How it all began – I first met Mark Smith when he catered for my nephew’s first birthday party back in March. His enthusiasm and passion for food seemed somewhat familiar.
After developing a love of baking and cooking over recent years, Mark saw an opportunity at Palaço’s, Morley, and started a six-month stint helping out Palaço owner and now friend, Sam, at his weekly tapas night. After gaining some valuable experience, he built up the courage to host his own nights – after all, the venue was only open one day a week, so the option was there – and just over a year ago, Mark’s Kitchen Takeovers (MTK) was born.
The takeover nights have varied in theme each month – Moules & Frites, Veganuary, Pizzas, Stews and Burgers – each one with a small but perfectly formed menu.
I’d been visiting the traditional market town of Morley for many years before I moved to Leeds, as my oldest sister started living there in 2001. It has certainly seen some changes since then. In the Morley ‘bottom’ area of the town, a few businesses have taken over the previously derelict buildings, with Oscars wine bar now a firm favourite, and more recently, Prospect bar has opened its doors. The independent food scene is finally starting to make a push through in the town, as seen in other areas of Leeds, something that would have been unheard of a few years ago.
‘Taco’ Takeover Night (May 2019):
The evening had sold out before the menu was even posted on Facebook. It’s not a very big place, able to seat around 12 people at any one time. However, there are numerous sittings during the night, meaning covers of around 30 people during the course of the evening. This is evidence of the following that MKTs has built up over the past year.
There were four of us dining in our group that evening; Thomas, my mum and my oldest sister Clare. The menu was quite short, so we decided to order one of everything savoury, with the Guacamole Onion Rings standing out as the most intriguing item. Mathematically, this also worked out to our advantage with the tacos, as three were meat/fish, and one was vegetarian. Thomas could enjoy the vegetarian tacos to himself, whilst the rest of us had one each of the meat/fish ones.
The first dish of loaded Nachos came out. They were light and fresh with homemade guacamole and salsa. Next up was the Guacamole Onion Rings and Spicy Rice. The rings were interesting – the texture was mushy but mixing up these two key ingredients would do that. The rings are moulded, then frozen, before being deep fried. They tasted good though! The Spicy Rice lived up to its name! This was one of my favourite dishes of the night.
The last side dish to come out was the Halloumi fries. What is there not to love about these?!
It was time for the tacos to make an appearance. For me, the Chicken taco was my favourite in terms of balance of flavours and heat, whilst the Beef had been beautifully cooked and was succulent and tender. All were served with fresh salsa and each corn tortilla wrap had been handmade.
We still had room for a little bit of something sweet, so we shared the two desserts on offer: Margarita Cheesecake and Chilli Chocolate Brownie with Rum Ice-cream – both deliciously tasty and boozy!
For me and for Thomas, some of dishes needed more of a spicy kick to them, with the exception of the Spicy Rice and Chicken Taco. Having eaten food in Mexico, I’ve experienced the real deal, and the contrasting flavours of heat and citrus. Spice tolerance, however, is very much subjective, and our other companions felt the heat was enough.
Personal spice preferences aside, the food was fresh, very well cooked and tasty. The atmosphere at Palaço’s was welcoming, the service friendly. It was a great recipe for a good night out.
Looking to the Future
I understand from running my own supper clubs how much work goes into prepping for these nights, particularly when working full time, and the couple also have two young children to fit into their already busy schedule, so I chatted with Mark and his wife Catherine to find out a bit more about them………and that changes are afoot!
Palaco’s will be relaunching itself from Saturday 16th June 2019. The plan is for Mark to do more regular takeover nights, whilst Sam’s weekly Saturday tapas nights will move to fortnightly. It’s well worth a visit out to Morley for a MKT night, to support your local independent eateries and enjoy tasty food in a laid back, cosy environment. The venue is also ideally placed, only a ten-minute walk from Morley train station, and on a major bus route into Leeds.
The next kitchen takeover at Palaco’s is on Friday 14th June 2019. Places can be booked on their Facebook page @markskitchentakeover
All photographs by Cath Kane.