) was stellar, paired with a Berliner weisse called hopline bling. The oskar blues Death by Coconut beer pairing which accompanied dessert could be my dessert for evermore. Just beer for pudding. That’ll do, donkey.
Just a cross-section of the Leeds Indie Food events we spent the last few weeks enjoying, but certainly ones which will stay with me, and my tastebuds, till next year. Cheers to LIF!
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