Saturday, 18 November 2017

Cantina at The Old Red Bus Station - Leeds - Vegan Heaven

Further up the lane from the sleek, high end, recently created and rejuvenated from what was before Victoria Gate you'll find a side of Leeds city centre that has been neglected over the past few years. I don't remember this side of town in what you may call its 'hay day' but I do remember it being slightly less dilapidated than it has been in previous times. There used to be a cinema on this street, the ABC, which has since been knocked to the ground. It was always for me, the lesser option compared to the Odeon (now sports direct) but it made the area visited. During my teenage years I was introduced to an all-you-cat-eat Chinese restaurant, which had a fire in the kitchen and then had to close. 

When things started to change on this side of the town, with the plans for a John Lewis and Super Casino (whatever that means) I saw small businesses moved out of their cheap lets as the plans became public that this part of Vicar Lane (the street at the bottom of the Grand Arcade if you haven't pin pointed it yet) would be 'phase 2' of Victoria Gate. 

Victoria Gate has proved to be fairly expensive and I've heard the footfall isn't quite what they were hoping with. In the following months of the opening of Victoria Gate I started to notice that the once closed and boarded up units have started to slowly fill up again, the first which caught my eye was Pizza Fella. I then noticed that the old bus station had a tenant too. It stopped being a bus station over 20 years ago and has laid dormant ever since.

Granted it's not one of Leeds' grandest buildings, it's not the prettiest either but it lays a historic reminder of what life in the 1930's was like. Inside you can still see snippets of its previous life. Cantina is situated upstairs, in the circular part of the building that balances upon the precarious but iconic pole that defines the building. The circular room creates a panoramic view of Leeds I've never seen before. Go just as dusk hits for gorgeous light and a picture perfect view framed by curving windows.

The stairs that lead up to Cantina appear to be the original set, just jazzed up a bit. The dotted pattern on the steps transported me back to my childhood, perhaps this style was popular in the 80s and early 90s as I recall them quite frequently when I think of public buildings.

Downstairs is a well stocked bar with minimalist decor, industrial exposed pipes and brick work. On trend at the moment but also keeping in theme with the building itself. When I walked upstairs and in to Cantina I felt like we were on holiday. It's the sort of place I find myself in when abroad on the back of a twitter best kept secret recommendation. The panoramic views in addition to the mish mash of furniture, slight hipster feel and the feeling that they are drawing influences from all over Europe add to my feeling of being abroad.

The clientele are also a mish mash of people, from student types to older types (although I can stereotype as I'd place myself in the older(ish) category and I am now a full time student myself, but you get what I mean). It's one of the few places in Leeds that categorise themselves as 100% vegan. There are a lot of places in Leeds that cater to Vegan's but also cater to meat eaters (great when you've got a friendship group that includes both), but it doesn't seem there are quite as many that only cater for Vegan's. There is a fear that being exclusively vegan or vegetarian would defer meat eaters and thus make them less profitable as they are catering for a smaller population. I have met people that refuse to eat out somewhere if it doesn't serve meat, they see eating out as a luxury and therefore should include meat. I find this close minded and a shame, too many times they are missing out on some true gems in our city such as Cantina and Bundobust to only name a couple. If you haven't guessed, or read my blog before, I am a meat and personally I don't think a meal is doomed to be bad if it doesn't have meat in it.

Well, I've rambled on quite a bit about Leeds' history (as I often do) and also about the debates of vegan restaurants and I haven't shown you anything about the food Cantina offer. So, I best get to it.. 

As mentioned previously, Cantina take influences from Europe and further across the globe. They show this in their food primarily, an eclectic menu means you couldn't ever categorise them as serving only one cultural cuisine, such as Indian, Chinese, Thai, English, French etc. 

For starters D and I shared some vegan dumplings made with crispy sui mai, balsamic soy and peanu satay dip. They tasted just as good as any other crispy dumplings I've had in Thai restaurants.

Our other starter included panko crumbed popcorn tofu and tempura broccoli skewers served with a sweet chilli sauce. Confession time, this was my first ever experience of tofu. Its not that I have ever thought I might not like it I have just never found myself ordering it before and clearly I've never cooked with it either. It has a strange consistency which I can't really put my finger on a comparison, it was marinated well (do you marinate tofu?) and didn't have a bland flavour to it as I expect most would assume.

For my main I had a bean burger which was served with vegan rainbow slaw and garlic fried chips. The burger was delicious, although I'm still trying to limit my bread intake the sourdough was great too. The only thing I wasn't keen on was the rainbow slaw, it just wasn't to my taste but D liked and it ate it up for me. 

D ordered the slow cooked chana masala served with a roti and usually vegan yoghurt, however the yoghurt had ran out just before we arrived and so we were offered vegan mayo instead. We weren't convinced the two would go together so didn't give it a whirl. The chana was delicious and it packed a hearty punch too.

With it being an old building they currently lack central heating, during autumn it can get quite chilly and they've combated this with heat lamps (the sort you would normally find in a beer garden). These are great for warming you up but not so great when you're trying to Instagram your food. 

You can't tell but the dish my crumble is in is actually red! The crumble and vegan custard was warming and filling. If I hadn't of known I wouldn't have guessed the custard was vegan.

If you're looking for somewhere off the beaten track or perhaps somewhere a little quieter on an evening than in the dead centre of town then this could be the option for you, especially if you're vegan or have vegan pals. Go on, put down that sausage and give it a go. 

If you're interested, here is a glimpse of the bus stations past. You can of course find historic pictures on too.