Ham and Friends, Grand Arcade, Leeds, LS1 6PG – Visit Now
Leeds’ Ham & Friends has earned quite the reputation since opening a few months back. This was in no small part due to its older sister, the much-loved Friends Of Ham. While that restaurant is based in a tightly-packed venue, serving up a selection of hams and cheeses in its basement, this new offering is rather more spacious.
In truth, spacious is an understatement. It’s a huge space, with curious alcoves and stairways leading to various rooms and prep areas – and even a wine school, for those who wish to combine their drinking with a little learning. The feel is all white tiling and natural light, and our bird’s eye view of Vicar Lane is lightly soundtracked by the likes of Nina Simone. It immediately feels like something special.
As is becoming more common lately, with restaurants such as Norse, the menu consists of tapas-style small plates. The first problem is what to choose. Everything sounds delicious, so it’s worth bowing to the superior knowledge of the wonderfully friendly staff.
The menu changes daily, according to available produce, so everything is fresh as can be. Each plate has bold flavours, whether it’s the smoked mackerel or the deliciously salty feta salad. The overall impression is of attention to detail, each dish seems meticulously curated, and the entire menu an ongoing, ever-developing process.
The black pudding snacks are an immediate winner, crumbly and earthy, paired with a dash of bright apple purée. But the show-stopper is the sliced Iberico pork secreto (Spanish for ‘secret’). This cut of the pig is next to the loin’s top, giving it a rich marbling of fat. It’s like no pork you’ve tried before, soft and incredibly salty. Pork fans be warned, once you’ve tried this, gammon simply won’t cut it anymore.
Even the desserts are stunning. The non-baked cheesecake is a must. Full of texture and crunch, with all manner of subtle flavours floating in and out – star anise in the blackberries, creamy brie in the cheese.
The whole experience is plate after plate of pleasure, and the staff are well aware of this, taking delight in discussing the menu like we’re sharing a fantastic secret. The restaurant name is no misnomer.
Recent years has seen Leeds take a rapid rise up the UK food chain, and it’s in no small part to the team behind Ham & Friends and its sister restaurant. If you care about the UK’s best dining it isn’t simply worth a visit, it’s vital.