With nights drawing in and the first ground frosts of autumn appearing, the idea of comfort food is instantly appealing and one city bar is specialising in simple, hearty dishes.
Stew & Oyster is a new Kelham Island venue that offers diners what it says in the name, although it’s aiming first and foremost to be a community-based bar, not a restaurant, said assistant general manager Fraser Hodges.
“We’d like everyone from the area to get involved,” he added. That includes dog lovers, who are made welcome with their pets.
Special offers to customers include free brownies with your first hot drink and slices of pork pie handed round on a Friday night.
The venue is also currently looking for someone to run a funky quiz night.
Fraser said that the first three months of opening had been busy, especially with several special events including Peddler’s night markets, drawing more people to the area at weekends.
The Kelham Island bar is the first outside Leeds, which boasts four Stew & Oysters. “Everyone seems to love it,” said Fraser. “We’re so busy with food, especially oysters. We’re doing 300 a week, which is pretty crazy.”
They try to keep prices competitive, with all main course stews at £5.95 to £6.95. Fraser said: “It’s just really honest food.”
As much food as possible is sourced in Yorkshire, although all those oysters come from Colchester in Essex, via Sheffield fishmonger J H Mann.
The bar features a selection of cask ales that change regularly and I couldn’t resist trying Full Sail’s blood orange wheat beer. It gave the beer an interesting, warming and only slightly sweet edge.
That’s temporarily replaced their house beer, a pale ale with the cute name Nowt Ba’ht Hops, from Hebden Bridge brewery Vocation.
Fraser said they try to use Yorkshire and northern breweries and always have Theakston’s beer on. Old Peculier features in one of the beef stews and in the butter.
The bar is based at the front of Green Lane Works with its impressive gateway and clock tower but, although there’s original exposed brickwork on show, the feel is very clean and modern and industrial chic meets Scandinavian.
The bar has high tables and stools and there’s a little area with sofas but the main dining room at the front is a mixture of small tables with what look like renovated school chairs and longer tables with bench seating for groups.
Choose your own seats, order at the bar and help yourself to cutlery and staff deliver your food. If you want water, there’s a supply on the bar with glasses to help yourself to.
Of course, we had to try the oysters, especially as my friend Linda has never tried them. We had two Virgin Mary oysters, which were served on ice heaped up in tiny buckets and were served with celery salt, Henderson’s and Tabasco, plus a little dish of vinaigrette.
Nothing to it, said Linda, as she threw hers down her throat like a veteran.
Her daughter Abi couldn’t be persuaded as she’s had food poisoning from seafood in the past, so we also ordered one of the small plates, of mini sausages with buttery mash and onion gravy, as a shared starter.
This was served in a mini black pottery skillet and could have done with a little more seasoning but was very enjoyable. The meat is sourced from Sykes House Farm in Wetherby.
There are 12 stews to choose from, including a smoked haddock chowder, one vegetarian and two vegan dishes. Gluten-free options are also marked up.
When our main courses arrived, I mentioned that two of us had ordered bread instead of the rice that came with all three and our server, who turned out to be Fraser, immediately offered us bread as well.
So, as well as a generous portion of stew served in individual casserole dishes on little bread boards, we had a little bucket of posh savoury rice and a sizeable hunk of delicious seeded white bread and a dish of beer butter each.
Everyone loved their main courses. My braised beef, onions and roasted mixed peppers had been gently cooked in a silky brandy and peppercorn sauce that was bursting with peppery flavour.
Linda had spiced leg of cajun lamb cooked until it was almost falling apart in a rich tomato sauce with sweet potato, parsnips and celery. It was a beautiful balance of flavours.
Abi went for chicken and chorizo, the spicy oil from the chorizo infusing the tomato and basil sauce, butter beans and green beans with its signature Spanish flavour.
We couldn’t resist the puddings even after a substantial main meal and Abi went for the chocolate brownie with ice cream. Linda and I shared sticky toffee pudding with custard.
I suffered serious pudding envy when I tried the brownie. It is easily in my all-time top three, and is bought in from Brown and Blonde of Ripon.
The sticky toffee pud, with its accompanying tiny milk bottle of custard, was great but couldn’t match it.
Our bill, including my beer and two soft drinks, came to a bargain £42.65.