Comedian and food fiend Jessica Fostekew puts her mouth where others fear to tread. A celebration of eating: from posh nosh to kebab shops to stuff that’s been on the floor. This week, Jess repays a kindness with a breakfast.
I have friends in Leeds who ought to get special medals for bravery in hospitality. They put my entire family up overnight, so I could do some gigs. They’d never met the man or the baby before, yet they committed to spending a whole evening with them while I went out.
For all they knew, either of them could have been prone to crying or shouting for hours. Luckily, I came home to an oasis of completely avoided disaster. The relief was as delicious as the food I’m about to tell tale of.
Their names are Toby and Sarah and they’re beyond kind. They also know their food. So, by way of a thank you, the next morn we took them to their favourite breakfast pub. That’s right: breakfast pub.
The Reliance. You would have to know it to find it. It has a bar then an adjoining room, both small but airy with super-high ceilings. It has red walls and wooden tables with leaflets pinned to things. It’s the sort of place you’d expect to find a beautiful French student couple, reading in the window, who get up and start rallying about politics or sexy dancing or both.
That isn’t what happened, which would normally be a shame but in this instance was a relief, because my silly baby was sleeping, and political dance always wakes him.
The menu boasts just four novel, fascinating options, scrawled up on a chalkboard with the wine list. We ordered the equivalent of a thing and a half each. Everything was too interesting for us all not to try each dish.
I’d never heard of shakshuka. It’s a Middle Eastern dish, popular for breakfast in Tunisia and Egypt but apparently it’s hoovered of an evening in Israel too. It’s a rich, spicy tomato sauce with eggs on it, baked. In its countries of origin it would be mopped up with flatbreads but I tried it with some lovely buttery toast.
The baking dish was so hot you needed to delve in with your knife and fork as carefully as you would with the plastic pincers when playing Operation. The eggs were a little hard but very tasty. The smattering of coriander leaves on top was charming, and went really nicely with the star of the thing which was that tomato base. Saltier and smokier than I’d imagined, it was beautifully powerful. Cumin, some almost burned, browned onion and chilli crying out most clearly.
“I should confess that I hate black pudding. It tastes like licking a hot, broken road that there’s recently been a terrible fight on. My companions however explained if you do like black pudding, then that black pudding was the best black pudding there is.”
Flavour-wise, it really met you face to face. It went so well with the creamy eggs, it was a revelation. I love spicy breakfasts so much: what better time of day to wake your mouth up with a load of big sensation? This was my most memorable dish, but I was, I believe, alone in feeling that way.
We tried the eggs Florentine. This was more familiar territory, yet it was still very impressive. The spinach leaves were raw, and I’d never had them like that with eggs before. Super-earthy, they lent a really nice new dimension to things with that extra, quite dry texture. The eggs were perfectly flavoursome and runny but the main attraction was the lashings of well seasoned hollandaise. Considering it’s essentially hot mayonnaise, I’m potty for a great hollandaise, especially a really peppery one. This one had just the right meeting of rich silkiness and bite.
We also dabbled with the wild mushrooms on toast with poached eggs. The eggs and toast were great again but here it was all about the mushrooms. Fried in butter and, I think, a little bit of garlic, they had the loveliest set of woody, juicy, foresty flavours. Nutty and meaty but lighter than the sorts you usually get. What a bloody treat.
Finally, we hoofed our hosts’ favourite dish as well, and really the reason they’d chosen this place: the eggs black pudding Benedict. I should confess that I hate black pudding. It tastes like licking a hot, broken road that there’s recently been a terrible fight on. My companions however explained if you do like black pudding, then that black pudding was the best black pudding there is. Homemade, mealy and mushy, with bonus bits of exciting bacon in it. If that’s what flips your ship, then that is no doubt very exciting.
All these courses, by the way, came in at between £5.50-£6.50. That’s a cinch considering the meal was an absolute doozy. Thoughtful, confident food where real care had been taken over flavour and originality. My one tip would be to order extra toast as each dish only comes with one wee slice. Other than that mild imperfection, expect fireworks, even without anyone there dancing at all.
The Reliance, 76-78 North Street, Leeds, LS2 7PN
Tel: 0113 295 6060
Open: Mon – Thu 12pm – 11pm, Fri and Sat 12pm – 12am, Sun 11am – 10.30pm. Brunch is served on Sundays 11am – 1pm only.
Accessible: Yes. There is step-free access throughout the bar and dining area and it’s lovely and spacious BUT the toilets are through a narrow door and down some steep steps.
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Jessica Fostekew is a writer, comedian, actor, law degree-waster, sister, daughter and beard-fan with an unabashed food infatuation.