Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Bar Soba - Leeds

Bar Soba opened a few weeks ago on the ever growing popular Merrion Street in the city centre. Bar Soba has travelled down from Scotland where they have four joints, this being their first in England. I always find it exciting when a well loved/famed establishment decides to make Leeds their second home and I was intrigued to see what the Scots had been eating that we hadn't.

Bar Soba describes itself as "An award winning Cocktail Bar & Restaurant, serving the finest pan Asian street food in Glasgow".

What is Pan Asian food? Wikipedia tells me that Pan-Asianism is an ideology that promotes the unity of Asian peoples and lists Japan, China, Southeast Asia and "third way" asianisms. Therefore I'm going to presume that Pan-Asian food is the bring together of Asian foods from these cultures under one roof. If I'm wrong please feel free to correct me. 

The 'street food', I'm guessing, originates from their street cafe on Buchanan Street in Glasgow, but they appear to have more static establishments now than mobile ones these days. 

I rocked up on a Thursday evening around 6.15pm. To say it was midweek and early it was already busy with work types, student types and hen types. No one greeted us as we walked in, a waitress smiled and skidded off. We waited patiently at the bar so that we could tell them we had a reservation for food. Once attended to we were told we needed to head up stairs. This was already becoming a chore... Not because of the stairs. I have no issues with stairs unless you're making me climb a ridiculous amount. 

We arrived upstairs to a beautifully light room that had the roof replaced with glass. We were then guided to a dark corner away from the glass ceiling and squashed between two tables on a back row. I was sat so close to the people either side of me it felt like I was dining with them, one was very boisterous (having clearly drank many cocktails rather than eating) and it made me feel uncomfortable. 

The crammed space, which wasn't necessary as there were plenty of free tables, made it hard for D to hear what I had to say, I'm softly spoken at the best of times, loud crowds and background noise makes things worse. 

To cheer myself up a little and bring a bit of brightness to our dark table I decided to order one of their award winning cocktails, the Strawberry Sail, a twist on the strawberry daiquiri made with Sailor Jerry's (£6.50). It was pretty good and if I was made of money I'm pretty sure I could work my way through a few of these until I started dancing on the tables, that is until D drags me away home for being too drunk. 

We decided to share a starter opting for Char Sui pork steamed buns. These came in the traditional bamboo basket and were topped with a red sauce (ginger?) and bean sprouts. The pork inside was relatively good but it reminded me of BBQ pulled pork, the steamed bun was excessively 'carbalicious', dry and frankly a bit tasteless. I've had steamed buns elsewhere, served more 'burger-esq', which now forms my preference as a much less stodgy and flavoursome steamed bun option. 

For mains D had the Teriyaki Beef Noodles. I had a bit, as is necessary when you're a food blogger, I could have made this myself at home. I could have perhaps made it better at home. Yeah the beansprouts were fresh and the broccoli crunchy, the teriyaki had adequately flavoured the beef but it really wasn't something special. Most students perfect the art of the stir fry whilst at university, I know I did, it's cheap and easy to do. If I'm going to eat what is essentially a stir fry (under the more elegant name of 'wok dishes') in a restaurant I'd hope I'm getting something more for the experience (and the money) than what I could whack in a wok myself at home. 

I'm pretty sure I majorly fell down on my main option. I've been craving chicken Katsu for around 6 weeks now, I'm thinking of Little Tokyo's version or perhaps Wagamamas. This did not meet my craving need or expectations. 

The chicken tasted cheap and greasy, the breadcrumbs were not the lush panko breadcrumbs I have become accustomed to, they lay on top of a greasy batter and barely gave any crunch at all. That pot you see on the plate is the standard serving of Katsu sauce. As you can see it's not a full pot. It's watery and filled with veg chunks. There wasn't enough sauce to help mask the greasy chicken taste or add some flavour and moisture to my rice, I had to collar a waitress and ask for some more to be able to finish my meal. My additional sauce came in a bowl about 4 times the size of the original portion, the waitress even joked that they didn't give you much and she had thought the same when she had it. Speechless. Someone feed back to the chef!!!

All in all my experience here has made me think "no, this place is not for me", and a line has been virtually struck. It might have been for me a few years ago in my student years, when I was still discovering that amazing food is out there and how to cook myself a decent meal. It also may not have overly bothered me to be crammed next to other young people who were hammered whilst I gobbled down my food. Heading towards 30 (gulp) I'm now inclined to think that I've become grumpier and more critical. Whilst I claim I'm less fussy with food these days my standards have clearly risen, a different kind of fussy I guess. 

The cocktails were good as mentioned, if I had money to burn I'd have no problem sipping a few down on a Friday night. Once again another sign of becoming grumpy and old when you think to yourself "I could get a whole, decent, bottle of wine for the price of two cocktails here". 


Maybe I'll lighten up when 40 is on the horizon. 

* Additional point to make me look old, whilst I was sat in Bar Soba I pondered whether I was actually sat in what used to be heaven. No, I didn't die and come back life to report back that heaven lies on Merrion Street. I instead refer to the former night club heaven and hell, where a ridiculous amount of underage drinkers used to frequent, used to be housed inside the grand arcade. I could almost hear the sounds of "build me up buttercup" as I imagined where the stage and bar used to be. 

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