Ever wander around a new city and get a vague sense of deja-vu? Everywhere you look things are the same, but slightly different, and you start to question whether you’ve been here before. Suddenly your gaze rests on a Starbucks, and you realise that your mind isn’t playing tricks on you, you’ve just seen this Starbucks a thousand times in a thousand different places.
Leeds is no different. In city centre alone, I believe we currently have 7 Starbucks, 6 Costa Coffee, 5 Subway and 3 each of McDonald’s and Nando’s. Those are some big numbers for a city so compact you’re rarely more than 15 minutes’ walk away from anything else. Luckily, the independents are fighting back, and despite being the underdog, they’ve got a lot on their side. Apart from having a spark of originality and staff who tend to have a genuine passion for what they’re doing, the product is higher quality, locally-sourced, and despite all this – wait for it – you often pay less money for all this indie delicious-ness.
Convinced that you should break up with your favourite chain immediately? Good. Now find out where you can go to ease the pain – I promise it won’t just be a one night stand…
Costa Coffee La Bottega Milanese
“You know what I could really go for? A bland cup of foam and a pre-packaged panini”… said nobody, ever. Enter La Bottega Milanese, blending the best of Milan and Yorkshire to create great coffee, fresh paninis and beautiful Italian desserts. Their method clearly works; they occupy a premium spot in The Light and last year opened their second location at Bond Court (where the staff can often be found using their chalkboard to direct playful insults at the Costa Coffee next door). The decor is a refreshing change from average Leeds coffee shop, and the cherry on top? Their Leeds Light location is open as late as 9pm.
Amid claims of overly-salted bread, questionable additives and calorie counts to rival McDonald’s, I’ve never been a huge Subway fan. Anywhere that has to produce a synthetic smell and pump it out of every store is pretty suspicious in my book. Brod, on the other hand, is a lunchtime favourite that I seem to share with half of Leeds’ workforce – I don’t think I’ve ever seen the place without a queue out the door. Despite this, everyone gets served within 5 minutes and the sandwiches are amazing. Prices range from around £2.50-£3.50, and don’t forget to pick up a brownie.
Byron Burger Patty Smith’s
Byron has so many branches now and always seems to be full…am I ust missing something? I’m not saying i was terrible, but having been once I found their burgers to be a bit cold, exceedingly average, and not worth a second visit. Plus they are PRICEY – get yourself to Patty Smith’s at the Belgrave instead and you can get a Dirty Burger for a fiver, and add chips for £1.50. The brioche buns are Yorkshire-bred (pun intended), the patties are made on site, and the burger name is so appropriate. You’ll know what I mean when you try it.
La Tasca Viva Cuba
La Tasca seem to do a hell of a lot of offers – 2 for 1s and the like – but they really should for the price of their dishes and mediocrity of the food. La Tasca has a lot of competition from independents tapas places in Leeds; Ambiente and Sandinista are fab, and there are several others on my to-visit list including Bilbao and Pintura. However there’ll always be a special place in my heart for Viva Cuba. Yes it looks like a dive from the outside, but inside is delicious food, colourful Cuban decor and sangria that goes down like fruit juice.
Pizza Express Ecco Pizzeria
I’m going to be totally honest here – I don’t completely totally hate Pizza Express. Occasionally I’ll pick up a decent discount voucher and head along for a pizza that’s actually quite tasty, but when eating at the Headingley branch I’m always haunted by the fact that Ecco is just down the street. They use a wood-fired oven and are dedicated to the authenticity of their Neapolitan pizzas, going so far as to import all the key ingredients from Naples. There are so many original toppings to choose from it always takes me a good 15 minutes to choose one, but I never dither over a scoop of homemade gelato for dessert.
So guys, what chain have you sacked off for a better and brighter independent?