Thom Archer gets salvation, eventually, but by God is it an ordeal
I need help. It’s the day after the Yorkshire Evening Post’s restaurant awards, The Olivers. The one night of the year where the region’s hospitality industry get together to celebrate their achievements and drink like, well, hospitality staff.
There’s a theme. There’s always a theme. Last year’s “Viva Las Vegas” ceremony starred an Elvis impersonator who sang Frank Sinatra songs. This year’s circus theme was, presumably, a nod to the fact that the Yorkshire Evening Post is written by clowns; writers who ponder whether the name Zaap Thai - you know the Thai restaurant - “might mean something in Chinese”.
This modern, minimalist restaurant isn’t modern enough to take card payments, but is too minimalist to put a sign up letting you know
The amount of booze required to endure the forced fun makes the following day one of the biggest events in the hangover calendar. Attendees better prepared than I must have been stockpiling hangover supplies weeks in advance - Berocca shelves across the city are bare. It looks like a no-deal Bero-xit out there.
I need salvation. I need noodles. I need nourishing broth. I need the pleasant discomfort of chilli oil’s encouraging but stinging backslap. I get all of this from Noodlesta - a brand new venue opposite University of Leeds’ Parkinson Steps. I get it eventually, but my god is it an ordeal.
From the outside Noodlesta looks the part, its glass front giving a glimpse of Apple store-esque slickness, high ceilings and well-lit minimalism creating plenty of curb appeal. Functionally though, it’s an eighteenth century exotic taxidermy of an operation; a confused, mangled mess, assuming the general form of a restaurant, albeit assembled by somebody who’s never actually seen one in real life.
Take the counter ordering system. Defined by a three-step flow chart in fast-casual restaurants all over the world, here it’s needlessly convoluted and unintuitive. Order at the till, take your own ticket over to the kitchen, go elsewhere and wait for it to be ready. Get told it’s ready. Find out it’s not - one dish of the three we ordered is waiting for us, but the front of house member tells us it’s been sat there for a five minutes as another customer forgot about it.
We take him up on his offer of a fresh one instead, so he starts walking around the floor eating the leftover bowl himself. The front door doesn’t shut properly so Storm Gareth tickles his creepy finger up my spine the whole time we’re in there, even though we’re a good twenty metres deep into the restaurant.
Speaking of the door, the keys to the whole restaurant are left in there the whole time - I clock this fifteen minutes into the visit, when I have to go and find a cashpoint because this modern, minimalist restaurant isn’t modern enough to take card payments, but is too minimalist to put a sign up letting you know before you’ve queued and tried to order.
The whole experience has the hapless, shambolic feeling of being trapped inside a fake restaurant for a task set up on the second week of The Apprentice. If it were, everybody involved would deserve to be fired. Into the sun. But then, finally, here are the noodles.
Our entire visit is punctuated by an occasional thud - not usually great for the ambience of a restaurant, but here it’s all part of the USP. A chef stands at the counter hand-pulling dough for noodles; stretching, folding, and twirling the wad of elastic dough with mesmerising sleight of hand, the yield doubling exponentially with each wallop-and-twist. To my knowledge, this is the only place in Leeds that does this (the only one that does it on full display of the dining room, at least, and it shows).
The result is a tangle of noodles of slightly varying thickness - therefore slightly varying levels of al-dente - all wriggly and bouncy and vigorous as they struggle against my chopsticks, like an eel créche housed in a big bowl of rehabilitating beef broth.
Elsewhere they’re used in beef (there’s a lot of beef, here, by the way, and only one vegetarian option) Zhajiangmian (£7.50, main image). Topped with ground beef cooked in umami-heavy fermented soy bean paste until so tender it could almost pass through a sieve. Comparing them to spag bol probably risks insulting two nations at once, but for the sake of word count…
Absolute best of all is sizzling spice noodle (£8) where the noodles arrive as rough strips torn from silky noodle handkerchiefs. An audible sizzle comes from a spoon of something unidentifiable as the chef builds the bowl up bit by bit, followed by clean-heat from a chilli pepper broth and that slow-burn of crunchy chilli oil, crackle of roasted red-skin peanuts, and crazy-rich tender braised beef.
If the floor was half as good as the kitchen then it would be outstanding - if the kitchen were half as bad as the floor it would be utter hell. As it stands, this is simultaneously the ideal and absolute worst place to spend a hangover. Luckily, awards season is over for another year so it’ll be a while before I need their services - craving them is another story, though.
Noodlesta, 30 Blenheim Terrace, Leeds LS2 9HD (There is currently no website or facebook link available...of course)
Follow Thom Archer on Twitter @thomarcher
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.
Spicy Sizzle Noodles 8.5, Braised Beef Noodles 7.5, Beef Zhajiangmian 8
A confused mess