Beefy beetroot and duck tongues - Our end of year round-up of the dishes we enjoyed the most in 2018
We challenged our writing team to tell us the best thing they have eaten over the last twelve months. Some knew what to write about straight away, because the memory of a good meal stays with you long after the washing up has been done. For others it was more of a struggle (and a frantic scroll through iCloud) to narrow it down to just one thing.
What is interesting, is that the challenge has thrown up a real variety of good eats. It's not all tasting menus and top end prices, some of these memorable meals cost next to nothing. Some side dishes even ended up star of the show.
One of our writers goes bonkers for beetroot, another likes fish nailed to a plank and one even got maximum satisfaction for less than a fiver. Oh, and someone snogged a duck....
Hot & Spicy Duck Tongues - Home Chinese Restaurant (£6.80 - main image)
Take a tongue and put it in your mouth tip-first as if you were snogging it. Bite until you find the strip of cartilage that runs down the middle, and then pull it out, scraping the meat off each side as you go. Just in case this sounds a little bit too accessible, I should mention they're served room-temperature. The reward for your bravery - sweet, gamey meat with the kind of tongue-coating fat you get from the best jamon - is well worth it. If the thought of it bothers you that much, just close your eyes and think of chicken wings. Thom Archer
Home Chinese Restaurant, 7 Back Blenheim Terrace, Leeds LS2 9HZ
Chicken Shwarma - Istanbul Bakery (£3)
One of the best things about working as a food reviewer in Leeds is that you get to try some pretty lavish meals. In the past twelve months I’ve enjoyed 8-course gin tasting menus, full-vegan banquets, and a Caribbean feast so full of memories of my childhood that I did a small cry over my rice and peas. However, there are some days where only the simple and greasy will cut it, and for that reason, my favourite food discovery in Leeds of 2018 was the humble chicken shwarma from Istanbul Bakery. It’s not the best looker of the bunch, certainly. But when it is dumped in your hands, as warm and weighty as a newborn child, you simply cannot go wrong for three English pounds.
Jam-packed with salad and a generous helping of that sweet, juicy chicken, the flatbread is cooked fresh in front of you, creating something that is easily grabbable on a lunchbreak and sure tastes a hell of a lot better than the average meal deal. Next year, I’m stepping it up with a side of their hummus, and I’ll still have change from a fiver – what more could you possibly want? Jenessa Williams
Istanbul Bakery, Leeds Kirkgate Market, Ludgate Hill, Leeds LS2 7HY
Crapaudine Beetroot Cooked in Beef Fat - The Black Swan (tasting menu £98-£125)
Out of the 14-odd courses on the tasting menu at The Black Swan, one was so mind-blowing that I’ll be tasting it in my dreams for years. A wedge of crapaudine beetroot – I don’t even like beetroot for God’s sake, rare type or not – slow cooked in beef fat for several hours, before being served with horseradish, more pickled beetroot and linseed cracker. The flavour is out of this world; so smoky, so meaty and the beetroot has held up perfectly to such long cooking periods. The horseradish is delicate and buttery, with the faintest touch of pickle coming through from the discs atop the main wedge. All this smoky power is tempered by the natural sweetness of the beetroot itself, which I’m told they store inside straw bales. As is my wont, I have eaten some incredible pieces of meat this year, but my dish of 2018 winds up being a purple strip of veg. Tommy Banks has a lot to answer for. Incidentally, the rest of the tasting menu was absolutely phenomenal – get it booked. Simon Richardson
Black Swan Oldstead, York, YO61 4BL
Wild Salmon – Find the Forest event at #LIF18
2017 was the year cooking went primal. It seemed restaurants everywhere were stoking up the coals to put BBQ firmly on the culinary map. Yet it was 2018 that saw me have my favourite flame related experience; at Leeds Indie Food’s Find The Forest in May, where I ate wild salmon nailed to slab of timber. It may have been the twinkling lights, the woodland canopy, wafting embers or candlelit bar, but that flakey fish was the memorable centrepiece to the long banqueting table. Lightly salted and vivid red, the salmon stood up against roasted squash and charred lettuces, scattered with punchy wild garlic flowers. I’m not sure that salmon is native to the Harewood Estate, but Josh Whitehead did an impressive job of stoking the pit to truly immerse us in nature. Sarah Cotterill
Grilled Jerusalem Artichokes, Smoked Beef Fat - Ox Club (£5.00)
My dish of the year was a side dish of humble vegetables that almost reduced me to tears.The other night my partner finished work and came home having had a couple of beers and announced that he had booked a table at Ox Club. This would have been wonderful news were I not already in my pyjamas and feeling a little ropy. But he dragged me from the duvet with promises of indulgence.
And he was right, we ordered what can only be described as life giving artichokes, a game changing creation from sous chef Andy Castle. Rich, smooth emulsion sit beneath segments of artichoke, which have become caramelised, almost gooey in texture. There are thin crisps of artichoke to balance the softer elements, and the crowning glory is little pockets of smoked beef fat, which somehow have a lightness to them, as though they've been whipped. Sean brandishes his fork and exclaims 'this is it, this is the mouthful!', he's combined the artichoke with the Szechuan duck from the specials board. We concur that this is indeed, the mouthful of the year. Certainly worth getting out of bed for. Anja Madhvani
Ox Club, 19a The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 6PU
Northern Bloc Cinnamon and Belgian Biscuit Ice Cream – Bundobust (£4)
It’s not often that a dish commands full-on speechless silence at first bite, but this one somehow managed it. Northern Bloc are becoming ice-cream-innovator royalty across the nation, and this masterpiece of spice, sweetness and rich creamy tang showed us why from the very first taste.
Made with all natural ingredients (as always), and served in a generous helping of three dense but delicious scoops, this pot of goodness came as part of Bundobust’s festive menu in 2018, but we all know that the humble ice cream is for life – not just for Christmas. Sprinkled with crushed pistachios and presented in that iconic circular cylinder of paper, this is an icy pud that will leave you anything but cold. Kate Ryrie