Let’s Do Lunch at Cantina

I have no idea as to where I ate this week. The name on the menu was Cantina, but the receipt states The Old Red Bus Station.

After consulting the website for Cantina it looks as though they only open under their own name in the evening, but serve their food in the bar from lunchtime. Whatever, it is a purely vegan establishment with a fast food style bill of fare.

The name of the bar comes from the original use of the premises and what is now the car park to the rear. Before their privatisation in 1986, buses were in public ownership, and each city had its own colours. Leeds City Transport’s were optimistically painted in British Racing Green and operated from the present bus station, whereas The West Yorkshire Road Car Company, which ran routes throughout the West and North Ridings, were painted Ferrari Red and used the aforementioned terminus.  It was, therefore, the buses which were crimson and not the bus station. It is appropriate that the original nickname of 102-104 Vicar Lane is ambiguous, because I found that also to be the case with the present menu.  In an attempt to replicate meat dishes, they have disguised what is really on offer.

The bar is decorated on a utilitarian theme, with the tables being made from steel tubes and planks. I hesitate to call it industrial chic because chic it isn’t.  In fact, a small lounge which I passed on my way to the toilet looked to be very much in need of a good clean.

The Big Bites section of the bill of fare contains nine items; one is stated to be served in a bun, a second is listed as a burger which implies the same, as do three other ‘patties’. There is then a taco dish, one in pitta and another in a bagel. By a process of elimination, you will have deduced that that leaves two – one is TLT, with crispy, smokey bacon style tofu, gem lettuce and thick cut beef tomato with vegan mayo. Again, this sounds like the vegan answer to BLT so I gave it a miss as I didn’t particularly want anything too bulky. My only breadless option seemed to be the  £8.50 Just Like Heaven – Marinated aubergine steaks served with red onion, zesty mayo and mixed salad.  Just the job, I thought.

All the above come with fries or sweet potato salad, but I decided to go for salt and pepper fries at a 50p supplement. For the liquid refreshment I ordered a pint of Bus Station Brew pilsner at £3.20, a 4% number which I am afraid was somewhat lacking in taste but was cold and refreshing. So far, so good, except that for the third time in the past few weeks the person who took my order, an affable chap called Jude, cashed up my bill for the full amount and I had to point out that there was an offer of a Main and a Pint for £9.00. He swiftly amended the invoice and the matter was sorted out without a problem.

When Jude delivered my meal it was not a pretend steak at all but a hot aubergine salad sandwich. Having said that, it was pretty tasty but not what it says on the menu. The aubergine was on the slimy side as it can be but the salad was fresh and the mayo took it from the ho-hum to the quite good. The fries were similarly patchy. I was so glad that I had gone for the salt and pepper version as it was the fresh peppers and chilli which saved the otherwise average chips. They tasted OK but had the texture of frozen oven bake jobs which had not been cooked quite right.

There were no desserts on the menu, but I had seen some cake on the counter so I decided to have a piece of the Biscoff at £3.00 with a black Americano, £2.00. The coffee flavoured icing was fine, as was the filling and the cake itself, at least whilst I was at the thin end of the wedge. When I got to the thick end it was very dense and a bit dry.

In conclusion, like the pre-privatised buses, everything was a bit hit and miss. The sandwich was fine, but not £8.50’s worth.  Three-quarters of the cake was good, the lager was passable but the coffee was good.  I left disappointed because I wanted to write something good about one of the few vegan eateries in the City, which I can only do by saying that the service was very good. I also felt let down in the way that the menu was worded to try to appeal to meat eaters like myself. I would have been much happier had it not got all pretentious and just offered a hot aubergine salad sandwich.  How difficult is that?

Photographs by Stan Graham.

Stan writes Let’s Do Lunch for Leeds Living.  He also reviews special events for food and drink, which sometimes takes him beyond Leeds.  He has also developed an interest in writing on culture, most frequently dramatic and musical theatre.

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