Leeds is no stranger to the front line of new and interesting cuisine. When it comes to doing something a bit different, pairing up disparate flavours and textures, and setting off new combinations with carefully chosen beverages, this City has the inspiration and the creative hands to feed an army of hungry foodies.
As soon as I heard about XO Supperclub, I was ready to get involved. It’s the new venture from Jonathon Hawthorne – the brains behind ultra-fine restaurants such as Noma and Quay, with experience working at Leeds’ very own Michelin-starred restaurant, The Man Behind the Curtain.
XO Supperclub is an Asian-inspired pop-up dining experience. It’s generated much chatter since launch earlier this year, and now, as autumn establishes itself with a firm chill in the evening air, it’s announced a residency at Oporto bar on Call Lane, where it will serve diners every Thursday and Friday night throughout September. Intrigued by how such a spectacular food and drink collaboration would manifest itself in a rock’n’roll-liquor-bar setting, I headed down on the opening night to see what the hype was all about.
After a mysterious few minutes waiting for our exclusive dining area to be revealed, guests were ushered into Oporto’s second room, where a stomach-rousing aroma of spices and frying wafted around the neatly set out tables. Black-clad waiters darted round each group of diners, explaining the five-course tasting menu that was about to beset our taste buds, and the stunning selection of cocktails that came handily alongside. No two menus are the same at XO Supperclub, so whenever you head down you can expect the unexpected, with the dishes only revealed on the night.
We began proceedings with a Kanpai Cooler – a refreshing combination of plum sake, Earl Grey tea, gin and ginger ale – and an Irish Lychee Smash, which packed a super-sweet punch of whisky, lychee liqueur, Cointreau and Campari. Our first course arrived encased in a takeaway-style burger box, which we opened to discover a delicious (if unusual) cheeseburger spring roll. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and it made for a knockout fusion of Asian style snack and the meaty, greasy charm of fast food.
Next up, we were served corn on the cob, which came smothered in Sriracha mayonnaise and parmesan cheese. It was a challenge to eat with decorum (and clean chin) intact, but well worth the effort. As we moved onto the third course, we ordered Chilli and Cucumber Daiquiris, which proved to be the highlight of the evening – blending rum, ginger liqueur, cucumber and chilli gomme and lime juice to create a warming yet refreshing tipple. As the cocktails arrived, we tasted a slice of intercostal beef topped with Japanese seaweed and koji – the microbe responsible for the irresistible flavours that come with things like soy sauce and miso.
As stomachs filled and plates emptied, an extra course found its way onto our tables. We tucked into a seafood pancake, stuffed with octopus and topped with Bonito flakes (dried, fermented flakes of skipjack tuna, which are hugely more delicious than they sound!) Now it was time for the real showstopper, the smell of which was already reigniting appetites around the room. The main course arrived in a fresh, hearty combination of pork belly, kimchi and spring onions, which we were instructed to stuff into lettuce leaves and eat in one bite. A Korean dish known as Bo-Ssam, this made for a perfectly filling rounding off of the savoury stuff, and a great way to get involved fingers-first too.
As we sipped on Beerlao, a light lager heralding from Laos in South East Asia, our final treat materialised before our eyes. Indicated on the menu only by the words “The Hangover Cure’, our innovative pudding took the form of an upside down ice cream cone, with cookie dough ice cream, peanut butter, mini pretzels, bacon bits, chocolate brownie, ready salted crisps… and probably a few more items of decadence, but it disappeared far too quickly for a full inventory to be taken.
And so concluded our XO Supperclub experience – it was quite an evening, and one that’s set to multiply into many successful and delicious meals throughout September. The five-course menu is just £25, and for that extra dimension you can double the price and have two types of sake and three specially curated cocktails matched to the dishes on offer. Bringing high-end cuisine to a relaxed drinking setting and selling in experimental fusions with powerful flavour and substance is no small feat, but XO Supperclub has succeeded, and Leeds is all the brighter for it.