SALT Leeds and Falafel Guys have teamed up at Granary Wharf. Long-term hummus fan Thomas Chalk visited.
Once upon a time, if you were hungry in the pub you had two options: something salty and crunchy in a foil packet, or Betty’s hotpot (other iconic landladies are available). At some point, vegetarians were begrudgingly offered vegetable lasagne as an alternative to the hotpot. The non-crisp and non-nut options were only available during a short window in the early evening. If you fancied something else, it was out on the street with you for a takeaway, or relocation to the late-night curry house. I exaggerate, a little, and those days are of course long gone. Now, hungry drinkers and thirsty diners have much to choose from that doesn’t require a decision on which to prioritise, and ‘street food’ is a term more often associated with sitting down to eat than with munching a kebab while weaving tipsily down New Briggate.
Falafels are one of the greatest street foods I know. I suspect I would think this even were I not a vegetarian. But taking them off the street and selling them pre-packed from a supermarket fridge has done their reputation, and my dinner, no good whatsoever. The typical supermarket falafel is a sad ball of missed opportunity, its exterior rendered leathery, its interior dense and claggy. A good freshly-fried falafel has a crisp shell and a light, moist centre. I was already familiar with Falafel Guys from their red caravan on Briggate (they’ve also been installed in Assembly for a while now) so it was no surprise that their food at Salt Craft + Falafel was great.
I had the falafel salad bowl, which included three kinds of hummus, chilli sauce, salad and pickled turnip. The falafels were indeed crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, warm with cumin and fragrant with herbs. The hummuses, one beetroot-tinged and one seemingly black-olive-tinged, though without a strong olive flavour, were not very heavy on the garlic, which is perhaps for the best for the balance of the food, and for any fellow members of your party that aren’t eating. The turnips, more brined than vinegared, were of a vibrant highlighter-pink that cries out to be photographed (the colour comes from beetroot rather than e-numbers). Sweet potato chips, slim discs rather than oblong sticks, came with a simple but effective tahini-based dressing. I’m told the chicken shawarma sandwich was also good – Cath kindly took one for the team and set aside her recent move to vegetarianism in order to try it. Such selfless dedication.
As for SALT’s liquid contributions to the partnership: there are cocktails on tap which we would have tried had we not had an early start the next day – blood orange margarita is very much on my to do list – several dozen different gins, and an assortment of beers with a strong focus on SALT brewing’s own lines. The friendly bar manager talked us through our ale options, and I settled on a Rye Of The Tiger because I love dark beer and I love cheesy puns. This is described as a black rye IPA, though it is quite definitely not pale; it was full of smokey, toasted flavour, very much one for the stout and mild fans like me, with a different character of bitterness from the hop-heavy brews that abound at the moment. The array of other offerings takes in pale ale and fruited beers. No doubt all of them would go as well with Falafel Guys’ food as mine did. That’s often the thing about street food – it pairs so well with a pint that it’s a shame that we used to keep them separate.
Photography by Cath Kane.