Restaurant reviews

Not at all ham-fisted

Having been a fan of Friends of Ham well before the refurbishment that it has recently undergone and always craving tapas style dishes (especially when they involve charcuterie!) it didn’t take much to persuade me to visit the restaurant last weekend when shopping with my wife in town.

It was Jay Rayner who had tipped us off about the refurb – Friends of Ham being one of the two best options in Leeds recommended by him after I tweeted for some inspiration. The restaurant has been expanded so that it now occupies what looks like more than double the real estate on the street and is far less of an intimidating venue to stroll into as a result.

When you walk into the new layout, you can immediately see that it has been made to feel bigger and more spacious but without losing that lovely homely, cosy feel that had been present previously. Before the refurb, it could be a bit of a fight to find a seat downstairs, but now there is comfortable seating on street level, all focused around a really smart bar area.

I will point out that we wandered in at lunchtime and were not set on a full blown meal but once my wife and I had our first sip of warm silky coffee and were pondering the selective but gorgeous menu, we knew we had to indulge!

With the choices being so good it was a real struggle to decide what to go for and had I been there in the evening and not at lunchtime I would certainly have sampled a wider selection of dishes. In this instance though we went for the hot bath chaps (smoked pigs cheek), olive tapenade, and finally raclette with Jesus du Pays Basque meat on the side.

Safe in the knowledge that the food all comes out together we were able to sit back and soak in the atmosphere. The bar in particular has been vastly improved, both in terms of space and feel, with a range of craft ales and lagers on offer as well as guest specials that really make you want to indulge in a cheeky drink (even at lunch!). Seeing several dishes come past us, we knew that the standard of food hadn’t dropped even though the restaurant had only been reopened a couple of days, and when the actual plates were placed in front of us it became almost impossible not to salivate just at the pure sight of them. The aroma of the raclette in particular, with the beautiful coating of cheese and oil on the potatoes was divine.

The pigs cheek dish was lovely, meaty and most importantly well seasoned and really suited the accompanying toasted bread. In addition to this, the tapenade was everything you hope for in a dish that is famed for its simplicity: it packed a clean punchy flavour and the toasted bread (although I wish there had been more!) was clearly freshly made and added a real contrasting texture to the smooth tapenade.

Finally, I cannot describe the beauty of the raclette and the accopanying meat – it was simply awesome! All I can say is that while this was a little more cobbled together than planned when choosing the dishes, the raclette would simply have worked with anything and everything on the menu and its flavoursome cheese, meat and well cooked (not dry and floury) potatoes added that little layer of texture to take this mid-day treat from good to superb.

If you haven’t already been, simply go to Friends of Ham. If you have been and are worried it is no longer special since the refurb, then fret no more! I shall be back again for a full evening meal and a beer or two very soon…

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