TONY NAY­LOR RE­VIEWS What did our con­tribut­ing ed­i­tor think of the char­cu­terie hotspot, Ham & Friends?

Set in the foodie par­adise of Leeds’ Vic­to­rian Grand Ar­cade, this is, not sur­pris­ingly with this name, a char­cu­terie hotspot

BBC Good Food - - Contents - @nay­lor_tony Tony Nay­lor, who lives in Manch­ester, writes reg­u­larly for Restau­rant mag­a­zine and The Guardian.

In an era when the Lon­don restau­rant Sexy Fish thrives and peo­ple eat at the ex­traor­di­nar­i­ly­named Cab­bages & Con­doms restau­rants (FYI they fund a sex­ual health NGO in Thai­land), you may ar­gue that what you call a restau­rant is ir­rel­e­vant. Cre­ate good food or a glam des­ti­na­tion and peo­ple will come, re­gard­less of any dis­so­nant al­lu­sions to pro­phy­lac­tics or curvy cod with come-to-bed eyes. None­the­less, I dislike the dreary pre­dictabil­ity of Ham & Friends, a spin-off from the Friends of Ham venues, which, in Leeds and Ilk­ley, serve cured meats of dis­tinc­tion along­side A1 craft beers. Granted, it’s hard to stretch that porcine con­ceit fur­ther (try it: Piggy Pals sounds ju­ve­nile; the Plea­sures of Pork porno­graphic), and I can see how Ham & Friends em­pha­sises the con­vivi­al­ity of this en­ter­prise. But it also rather un­der­sells this foodie spec­tac­u­lar. Folded into Leeds’ Vic­to­rian Grand Ar­cade – an ar­chi­tec­tural stun­ner which lends Ham & Friends a cer­tain grandeur – this multilevel com­plex com­prises a bar, restau­rant, del­i­catessen, Ge­orge & Joseph’s cheese shop, a vintners and the York­shire Wine School. On a Thurs­day night, it was buzzing with ac­tiv­ity. Reg­u­lars were en­joy­ing the monthly cheese club and, up­stairs, ar­ti­san wine-maker Le Grap­pin (H&F loves small­pro­ducer, bio­dy­namic and nat­u­ral wines), was hold­ing a tast­ing – a scene to make any Good Food reader giddy. In some ways, it’s a pity I was booked into the restau­rant. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a cool ‘n’ com­fort­able, mod­ish space, and the aproned staff were sunny and oblig­ing (if you can catch their eye; the de­sign of the room is not great in that re­gard). Like­wise, the food is solid 6/10 stuff. But, frankly, and par­tic­u­larly in the con­text of this liv­ing cel­e­bra­tion of ex­cep­tional pro­duce, the lack of fi­nesse and, at times, bold flavours in these small plates was frus­trat­ing. A plat­ter of char­cu­terie was a ter­rific kalei­do­scope of funky flavours, but point­lessly warmed bread (not toasted, more hard­ened), served with deliri­ously creamy but­ter, set a prece­dent of ham-fisted (sorry!) flaws which per­sisted through ev­ery dish. With the ex­cep­tion of the breaded lamb ‘scrum­pet’ balls with salsa verde. Those I could have inhaled a dozen of. For in­stance, a dish of fried Old Winch­ester potato dumplings, caramelised cau­li­flower and hazel­nuts is, ini­tially, heaven: a savoury crescendo of hard-browned cheesy carbs. But it lacks some­thing (more herbs or some lemon zest), to cut through its, ul­ti­mately, rather one-di­men­sional greasi­ness. Sim­i­larly, the bor­der­line dry, flavour-light pig’s cheeks (the irony!) un­der­mine an oth­er­wise beau­ti­ful dish of lemon-tinged, shaved Jerusalem ar­ti­choke in a crack­ing blan­quette. Rather mushy, dull mack­erel marred a sound idea: off-set­ting the oily fish and its smoky grilled skin with pick­led fen­nel. And dessert of (flour­less, I’m guess­ing) choco­late cake lacked real co­coa kapow! And with­out any boozy or sour edge, the cher­ries added lit­tle. The pac­ing did not help, ei­ther. De­spite my pleas, as is so of­ten the case with small plates, these were not suf­fi­ciently stag­gered. Af­ter a first wave, then a gap, too much food turned up too quickly. By the time we got to the oc­to­pus and nduja broth, it was luke­warm. That is no way to en­joy such a punchy, peas­ant dish. As a con­cept, I love Ham & Friends. Come, shop, browse, drink fas­ci­nat­ing wine (a Lan­dron Chartier pet-nat red was our pick), snack on fine char­cu­terie, eat cheese, knock your­self out. In many ways, it’s a foodie nir­vana. But the restau­rant could be sharper.

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