Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Pigging out - a visit to Friends of Ham

Sometimes, life presents you with a pretty bloomin' awesome day. You know the ones - the kind that make you realise that despite a poorly bank balance, snow on the ground and no sign of the sun setting after 5pm for the next few weeks, everything is actually ok.

Nothing particularly exceptional happened yesterday- it was just one of those good'uns that spring up every now and then. Starting with some exciting stuff at work, it involved some pretty bloody tasty chicken skewers for lunch and ended with a trip to the wonderful Friends of Ham for a long overdue catch up with a good friend of mine.

Before I go much further, it's probably worth explaining that this good friend is my ex-housemate and the biggest pork lover I know (this is not a euphemism) - Mr. J. Hooper. When we were at Uni together, Hooper's diet was seventy five per cent pig based. Frequently caught snacking on scotch eggs that were carefully dissected in order to smear tomato sauce and other condiments into the hole where the egg lies, Hooper was so in love with eating pig and associated products that even his own mother was slightly concerned. We once put a pig's trotter into his bed as a joke, and I wouldn't have been surprised if he spent the evening secretly snuggled up to it. Although he's now a doctor and the time spent eating pig has had to take a bit of a back seat as a result, Hooper remains the epitome of a friend of ham. As such, the pub-come-lounge-come-charcuterie that is Friends of Ham is a true Hooper heaven, and I'd been dying to make a trip to the establishment with him since it opened last year.

I found out yesterday that Friends of Ham is a great place to end a good day. Nestled in amongst Station Road - the main approach to Leeds train station - it's easy to miss. However, behind its unassuming facade lies a wonderful haven for fans of pork based produce, beer, cheese fanatics and those - like Hooper - who are on a quest to find the best scotch egg in town.

On street level lies a small, homely bar that serves a pretty amazing amount of specialist beer. I have to admit, I don't know much about beer (far preferring the non-alcoholic, ginger kind), but I'd hazard a guess that even the biggest hop specialist would find something that they hadn't tried before behind the bar at Friends of Ham. With bottles ranging from £3.50 to £30+, it doesn't offer the cheapest drink in town, but I'm assured it's worth it. The wine list is decent, if a little limited, (glasses £3.75 upwards) and the soft drinks are reasonable too (my ginger beer was a particular highlight).

Step down the stairs (which are apparently easy to miss- some colleagues went to Friends of Ham recently and didn't notice them) and you're welcomed into a large, warm room, that's full of comfy chairs and gorgeous sofas, a communal table, board games, pictures of pigs and a shuffleboard table. I especially like the book wallpaper and the friendly looking watering cans that are perched on each table. It's one of those places that you could quite happily while away at least a couple of hours, if not a whole day, without noticing how time has slipped away. 

So, onwards to the food. With a simple menu consisting of lots of meat, tons of cheese and bar snacks, this isn't the place to go for complicated gastro dishes. But for a simple meat and cheese feast, Friends of Ham is a place to indulge. With almost ten fresh meats on the charcuterie menu and nearly as many cheeses, making a decision on what to go for was a tricky one. After a bit of debate, we decided to pig out (ho ho ho, get it?) and share a two meat and two cheese plate (£13.50), a black-pudding scotch egg and a classic scotch egg (£4.50 each).

We let the super friendly bar staff choose the contents of our meat and cheese plate, and we were presented with a board of Ribbleshead Smoked Goats Cheese, Mayfield Farmhouse Cheddar, Turvel D.O.P Ham, Prucuitto Di Parma Sant- Ilario Riserve, some soft white bread with a drizzle of oil, crackers, two chutneys and some black olives. The scotch eggs were accompanied by some salad and a little dish of mustard. For the price we paid, portion sizes weren't massive, but quality over quantity is the name of the game at Friends of Ham and we didn't leave hungry. 

I'm pleased to report that the pork based produce met with my pig loving friend's agreement. The black pudding scotch egg was a personal favourite, and the meat was very nice indeed. A little more bread wouldn't have gone a-miss, and I think I'll be slightly more adventurous when it comes to the cheese next time round - you can't beat a stinking fromage with a good kick. 

All in all though, Friends of Ham is definitely one for a return visit. There's still enough on the menu that I want to try - especially the chickpea scotch egg, the Finocchiona and the pork scratchings - which definitely warrants another visit. The staff were chatty and seemed to take a genuine interest in what they served and the ambience of the bar offers a friendly, cosy hub in the heart of the city. It's the perfect sort of place for a cold winter's day when only a chat with some friendly folk, some good food and a comfy sofa will do.

I can safely say that I'm now a friend of ham too.

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