There are quite a few things that are famous in Sam's Chophouse, established around 1398. One of these tells how, back in the sixties, the Quality Street gang had a pow wow with the then Chief of Police in the original Manchester branch. Here the assembled northern gangsters were informed that the Krays were sending their best enforcers to expand their franchise for extortion, prostitution and protection rackets in Manchester, the intention being to get a stronghold and move on to Leeds and Liverpool.
A mound of mash had been topped with a pudding bowl sized pile of shoulder meat. It really was braised until that point which other, lesser food writers describe as “oooh, it fell off the bone...”.
The not so squeamish blokes making up the Quality Street Gang weren't enamoured of this by all accounts and welcomed the information given regarding which train these cheeky sods were getting - along with intelligence photographs and crucially, the fact that the boys in blue at Piccadilly would all be taking a tea break at the time the train arrived. The Chief Constable left his half drunk pint of Sam's Best Bitter (still drinking well today), winked at the original motley crew saying, “I'm sure we're not going to have any trouble from the Krays up 'ere, are we lads?”
On the day, by all accounts, the Eastenders took a sever beating on Platform Six, with one fearsome Kray enforcer having his chin wrapped round the back of his head with one right hook from Jimmy Wingy. He woke up in the mail carriage with rest of his boys going past Stafford on the return journey. They never came back.
In an interview later the following year, Reggie Kray was asked why he never went 'up north'. “They're all fucking mental up there” was the surreal reply.
Gordo finds himself outside Sam's latest incarnation in Leeds on a (very) blustery Saturday lunchtime, ready for his lunch. The building is classic Sam's, Victorian, on the corner of South and East Parade. Walking through the door you assume the place has been there for one hundred years. The space is split into three areas, the bar with tall tables to stand at, then two restaurant rooms front (particularly light and airy) and back, dominated by a a big, haughty mirror. The bar is magnificently dark mahogany with a backdrop that goes all the way up to the ceiling. There are examples of the wines on offer hand picked by one of the few people in the North that Gordo would consider deferring to when it comes to Old World wine, joint owner Steven Pilling. On this particular day Gordo wouldn't be drinking, as he was driving, but two great wines that he can recommend are Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru (Laboure-Roi, £65) and a Gold Medal Gewürztraminer, Cave Vinicole de Ribeauville, Alsace (£24.95).
Now the food is old English. By this, Gordo means pre World War Two, and not in a disparaging way. Our cooking was just as interesting as the French back in the day, but we lost our way through rationing in WW2: it didn't end until 1954 and we lost a whole generation of cooks. We have been buggering about with all sorts of stuff ever since, with 'Modern British' the current buzzword.
But the fact was that we had some great dishes on the cards pre-1940 and Sam's is pretty good in Gordo's book at bringing them back up from time to time.
Devilled Lambs Kidneys is a case in point, back then popular because of our collective palette that welcomed spices; we had, of course, built our Empire on the back of India's riches for a good few hundred years. Sam's kidneys are lush and can be had as a bar snack at a very reasonable £5.95
Fish and mushy peas bread cake (£3.50) are super, the ultimate fish finger butty, the fish being in great batter, perfect beer food.
Gordo ordered mussels: in fact he ordered 'Fresh Irish Demlane mussels', cooked with white wine, shallots fresh thyme and bay leaves. Finished with a touch of cream and freshly chopped parsley (£5.95). In the event, these were workmanlike. The herbs were not much in evidence if the truth be known. The bread, great quality, sliced off a fresh, robust no-nonsense cob did a great job of mopping up the juices: well, the white wine hadn't been skimped on so the juices were still worth it.
The main course chosen was 5-hour slow-braised shoulder of Kendal Rough Fell lamb (£16.95). This was described on the menu as follows: 'The flavour of this lamb is enhanced by its origins in the Lakeland hills, feeding on tender grass and wild herbs. We cure the shoulder for 24 hours before slowly braising it – served with mash, winter vegetables, tomatoes and the cooking liquor'. Wow, that is a mouthful. Can you tell that Steve Pilling's business partner, Roger, used to be in advertising?
When the dish arrived, it was presented in a shallow soup bowl. A mound of mash had been topped with a pudding bowl sized pile of shoulder meat. It really was braised until that point which other, lesser food writers describe as “oooh, it fell off the bone...”. This one didn't, it audibly sighed and slid off the bones into the warm broth that had been bubbling away for hours and hours, massaging the flavours into a state of gorgeousness passeth description. Big, chunky carrots, fresh celery and oddly, until you tasted them, uncooked, de-seeded tomato 'outers'. This dish was absolutely terrific, the type of thing that personifies Sam's food down the generations and was the type of dish that was readily available before the War as mentioned above.
Gordo finished with home-made pear tart and gingerbread ice cream (£4.96), a buttery caramelly crispy pear tatin: this was triple lush. It was served with gingerbread ice cream that could have had a braver heart; maybe a good quality clotted cream would have beaten it.
Service was professional, highly pleasant and unobtrusive, a Sam's trademark. Coffee was bloody dire. Oh well. Sam's is always thoroughly enjoyable, once you get over Roger's copy writing. Gordo begs to ask, what the **** is triple distilled chicken gravy anyway, old chap?
|Breakdown:|| 6.5/10 Food |
|Address:|| Sam's Chop House |
8 South Parade
0113 204 2490
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