Sarah Cotterill enjoys down and dirty vegan food in Oporto’s 100% sustainable canteen

Seitan is suspect. I’m all about that plant-based lifestyle, but fake meat is freaky. “You know what I fancy? Some wheat-gluten," said no-one ever. But with so many substitutes out there now, from Quorn chicken slices to 'bleeding beetroot burgers', vegans can have their flesh and eat it. 

Oporto is one of the city centre’s great grisly bars, kicking out drinks and gigs for twenty odd years. Knaves Kitchen, their kitchen pop-up, popped up in April, before, as the barman states, “veganism went boom.”

Despite the seitan looking like something you’d chuck in a dog bowl, it’s damn good

The “down and dirty vegan food” is in keeping with the decapitated head hanging next to the bar; the sticky floors, the Jamesons and Jägermeister. There’s that slightly dank feeling when it’s 7pm on a Tuesday and you’re on Call Lane. We hear a couple of guys shouting to the bouncer across the road, “What time does it get busy down here?” 

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Knaves Kitchen has popped-up in Oporto

We do eventually get some company in the food section, through an ominous steel doorway, arriving at a table in the window scattered with a burger box, where someone’s picked out the lettuce, and left most of the patty. 

We’ve gone really rock 'n’ roll with a Berliner (£4.20) and a Pamplemousse spritz (£5.00). A mix of Pampelle aperitif and lemon, garnished with sage leaves, it’s a little grapefruity low alcohol number, real snowflake territory. On the increasingly trendy non-alcohol side of the menu, they have a Seedlip country cooler and an orange and mango hangover juice. 

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Pamplemousse spritz (£5.00)

Knaves offers exactly the kind of comforting, takeaway-esque stuff you want to eat, if you’re either messy, or had a messy one last night.

And you will be messy. The “Mill Hill’ special (£6.50, pictured below), inspired by Leeds’ infamous kebab shop, is a pitta loaded sideways with hummus, pickles, salad, a cool minty raita and grilled seitan. There’s no other way but to face plant that pitta pocket, and hope there’s enough napkins. Despite the seitan looking like something you’d chuck in a dog bowl, it’s damn good.

Onion Bhaji Burger Knaves Kitchen
O.B.B. - onion bhaji burger

The ‘fish’ finger wrap (£5.50) really is fishy. That may be the work of the dill flecked tartare, and not seitan’s fingers, but I’m buying it. The wrap is super soft, the lettuce is shredded really finely, the ‘fish’ breaded and crispy. I just don’t know why seitan’s fingers are so stumpy. Maybe it’s the devil in him.

There’s Sriracha in every flavour, vegan mayo and ketchup for the wedges (£2.95) which are fat and golden. The Oporto slaw (£2.95) is deep purple, refreshingly crunchy and tart. It’s all in Vegeware pots and paper boxes lined with greaseproof. It’s casual and fun, even if the eco cutlery is at odds with the faux leather seating. An empty expanse away, the lone chef works quickly in headphones, presumably to drown out the mish-mashed 2007 playlist. 

Knaves Kitchen Leeds

We almost choose the beastly onion bhaji burger (£5.95, see above), but instead go for the Asian satay (£5.50), also on the ‘Not Seitan!’ list. The breaded hunks of tofu have a moreish umami flavour, and the peanut sauce is bang on; thick with rice and peanut shards. Slivers of red chilli add a needed heat to the alluring claggy beige.

It’s seems a crime that the drinks are the same price as the food here, even if the bar stock is all vegan, with aquafaba (water bean) used instead of egg white in cocktails. The menu is set to change in six weeks, so get in here asap plant warriors, carnivores, whoever. Veganuary may be over, but I do hope Knaves Kitchen will be around for a while.

Knaves Kitchen @ Oporto, 31 Call Ln, Leeds, LS1 7BT Tel: 0133 245 4444 

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The scores:

All scored reviews are unannounced, impartial, paid for by Confidential 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.

  • Food 6.5/10

    ‘Mill Hill’ special 8, ‘fish’ finger wrap 8, tofu satay 7, wedges 5, slaw 6

  • Service 4/4

    Hardcore bar guys and gals, but lovely and helpful

  • Atmosphere 2/5

    Dead, like the head. (But it was 7pm)