When you live somewhere for a while, even a big city with countless culinary options, you find yourself wandering back to the same places for your dinners, your morning coffees and your after-work drinks. Sometimes I feel guilty for doing it, like I’m being incredibly dull and unimaginative returning to the same restaurants when there are currently new places popping up in Leeds almost every week. Surely I should be trying to get reservations for that launch night, or clamouring to be the first person in the new bar everyone’s talking about?
But there are some places that deserve repeat custom. When you’re in a rush, stressed from a long day or nervously heading out for a promising date, there’s something undeniably comforting about sitting down and knowing that, whatever else happens, you’re going to get a great meal. Here are the restaurants in Leeds I go back to again and again.
My Thai is my go-to place for a lunch or casual dinner – it’s quick, basic and amazingly cheap. £2.50 for a starter? Yes please. Even since its refurbishment the decor is no-frills with a distinctly communal feel – there are several large tables for groups and the two-person tables are crammed in close enough for you to share conversation with your neighbours. Service is fast and you’ll often find your mains appearing less than 5 minutes after your starters, but this just adds to its authentic charm. The steamed dumplings are some of the best I’ve ever had, and the pad thai will change your life.
Shears Yard is one of my favourite date night places (just in case anyone’s offering). For a start it’s beautiful; the exposed brick walls and hanging bulbs are just to my taste, even if it means horrible lighting for photos. Armed only with my humble iPhone 5S I’ve never managed to take a decent food picture here in my life, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that the food looks and tastes divine. Their focus is on using local, seasonal ingredients so the menu is constantly being updated with new and imaginative dishes. I think that’s why I keep coming back – because I know I’ll never be bored.
Do I need to seek help for my Thai addiction? Maybe. But at least the number of good Thai options in Leeds means I will never have to go cold turkey. If pushed I would probably have to go for MyThai as my absolute favourite, but sometimes I’m more in the mood for Zaap’s in your face, ‘straight outta Bangkok’ vibe and the food is equally good. Like MyThai it offers a no-frills experience – plastic plates and you will be asked to vacate your table if you’re lingering over your last sip of wine while there’s a queue at the door – but on value for money and atmosphere it cannot be beaten.
Ox Club is quite simply the most perfect restaurant in the city. I’ve been a couple of times for dinner and more times than I can count for brunch and every aspect is consistently flawless – the food, the service, the atmosphere…everything. I’m not the most highbrow foodie so I don’t always recognise all the ingredients on the menu, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve realised that I like everything they put in front of me. Whenever a friend visits from outside Leeds, Ox Club is one of the first food options I suggest because they’re so reliably fantastic – I know they’re not going to embarrass me.
Do you want food, or just a few drinks? Starving hungry, or just want something to pick at? At Bundobust it doesn’t matter; their excellent range of beers and menu of street food-style vegetarian Indian caters for all moods. The atmosphere is fantastic – I don’t think I’ve ever seen it not full – and every dish is incredible. As an ashamed non-beer drinker I also appreciate the presence of a few delicious flavoured beers, namely Mongozo mango or coconut. The only way this place will go down badly is if you’re with a stubborn meat-eater, and even they may eat their words (as well as all the food).
For all the tapas restaurants in Leeds, I find many of them a bit middle of the road. My eternal favourite, Viva Cuba, is a bit too out of the way in Kirkstall for a casual drop-in, and if there is an amazing option in city centre then I apologise; it hasn’t had a look in since I found Ambiente. The menu is described as Spanish tapas with a twist, and among the usual suspects are more interesting dishes like Yorkshire sausage and black pudding encased in quail egg and Moorish lamb kebab. The Leeds branch is beautiful, tucked away on the Calls beside the river, and the wine menu is excellent.
What are your fail-safe Leeds restaurants? Am I boring for going back to the same places? Let me know in the comments!