Review in Sunday’s Observer by Jay Rayner
We’d just got over our first birthday celebrations when we were lucky enough to be reviewed in The Observer by none other than Jay Rayner, he’s not one to mince his words.
We think he liked us……..
4 New Station Street, Leeds (0113 242 0275). Meal for two: £30-50
A late night in Leeds and I am in a basement room with a slice of Prosciutto di Parma ham dangling off the ball of my hand, held in a fist. A fellow food writer has explained that he was told to do this by Ferran Adrià, the überchef famed for the modernist food he once served at El Bulli. “You wait until you can no longer feel the temperature difference between the ham and your hand,” he says. “Then you know it’s at the perfect temperature.” I wait. Quickly the ham is warmed by my soft, soft skin, a dividend from never having done a proper day’s work in my life. I lick the slippery fold of cured pig off. Gosh. Adrià’s right. It has a deep, ripe sweet flavour that just goes on and on. I slap another bit of ham on my now pig-fat-slicked hand, dead flesh on live skin.
You might assume from this that I was less than sober. You would be right. I was deep down in the bottom of a glass and floating right back to the top again. This does not invalidate the experiment. And anyway, it came with the territory. I was in a fabulous bar called Friends of Ham and having been one for a long time – I think calling me and ham mere friends is to understate the depth and maturity of our relationship – it seemed only right to show the product a bit of serious love.
Is it valid to review this sort of place in a restaurant column? After all, they don’t actually cook anything. All they do is buy stuff and sell it on. Ah yes, but they buy really good stuff and they sell it on very well indeed. I would choose Friends of Ham over any number of bona fide Leedsrestaurants. What’s more, I did. It occupies one of the units in the dark, narrow approach to the city’s station, a road usually only used when you are either trying to leave town or locate someone to mug. At ground level is a self-consciously narrow bar. Chatter rises and falls. Downstairs is a larger, floorboarded room with central communal tables and smaller seating spaces around the outside. The ceiling is low. The wallpaper is of filled bookshelves, spine out, which saves on buying the real thing.
To eat, there are hefty wooden boards of charcuterie, cheese and bread with crunchy pickles on the side. Both the food and drink choices run from the obvious to the less so, and come with tasting notes. So there is a full platter of premium jamón Ibérico at £17.50 – with “an unmatched depth of flavour” – as well as cheaper options like the Parma I licked off my hand, or a serrano, for £6 a serving. There is salami flecked with fennel seed, a coarse cut, oily chorizo, and some glorious lardo – “a savoury buttery taste” – the salty cured back fat of the fattest pigs.
Some of these come from mainstream suppliers such as Brindisa, others from the kitchen of a nearby restaurant called the Reliance, which cures its own meats. What matters is that it is both stored and sliced well. The cheese list runs through a bit of Brie de Meaux and Keen’s Cheddar to Harrogate Blue and Yellison’s Goat from nearby Skipton. There is olive oil-dribbled bread or crackers with which to eat this and little pots of fiery sweet jelly to smear across it. Cutlery is optional.
The ever-rotating beer list is of the serious sort that more manly men than me would frown and nod over, with choices from Oregon and the Sierra Nevada in the US, through Belgium and Sweden to the glorious exotica of Stockport. I taste chocolate stouts, and wheat beers with a salty edge and softer lighter ales that feel as if they were brewed with me in mind.
Some of the staff have beards but, like me, they wear them lightly. They are eager to give tasters wherever possible. There is a short, well-priced wine list, but even I would acknowledge it’s not the point of coming here. You come to wear paper-thin slices of ham like a glove and behave like it’s a reasonable thing to do. Because it is.
page 39, The Observer Magazine, 28.07.13Back to Reviews