Over the last couple of months, I’ve barely been able to log into Twitter without seeing at least one person mention that they’d been to eat at Leeds’ latest restaurant, Create. The thing that makes Create a bit different is that they’re a social enterprise: they give training opportunities to people who really need a fresh start, or to be helped back up onto their feet. Which is, of course, admirable, and no wonder people are talking about it. But the vast majority of the buzz I was hearing was about the food, not the concept. The reviews have been promising: see Leeds Guide, TripAdvisor or the Yorkshire Evening Post, who are reserved but identify tons of potential.
I still haven’t eaten in the restaurant itself (apparently saving for a house deposit is more important than eating out?) so jumped at the chance to attend their first morning taster type session for free.
We all arrived at 11am, a bit bleary from Light Night the previous evening. We were greeted and sent upstairs, where coffee was available – I’m told it was lovely. I opted for orange juice, which was really delicious, obviously pure and not from concentrate. We were all seated at a long table and cracked on with working out whether we follow each other on Twitter, while we nibbled on some small mushroom pastries and little almond flavoured cakes (these did have a fancy French name which, unfortunately, eludes me).
In front of each of us were three wine glasses in a row, filled with small amounts of liquid. A very gentle sniff was all that was required to confirm that yes – this was the vodka we were going to learn all about.
Chris from Latitude Wines certainly knew his stuff. He gave us a quick tip on how to smell vodka (put your nose to the glass and breathe in gently through your mouth) and then spoke to us about Chase Vodka, their products and their manufacturing processes. We tried their standard vodka, their gin (which apparently is just flavoured vodka!) and their marmalade vodka. As I was driving, and I don’t drink generally so probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a good gulp, I just tasted the marmalade vodka by dipping my finger in. I have to say it tasted remarkably of marmalade…very orangey and tangy, but in a more full bodied way than an orange – what I’m trying to say is that it didn’t just taste of oranges but very specifically of marmalade! This is probably sacrilege but I imagine it would have been delicious with some lemonade. As you can see if you click on the links, these are pricey drinks and are really quite high end products. They’ve won tons of awards. The general feedback from other people at the table was firstly, they were super strong, and secondly, you could taste the difference between this and something like Smirnoff.
Next, we headed downstairs for the food demo. This was led by the charismatic Richard Walton-Allen, who is Create’s National Executive chef. Before coming to Create, he was Executive Chef at Harvey Nichols, and he has over 20 years experience in the food industry. This experience was apparent as he took us through four different dishes with the help of Ed, the head chef. First, we were shown potted shrimp, second escabeche of bream, third, bresoala and fourth, beetroot cured salmon. The bresoala recipe was the only one we didn’t get to try, but seemed to be a massive hit. Everyone immediately said how great it would be for Christmas, and started discussing where they’d be able to hang it for a week, which is one of the steps of the recipe. The demonstration was great, you could see exactly what was going into the dishes and Richard also told us about the sourcing of their ingredients – they try to keep it as local as possible, but will use someone in Newcastle over someone in Leeds if they have much better produce.
Once we’d seen all the dishes, our taster dishes were handed out (and about time too – by now it was 12.30pm and I was STARVING!). We tried (left to right) the beetroot salmon on a little blini, the escabeche of bream, potted duck (about to be added to the menu) and potted shrimp. Now, I’m not really the biggest fish fan but I tried everything and thought it was all delicious – really well cooked and nicely put together.
As the morning came to an end, all I could think was how I’d heard such great stuff about Create’s desserts, and how we weren’t going to get to try any! Luckily, they’d thought about that and on our way out we were all presented with recipe packs along with a take home box with brownies, flapjack, meringue, biscotti and honeycomb inside. No, I didn’t share, yes they were all incredibly tasty!
The only negative points I would make were that it was a bit awkward both at the beginning and at the end in knowing what you were supposed to do. I’d have liked to have a little welcome talk at the beginning and a thanks and goodbye speech at the end. I think this opportunity could also have been used to tell us more about the social enterprise side of the business, which I for one was very curious about. Also, I would recommend making absolutely sure that you know and like what is going to be made and served. There was one vegetarian present and I can’t imagine it was that interesting for her since she will never make any of the foods, and there was also a rather brutal fish dissection that must have been especially unpleasant.
In future, these mornings will be every other Saturday, the next one being on Saturday October 22nd and focussing on wine tasting and Autumn cooking. They will be £10.75 each and if you’re interested in cooking and food, or in alcohol, then I think it’s brilliant value for money. Contact Create on Twitter or via their website to get more information. Personally, I’ll be keeping an eye out for the Christmas one!