Back in the 80s, as an impoverished Leeds student, eating out in the city invariably meant a cheap curry at the legendary (original) Corner Café on Buslingthorpe Lane. Twenty-five years after I moved away, I still revisit friends there but know almost nothing of its current restaurant scene. As I now write a food blog, I signed up for Blog North’s Food Glorious Food event in Leeds – a day of hanging out with other food bloggers and eating cake.
But before that, there was the opening night of The Beast and the Swine, a pop-up restaurant from a four-strong collective known as We the Animals. With two of the chefs based at the Reliance, which the Loiners at my table later reassured me is one of the go-to places to dine, and a menu that intrigued and tempted, I set out for the secret venue. The Holy Trinity church is an oasis of calm in the bustling city centre – inside a medieval-length banqueting table was laid out for the feast ahead while fairy lights twinkled down the aisles.
Somewhat bizarrely, our welcoming cocktail was presented in a baby’s feeding bottle. The Earl Grey infused gin mixed with something peachy slipped down nicely but I’d have preferred it in a martini glass to sucking on a rubber nipple.
Never mind. The food made up for it. The salmagundi of rabbit rillette, mustardy firm sausage, wafer-thin pressed ham, pickled heritage beetroot cubes and julienned carrots, and a very garlicky broad bean hummus was the opening shot across the bows. There was plenty of salty focaccia to accompany. Then a plate of meaty, creamy Bridlington crab, dressed with pea shoots and a tangy pink grapefruit dressing sharp enough to cut through the crab’s richness. I could have happily had a second helping and left sated.
The bolito misto was a hearty plate of Yorkshire chicken, a spicy homemade cotechino sausage deep with notes of cinnamon and cloves, and a slice of veal tongue. Wedges of steamed savoy cabbage and dark lentils offset the meats. The portions were generous and the wait staff brought extra cotechino for those who wanted it. I did.
The cheese course – a firm Wensleydale with a sweet onion and sultana relish and crumbly spelt crackers – arrived at the same time as the dessert. Crocquembouche towers were piled onto giant paella pans and there were gasps of delight but I was disappointed. The choux pastry was doughy, dry and bland, and the cream, which should have been chantilly, was unsweetened.
I liked the informality at table of mismatched crockery, stoneware mugs to drink from and the wine being served in teapots. However, the menu’s emphasis on provenance, local and seasonal didn’t extend to the red or white on offer and I’d have liked to have known what I was drinking. It was also too plonky for such good food. It was a very reasonable £40 a head for seven courses – upping the price by a tenner and serving more suitable wine would have clinched it.
For a first outing, though, it was pretty good. I was too full to manage the petit four, but they’d even thought of that. They were thoughtfully wrapped and offered as a takeway treat. A few tweaks, chiefly with the drinks, and they’ll have cracked it, so keep your ear to the ground for the next outings from We the Animals.