Tell us about Big Dinner!
Lil: Well, the idea behind Big Dinner is basically about giving a full service to local and national food and drink establishments, so that includes aspects like copy, styling and social media.
Matt: Leeds Indie food definitely gave us an immersion in the Leeds/independent food and drink scene, and we got to see what works and what doesn’t work so well. We want to enable businesses to crack on with what they’re good at which is food and drink, while we handle the rest.
Is there a driving force behind what you do?
Matt: I hate it when food and drink places that are really good don’t present themselves very well: they miss out on business because they don’t do themselves justice, with a laminated menu and no social media account. If you can make places look better and advertise what they do better, that’s what I like to see.
How would you approach the independent vs. chain debate?
Lil: We’re not against working with chains at all, but we do love independents and supporting them, which our business seeks to extend.
Matt: They take more risks; they do things before other people are doing them. So they’ll do gourmet burgers before chains do gourmet burgers. But it means the risks are higher, so if you make beautiful food and you love what you do but you don’t have time to market it properly, get proper design work done etc, then the city is missing out a bit.
If they went under, the consequences are much worse, so if you’ve re-mortgaged your house or sold your wife…it could really destroy you.
3 Questions: favourite independent, favourite street food, favourite food trend:
Lil: my favourite independent is actually out of the City Centre - Zucco. The reason why is that they do Italian small plates, like tapas. It sounds very cheesy but they’re just really authentic.
Matt: And they don’t do any of the things we provide really.
Would that be your dream job then?
Lil: Well I wouldn’t want to ruin my happy place. It’s really sweet because they’re quite oblivious to stuff like that but what they do is so amazing that obviously word has spread and people love them. You go on a Friday to see if they’ll squeeze you in and wait at the bar with an Aperol Spritz.
Matt: You go in and there’ll be the team from Layne’s Espresso (Lil’s other favourite City Centre independent) having a staff meal and the guys from Belgrave at the bar. It’s just full of foodie people who know what they’re doing.
Lil: Yeah, Layne’s Espresso is my favourite City Centre independent because they’re very devoted to quality. The staff are really lovely; they’re trained really well. Their avocados are just…perfect.
Matt: Yeah, their customer service is really, really good. Everyone wants to be there; they’re just a really coherent team. I’ve never once seen them being patronising to any of their customers.
Lil: My favourite street food? Can I have two again? Manjit’s kitchen. They were doing street food first; they’re all pro’s and what they do is just really authentic.
Matt: Manjit used to deliver to people from her car. You’d tweet her asking for one specific dish and she’d cook it up for you and swing by.
Lil: It’s a bit of a family affair which is always really fun too. My second one is Bánh mi Booth run by Emily who has got a little van that she calls Gloria. She has a PHD in flavour science, which is really interesting and so you know there’s a lot of thought gone into her food. But also the experience that you have isn’t too polished. She’s always done the Bánh mi sandwiches with different fillings or sometimes little dumplings. She once made this amazing beef jerky too.
Matt is probably going to turn his nose up at this bit but in terms of food trends, I like the new enthusiasm for plant based food. Its not really a trend but in the blogging world that are a lot of nutritional blogs and I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan by any means but I love lots and lots of vegetables! You can have a whole meal devoting itself to vegetables instead of surrounding the whole thing around meat and carbs. I love a burger as much as the next girl, believe me…….more, probably, but there are a couple of people in Leeds that are doing it really well. Humpit, Rola Wala, Bundobust, Grub and Grog; a lot of vegetarian options have previously been so bland so it’s great that there are now so many exciting choices.
Matt: My favourite independent would be The Reliance- because they just do everything really well, which pairs into my favourite food trend which is being simple with things, like Friends of Ham where you get ham and cheese and that’s it, or the Reliance where you get a load of broccoli and its just really good.
Street Food: At the moment, it’s a business from the North East called Claw Hide who do surf and turf. They were at The Leeds Indie Food Feast; it’s really simple and it’s all from the market. There’s a big stone fire oven where the pittas are baked and an open grill for the steaks, so you get steaks, prawns and pitta.
Do you bring that sense of simplicity into your work with Big Dinner?
Matt: If we were looking at a little restaurant that had a sort of charming, ramshackle style then we would never try and make it too sleek and minimal like some sort of trendy wine bar. But we do end up with something of a house style; never hyper silly hipster stuff but equally not too traditional and serious.
And why Leeds? (Lil moved here from London and Matt stayed after Uni)
Lil: I was pleasantly surprised! I don’t know what I was expecting but I do love it here. It’s a nice size; big enough that there are opportunities but it also feels like a community where you can bump into people all the time.
Matt: It makes things really manageable, so if you need something doing in a couple of days, you can call upon your friends and they’ll help you get it done. That was what was good about the (Leeds Indie Food) Festival whereby there was a small enough number of people so that everyone had their chance to shine.