Us #CocoGirls are no stranger to brunch, especially if it’s boozy. From private beach breakfasts in Mauritius to breakfast in bed at the Shangri La, we love any excuse to drink before 5pm in a beautiful setting. When the call came in for one of our team to review the brand new five-course ‘Vice Brunch’ at 1940’s style hotspot ‘Vice and Virtue’, there was only one girl for it. Our resident lifestyle and food writer Jenna went to check it out to see if it would rival a breakfast with Gatsby…
“I am lucky enough to live in the heart of Leeds in the affectionately named ‘Northern Quarter’. A stones throw from amazing venues such as Belgrave Music Hall and a quick stumble home after a night on the infamous Call Lane, I’m well and truly spoilt when it comes to location. On my walks into town for either shopping or the usual glass of fizz on a Saturday afternoon i’ve always been intrigued by Vice and Virtue’s black and gold doorway. Positioned at the top of New Briggate, above a very garish Indian Restaurant, I was never sure exactly what was going on inside. It’s name made me curious and the stories i’d heard of drunk bartenders and burlesque nights made my eyes wonder even further. Stepping onto it’s faux red carpet and greeted with a set of stairs, a pleasant surprise quickly followed. Not only did I have no idea this was a 1940’s themed bar it also had a very exclusive restaurant upstairs. To the sound of swing we made our way up their never-ending staircase to a quaint but stimulating restaurant area.
I’ve always loved open kitchens. There’s something about being able to see your food being cooked which is honest but also quite artful. As I’m from a foodie family that boasts unreal Christmas dinners and a few chefs to boot, i’ve always found the culinary industry incredibly impressive. The way they keep calm under pressure with so many things going on at once has always made me envious. I once cried whilst making pork chops for my family and an ex-boyfriend used to constantly laugh about how everything I ever cooked for him was cold. So, you can see why I find anyone who can cook to a high standard almost godly. Vice and Virtue has a unique set up, as you are genuinely metres away from your chef. It’s clear that this building was never designed for a restaurant such as this but the romantic idea of a chef making his dream work no matter what – is really nice. The venue is thrown together, but the food is anything but.
Sitting down at our table I was a little underwhelmed by the interiors. Although all the colours are in keeping and the style is definitely vintage, it all looks a little bit second hand. Now, I love shabby chic but there’s a difference between shabby-stylish and shabby-cheap. For £50pp a five-course brunch with paired cocktails it really doesn’t break the bank, but we’re in Leeds, which I would love to rename as the city of the discerning. In Shoreditch you may be able to get away with the irony of expensive menus and cheap furniture – but in Leeds, get ready for the rabble. Luckily for us, the service was definitely not scrimped on. Our host Ross was not only dashing, he was clearly either impeccably trained or had a wealth of experience in the restaurant industry. He was charming, he was knowledgeable and he really gave the venue that edge they need to serve such a noveau-cuisine style brunch. Gazing into the open kitchen, it was clear to see the Head Chef seriously had his sh*t together. He was well presented and seemed as focused as blue steel with not an inch of stress on his face. I was excited but sort of nervous as I REALLY wanted this to be good. Informing our dapper host of my guest’s pescatarian dietary requirements, he told us they were prepared and ready for battle. With the first cocktails hitting our table, we were ready to be taken on an interesting flavour journey which was set to seriously rework some well known favourites.
First course: Jenna forgets everything she knows about muesli
Coconut and Cranberry Bircher with Passionfruit
Pairing Cocktail: Viced Mimosa
Prosecco with Pineapple, Thyme and Raspberry
Remembering this is brunch, not your standard taster menu, it seemed normal having a pot of Bircher muesli placed in front of me. This has always been my favourite way to eat muesli as yoghurt gives it that creaminess that almost makes it dessert like. This particular bircher was served in a cute glass jar with a coconut and cranberry biscuit which totally got the blood sugar rising. It was creamy with a bitty texture that made it anything but sickly. This paired with a tropical take on the classic Mimosa set a sweet tone to the afternoon and something sparkly in hand reminded me I was definitely still at a Leeds brunch. Leeds can’t seem to do brunch without Prosecco – and I aint complaining.
Second course: Some very sexy Fish
Beetroot and juniper cured salmon with Miso powder, Beetroot powder and Caviar
Paring Cocktail: Red Snapper
Like a Bloody Mary but with Bombay Sapphire Gin and a little spicier
For me, brunch really isn’t brunch without smoked salmon. But how about Beetroot cured Salmon? Since earlier this year i’ve found myself a little bit in love with Beetroot, it just seems to jazz up even the dullest of salads and is the perfect pairing to Goats Cheese. I’d never had it with Salmon, but I totally get it now. When the plates arrived I was instantly excited. A fusion of colour, texture and delicate presentation made this course completely Instagrammable. The Beetroot didn’t only give the salmon a beautiful coral colour, it also added a sweet edge that reworked my tastebuds. Salmon for me has always been incredibly salty (which I love – lets pray for my sodium levels!) but this curing process brought out a different element in the fish. Luckily, an aspect that brought the saltiness back to the dish was definitely the Caviar. Caviar has always been a guilty pleasure of mine when dining out as there’s something so delicate and special about it. Many people hate the idea of Caviar or either see it as middle class delicacy, but whether Caviar or Cod Roe, I just find it wonderful.
The thing I like about this menu is that it’s quite ballsy – I.E their drinks are not for your standard Pornstar Martini fans. Sipping on their take on a Red Snapper with a Sea Salt and course Black Pepper rim, it had a serious kick. However, as this was paired with such delicate Salmon and Samphire – it levelled the dish out perfectly. I must say that this was probably one of the best Red Snapper’s i’ve ever had, and this wasn’t surprising. Turning round, I noticed that the bartender was somebody I knew from times gone by who actually became known at Epernay Champagne Bar for her mixology skills, especially when it came to spice. Daisy is also an Ambassador for Sipsmith Gin which makes her more than qualified to make a banging Red Snapper. Forget long red-wine floated tomato soup from someone who thinks they know what they’re on about, this short rich cocktail was unbelievable.
Third Course: Carnivore heaven on a plate, especially if you’re into Tapas
Black Pudding ‘Marcello-Style’ Croquette with Baked Beans and Rhubarb gel
Pairing Cocktail: Martini Spritz
Martini Speciale Reserve Rubino Sous Vide with Forest Fruits, topped with Lemonade
For those who know me, I am obsessed with Catalan style food. I would happily eat Tapas for the rest of my days. Therefore, as soon as I see anything remotely Spanish on a menu I am instantly in love. As I’m a Northern soul, Black Pudding and Baked Beans is also my idea of breakfast paradise – so I had incredibly high hopes. With a refreshing Martini Spritz in hand (which tastes exactly like a Mixed Fruit Kopparberg FYI) I was ready for a Meditterean-come-British treat.
Ok, so, my guest was a little bit scarred for life when this dish came out, but I was over the moon. Regressing back to when we were both 18 and my Grandad offered her a Black Pudding bon bon when she was a Veggie, a very similar situation happened at brunch. With the smiling waitress waltzing over with two identical plates, I was PRAYING hers was Veggie but unfortunately it was a steaming hot ball of carnivorous dreams. Informing the waitress that my friend may faint on the spot if you don’t take that back to the kitchen, it was a short wait until her meat-free version arrived and we could get stuck in.
Taking my first bite of the croquette, it was a little bit crumbly for my liking, but chock full of flavour. The breadcrumbs were crispy and the beans were a worlds away from the tinned supermarket variety. I usually overcook my baked beans so the sauce is thicker, so I was happy to see these beans were cooked just like that. The sauce was a super rich tomato and the beans were varied with only a few haricot in sight, it was baked beans but not how your Mum makes them. Speaking to Gina, my pescatarian brunch accomplice, she said how her meat free version of soy protein was a real treat and tasted just like the real thing. However she did laugh that i’d definitely know the difference! The rhubarb gel on the side was really interesting and gave a fruity connection to the pairing cocktail which married the two together perfectly.
Fourth Course: A collision of dietary requirements
Buffalo flank cooked overnight in Coffee and Almond Milk, Basil Toast and aerated Hollandaise
Pairing Cocktail: Cuban Star
Bacardi Carta Blanca Rum with Black Grape Juice, Star Anise and Lime
What I really grew to love about Vice and Virtue’s taster brunch was that a lot of thought had gone into creating dishes that can be amended for any dietary requirement. For instance, this amalgamation of breakfast, coffee and Buffalo was identical when the Buffalo was swapped for soya protein. Literally, identical. This made my guest feel that she wasn’t missing out at all, and the fact that the Buffalo and the Soya protein were both poached in Almond Milk, made it totally accessible to Vegans too. Nice one Vice Brunch, impressive. Although this dish wasn’t as pretty as the previous, it really stood out.
For me, Almond Milk has a really strange flavour, sort of like a gone off milkshake. Therefore, I dubious to see how the gorgeous meat which is Buffalo would stand up to such overpowering flavours such as this and Coffee. Although I wasn’t overly sold on the taste, I couldn’t help going back for more. It was meaty but absolutely compelling. This paired with the aerated hollandaise (nice) and Vegan Bacon Pieces (double nice) I wolfed it down in record time. The bread was fresh, the tomatoes ripe, it was really lovely. Sipping on a glass that wouldn’t look out of place in Harry Potter, the tartness of the grape juice and sweetness of the rum worked brilliantly. I couldn’t overly make the connection between the cocktail and the dish, but it was a fascinating drink.
Final Course: Arctic Roll, but not what you’re used to
Matcha Green Tea and Cherry Roulade with Pistachio and Cherry gel
Pairing Cocktail: Breakfast Mojito
Bacardi Carta Blanca Rum with Mint, Mandarin, Marmalade and Lime
It would be rude to attend a cocktail brunch without having a Breakfast Mojito. As expected, Daisy nailed it again with the twist on the classic. It was tart, it was sweet and the Marmalade really came through. It actually worked as really nice palette cleanser before the dessert as it was so fresh and was a godsend after the Buffalo. Taking our first sip we glanced over the menu trying to establish exactly what was going to be included in the grand finale. What followed was a dessert that we both didn’t want to end.
Matcha Green Tea is a weird one as if it’s used in too high a quantity, can be absolutely horrific. This dessert thankfully used it for it’s colour and very sparingly when it came to taste. The cherry was the real kick-starter when it came to this course with the Cherry Jam and Cherry Ice-cream holding it’s own against the Pistachio and Matcha. Not only was it seriously tasty, the presentation was incredibly pretty. The attention to detail with all of the courses we tried was evident, but this course was perfectly coordinated.
All in all at £50pp, it’s a steal. Yes the decor leaves a little to be desired, but the clear passion that has gone into this place is really impressive. The staff are well trained and clearly connoisseurs when it comes to getting it right, but it all needs a little bit of a polish. There’s a chance that I may be totally missing the point and their aim is to look a little undone but their food is anything but. It’s gorgeous to look at and it’s undeniable that the chef is bob on with his flavour profiles. The cocktail choices may not be reinventing the wheel, but classics are classics for a reason. Bravo Vice and Virtue, I look forward to stepping back in time with your style but throwing myself into the future with your menus again soon.”
Vice Brunch – £50pp including five Courses and five pairing Cocktails.Saturday & Sunday 12pm-2pm, reservations essential.
Vice & Virtue, 68 New Briggate, Leeds, LS1 6NU, 0113 345 0202.