I am very pleased to say that this is by no means an exhaustive list of the best vegetarian restaurants in Leeds and Yorkshire - not yet anyway! I plan to add to this post as I discover new and noteworthy eateries, but this is a record of my recent visits to the region and I wanted to share them with you as soon as I could. Most of these restaurants (some of them aren't even restaurants) don't sell exclusively vegetarian food, but they have inclusive menus and will fill your vegetarian belly with tasty treats.
The options available for vegetarians were already quite good in the UK - at least compared to many other countries I have visited - but they really do keep getting better and better. This is partly due to changing tastes, partly due to the different waves of wonderful immigration we have in this country (let's hear it for all the Lebanese places that have opened recently!) and partly due, I hope, to the quiet grumbles of vegetarians, tired of eating yet another risotto. Enough with the risotto!
My choices so far are an eclectic bunch, some very traditionally British and some from around the globe. Some are sweet, some are savoury, some are meals, some are just a notable dish or snack. Because I chose, when I started this blog, to keep negativity out of these pages and posts, I have not discussed here the many disappointing vegetarian meals I have also endured. The less said about them the better. No, here you will only find my faves.
If you have any other suggestions, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let me know in the comments. I am a hungry woman who will travel the ends of the earth looking for a great meal (Leopold will wearily attest to that), so your recommendations will most certainly not fall on deaf ears.
Onto my current choices...
The Greedy Pig, Leeds
There are very few great vegetarian breakfasts in the UK, but this is one of them. However, if you’re expecting a healthy, colourful brunch, look away now. This breakfast is more in the traditional full-English vein, but is so very much better than typical examples of the form.
Now one thing I will say is that this meal is carbohydrate party. A potato-based vegetable ‘sausage’, hash brown AND cornbread, in addition to two rounds of toast, is a whole lot of starch to burn off. But it is still delicious.
The highlight for me is the homemade, custardy cornbread - a moist, crumbly, flavourful delight. And the sourdough toast to soak up your perfectly fried egg. But the whole plate, carbohydrates and all, are welcome on certain, fragile mornings.
And only five pounds, including quality tea or coffee. Hangovers have never looked so good.
The Greedy Pig
58 North Street,
Leeds, LS2 7PN
Littlebank Country House, Settle
I recently spent a weekend at Littlebank Country House, an absolutely lovely bed and breakfast in the Yorkshire Dales. It occurred to me when I was there that I used to look longingly at luxurious, cosy-looking hotels and inns in the British countryside, fantasising about the day someone would whisk me away to one. Then I realised that it was me that had done the whisking, and that I had made my own dream come true, not waited for someone else to make it happen. Now that’s girl power.
It was the little (sometimes big!) touches that made staying at this bed and breakfast amazing - as a car-less traveller, being given lifts around the Dales was a huge boon, but it was the in-room aperitif that truly made my heart sing.
A decanter of lightly sweet sherry, well matched to the very moist, sweet, buttery, handmade cakes, mare for the ideal evening snack - all the better because Leopold declared that he didn’t like cake or sherry and left me to it.
Littlebank Country House
The side of a hill, Ingleton, Yorkshire Dales
In the middle of a fast-paced walk, marching around the Yorkshire Dales, a white hut appeared as a dot on the landscape. I asked Leopold what he thought it was. “Perhaps a mountain rescue hut” came the reply. “I hope it’s an ice cream hut”, I said. “With real, local ice cream . . . and top dream menu - toffee flavour with honeycomb pieces".
Behold! Voluptuous artisan ice cream, made with local Yorkshire cream. Toffee crunch flavour. With honeycomb pieces. And a bonus chocolate flake. Score!
Leopold was dumbfounded.
I absolutely love Indian food, particularly that which hails from the south of the country, with its long traditions of vegetarianism and its lighter hand with the unhealthy oils. I was lucky enough to grow up in Tooting in south-west London, where Indian, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi food reigns supreme. There is so much to choose from and the standard is high. So I’m a tough customer when it comes to eating these majestic cuisines.
But Indian food no longer only belongs to Indians in the UK. It has such a long history and has been so comprehensively adopted by the host nation, that an entire separate cuisine - British Indian - can be identified. A Cheddar-stuffed naan bread, or chai-spiced mojito cocktail, are excellent examples of this - food and drinks regularly enjoyed in Britain that have been adapted with Indian flavours. I love these developments and when they work, they present the best of both British and Indian food unified into a new glorious whole.
So I was very open to the idea that craft beer and Indian food could be combined successfully, as they are in Bundobust in Leeds - a fast food restaurant just round the corner from the main station, serving various pots of Indian street food coupled with a wide selection of carefully crafted and matched ales and lagers. Think variations of India pale ale - that nuanced, hoppy, light, golden ale which was developed to last the long sea voyage to India during the Empire.
The food was fabulous - true to south Indian tradition, but very lightly adapted to the hearty tapas concept of this café/bar. Beautifully light, crispy masala dosa (fermented lentil crêpes stuffed with spicy potato), sauce-soaked idly (steamed patties of fermented lentils and rice) and cooling, crunchy chana chaat (a cold 'salad' of chickpeas, potato, yoghurt, tamarind chutney and samosa pastry). But the standout dish for me was the vada pav - a glorious celebration of carbohydrates billed as "Mumbai's favourite burger" - a lightly breaded, deep-fried, spicy potato patty sandwiched in a chutney-smothered brioche bun. OMG!
So should you be in Leeds station wondering if the Boots meal deal is going to be your lunch, I absolutely insist that push that thought from your mind and walk the couple of extra minutes to this deeply satisfying eatery and drinkery.
Vegan options available.
6 Mill Hill,
Leeds LS1 5DQ
One of the best things about living and eating in Britain is the diversity of foreign foods that are available. Although there are many reasons why a great range of cultures and nationalities are a boon in any country I happen to live in, the potential for a wide variety of taste-a-mondo food is enough reason all by itself. Safran is a perfect example of this - a Persian, family-owned restaurant near the markets in Leeds city centre, serving traditional Persian and Iranian cuisine, at very reasonable prices.
As a vegetarian, you’ll be sticking mainly to the starters, but the smorgasbord of vegetable-y delights this includes means this restriction is no problem at all.
The gorgeous preparations of aubergine - a vegetable held in great esteem in this region of the world - are a must-order and include both a grilled purée - smoky and rich with tomato and garlic (kashk e bademjan), and a tart, creamy, green offering, gloriously garnished with fried mint and walnuts (mirza ghasemi).
Another exceptional dish for me was the earthy, savoury, noodle-bean-vegetable soup (aash e reshteh) with soft, squishy, overcooked noodles (just how I like them!), all topped with a dollop of soured Persian cream (kashk). Also, a fresh, zingy, healthy, diced salad of tomato, cucumber, onion, mint and lemon juice (salad shirazi) which balanced the heavier, creamier flavours of the meal beautifully.
The hummus was, as you would expect, silky smooth and satiny with tahini. The bread was freshly baked - huge, pillowy and warm (okay, whole grain would be better, but I’m quibbling here). The salad was fresh, copious and crunchy, with an awakening lemon juice and mint dressing.
All that and as much tart, burgundy sumac as you cared to sprinkle on your food. My mouth is watering as I write.
Vegan options available.
Leeds LS2 7DJ
The Craven Arms, Giggleswick, Yorkshire Dales
As a vegetarian, I don’t expect to be wowed by much that is offered on a traditional, carnivore-focused British menu. The starters sometimes have promise, but the vegetarian main courses are decidedly unimaginative and sadly lacking in taste. So I look at the menu differently - to work out what is likely to taste best on it, and how to fashion myself a satisfying and joyful meal from the selection available, regardless of how it is classified.
That could mean skipping those yawn-inducing pasta and risotto dishes and heading straight for dessert. Or the cheese. Or both, as I did at The Craven Arms.
Although the French chocolate fondant with chantilly cream on the menu here immediately drew my eye, I decided to step out of my dried fruit-hating comfort zone and opt for a more traditional sticky toffee pudding. This achingly sweet, hot, British dessert went beautifully with the cooling, contrasting, vanilla pod ice cream it came with, its melting creamy rivulets spreading out into the toffee sauce and lightly tempering the sweetness of this moist, date-rich cake. Nom nom indeed.
And following dessert, the highlight of my evening. A British cheese board complete with Yorkshire Blue cheese and traditional Yorkshire fruitcake - a food pairing made in heaven - as well as a particularly memorable piece of oozy Tunworth - a pungent, Camembert-like cheese, molten with ripeness and loudly declaring its presence on the platter. Much better than yet another mushroom risotto.
The Craven Arms
Settle, BD24 0EA
To be continued... Don't forget to leave me your suggestions! I'm ALL ears!