Simon Richardson gyoza mad at Leeds’ most anticipated new restaurant
Sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami – these are generally accepted as being the five basic tastes. But in terms of sheer salivation, nothing gets me drooling like a massive slab of juicy hype.
With new restaurants, there’s often carefully crafted build-up, executed and presented like a Heston creation, titillating as much as it frustrates. But House of Fu’s protracted launch has toyed with our tastebuds for so long that it has become less of a culinary tease and more of a whisper on the wind, a foodie rumour.
It reminds me of the mould that guiltily collects at the bottom of desk-dwelling coffee mugs
That Ben Davy and head chef Ben Iley have managed to not only get the place open but looking like it does in the wake of the you-know-what is testament to just how deep the ramen passion runs. And that the gluttons of Leeds have continued to wait patiently says as much about the collective demand for ramen as it does the brilliance of Davy’s first restaurant, Ox Club – in this author’s humble opinion, the best restaurant in the city by a country mile. He’s earned our patience; now it’s time to settle the bill.
There’s a familiarity to the interior of House of Fu. A few Tokyo touches here and there – particularly the toilets – but in general, it conforms to the pastel uniform of the Leeds indie scene - with obligatory neon signage. It’s polished, bright and provides just enough imported chaos to feel authentic. With such a large dining area and several quick bites on offer though, the staff are clearly struggling a bit to keep up.
The menu is a classic diner layout – no explanations needed, impossible to go far wrong. We start with kimchi, a personal favourite of mine. It’s undeniably delicious and perfectly textured with that signature soft crunch. My preference is a good deal spicier but this is kimchi for everyone and there are a lot of people to please.
Cucumber salad comes partly concealed by a crispy seaweed canopy, but it’s the forest floor that does the real damage here – earthy sesame, miso and garlic flavours providing a perfect foil for thirst-quenching cucumber. Excellent. I attempt to wash the starters down with the signature kombucha. It’s not for me, but at least I gave it a go.
Gyoza is central to the House of Fu menu - with a plate of 24 an option. I’m tempted but mindful of staying in it for the long haul. We plump for two types, with the third already sold out. The pork option is lightly fried on one side and holds together beautifully delivering a fusion of crispiness and that fascinating semi-translucent dough all in one delightful, bite-sized mouthful. In the, er, immortal words of Britney Spears, Gimme More. The shiitake and kale option is similarly satisfying with a deep umami flavour and the hallmark chewiness of the mushroom coming through well.
Now for the mains. Ramen has been top of the hipster food charts for a few years but I have to say, I’ve never really fallen for it. In the game of intense East Asian broths, I’m more of a pho man myself - spurred on by memories of Vietnameseflavours that can only be achieved through years of making up meaty liquids in the same pot. Perhaps a visit to Japan might turn my head North-East by a few thousand kilometres?
But everything at House of Fu is new – including the kitchenware – so the sheer layers of flavour aren’t quite there - yet. The original ramen is topped with some superbly cooked pork but the underlying broth is a little fleeting in taste. The spicy option is by far the superior choice if you’re after a taste sensation that tells a story and a bowl of food that screams pure beauty. Its shocking red is offset by a divine signature half egg, its yolk begging to be prodded. I recommend you prod.
For dessert, we try the two ice cream sandwich options. Miso caramel reminds me of an earthier Viennetta - and I say this with no hint of disrespect, for that is truly the king of ice cream. The white chocolate option actually provides a more refreshing finisher, a more functional way to offset the spiciness of the previous courses. But enough of matcha already, please. In both texture and colour, it reminds me of the mould that guiltily collects at the bottom of desk-dwelling coffee mugs. I won’t try and draw a flavour parallel though – even I’ve never been that hungry. To the side of the plate, it goes.
I glance at my phone and realise that we’ve rattled through the menu from left to right in a total of 50 minutes, which makes House of Fu ideal lunchtime fodder. Evidently, others have had the same idea because it’s impressively busy for the time of day. I think I’d need the plate of 24 gyoza if I was coming for a proper evening meal, though. House of Fu has the visuals, the homage, and the textures down to a T. But the ramen needs a touch more substance to match the style – and the excellence of the other dishes. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will come.
House of Fu 15-19 The Headrow, Leeds LS1 6P
All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidentials and completely independent of any commercial relationship. Venues are rated against the best examples of their type: 1-5: saw your leg off and eat it, 6-9: Netflix and chill, 10-11: if you’re passing, 12-13: good, 14-15: very good, 16-17: excellent, 18-19: pure class, 20: cooked by God him/herself.
Kimchi 8, Cucumber Salad 9, Pork Gyoza 10, Shiitake and Kale Gyoza 9, Original Ramen 6, Spicy Ramen 8, White Chocolate Ice Cream Sandwich 7, Miso Ice Cream Sandwich 5
Could use an extra body or two
Pretty hip n’ happening for a Friday afternoon