Leeds City Centre boasts many familiar high street franchise restaurants. Even as this article is being written, the finishing touches are being made to the gargantuan Trinity shopping centre, the city's third such shopping mall, which I'm sure will house many more franchise restaurants. Before I begin a tirade against franchised restaurants, I want to make the point that supporting independent restaurants is important for a number of reasons, the main one being that franchises have a habit of never changing their menus. As a lot of their produce is prepared off site in factory kitchens, which I find compromises on the overall taste of the food (bland).
Coming to Leeds from London I was desperate to find a decent Chinese restaurant that could satisfy my taste for oriental cuisine. After some trial and error, I stumbled across a fantastic Chinese restaurant in the heart of Leeds, on Vicar Lane. Now, it is very easy to fall foul of the many, some rather average, take-a-ways that litter the student neighbourhoods of Hyde Park and Headingly. One indicator of the quality of an establishment such as this, is to check how many people of oriental origin are eating/working in that restaurant at any given time. A lot of chomping Chinese and a few nervous looking Caucasians is a good sign the food is of a good quality. Another rule of thumb Is to judge these sorts of places by their dim sum menu. For all those unaware of dim sum, imagine oriental canapés and vol au vents consisting of a combination of diced meat, vegetables and shellfish. These can either be fried or steamed, in little parcels made from rice paper, dough or noodles.
Ho's has such an extensive dim sum menu, that at first glance it might seem overwhelming, but the choice is there to appeal to the diverse Chinese palate, which means that there will be something on the menu to suit every taste (even chips for the faint hearted). Dim sum is usually seen by us Brits as a starter but it is quite normal for a meal to consist entirely of lots of different, small, handmade parcels of delicious joy. Ho's main boast is it's superb chefs, who lovingly create these delicate morsels from scratch at a break neck speed. Obviously this is not the only dim sum restaurant in the city, but it offers great authentic cuisine which appeals to even the most unseasoned pallet for excellent value for money.
Recently I took a date, who was most impressed by my cosmopolitan choice of local restaurant, to Ho's. The restaurant has a very welcoming atmosphere which caters for families, large parties and couples. We decided to share our food with one another as she was unfamiliar with dim sum and was curious to try. so, I ordered four dim sum dishes. These dishes are the most popular and the four have a diverse variety of texture and taste, each different from the next (these are really good choices for all dim sum virgins!).
First up 'Har Kau' a handmade shrimp dumpling made by wrapping glutinous rice paper around a mixture of diced shrimp/prawn and bamboo shoots. The thin translucent rice paper gives a satisfyingly squelchy bite to the dense shrimp meat.
Second, 'Sui Mai', open parcels of dough filled with minced pork, shrimp and vegetables. This is the quintessential taste of Dim Sum a must try for all those who've never indulged.
Third, my personal favourite: Char Siu Bao. A small open parcel of a sweet doughy bun (the Bao)containing diced barbeque pork in a Cantonese style Hoi Sin sauce (Char Siu).
Finally, crispy 'Wan Ton'. A deep fried rice paper parcel of diced shrimp accompanied by a sweet chilli sauce. These four portions came to roughly about £12.00 and my date ordered a main meal, comprising of the Char Siu and root vegetables sat on a crispy noodle base, from the a la carte menu which was £10.00.
We ate like emperors, only looking up to shovel more delicious food in our mouths. After a few glasses of coke and a pot of Jasmine tea, which is ideal for cleansing the palate, the meal came to just under £30.00. It was a warm and sumptuous dining experience; excellent quality food, great service, superb value. And for those whose gluttony knows no bounds, Ho's also has a bakery and patisserie downstairs.