Let’s Do Lunch at The Union Coffee House

Stan ponders on the nature of our readers and the random mix of lunch-time visitors to his choice of venue for lunch. Join him.

Writing articles for publication is like talking to yourself but through a loudspeaker. In the absence of any feedback you just have to imagine who, if anyone, is reading the stuff you churn out and how you can make it relevant to them. In my case I assume that my readership mainly comprises city centre workers and visitors to our wonderful metropolis. Even within these two categories there is a broad spectrum of people. The heart of Leeds is kept beating by people who do all manner of jobs, from keeping the City clean and tidy to running multinational companies. Similarly the visitors come here for all kinds of reasons; shopping, be it a splurge at Harvey Nicks or getting a new mobile phone cover from the market, culture at the museums and art galleries or just a day out wandering to where fancy takes.

I must admit that I never imagined my typical reader to be someone who is having lunch in a coffee house to kill time before they have the pot removed from their broken wrist. This was the case this week when I visited Union Coffee House in Great George Street. The premises are opposite the old entrance to the Leeds General Infirmary and the lady sitting opposite had called in for that very purpose.

The layout of the coffee house is very convivial in that there are plenty of seats but they tend to be at large tables, or at small ones in close proximity to one another. This configuration may have changed by the time this article is published because everything in the place is for sale; not just the food but also the cutlery, crockery, the pictures and knick knacks strewn about the room and, yes, the furniture. Normally when articles from the fixtures and fittings inventory are for sale it means ludicrously overpriced pictures from the walls but here, offers are invited for everything. The decor is what may be described as eclectic, a polite way of saying a mish-mash, but it works a treat.

The fact that I was seated on a long bench at an equally long table, handy, meant that I was sharing the dining space with, not only the lady with the pot on her wrist but also two more diners which meant that we engaged in conversation, making the lunchtime much more pleasant that a table for one and the Telegraph crossword. The ambience was further enhanced by a young man playing guitar and singing. This must be the worst gig of all time for him as everyone seemed to be enjoying the company of their fellow diners and almost totally ignoring the poor chap.

Food is ordered on entry and delivered to the table when ready. As it was only just nudging freezing point outside I opted for the Stoup. This seems to be the winter trend in Leeds being a cross between stew and soup as it is the third time I have had it this winter. The flavour on offer today was winter vegetable and lentil, just the job at £4.00 for a bowl. The dish comprised potato, carrot and squash chunks as well as the aforementioned lentils. It was delicious and succeeded in thawing out this shivering scribe. A bonus was that it came with a couple of slices of Leeds Co-operative Bakery malted sourdough and butter. I also had a black Americano coffee at £2.10 which was fair trade Rwandan and delicious. My friend with the hospital appointment said that she had had the same thing and concurred that it was excellent. Nice to know that I am in tune with at least one of my readers.

The staff at the Union are extremely friendly and not what I expected. I thought that when everything in the place was for sale, they would just be trying to make as much as they could from the clientele which, whilst correct, is for nobly altruistic reasons. The profits are used to support projects in Leeds and Chris, who was running the place for the day in his wife’s absence, operates a cafe in Seacroft for isolated single men to give them a place to meet. There are other good causes to which funds are directed.

Chris informed me that the place is open for evening meals on Friday night and is licensed. He also said that there is a jazz quartet to accompany dinner. I just hope that they get a bit more attention than the poor lunchtime guitarist.

Mange toutes,

Stan Graham

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