A look at the food and drink scene in Leeds
PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 April 2019
The food and drink scene is erupting into one of the most diverse and exciting in Leeds as Martin Pilkington reports
It comes as no surprise to those in the know that Leeds probably serves the most diverse range of food and drink than any other city in the north, if not the country outside London. And it is a growing scene the city loves to celebrate with one of the most hectic food and drink festival schedules which runs almost the whole year.
It’s great not just for people living and working in Leeds, but also for its many visitors. ‘The Leeds food and drink scene has continued to expand and improve in recent years, and we’re proud to say our city now boasts an incredible variety of restaurants and bars ranging from fine dining to unique independent ventures, all making an important contribution to our thriving visitor economy,’ says Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council. ‘The diversity of places to eat and drink is embodied in the hugely popular programme of festivals hosted around the city each year, with events including Leeds Indie Food Festival, Leeds Food and Drink Festival and the internationally renowned Leeds Beer Festival, all providing a fitting showcase for new businesses, local traders and established names.’
The city is a place that nurtures creativity. The Man Behind the Curtain restaurant may have just lost its Michelin star but remains a tasty status symbol, bringing to the notice of everyone the imaginative and skilled chef Michael O’Hare’s whose food was once neatly dubbed ‘engagingly bonkers’ by The Guardian. At the other – equally creative – end of the spectrum is Trinity Kitchen in the eponymous shopping centre, where on an eight-week rotation, six new food vans purvey brilliant street food to eager consumers. Throw in some of the best independent brewers in the North, such as Northern Monk, Kirkstall Brewery and North Brewing Co, and you start to get a flavour of what’s going on.
It’s not just in the city centre but also the suburbs. Simon Cocks, owner of independent wine shop and bar Once Upon a Vine in Horsforth. ‘Horsforth was the right location for us, following recommendations from friends. We found a great spot, the high street is buzzing here, and since we opened in September business has been excellent,’ says Simon. ‘I’ve lived in Leeds for about seven years, and there’s been an explosion of independent food businesses opening up, something new every week it seems.’ Typically for the Leeds scene Once Upon a Vine offers something a bit different, fine charcuterie and cheese to accompany a glass of something special.
Festivals and food businesses cooperate in a virtuous epicurean circle here, helped by the fact that Leeds has some stunning venues. The Great British Food Festival is returning to Harewood House once again this May. ‘Harewood House is an amazing venue, an iconic building,’ says Daniel Maycock, one of the festival’s organisers. ‘We are on the front lawn as well as next to the house, and it makes for a great atmosphere every time. Leeds and Yorkshire are foodie areas - we get artisan producers from the region who are making interesting things – there’s a lot going on in Leeds – and people are keen to enjoy a foodie day out.’
In the city itself the town hall frequently hosts foodie festivals, among them the Leeds International Beer Festival, now according to Darren Potter of the organising team, possibly the UK’s biggest such event, attracting around 10,000 people over four days annually. ‘This is our eighth year,’ he says. ‘The location in and around Leeds Town Hall, the city’s most famous building, adds to the experience, and when we mix in live music across each night, and a street food market, it makes for a memorable experience for visitors.’ If beer is not your thing then Leeds has several celebrations of the art of cocktail making too.
Another event at the town hall is the Great Yorkshire Vegan Festival, held this year on May 12th. This will be its fourth running, but it has already proved very successful. ‘We’re so proud to have been voted the best vegan festival in the UK in 2018 in an online poll,’ says Victoria Bryceson, who heads the festival. That success matches the evolution of the city’s food sector, as well as the developing vegan scene. ‘When we started there really wasn’t anything much as far as vegan food outlets were concerned,’ says Victoria. ‘There were vegan restaurants or anything like one, but now there are quite a few - veganism has grown dramatically in Leeds in the last few years.’ She stresses that non-vegans are welcome to the festival, and expects to see plenty there given the population’s appetite for quality food in general.
Roundhay Park is another spot perfect for foodie events, with Pub in the Park, a three-day day foodie extravaganza hosted by popular chef Tom Kerridge, returning to the venue along with a long list of top names. Millennium Square in the city centre will hold the Leeds Food and Drink Festival. There are plenty more. Pick a date and bring an appetite. Or a thirst. This is Leeds, best bring both.