Roots to Shoots at The Swine that Dines

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Sometimes when you find a decent food place you tend not to shout about it because you kind of want to keep it to yourself and if too many people show up it’ll change and it’ll just be all wrong and you won’t get a table and all that malarkey. You know? I’m a bit like that about The Greedy Pig (North Lane, Leeds, gmap). Their veggie breakfasts are (IMO) the best in Leeds, their sandwiches are fun, their pie nights are legendary[1], and they recently branched out into doing evening dining, with themed set menus and a BYOB approach, seemingly just for kicks and giggles. Because a good pun is a good pun the evening events are called The Swine That Dines.

Here’s the thing about the Pig: it looks and behaves almost like a greasy spoon. It does bacon butties. Big mugs of tea. Fried stuff. Look closer and you find interesting flavour twists on the sandwich and burger menu. Home-made pickles which are bright and crisp and exciting. House specials which wouldn’t look out of place in a pub in Bray. Underneath this is a chef who has worked in some of the highly-regarded food spots in Leeds over the years, including Harvey Nicks and Leodis, and he’s just bloody brilliant at cooking. Stu has serious skills and knows how to get the most flavour out of a tiny kitchen and these events are great at letting him show off that skill. His partner Jo is a dab hand at baking amazing sweet treats and the pies that the Pig is getting a well-deserved reputation for. It may look like a regular cafe, but it really isn’t one. It’s like Tracy Island, if Virgil Tracy was a whizz at high-end cheffery and Lady Penelope could be seen with a bowl of eggs and chocolate.

When I discovered Jo & Stu were doing a veggie evening I booked up as soon as I found out. Except I didn’t, because they’d sold out all their seats (there’s only ten) in about fifteen minutes. It was only because some people dropped out that I was able to go along with my always-delightful dining companion Lianne from Everything Goes With Toast who was in a similar predicament.

The company was fun – everybody sits at the same table – so we all opened our bottles (wine and beer) and waited for the food to show up.

Course 1: tomato and celery.

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This was a crystal-clear tomato essence made with a touch of chilli for background and a tiny handful of black-eyed peas (which were tasty, surprise in itself) with some braised celery (which was also flavourful). The important thing here was the tomato, which smacked you in the mouth like summers in Grandad’s greenhouse. This was properly tomato, crisp and clean and fresh. That’s a neat trick to pull in February.

Course 2: rhubarb, beetroot and goats curd.

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A really fun salad of pickled beetroot and rhubarb with some chicory and blobs of home-made goats curd. I’ve never made curds before and fully intend to give it a go. The rhubarb was zingy and the pickling was pretty much bang on. Everything was helped by that zippy, creamy curd which tempered the pickling and natural rhubarb acidity.

Course 3: arancini, romanescu, artichoke and manchego.

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A charred artichoke heart was a nice side note to these little balls of rice, fried to crispy perfection and served with a romanescu cauli puree that was punched up with harissa. Slices of manchego cheese were a pleasantly sharp contrast and made a nice change from parmesan.

Course 4: grains, celeriac and a poached egg

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This was my highlight. I loved this dish. I could happily have eaten more of all of the food we ate this evening but I would have fought people in an arena if there was a chance of getting another one of these. Pearl barley in a malty sauce which instantly reminded me of Shreddies, with some tasty celeriac cubes and a perfectly cooked egg, was so comforting it tasted like a warm blanket in front of the fire. It looked simple but I’ll bet it wasn’t. And I don’t care if it was – this was perfect.

Course 5: lemon, raspberry, white chocolate

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I came out of this wondering how Jo had made this (and have told her not to tell me, I want to work it out on my own). It was like a brownie with a crisp top and fluffy middle, only with a crisp base and made with lemons and with the only chocolate on the side. It was crisp and clean-tasting with a pleasingly mouth-puckering zing of raspberry all rounded off with a whipped cream ganache that took the edges off. A perfect end to the meal.

So, there you have it. High-end food, without pretentious silverware or foams or gels or ipods playing birdsong. Veggie food without a mushroom in sight. Clever cookery and a meal that will remain in memory for a long time. I can still taste some of the elements now. A joy.

It was thirty quid. Anywhere else that meal would be at least fifty, and you’d be pushed into an overpriced wine menu or pay ridiculous prices for corkage. My advice? The next thing that comes up at The Swine That Dines which sounds good, book it. Don’t even think twice about it. Just go and enjoy the food for what it is: excellent. And underpriced.

(Dinner conversation, as you’d expect amongst a group of foodies, drifted onto the food scene here in Leeds. I wrote about this a few years ago and the landscape has changed a bit, so I’m going to revisit this topic soon. If you have thoughts on the foodie scene then please let us know.)

Lianne’s version of events is here.

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1: honestly, they needed some money for essential building works so on a whim decided to do pie and mash only available on very special occasions. On paper this looks like a disastrous idea but they’re well-attended, often sold out in under two hours, and are absurdly tasty. I’ve been to all of them so far and never had anything less than an excellent meal – experience has told me that pie and mash is a risky menu choice, but not at the Pig.

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