Boyz n’ the Hudd

Huddersfield.

Or ‘Uddersfield, as the locals would ‘ave it.

I’ve been working on the outskirts for the past couple of weeks, a little place just off the motorway where there is NOTHING GOING ON. Seriously.

On the odd occasion I’ve ventured out into the West Yorkshire rain (it rains here a lot) I’ve driven around looking for decent coffee and a bite to eat, but nothing stands out. It’s all shitty little take-aways and buttie bars; the sort of places that serve mugfuls of Nescafé at tables dressed in easy-wipe plastic cloths. More Typhoo and digestives than espresso e cantucci. Uninspiring stuff.

But today the sun came out.

It also happened to be my day off. So spurred on by the prospect of some much needed vitamin D synthesis, I popped on my Ray-Bans and headed down the A640 towards civilisation – and ended up in the suburb of Lindley. After a good mile of nothingness I hung a left up towards the hospital and soon found myself on a narrow 2-way street flanked on both sides by bakeries, delis, patisseries, restaurants, wine merchants, coffee shops, tea rooms, not to mention the myriad other shops from hair salons to boutique book shops, and everything in between – and all, I’m happy to say, independents. This secreted area, tucked away off the New Hey Road, was a veritable oasis in a desert of daleside drollery. I parked up and went in search of that elusive coffee.

I ended up in a little deli-come-tea room-come gift shop called Bubble & Squeak. This is around 11 am on a Wednesday in early February, and the place was buzzing. A hive of activity. As I took a seat at the one remaining free table I was greeted by a motherly figure with a broad ‘Uddersfield accent, who informed me of the day’s specials – a carrot and coriander soup (ho-hum) and a rare beef and horseradish open sandwich with triple-cooked chips and something-something-something (to be honest, I was sold by the triple-cooked chips). I ordered an americano and sat back to peruse the menu. Standard fare, in all honesty, but clearly fresh and with a hint of imagination. The coffee came with traces of créma still visible on the surface – a good start! – and with a message from the kitchen: “Chef says that there’ll be a bit of a wait on the chips as the first stage of cooking isn’t quite finished yet.” Arse. Now, normally the triple-cook method involves water blanching (boiling/steaming) followed by a low temperature oil blanche, and a final high temperature oil fry. After stage one and two the chips need to be left to cool before moving on to the next stage. So really, for a lunch time service, the first stage (at the very least) should have been completed the day before.

Anyway, the chips were off so I chose from the main menu – a salad of chorizo and Manchego with sundried tomatoes. Job done.

The dish that arrived wasn’t quite what I had expected. Sitting in the centre of the plate was a ramekin of roast Med veg (aubergine, courgette, pepper, red onion) covered in melted Manchego. Around that was a scattering of salad leaf (rocket, lamb’s lettuce, chard… the usual suspects) topped with slices of tomato and chorizo. It certainly wasn’t Earth-shattering but it did the job, and at £7.95 I didn’t feel ripped off. The espresso that followed was very good, as was the coffee cake. I was hungry, okay?!?

I suppose the point of this ramble – if there is one – is really to say that, no matter where you are or how uninspiring a place might seem, those little gems are out there just waiting to be discovered. This country is full of them, and they’re quite often in the most unexpected of places. You’ve just got to have faith, get off the beaten track, and look.

Just a few doors down from Bubble & Squeak I saw a lovely looking restaurant called Erics. The menu was stunning. To think that just a few hundred yards down the road there’s nothing but a petrol station, local Sainsbury’s and a dual carriageway, the juxtaposition is all the more surprising. It turns out that this place, Erics, is actually in the Michelin guide and has been voted as one of the top ten eateries in the region by The Sunday Times. The guy behind Erics, Eric Paxman, a Huddersfield lad, used to work for Marco Pierre White at L’Escargot and spent three years under Bill Grainger in Sydney. So safe to say he knows his stuff. And now, so I’m told, he’s about to open a gourmet burger joint just a few doors down this gastro alley on the site of an old Italian restaurant. The residents of Lindley must be rubbing their hands with anticipation. I know I would be.

In a time when so many towns up and down the country are fast becoming carbon copies of one another, losing all regional identity as the independents are muscled out by the high street chains – to the point where, were you to be blindfolded and driven to certain provincial town centres in the UK, once unmasked you would struggle to distinguish Chorley from Chelmsford thanks to the pandemic spread of Starbucks, Nando’s, Café Rouge, et al – it’s so refreshing to find a truly local, thriving area that is clearly bucking the trend. These places are important. These places are what distinguish one town from another, one region from the next, a place of genuine interest from just another pin on Google’s global map.

Well done, Lindley. There’s hope for us yet.

 

* Seeing as we’re on the subject, here’s how I make triple-cooked chips. Just for shits and giggles…

  1. Get the potato right. Maris Piper’s are the firm favourite for chipping – good and floury, whilst holding their shape through cooking – but Uncle Davids also work well, as do (to a lesser extent) Wiljas. For real top drawer tatties, go on the hunt for Yukon Gold: I guarantee they will be the best chips you’ve ever eaten.
  2. Peel and boil. Size is important: we’re not making French fries here, you want a good  inch of thickness to your chips. Remember, they’re going to be cooked 3 times so they need to be substantial enough to stand up to that. Peel them, cut them, place them in a pan of cold water. Leave them alone for 20 minutes, drain off the water and refill. After another 20 minutes, drain off the water again. Fill with a third lot of fresh, cold water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a gentle simmer and let them cook until they are just on the verge of breaking up – we’re talking a long, slow simmer to really break down the cell structure.
  3. Carefully remove the chips one-by-one and place them on a wire rack to drain and cool. They will be extremely fragile, so be gentle. The cooling process allows the starch to set, which in turns makes the chips easier to handle. It also allows them to steam dry, which is very important for the next step. For an even better finish, transfer the chips to the freezer for an hour or two; this will essentially freeze-dry the potatoes, resulting in an even crisper final chip.
  4. Once completely cooled, blanch the chips in your preferred oil – sunflower, rapeseed, duck fat, beef dripping; it’s your choice – at 130°C for around 5 minutes. Cook them in batches so you don’t overcrowd the pan and cause the oil temperature to drop. The chips should have formed a thin crust. When this happens, remove them to drain and cool on the wire rack. Again, if you freeze them for a few hours the resulting chips will be that bit better.
  5. Finally, fry the chips at 180°C until golden and crisp. Drain well, sprinkle with salt, and prepare yourself for some serious naughty time. It may be worth placing a good thick towel wherever you’re about to sit down. They’re that good.
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