Looking for restaurants in Leeds? Yorkshire’s largest city combines glitzy clubs, bars and Victorian arcades with an arty undercurrent that buzzes with live music, proper pubs and independent shops and stalls such as The Corn Exchange.
Leeds’ food and drink scene has evolved over the years, adapting to the city’s diversity, and it now boasts some of the best independent places to eat and drink in the country. From trendy new-wave coffee shops to craft breweries, casual dining restaurants to street food trucks, Leeds has become a serious foodie hub.
Check out our top places to eat and drink in Leeds…
North Star Coffee Shop & General Store, Leeds Dock – best coffee in Leeds
This calm, contemporary glass-fronted space at Leeds Dock (also pictured above) is a hangout for local chefs and business owners on their days off. Gather with friends around one of the large wooden tables or nestle into a cosy nook to enjoy a moment of peace with your coffee.
North Star has travelled the globe to find the best beans in the business, and it rotates its offer of not one, but two contrasting single origin espressos to ensure they satisfy varying taste buds. Baristas use geeky coffee equipment to bring out the best of the beans – delicate Ethipioan coffee is dripped through a Kalita filter and served in a glass carafe, and the toffee notes of the Colombian batch brew is blasted out of a huge jet on the counter. There’s even a tap that provides water in three different temperatures to let loose-leaf Storm teas shine.
The adjoining roastery is a constant flurry of activity, with the state-of-the-art coffee roaster turning away and sacks ready to be filled with the day’s beans and carted off to coffee shops and restaurants across Yorkshire.
Photograph by Sara Teresa
Noisette Bakehouse – best bakery in Leeds
North Star has collaborated with Noisette Bakehouse to offer some of the best sweet treats we’ve tried in a long time. There are queues out of the door to bag the first blueberry muffins of the day, and warm custard tarts are to die for. Don’t leave without trying the four-cheese buttermilk scones, made with rye flour to really hold the Parmesan, Red Leicester, Cheddar and cream cheese (and served warm, with proper butter made using acorn dairy milk from the Yorkshire Dales). Or, go for the Morning Cake – so unique that creator Sarah Lemanski has trademarked it. This twist on an American coffee cake has a sour cream cake base with a thin layer of cocoa and tonka bean and a crisp apple streusel topping, dusted with an icing sugar sunshine in a nod to the early riser.
Sarah was shortlisted for the UK’s best baker in our chef awards…
Photograph by Helena Dolby
Eat North – best street food market in Leeds
Leeds Indie Food’s previously annual two-week food festival has become so popular it’s now a weekly affair, Eat North – a street food market that pops up every Saturday at craft brewery North Brewing Co. in Sheepscar.
The best street food trucks and independent restaurants from Leeds and Yorkshire descend upon the brewery tap each week. Rotating vendors include Manjit’s Kitchen, The Pulled Swine and Tikk’s Thai Kitchen, with sweet treats from Poffertjes King, and coffee from Rabbit Hole Coffee, Laynes Espresso and other city favourites.
With mini festivals such as vegetarian- and vegan-themed VegNorth and special late-opening DJ nights, Eat North is a great way to discover the area’s independent food and drink traders. Here are our favourite street food stalls in the UK.
Photograph by Simon Fogal
Laynes Espresso – best café in Leeds
Originally a small espresso bar, Laynes Espresso expanded in January 2017 and now offers an earthy space to relax in with tiled floors, exposed brick and plenty of dark wood.
This trendy coffee shop showcases blends from roasters around the world, as well as the best from London and even the city’s own roaster, North Star (see above). Learn the tricks of the barista trade at one of its on-site workshops, grab an espresso on your way to the station down the round, or sit in and savour the smooth texture of one of the best flat whites in the country.
The all-day food menu includes local classics such as Yorkshire rarebit with Henderson’s relish on caraway-seeded rye toast, and a decadent home-baked ham hock and Doreen black pudding hash.
Take time over one of the exotic dishes on the brunch menu, from shakshuka with dukkah and harissa butter, to sweetcorn fritters with halloumi, chimichurri, poached eggs and pickled chilli. In-house baked goods are to die for – cinnamon rolls, cardamom and almond cake, and coffee cake made with the house espresso – while additional treats from local baking company, Noisette Bakehouse (more info above), plumps up the sweet treat offering with salted caramel brownies and rye flour cookies.
Photgraph by Tom Joy
Best restaurants in Leeds
Bundobust – for Indian street food and craft beer
This innovative restaurant and bar combines vegetarian Indian street food with a huge range of craft ales. A bustling place where food is served in disposable bowls with biodegradable cutlery, it offers a casual dining experience with small plates and low prices.
Owners Marko Husak and Mayur Patel have taken inspiration from Gujarat, where Mayur’s family is from, along with the street food vendors of Southern India and Mumbai.
With no curry option, or meat, Bundobust is a world away from old-school curry houses, but dishes such as vada pav (a fried spicy mashed potato ball served in a brioche bun) and bundo chaat (a samosa of pastry, turmeric noodles, yogurt and tamarind chutney) have gained cult status. Try the onion bhajis: aromatic with garam masala and ajwain, filled with lush onion and cauliflower, the batter lifted by threads of spinach.
On the drinks front, this bar provides a platform for independent brewers such as Kirkstall Brewery and Northern Monk, and offers limited edition ales and collaborations. Its menu is succinct, tempting and all-vegetarian, from spicy nuts to massala dosa, a mini crêpe with potato and onion dry fry, lentil soup and coconut chutney.
Click here to read Tony Naylor’s full review of Bundobust, Leeds.
Photgraph by Tom Joy
Zucco – for Italian food
Nonna’s polpette and spaghetti; rabbit, pancetta, white wine and potatoes; and almond and raspberry polenta cake – these are just three reasons why locals flock to Zucco, tucked away in one of the leafier suburbs of Leeds.
Run by brothers Rosario and Michael Leggiero, it’s a cool and contemporary place with black and white floor tiles, white subway wall tiles and a beaten tin ceiling.
And if that look sounds slightly familiar to fans of a certain well-known chain, then it won’t come as too much of a surprise that Michael was manager at Polpo’s short-lived restaurant at Leeds Harvey Nichols. Click here to read about more of our favourite Italian restaurants in the UK
Friends of Ham – for Spanish tapas
Pop in to Yorkshire beer, wine and charcuterie specialist, Friends of Ham, for sharing platters and small plates. Choose from the extensive charcuterie list – (here’s how to make your own) – we tried Barbaresco salami from Piedmont, prosciutto from Parma, and popular British bath chaps, made from the pig’s cheek. Small dishes include spicy ‘nduja on sourdough toast with cornichons, traditional Spanish anchovies, and ham hock and black pudding terrine.
Wines are curated with the utmost care. Take the Renata Pizzulin Clagnis as an example, a subtly spiced, fruity Italian red wine made by a couple as a weekend project in the northeastern Friuli region of Italy. This is what we loved most about Friends of Ham, the care and attention in sourcing the best of the best and serving it unpretentiously in a warm and friendly environment.
Photograph by Victoria Harley
Ox Club, The Headrow – for modern British food
There’s a lot to like about Ox Club, a modern British restaurant in Headrow House, a former textile mill built in the early 1900s. It feels and looks great: warm lighting, cool rustic-industrial design. The staff are bright, its craft beer list is unusually interesting and the pricing is keen.
The focal point is the Grillworks grill imported from Michigan – it’s used to cook everything from hanger steak to guinea fowl, hake and razor clams. Expect delicate accompaniments such as buttermilk polenta with tea and molasses brine; creamed flageolet beans with bacon jam; or Jerusalem artichoke with mushrooms and ymerdrys (a Danish sugared rye bread crumb).
Although vegetarian options are limited, the side dishes are all innovative and vegetable-based: try brussels sprouts with bacon and cured egg yolk, coal-roasted beetroot with muscovado walnuts, or kale with chard, cider and golden raisins.
Click here to read Tony Naylor’s full review of Ox Club
The Real Junk Food Project – for sustainable dining
What started five years ago as a single ‘pay as you feel’ café serving creative dishes using waste food has grown into more than 120 similar operations across seven countries. It was set up by chef Adam Smith after he saw the scale of poverty and food waste when he was working in Australia. Keen to make a difference, he returned to the UK and launched The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP) in his home city of Leeds.
The food in the cafés is donated by several major supermarket chains as well as other cafés, restaurants and even food banks. Smith says the chefs in TRJFP cafés get creative with the menus because they have to adapt to what’s arriving in the kitchen each day.
“We’ve had Michelin-starred chefs helping in the kitchen and they’ve struggled with the concept because there’s no structure – in fact, some of them had to bring their own ingredients, which was against the principle! On the other hand, I’ve had a Syrian asylum seeker who would throw everything into a pan and make some incredible meals.”
Always with the aim of abolishing surplus food, TRJFP has grown into a network of cafés and opened eight ‘social supermarkets’ and the launch of Smith’s most ambitious project yet, Fuel for School, which provides food that otherwise would have gone to waste to feed students, and educates them about food and how to avoid waste.
The father of a four-year-old son, Adam says he is determined to make an impact through educating children about food waste, which is why his team delivers surplus food to some 15,000 school children in the Leeds and Bradford areas.
“Spending time in schools, I’ve seen how a powerful message can be delivered to young people. If you show them a tonne of fruit and vegetables that have been wasted but are perfectly edible, it has a direct impact.
“Fuel for School will be our greatest legacy because in 10 to 15 years’ time those children will be the next consumers and employees, and they’ll have this model ingrained in them. They are the future.”
Wolf Street Food – for Italian street food
What started out in Leeds two years ago has spread south, with Wolf sites now in Reading and London. Manchester and Nottingham are next. It’s on-the-go Italian street food made using predominantly British ingredients, including pasta bowls, salads and piadas (founder Tim Entwistle describes the latter as being “like Italian burritos”).
“We use a piadina flatbread, which is heated on our hot stone, brushed with olive oil and garlic, then filled with marinated meats such as lemon chicken or spicy Italian sausage.”
The twist is that the piadas are then stuffed with some spaghettini, drizzled with hot sauce or freshly made pesto and finished with fresh vegetables, then wrapped up like a burrito.
“Our customers love it – they can tailor them to suit their tastes, whether they want classic Italian with basil pesto and lemon and rosemary chicken; or something different, such as steak and cheesy alfredo sauce. The combinations are endless.”
Click here to read about our favourite Italian restaurants across the country
Words by Alex Crossley and Mark Taylor
This week we celebrate Yorkshire Day with web editor Alex Crossley (who also happens to be from Yorkshire!). Alex returns to her home county to explore the independent food scene in Leeds including a lesson in British charcuterie from Friends of Ham as well as matching speciality coffee with Yorkshire-made sweet treats at North Star.
olive magazine podcast ep63 – Leeds independent food scene special