As a director at FSC and senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, I spend a fair chunk of time looking at trends – and what’s ‘hot’ – in the leisure and hospitality sector. It’s a tough gig, but one I try to embrace…
Nowhere is this important work more interesting or exciting than in the city of Leeds.
The city has managed to support the development of one of the UK’s most exciting independent food and drink scenes, attracting some fantastic restaurant and bar operators who have developed high profile and highly-successful businesses. Some of these innovative entrepreneurial start-ups, such as perhaps Red’s True Barbecue, have become benchmark operations: talked about and much admired across the UK eating and drinking-out landscape, and set fast on the expansion trail.
The emergence of Leeds as one of the most vibrant markets in the land is now seemingly self-perpetuating, with equal numbers of new wave start-ups vying with multiple operators and larger corporates for a bite of city.
How much further the market can grow remains to be seen, but what is certain is that the Yorkshire city is a great jumping off point for those who need to keep pace with current trends, or who want to see some of the most innovative operators and concepts available anywhere.
My study tour of the town, in no particular order, would include:
North Bar (and North Brewing)
A craft beer bar before craft beer bars were even a thing. The team behind North Bar have gone on to create The Crosskeys, Further North, Alfred, Preston and North Bar Social in Otley. What next? Their own brewery North Brewing Co has just begun production, and a new bar opens in Harrogate soon.
Friends of Ham
If North Bar was the first wave then the next two represent the second. Observer Food Monthly winner Friends of Ham focuses on craft beer, charcuterie and cheese. They have just extended their original site and added a second in Ilkley: www.friendsofham.co.uk
Bundobust brings the family cooking of Prashad – Gordon Ramsey’s Great British Restaurant Finalist – to bear, combining Indian street food with craft beer. Such has been the recepton that Bundobust is set to open a second, in Manchester, in early 2016: www.bundobust.com
Sheaf Street Cafeteria / Laynes
With venues such as Bottega Milanese and Mrs Athas, the city centre has no shortage of quality independent coffee shops, all with loyal followings. The recently opened Sheaf Street Cafeteria is my pick. It’s the second ventures from Laynes and is giving the owners the opportunity to showcase their food ambitions, which were held back by the size of their original, eponymous site: www.laynesespresso.co.uk
A brave move for a retail developer, Land Securities’s food offer in its Trinity Leeds shopping centre features a rotating roster of street food vendors. Every six weeks six new traders are brought in, to create a diverse buzz. Expect a mix of local street food heroes like Mankits Kitchen and Fish& along with national names from London, such as MeatWagon, Rola Wala and BankWok – all of whom have since opened permanent restaurants in the city: www.trinityleeds.com/trinitykitchen for a flavour.
Drinks consultancy Hedonist have put their money where their mouths are. Their newly-opened Hedonist Project is their flagship bricks-and-mortar concept and a ‘permanent pop-up’. They say that instead of doing a seasonal menu in a bar, they’re doing a seasonal bar that changes every three months. The first focuses on whisky: www.hedonistdrinks.co.uk
Northern Monk Brewery / Grub & Grog Shop
Another in a wave of exciting new brewers, Northern Monk have just made the city centre home with a new brew house, tap room and refectory showcasing their own beers alongside a wide selection of guests in a converted flax mill. The kitchen is run by the Grub & Grog shop, who are themselves creating a buzz with their seasonal menu: www.northernmonkbrewco.com/the-refectory
Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, and Headrow House
The Belgrave music venue, bar and street food kitchen offer has proved a big hit with its monthly feast events that bring together up to 10 different chefs, food producers and street-food vendors going from strength the strength. The teams newly opened Headrow House is the Belgrave’s grown up (but still up-for-a-good-time), big brother. It features OxClub as its core food offer, with an imposing, custom-made imported Grillworks grill as the centre piece of the kitchen, which has a mission to showcase the diversity of cooking with solid fuel. It looks like it’s doing just that: www.headrowhouse.com
Vice & Virtue
One to watch for 2016: Dough Bistro’s self-taught chef Luke Downing’s new city centre venue will undoubtedly bring his food and cocktail creativity to a wider, and deserved, audience. A downstairs cocktail bar is already trading with the restaurant set to open in March. The website www.viceandvirtueleeds.co.uk is something of a holding page and the name is a homage to the venue’s history as a gentlemen’s club.
Aside from the above, there is also a raft of established operators who have made Leeds home, including BrewDog, D&D London, Iberica and Living Ventures. So what are you waiting for? If a New Year’s resolution is get out into the market more, it’s time to book a ticket to Leeds.
Francis Patton is a co-founder and director of Fleet Street Communications