Saturday, 19 January 2013

A visit to Create: how to feel good about eating out on a shoestring

Living where we do in Leeds city centre, we're very lucky to be surrounded by a whole host of decent restaurants. We're so spoilt, in fact, that sometimes it can be difficult to decide which food haven to choose from when the cupboards are bare or I've had such a busy day that I'd rather tear my own eyes out than cook. However, there's always one restaurant that's right up there at the top of  my list of go-to places that offer great food at an exceptional price in Leeds.  

Create - "where good food and good people matter" - is a different sort of catering business. Their mission is to train people who have been homeless, marginalised or vulnerable and support them back in to work. In a similar vein to Jamie Oliver's Fifteen, Create is supported by a backbone of full-time professionals both front of house and in the kitchen, whilst a roster of Create trainees follow a twelve week training programme that's aimed at getting them back into work, giving them a 'hand up, not a hand out'. Founded a few years ago and spearheaded by Richard Walton-Allen, former head chef at Harvey Nichols, the Create foundation offer a whole range of bits and bobs from corporate catering to a street-food van. They now have two physical premises - a newly opened cafe in Wakefield and a restaurant in Leeds.

Create's Mission Statement

It's easy to be a bit skeptical that Create's success has been a direct result of their unique mission statement and not because of the quality of their food and service. At the end of the day,  people like to feel good about what they're eating and where they're choosing to spend their money. However, in my humble opinion Create's Leeds restaurant offers some of the best food in the North. The people at the Michelin Guide must agree with me too: the restaurant has recently been awarded the prestigious Bib Gourmand, a nod to the establishment's use of high-quality produce, excellent service and moderate prices. In short, as Jay Rayner neatly summarised in his review of the restaurant, "while Create may be a social enterprise designed to vanquish the dismal, dreary, soul-destroying inequities of unemployment, you will merely regard it as a nice place to go for lunch.  And go you should, because it deserves your support."

And go we did, when a dreary mid-week evening in freezing cold January meant that the healthy salmon dish that I was going to prepare didn't seem appetising at all and all we were really in need of was some good, hearty grub - the sort that experience has told us that Create offers in abundance. Whilst the annual January oh-god-it's-weeks-til-my-next-pay-check-blues were well and truly under-way, Create's brilliant offer of two courses for two people for £22 meant that our bank balances didn't need to suffer too much either.

Bright and modern decor - just what was needed on a cold night
So off we trotted into the bleak mid-winter and round the corner to Create. The colourful, modern decor, friendly service and candle-lit tables were particularly welcoming on an evening which threatened snow. The restaurant was unusually busy for a mid-week evening in January, meaning that unlike our experience at the Bird by Vineet, there was atmosphere in abundance - which is quite an achievement for an establishment that can seat a fair few people and is spread over two floors.

The offer menu showed no signs of scrimping and saving, and instead showcased some of the best dishes from the a la carte menu. I chose a main of braised pigs cheek accompanied by creamed potato, purple sprouting broccoli and Coleman’s mustard velouté (normal price £13.50) which was exceptionally tasty. The pigs cheek was perfectly succulent, the velouté not overly mustardy and the creamed potato delicious. I wasn't entirely sure about the added edition of some pickled gherkins, but a sprinkling of crackling added a depth of flavour and texture to the dish. Portion size was spot-on, no sides were needed and it was exactly what a cold January evening called for.

Braised Pigs Cheek

I have a sweet tooth and when faced with a tricky decision I'd always choose pudding over starters without much hesitation. When my sticky toffee pudding, parkin crumble, caramel sauce and milk sorbet (normal price £5.50) arrived, I knew I'd made the right decision. Ash had to shout at me when I tried to eat the decorative chocolate smears too, it was that good. A little more parkin wouldn't have gone a miss, but all in all, top notch.
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Service, as always, was good too. True to their word, food was speedy, well presented and very fresh (I can vouch for this as the open kitchen meant that I could be nosy and watch my food being prepared). With a carafe of red wine to share, the whole meal for two came to a January Blues busting £30.

Overall, Create is a gem. If you're in Leeds and at a loss as to where to go, you could do far worse than coming here.

1 comment:

  1. So this is where you will treat your elderly parents next time they're Up North - is it? Looking forward to it already!