I must admit that I was not looking forward to doing this particular article as it was the end of the last working week before Christmas and the City Centre was awash with workers in their posh frocks subtly accessorised with Santa hats or flashing reindeer antlers. The women were not much more sophisticated either. This is great if you are among their number but as a sole diner it instigates a feeling of isolation and you know that the service at whichever restaurant you choose will be stretched wafer thin and, likely as not, there will be a special ‘festive’ menu, meaning that turkey and all the trimmings will be churned out ad nauseam but if you dare opt for the ‘normal’ menu you will be waiting all afternoon. All right, I am exaggerating a bit, but my main concern is that it would not be fair to judge an establishment which is rammed with partygoers against one visited in early February when you walk into the soundtrack of your own footsteps.
As it happens, the editor of Leeds Living had suggested that I venture a little way out of the City Centre for once and try out North Star Coffee House so I forsook the jollity of the revellers for a stroll along the river bank to Leeds Dock. Should you be a visitor to Leeds I must point out that there is a free water taxi to Leeds Dock from outside the new South Entrance to City Station. The editor is so tight with expenses that he won’t even spring for a free water taxi which is why I had to hoof it. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but I refuse to pay for my own free trip when I am on an assignment for someone else.
When I arrived at Leeds Dock I was relieved to discover that life was going on much as normal so I headed for North Star Coffee House, which is a cafe and shop adjoining a coffee roasters. I was also pleased to see that there was a special lunch menu offering a choice of sandwiches and bowls, all of which were imaginative, but I decided on a bowl of the soup of the day with half a toasted sandwich, £6.50. The soup of the day was parsnip, which was just the ticket on a chilly day after a stroll. The sandwich was toasted cheese. The combination could have been a bit bland but this version was far from being that. The soup was rich and creamy with a drizzle of tarragon oil lifting it from the very good to the sublime. Likewise the sandwich was prepared with thinner sliced bread, allowing the heat to permeate through to the cheese, rather than insulate it as a thick slice would have done. This resulted in the perfect combination of properly toasted bread at one with the soft, hot, runny cheese within. Both parts of the lunch went to show how good quality simple ingredients, given a bit of care and a lot of skill, can give a result far in excess of the sum of its parts.
I would not have countenanced leaving without sampling the coffee on offer. After all, it had made the long journey from the roasters, though the glass partition, to the coffee machine. Like the soup and other dishes in the cafe, the coffee varies according to the season and my black coffee was a delight, not too strong but with a fairly complex flavour, a bargain at £2.30. As it was Christmas I thought that I should give a nod to that fact so I accompanied the coffee with a Cranberry Apple Crumble Bar, £3.00, from the Noisette Bakehouse Bakery. It was very flavoursome but a tad dry for my taste, although I do realise that it is a crumble.
The premises are cool and modern but very relaxed and the service exemplary. This is a perfect place to unwind from work for a little while, or just chill from a visit to the docks or the Royal Armouries next door.
In conclusion, I would like to thank the Leeds City Centre revellers for driving me out of town to a gem in Leeds Dock. I hope that you all had as good a time as I did, albeit a bit rowdier.
May I take this opportunity to wish my readers a very Happy Christmas and please join me for lunch in the New Year when who knows what gems, and duffers, we may discover.
Photography by Stan Graham