In the past five years the Leeds restaurant scene has been transformed into a love letter to Yorkshire’s burgeoning producers. Artisanal cheese from the Dales, fresh catch from the North Sea, and top-quality meat, game and seasonal farm vegetables are all being used to push the boundaries of Modern British cuisine in this city. Throw in some excellent Indian food, vegetarian-dining champions and an almost preposterous number of street-food entrepreneurs, and Leeds is starting to look like one of the UK’s best food parties.
When former MasterChef semi-finalist Liz Cottam announced plans to open a gastropub among the butchers and fishmongers of Leeds’ Kirkgate Market in 2019, it raised eyebrows. But the format works – at night, the act of being escorted through the slumbering market to enter the dimly lit Owl is a curious thrill. Chef patron is Mark Owens, ex-Michelin head chef of The Box Tree in Ilkley, and their menu sings with British produce from the market and beyond. Do try the seasonal multicourse dinners, featuring sophisticated dishes like guinea fowl with salt-baked turnip and cheddar custard, and treacle tart with sea buckthorn.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; theowlleeds.co.uk
Reservations: Essential for dinner; walk-ins accepted for lunch
Unlike many contemporary dining venues, Ox Club can legitimately own the post-industrial look because it’s located inside a former textile mill. Recessed within a small courtyard off the Headrow, it’s all whitewashed brick walls, wooden floors and metal piping around an open kitchen. The setting may be spartan, but the food is complex and clever; Ox Club has been included in the Good Food Guide every year since opening. Its menu champions grill cooking with Yorkshire produce and food is refined, carb-light and veg-rich. Meat-lovers should try the bone-in aged sirloin with bone marrow bearnaise.
Contact: 0113 487 18 14; oxclub.co.uk
West Yorkshire has a rich seam of immigration from the Subcontinent (mainly due to its textile-industry heritage) so, not surprisingly, it’s home to some of the best Indian and Pakistani food in the country. This Keralan curry house is a Leeds institution and comes Michelin-recommended. There’s nothing very flashy here, just two simple dining floors that are always packed with people and fragrant, spicy gusts running riot from the kitchen. Authentic family fish curries are the speciality: order a satisfyingly greasy puff of bathura bread to mop up the Meen Koottan, made with freshly ground spices.
Contact: 0113 244 0500; tharavadurestaurants.com
Reservations: Recommended, especially on weekends
When local Dave Olejnik launched Laynes Espresso in 2011, it became Leeds’ first artisan coffee shop. Today it’s still the city’s best. The fact that Laynes is conveniently located around the corner from Leeds Train Station means this minimalist cafe is always buzzing, but locals come from all over town to pull up a pew at the large street-facing windows with a strong flat white and a plate of runny organic eggs on buttery sourdough. It’s brunch heaven, but there’s also gourmet cakes. Grab the wonderfully tangy Yorkshire rarebit with pickled gherkin if you see it on the menu.
Contact: 078 28 82 31 89; laynesespresso.co.uk
Reservations: Not taken
This stripped-back Northern Quarter gastropub is the type of get-your-paper-out Sunday afternoon bolthole that every Leeds resident wants in their neighbourhood. The wines are good, the beers are local and the British pub grub is a giant leap above average. The seasonal menu, chalked up on boards above the scruffy wooden bar, changes weekly and mixes classics with imaginative vegetarian options like celeriac, leek and black truffle gratin with pear and radicchio. Start by asking your heavily tattooed waiter for a plate of home-cured charcuterie, made in-house, and prepare to linger.
Contact: 0113 295 60 60; the-reliance.co.uk
Man Behind the Curtain
Shortly after rising to fame on Great British Menu for his rockstar mane and punk cooking, Michael O’Hare won his first Michelin star at Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds. Today his restaurant is double the size of the original. The decor is abrasively arty, with monochromatic distressed walls, black floors and marble tabletops, and the food is just as highly stylised – every one of O’Hare’s 11-course dinner plates looks like an exquisite work of art. Lockdown gave him the chance to evolve his menu; the signature inky-black ‘Emancipation’ cod loin dish is still there, but everything else is brand new.
Contact: 0113 243 23 76; themanbehindthecurtain.co.uk
Reservations: Essential, bookings are released five months in advance
At Home, everything from the choice of plating to the flavour combinations and ingredients is a celebration of Yorkshire’s seasons and natural environment. Each month, chefs Liz Cottham and Mark Owens (who also run The Owl gastropub) reinvent the line-up of dishes, so you’re unlikely to ever have the same thing twice, but you can guarantee what you get will be a beautiful, thoughtful twist on classic British cuisine. The airy, upstairs dining room reflects Home’s earthy food presentation, with rattan hanging lights and leafy table arrangements. It’s adults-only, and multicourse set menus only; come on Sundays to try the deconstructed roast dinner.
Contact: 0113 430 01 61; homeleeds.co.uk
Fresh, handmade pasta shapes are laid out for all to see on the counter top of the open kitchen at Sarto. The menu is creative, short and changes frequently, but expect to see lesser-known pastas like bucatini and campanelle alongside the usual suspects, lubricated with kale and hazelnut pesto, or wild mushrooms and Marsala cream. Plating is dainty and the food is elegant, yet the echoey dining hall setting and communal wooden seating makes Sarto feel more dig-in than date-night.
Contact: 0113 345 20 74; sartopasta.uk
Reservations: Book ahead for weekend evenings
The Swine that Dines
Understated and tiny, this simple wood-panelled bistro in the far north of Leeds city centre is committed to a small, seasonal menu that changes frequently and never fails to please. Despite the porky name, meat almost feels like a bit-part at The Swine That Dines. Instead, it’s local farm produce and the chef’s pickled and cured larder ingredients that take centre stage in dishes like beetroot, ricotta and pickled cherries, or fried potato with confit garlic. Look out for Yorkshire specials too, such as Richard III Wensleydale with Eccles cakes.
Contact: 0113 244 03 87; swinethatdines.co.uk
Street-food trucks have become a big part of the Leeds dining scene in the past five years, fuelled by local food festivals. A handful have found a permanent home in this beer hall run by West Yorkshire’s Vocation Brewery. Think of it as the apex of a good night out in Leeds: grade-A craft beer alongside grade-A junk food, illuminated by bright neon signage. Within this brick-lined, semi-underground booze bunker, there are two must-eats: the Falafel Guys wrap with homemade tahini sauce; and Slap & Pickle’s dirty ‘Big Mick’ loaded fries, with 40-day dry-aged beef burger crumble, shredded lettuce and burger sauce.
Reservations: Not taken